This is the first post of our series on the women in Mad Men. Enjoy!
In the first three seasons, Peggy used her naiveté, rather unwittingly, as a blunt instrument for success in the offices of Sterling Cooper. In the first episode, she arrives from Miss Deaver’s Secretarial School as a fish out of water: she’s from Brooklyn, she didn’t go to college, her lack of sophistication shows from the top of her pony-tailed head to the tips of her sensible pumps.
As Peggy’s soon-to-be lover Pete Campbell asked on her first day: “Are you Amish, or something? If you pulled in your waist a bit you might look like a woman.” Of course, Pete knocked her up that night. Peggy isn’t really known for her stellar sexual decisions.
Peggy gave the child away, because she “wanted other things.”
Peggy didn’t understand that being a woman meant she wouldn’t get respect. By season two, it’s obvious that she’s the most talented copywriter at Sterling Cooper. Even though her accounts are mostly assigned to her because she’s a woman, she soon becomes the one to beat in Creative. She’s not beautiful (who could be, when Joan’s got the monopoly on sexpot for about 10 city blocks?): she’s smart and just not savvy enough to make the mistake of using feminine wiles to get what she wants. She wants to be one of the guys, and more than the other women on the show, she succeeds.
Her symbiotic relationship with Don Draper is the cornerstone of the office, especially moving into the fourth season and the new agency Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Don made her a copywriter in season one, and kept her Campbell love child a secret. When Peggy asks Don for a raise based on the Equal Pay Act of 1963, he shoots her down, but then makes her the only copywriter he asks to move to the new agency. Don and Peggy are both self-made, talented, and pathologically devoted to their work; and they keep each other’s secrets.
The latest season had Peggy really becoming the badass we all knew she could be. She practically defines the Woman’s Movement in a bar on a date, she dumps her loser boyfriend who doesn’t bother to get to know her, she straight-up fires an underling for sexually harassing Joan, she calls her chauvinist Art Director’s bluff and gets naked when he tells her he works better that way (He calls her the “Smuggest Bitch in the World”), she walks Don through the hardest night of his life and in the last episode, she saves the company by signing a quarter-million dollar account.
She may have started as “fresh as the driven snow” but she picked secretarial work at an advertising agency for a reason. Peggy Olson has every right to call herself the Smuggest Bitch in the World. She’s good, and she knows it.
–By Erin K. O’Neill