The 'Mad Men' Double-Standard: Why Do Fans Hate Betty but Love Don?

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They're both flawed characters whose negative qualities are largely shaped by the culture they grew up in.

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AMC

Few television characters have the ability to inspire such universal disdain as Mad Men's Betty Francis. From her questionable approach to parenting to her vindictive, childish attitude, it's no surprise Betty is the character fans most love to hate.

When it comes to her ex-husband, however, it seems fans just can't get enough.

Despite his chronic womanizing, rampant alcohol abuse, and social prejudices, viewers have no problem sweeping Don's imperfections under the rug. Of course he cheats on his wife. Everybody was cheating on his wife. Drinking to the point of oblivion on noon on a Monday? Sounds like a typical day at the office in 1960s America. And how about overt sexism, anti-Semitism and a general selfishness? Well, that's just how things were back then. It was a different era.

Why doesn't this excuse also apply to Betty? Like Don, she also embodies a postwar archetype—the quintessential white, upper-middle-class suburban housewife, who is polite and poised on the surface but carries looming anxiety and frustration underneath. Shouldn't viewers cut her some slack, too?

Let's say we do just that—evaluate Betty through the same historical lens as we do Don. How do the two stack up?

Social Views

For a show that uses the social transformation of the 1960s as a backdrop, very few of Mad Men's characters truly push conventional boundaries—Betty being the most obvious example. As part of a generation of woman who traded a career for a life at home, Betty is a staunch believer in the nuclear family supported by a male breadwinner to the point where any alternative lifestyle that deviates from this norm is instantly suspect - or worse, pitied (ironic, given her own divorce at the end of season 3). Betty also carries many of the social prejudices of the time, such as a homophobia, elitism, and apathy (borderline hostility) towards African-Americans.

Don isn't much better. While he is more forward-thinking than most men of his era (cough, Roger), he is still carries many of the social prejudices of the time. In addition to racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, hardly an episode goes by without him muttering a sexist remark.

Yet what's notable is that Don is often able to look past these prejudices—at least when it makes business sense. A child of the Dustbowl, Don learned the value of hard work at a young age, which is why he has little sympathy for attitudes of entitlement (something he views as the equivalent to laziness). He'd rather work with an ambitious woman like Peggy than an entitled man like Pete any day, which makes him an anomaly in1960s America.

Verdict: Don

Personal Demons

"They say as soon as you have to cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem". For Don, this moment didn't come until season four's "The Summer Man"—even though the warning signs have been there since the beginning. While heavy social drinking (such as a normal day at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) was anything but taboo at the time, Don's drinking goes well beyond the social sphere. He often drinks alone, using alcohol to clear his mind in times of stress or frustration.

To his credit, Don begins to takes steps to halt his addiction once he realizes the personal and professional toll of his drinking. Yet his attempts are superficial at best, because he is unwilling to address his underlying issues—namely, insecurity and guilt—likely fueling his alcohol abuse.

Betty also has more than her fair share of issues. In the pilot episode, she is unable to stop her hands from shaking, despite reassurances from doctors that she is in good health. It's not long before Betty suspects the shaking is psychological—a manifestation of years of repressed anxiety and frustration (something doctors at the time called "housewife syndrome").

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Jen Kalaidis is a marketing professional and freelance writer based in New York City.

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