Betty Draper is an enigma.
She’s beautiful. She’s childish. She loves a good shot of whipped cream straight to the jugular.
And people hate her. They really, really hate her. And not in a definitive way. In a Hilary-Clinton-can’t-really-explain-it-kind-of-way (“her voice is just…shrill”).
I think I might know why.
The Current Discussion
Being the receiver of more than a few late night text messages (or, ya know, reading the comments sections of other people’s blogs…late at night) that read, in verbatim, “I Hate Betty,”—I sought out to question why that is—what is it about her that ignites such disdain, such fury, without a clear, consistent articulation?
There are definitely a few short sentiments and descriptors in existence that lead the pack: she’s selfish, she’s immature, and she’s manipulative.
Selfish. Immature. Manipulative. I don’t at all disagree. In fact, I have many of those similar knee-jerk negative feelings about Betty. She set up a guy to run off with before she left her marriage. She had sex with someone other than her husband. She starves herself to be thin. She purposefully ignited an affair between a married woman and a younger man. Betty Draper is guilty of many a prime time crime.
But are these crimes the actual reasons why we hate her?
By comparison, when we try to adequately explain why we hate Betty through the above accusations, we indirectly put compulsive adulterers, a victim of suicide, embezzlers, tortuously elaborate swindlers, sexual deviants, misogynists, and rampant bigots as committing lesser crimes than Betty Draper.
It’s odd then when we say she is manipulative standing next to a man who stole an identity and lied about it.
And that is why I think a lot of our feelings about Betty are knee-jerk reactions to something else—something visceral. We hate her because we hate her; not because of substantiation and logic.
When a look at what viewers have to say about Betty’s transgressions, you would think that the declarations of selfishness and immaturity have to do with her as an adulteress.
They absolutely, categorically, one hundred percent do not.
They do, on the other hand, have everything to do with Betty as a mother.
And, in fact or in fiction, no one likes to watch a bad mother.
It ignites in us something deeply personal. You call your daughter fat, you slap her across the face, you project a constant shame over her, and we hate you for it.
It’s hard to like a woman who mistreats her daughter.
But it’s a bit harder to hate a man who does the same.
Why We Let Don Slide
If you don’t believe me—put “Betty Draper Mother” into Google. Maybe one or two sites dedicated to defend her. More than hundreds dedicated to “Is Betty Draper the worst mother ever?” and “Why is Betty so cold?” and “Betty Draper: A Guide to Parenting”–a montage of her worst parenting moments.
Type in the same for Don. You can buy bumper stickers that read “Don Draper is my father.”
I’m not suggesting viewers actually want to be Don’s kid (they probably want to be Megan)–but doesn’t that say something?
We just don’t think the same things as about Don.
I don’t suggest that hatred of Betty is in direct correlation to admiration of her husband. In fact, I think the two often go hand in hand, as we see their children growing up with a serious emotionally impaired father and not much better of a mother. But there is just something about the latter—about a bad mother—that is somehow harder to swallow than any of the transgressions of her husband.
Don may at times ignite hatred in us, but it usually has very little with him being a bad father.
And, I venture to guess, it’s simply because know him better.
Our Good Friend, Don
And the better you know someone, the harder it is to hate them.
We have insight into Don’s soul. We know his psychological innards. We are a part of his dreams. We know that when he does a little below-the-belt grab in a restaurant bathroom, it’s just Don being Don. His mother was a lady of the night. That’s how he exerts his energy and we forgive him for it. When he cheats on his wife, he can’t help it. Or we find ways to analyze and explain it and eventually reach the conclusion that, because he made that guy take off his hat in front of a lady, we know he’s a good guy.
When Betty slaps Sally, though, she’s a massive (and unforgivable) bitch.
And yes, maybe we do attempt to analyze and explain her actions, too, but our explanation so often arrives at the conclusion that simply, “she’s selfish.” Not, “she is a product of her childhood.” Not, “she is a product of her failed marriage.” And certainly not, “It’s just Betty being Betty.”
It’s not treading new ground: the concept of why we like Tony Soprano or Don Draper or even sometimes Lucifer in Paradise Lost as a sincere logic gap. There exists this gap because they do things, in real life, we detest. But we fantasize about being them or being the women that they sleep with. We explain their decision-making process by justifying it through what we know about their background. And, not only do we forgive them — we root for them.
And it’s complicated by the fact that Don-as-antihero usually is read by us as Don-as-hero.
Let me count the ways why, if we were to operate by our logic for Betty, we should have an extended outrage for Don. I should probably hate this man.
Yes, sometimes he hugs Sally. But remember that time he left his home (along with wife and newborn) to bang her teacher?
Somehow, on an instinctual deep-rooted level, it bothers me more when Betty is mean to Sally.
We just don’t know the same things about Betty that we do about Don. And even if we did, there is still is something—just something—about a woman calling her child fat that hurts more.