Joan Holloway: Representing the Pretty Girl Plight in the Workplace

After the long anticipated premiere of the final half of season seven of Mad Men, we had almost forgotten that there was so much more to Joan Holloway/Harris than her measurements. Unfortunately, that’s all that men in suit executive types were able to see when she and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) delivered a compelling report detailing the potential for Topaz pantyhose to be sold in department stores.

Trying to keep her cool
Trying to keep her cool

Naturally, instead of taking Joan (or even Peggy, for that matter) seriously, the trio of men in the room with them eye Joan as though she’s a piece of meat, with one of them lasciviously suggesting, “Why aren’t you in the brassiere business? You’re a work of art.” Joan replies curtly, “Excuse me?”, prompting Peggy to diffuse the situation by deflecting, “What Joan means to say is…” Indeed, it was somewhat surprising to find Peggy to be so accepting of the sexism at play. But, then again, she has become so accustomed to it over the years that she’s almost been desensitized.

Night and day in terms of perspective on office life
Night and day in terms of perspective on office life

The cherry (fruit is always at play with sexual innuendo) on top of the demeanment is the three of them telling Joan they should flatter their boss with “a basket of pears to warm him up. Dan loves a good pear.” What a none too subtle reference to Joan’s body type. Incensed on the elevator ride out of the office with Peggy, Joan declares, “I want to burn this place down.” Peggy then points out that perhaps Joan shouldn’t be so shocked by such treatment considering the way she dresses.

Over it
Over it

Joan, who has never been known for taking shit from anyone, fires back at Peggy by noting that maybe if she looked like her–which is to say, homely–she could dress however she wanted without being harassed. The fight intensifies when Peggy points out, “You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” Joan seems to take this to heart, heading over to the department store she used to work at to lavish herself with expensive clothing.

Peggy and Joan: oil and water
Peggy and Joan: oil and water

The pretty girl plight in the office setting as represented by Joan is a common and complex one, long after the overtly sexist era of the 60s and 70s. On the one hand, a beautiful woman enjoys being appreciated for her beauty and, on the other, it’s a fucking pain in the ass when that’s all men in the business world see you as–because heaven forbid you could actually have any acumen somewhere other than the bedroom. Joan embodies the dichotomy of having a physique and aesthetic that deserves to be noticed, yet causes an overshadowing of all her other personality-related attributes. This daily struggle makes working in an office a unique and unjust challenge for the token pretty girl.

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  1. Pingback: The New 9 to 5 Wardrobe a.k.a. Everyone Is Dressing Like Shit – Midhell

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