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Monday, May 27, 2013

Why Do So Many (Female) Critics Hate on Betty Francis So Much?

Betty Francis (January Jones)

Disclaimer: I really have no reason to be this irate over the persistent backlash aimed at a fictional character. But I am, so deal with it.

I'm talking about Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), the tortured ex-wife of lead character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man whose story is so fascinating to explore, but whose existence is so frustrating to endure on TV's "Mad Men." Fans, many who are female, inexplicably like him. No, they admire, pine for and drool over him.

I get it, he's hot, smart, mysterious, and hard to get. He's the uncaring and pretentiously suffering soul with whom many want to coddle. But I'd like to slap him all the damn time sometimes. His trivial efforts to "find himself," his relentless pursuit to overshadow everyone (including himself), and his perfect hair--all of it just angers me.

Ladies, y'all continue to write love letters to him. But I will not stand for the persistent slander of his ex-wife and mother of all three of his kids. Do you not see how she is the victim here? A former model, Betty gave up her career to be the wife of a dapper businessman (who has more than a few skeletons in the closet of which even he can't seem to keep track). After sacrificing her dainty face and once promising career, she became nothing more than wallpaper in Don's life, a prop to take out and show off only when he felt benefited him in some way (usually professionally). During their marriage, she spawned three of his brats, kept up the house (with the help of, well, the help, of course), and even silently put up with his endless philandering for the better part of their marriage.

But anything Betty does, thinks, wears and says seems to piss off the viewers. And her biggest critics seem to be of the female variety, condemning her for her treatment toward her kids, her habitual depression, and her chilly reception toward her former love, the one who left her and found a younger babysitter woman. (But if you caught last night's episode, you already know that Betty and Don's relationship may be more complicated than first judged).

Okay, what? Have you seen these kids? First of all, her eldest kid, Sally Draper, is a blonde terror. She is literally a hyperbolic version of her mother--an unruly know-it-all, who never knows when to keep her mouth shut. If I had to stay home with her all day, I'd go insane. But Betty always manages to be the perfectly poised, impeccably A-lined, coiffed and supportive wife (with and without the extra pounds and emotional stress).

The middle child, Bobby, who I would almost think is mute if he didn't say the darnedest one-liners on every episode, is like the brooding yet innocent mini Don Draper. Which means you aren't sure whether you should pet him or fear him. (The youngest child, Eugene, doesn't count because he has yet to grow into a troll--I'm sure that will come soon though).

On top of all that, her kids never listen to her, ever. But they jump at the mere sound of Daddy's footsteps coming to the door. Probably because they know he's going to let them climb the walls and do anything they want with no repercussions. They know that he doesn't parent with a strong hand (or at all), so they can get away with anything. He's the cool parent, while Betty, the one who's there for them morning, noon and night, is the meanie. She's the one who punishes them, while Don always takes their side (though he is never there to hear out the full situation anyway). No matter where she turns, Betty gets poo pooed on.

As for her mood swings, yes they can be a bit radical. But this is probably a result of so many years spent in the shadow of a self-made man (who was always a bit out of reach), and hours on end as a homemaker. It's understandable that she holds some resentment toward the cards she's been dealt. Plus, her demeanor/personality, or lack thereof, is never worse than Don's perennially blank one. But if Don is like that, it's okay. If Betty is, she's an ice princess. *insert eye roll here*

Seriously, her critics are relentless. Now I'm hearing that they hate the fact that she she lost weight and dyed her hair back from the unforgivable tar black (another phase she went through) to her all-familiar blonde hue. These are the same folks that made fun of her when she gained the weight, calling her "Fat Betty," and now that she's back to her svelte shape, that's a problem too?! They say she only fixed up her appearances because her new husband, Henry, announced his run for office, prompting her makeover. Like, whatever, she wants to look good for the press pictures. So what? What woman wouldn't want to get her shine on and bask in her husband's celebrity? At least this husband actually includes her in his professional decisions, even though he may not be the best man to handle a woman like Betty.

I say this all to say, leave Betty alone. Your double standard criticisms are wildly misplaced. You don't have to be Team Betty, and know her to be the one person who can read your precious Don better than anyone else on the show (whose name isn't Peggy). But we should all be able to agree she deserves a break. After all, she's about to be the First Lady. You better recognize.


Brittani Burnham said...

This is a very interesting post. i don't watch Mad Men, but from the episodes I have seen have made Don look questionable at best. Even though Betty seems bitchy, it's nice to see her get some support.

37paddington said...

i totally agree! don is shady, morally ambiguous, and blank. if he weren't romance-novel handsome he wouldn't be interesting as a lead character at all. betty is more layered, her wounds more visible. even when she makes me cringe i'd rather watch her character any day. don was just so casual with her emotions. i often think don might be a sociopath hiding in plain sight.

Daniel said...

I don't love Betty but I do think a lot of issues people have with the character are unfounded. Don is a far more problematic and harder to root for if look at his laundry list of sins.

Liz's Journal said...

They look at Betty and demand that she be an ideal woman - whether the ideal mother (as if such a thing actually exists) or the ideal "working mother" (namely professional/mother). For some reason, they seem to believe that a woman with her looks should be ideal or perfect. Frankly, I find their attitude very disturbing.

In fact, whenever Peggy or Joan behave in a less than ideal manner, the fans either turn a blind eye to their flaws or overreact with disgust. I don't know. Perhaps misogyny is the answer to your question.

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