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Domestic Violence: How Viewers Reactions to Mad Men Show How Little We Have Come

*Warning, this post contains spoilers for Season 2 of Mad Men*

This clip is Copyright AMC. http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen

Mad Men is  a fantastic show. Not only is it beautifully shot and brilliantly written, but for a show that takes place in the 1960s, it is eerily relevant to many issues that are prevalent in America today. Race relations, alcoholism and drug use, homosexuality, and the rights (or lack their of) of women. In one of the most haunting and upsetting moments on the show, the character of Joan, the strong and independent head secretary, is raped. And not by a stranger in a dark alley, but by her husband, the handsome doctor.

As nice as it would be to imagine that scenes like this do not exist in 2012, this is simply not true. According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey1.3 million women are assault by an intimate partner annually. And while these statistics would be disturbing enough on their own, the become even more awful when coupled with many viewers reactions to Mad Men’s rape scene. As hard as it is to believe, many viewers did not view Joan’s assault as rape.

Christina Hendricks, the actress who plays Joan, discussed her feelings on the matter in an interview with New York Magazine:”What’s astounding is when people say things like, ‘Well, you know that episode where Joan sort of got raped?’ Or they say rape and use quotation marks with their fingers. I’m like, ‘What is that you are doing? Joan got raped!’ It illustrates how similar people are today, because we’re still questioning whether it’s a rape.” 

Even more proof of this sentiment, on the YouTube clip linked above, one commenter states “Sexual violence? What violence? That was the gentlest rape scene I’ve ever seen. It was more like Joan was startled by her fiance’s aggression and intimidated by the thought of losing face in the workplace. Why else wouldn’t she scream?

This brings up an extremely disturbing revelation. That even today, in America, we have a very specific and strict definition of what constitutes rape, and we attempt to qualify and excuse rape in anyway we can, finding reasons why it “doesn’t count” or stating that she “kinda wanted it.” It is scary, and somewhat dumbfounding to discover that a scene like this, an example of spousal rape, is not considered “violent” or “real.” It is rape, it always has been raped, and all the women who are victims of domestic abuse, more than half of whom will not report their assault, need to know that what happens to them is never ok, and there are no excuses.

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