Bad Boys and Mad Men: Why Is Don Draper So Hot, and So Wrong?

If you’re not caught up in the American TV series Mad Men, you might be inclined to skip this post. However, I’ll posit that you may want to stick around for a few more lines of text as I look at just why a guy can be so stereotypically, pathologically messed up to women, and still have women look at him and say “I’d tap it.”

It’s not as simple as saying women want their masculine partners to be more macho assholes, than sensitive househusbands. Or that wealth and success, and borderline sexual abuse makes men hotter: it might be true for some girls, but only if you’re the kind of girl who wants to hook up with dudes like Joe Francis. The whole “sexist versus feminist” thing is so retarded. Trust me: from reading hundreds (now thousands) of explicit erotic short stories written by women for the past 5-6 years (for Best Women’s Erotica), female sexuality has changed beyond the cheap assumption that feminism “went too far” and must now become inverse. That’s like trying to explain a woman’s desire for sexual submission by saying it is the nature of her gender to desire it. What, then, about the successful and powerful businessman’s desire for sexual submission? It’s not just a trope; ask any dominatrix how she bought her last house (and put herself through college). After watching trends in women’s erotica, I’m more inclined to say that sexual determination is more the nature of our gender. We women no longer feel the need to apologize for demanding what we want sexually — including when that demand is for submission, or to live the fantasy of “sex object.”

Which might bring us back to Mad Men, and their jerk-ass swaggering male anti-heroes. Don Draper’s interpretation of women is in black and white; Madonnas or whores. Emily Nussbaum on NY Mag writes in Working the Street, “By last year’s finale, he was screaming, “You’re a whore, you know that?” at his soon-to-be-ex-wife. And post-divorce, he’s been hiring pros to slap him (…) But in Don’s work life, he’s the whore. (…) Prostitution is to Mad Men what vampirism is to True Blood, a metaphor that sloshes in everywhere, juicing the most innocent interactions. It blurs the boundaries between every power dynamic: between men and women, secretaries and bosses, clients and “creatives.”

So what’s the secret of Don Draper’s sex appeal? In Greta Christina’s Carnal Nation article Bad Boys and “Mad Men”: What Do Women Want? I finally find an answer that makes sense, and much more:

For one thing: Don Draper isn’t a standard Bad Boy. He’s not a conventional Lothario, chasing tail indiscriminately, purely for his own sexual and ego satisfaction, with no interest in women as people, and no recognition of their equal humanity. For starters, he has more than a kernel of genuine respect for women—certainly way more than any other male character on the show. He’s the one who recognized Peggy Olson’s talents as a copywriter, and who helped her repeatedly in her pioneering climb up the Sterling Cooper ladder. (Help that often came in complicated and ambiguous ways, to be sure—but help nonetheless.) Not to mention his singular, impassioned, entirely necessary support of Peggy during her time of terrible need. That was an act of pure human compassion and friendship… one that transcended gender.

And look at his taste in women. Every woman Don cheats on his wife with is intelligent, independent, unconventional, and in some way defiant of traditional gender roles. Proto-feminists, one might even call them. (In fact, I’m wondering now if part of the Don Draper fantasy has to do with wanting to be one of the strong, edgy, fascinating women he gets the hots for.) What’s more, he has a genuine emotional connection with these women, a connection he’s largely lacking with his [ex]wife, Betty… and a connection that seems to be a major part of why he pursues these affairs. And this taste in women is, I think, a huge part of the attraction. It’s not about him being a sexist throwback to a time when Men Were Men. It’s about him being a complicated man who’s drawn to strong, interesting women. (…read more,

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  • kt

    This has nothing to do with sex per se.

    The crux of Don’s character is that he doesn’t know who he really is. (Or perhaps he does and just doesn’t like or respect who he really is–the one woman who knows him best is someone he is not attracted to) We are taught that it makes us special, not only as women but as people, when a partner can be their true selves with only us. And that’s the appeal of Don Draper imo. And yet, feminism teaches us that we must accept ourselves before we can be of any use to a partner. (if that were really true you would think Pete Campbell would be the most attractive man on the show :p ) These two messages are at war with each other and I don’t think we’ve really resolved them in our culture–not for women anyway. It’s not as prevalent in our culture for men. They aren’t taught to want helpless women anymore. That’s why viewers think they love Joan–they think she knows who she is, inside and out. That she fully accepts herself. I don’t think that’s true.

    Back to Don…
    He has affairs because he isn’t satisfied with his wife, not because he doesn’t really love her-he does. It’s only because she doesn’t love the real him. How could she–she has no clue who he truly is. She knows this husband and father character he’s invented, and not the rest of him. The parts of him that he keeps hidden away. He cheats with these other women and you have to notice that he puts on a new persona with each and every long term affair he’s had. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that by now. The basics are pretty much the same but there’s an awful lot that he adapts to the particular woman he dallies with. He’s completely different with the elementary school teacher than he is with Betty for instance. He’s trying on personalities until one sticks.

    I think the appeal of Don Draper is that you could be the one that fits him. That he could be fully himself with you.

    Now that his anchor is gone (his wife, his role) he can’t cope. He’s drunk every night and isn’t even looking for something stable. He’s looking for one night stands or professionals. He’s lost all centre–there’s nobody to pretend for. He’s working for himself so even there in his work life he’s coming off as somewhat unstable. He’s very unattractive this season imo. But some women seem to find this even more attractive–I think it’s because he seems so lost and potentially “fixable”

    Don isn’t a bad boy. Not at all. He doesn’t mean to hurt anyone (usually) He’s just lost and doesn’t really know it. But we do.

  • DL

    I kind of wonder if the answer is just that we’re in a gray area in women’s acceptance of their sexuality where it’s okay to for a woman to admit to the world that she’s in basic, visual lust with someone, but the collective culture still insists that women need to have a reason to be turned on beyond the appearance of good genes.

    Men are very good at compartmentalizing “fuckable” and “dateable”. I can understand the possibility that they’re more intertwined for women, but I don’t see how either extreme can fail to exist, especially when you consider that the Darwinian model of female sexuality (partner with a man who will be around to help raise the kids, but sneak off with the guys with good genes while you’re ovulating) and the model proposed by Christopher Ryan in “Sex at Dawn” (the women in a group have sex with the men in their group, and uncertain paternity leads all of the men to feel responsible for providing for the children) both seem to explicitly provide a drive for sex without partnership.

  • Jason

    The contrast between Draper and Campbell is wonderful. Both behave very similarly, but with very different results. The little differences make one adored and one despised.

  • I think Dick Whitman is more interesting than Don Draper could ever hope to be. Barbie doll Betty is the socially-acceptable cookie-cutter 50s fantasy a career man like Don Draper needs, an accessory as necessary as tie pins and hats. Dick Whitman, on the other hand, is the creative power-house with a heart, the man who appreciates independence, originality, and intelligence as much as he does beauty. When Don cheats on Betty, he is simply being faithful to his true self. Don is an asshole; Dick is a pretty nice guy. Put them together, and you have a rather normal, attractive man.

  • Dave

    “It’s not as simple as saying women want their masculine partners to be more macho assholes, than sensitive househusbands.”

    BS. Maybe in your part of the country but everywhere else — it is. I can tell you that every woman I know (from Ohio) isn’t intellectually analyzing Don Draper. They’re using words like — you said it yourself — “I’d tap that”.

    And your quote doesn’t really help you much, all you are saying is that Don Draper is just another Don Juan, looking for an upgrade from the previous model. Yeah, Don Draper is all hot — until he cheats on you. I don’t think he’s so complex. Just another archetype.