Is Rachel Menken the ‘One Who Got Away’?
“Mad Men” is a show about reinvention and regret. Our hero, Don Draper, pulls himself out of an abusive, impoverished childhood and becomes a successful ad man on Madison Avenue. He has it all, yet he always wants more.
Season 7 (Part 2) of “Mad Men” opens as Don is in the throes of his second divorce. He is back to cavorting around the city with Roger Sterling, and apparently juggling so many women that he’s hired a service just to manage all of their calls. Of course, any dedicated “Mad Men” viewer knows all too well that this parade of women doesn’t amount to happiness for Don Draper. They’re distractions, sure to give way to the torment lurking just beneath the surface of his polished veneer.
As anticipation for the final season of “Mad Men” built, so did the question of who would appear in these last episodes. There have been so many characters weaving in and out of the narrative over the years, many of them women in Don’s life. Midge, Suzanne, Bobbie Barrett, Dr. Faye, Sylvia — each affair meant something different to Don, because each represented something about his character and the way he saw himself at that time. And no affair meant more to Don than his brief time with Rachel Menken.
When we meet Rachel in Season 1, she is hiring Sterling Cooper to re-brand her father’s department store, Menken’s. Menken’s is old, reliable, and Jewish, and Rachel wants more for it. She wants higher-end, glamorous customers, Jewish and non. She is demanding and forward thinking. She runs every meeting she’s in, convincing her father and the men at Sterling Cooper what’s right for the business. It’s made clear that she has chosen work over marriage, and that she gets great satisfaction out of her job. Audiences fell for this smart, independent woman right away, as did Don.
Recent studies show that only 30% of artists represented by galleries are female. This statistic is troubling, given that women comprise 80% of BFA graduates, and 60% of MFA graduates. In this series, The Sisterhood aims to shed light on this staggering gender skew in the art world. We will be interviewing different female artists, in order to discuss the way they navigate gender, sexuality, religion, family, and politics in their life and work.
Melissa Meyer makes bold paintings. Rich brooding colors share space with gestural marks of all sizes. They stare out at you, coyly, confidently. They speak, in a language that feels both comprehensible and just out of reach. Meyer is similar.
A thick New York accent, dark hair, and standing at barely 5’2’’, Meyer speaks softly, answering questions with stories, brown eyes smiling cautiously.
“I paint because I’m hooked,” she says, humbly, when I ask about her incredibly well-established career as a visual artist. “What other people think of you is none of your business,” she says, when I ask what it is like to have been doing Abstract Expressionism in the 1960s, during an era of pointed female exclusion.
Her relationship with her feminist politics are layered and ever-changing — one gets the sense that things that once moved her deeply have now taken a second seat to her true passion: Her work. Yet, although she doesn’t define her work as feminist, her life undoubtedly is.
Meyer is represented by Lennon, Weinberg Gallery in New York, and completely financially independent. She has had over 40 one-person exhibitions and her work is included in a myriad of permanent collections, including, but not limited to, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA, The Brooklyn Museum, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Jewish Museum. She has designed public commissions in New York, Tokyo, Shanghai — and is currently working on one for a building in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She has also received many grants and residencies, including the Rome Prize, Yaddo, NEA and the Bogliasco Foundation.
This post contains spoilers for season 7, episode 8 of “Mad Men.” If you haven’t seen it…what are you waiting for?
The final half-season premiere of “Mad Men” was all about women: Models, stewardesses, diner waitresses, career women — in the guise of Peggy and Joan — and socialites all made an appearance. But ironically, the plot centered around one conspicuously absent woman. A Jewish woman.
The first scene in “Severance,” as the episode is called, shows a woman eyes — is it me or did she look a little like Bar Refaeli? — before the camera pans down to her almost naked form, covered only by a $15,000 chinchilla fur coat. “Show me how smooth your skin is,” an oily Don Draper purrs.
Okay. So, 1970 hasn’t done much for the objectification of women.
And speaking of our old friend Don, he’s on a roll: five minutes into the episode, he’s already successfully creeped on four different women (not to mention the diner waitress that he repeatedly visits in one of those typical Weinerian “Is this a dream?” sequences).
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
When Juicy Couture closed its doors this summer I felt a certain schadenfreude. While I attended Ramaz High School, a modern Orthodox prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, there was nothing I wanted more than an $80 Juicy Couture zip-up.
During our morning prayers, my classmates walked down the aisle that ran through the girls’ side of mechitza showing off designer knee-length jean skirts and soft cotton blouses. I eyed the visible labels with envy.
Wealth was noticeable at Ramaz in students’ references to ski vacations, Hamptons beach houses, family lineage at elite universities (albeit a short lineage due to Jewish quotas at universities) and in their last names, which were recognizable for libraries their families had donated. For girls, there was an added expectation to look pretty, which often involved scrupulous grooming and expensive clothing.
Despite the high visibility of wealth and material consumption, teachers and administrators never addressed the subject of money. I rarely heard students discuss money among themselves, even those like me who received need-based scholarships. It wasn’t until college that I realized how few Americans had the amount of wealth that I assumed was the norm.
“Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the most famous unrequited love story in the Bible (via Wikimedia Commons).
Twenty years ago, Lisa A. Phillips found herself knocking obsessively on the door of a man who had tried to end their friendship-turned-romance relationship months earlier. The experience, she writes, transformed her “from a sane, conscientious college teacher and radio reporter into someone I barely knew — someone who couldn’t realize that she was taking her yearning much, much too far.”
It also led Phillips, now a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, to write Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession. The book examines one-sided passion as documented in ancient Roman medical records, biographies of prominent women in history, and conversations with modern women whose lives were upended by unrequited love. The Sisterhood’s Johnna Kaplan spoke to Phillips on extreme love and the Bible’s “most prominent female stalker in the Torah.”
Johnna Kaplan: One thing that occurred to me while reading your book is that women in unrequited love are usually mentioned only as tragic literary figures. When you started researching this book, did you find that a lot had been written already, or that there wasn’t much out there?
Lisa A. Phillips: There wasn’t any book for a popular audience on the subject of women and unrequited love. But once I started to get a real working definition and use that as the lens through which to view experiences of women throughout history and today, I found a lot. I mean there’s a lot out there in history, in literature, in pop culture, and in the psychology of it.