Women who love fictional jerks

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, October 22, 2008 22:47 EDT
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And for a little non-election reading, an interesting post on why the character Don Draper on “Mad Men” is attractive to women who should have more self-respect than to find such a cheating SOB sexy. (Via.) It all started with this article that used self-described feminists swooning over Draper to argue that it’s further evidence that feminism is a farce, because women’s own masochism is the source of their problems. Nice Guys® give a “fuck yeah” and demand the pussy that is their due because they don’t think they’d cheat on January Jones with Maggie Siff. At Jezebel, they point out that the women interviewed are career women who have house husbands (which means they’re such a teeny tiny minority that you can’t extrapolate anything from their behavior), and so perhaps their attraction has something to do—gasp!—with the fact that women are attracted to men they can empathize with.

This theory of attraction, that people find stuff in common and bond over it, seems to be growing in popularity even as conservatives insist that men and women hail from different planets and simply can’t have anything real in common. Even sex isn’t something you can really have in common, because you know, men want sex and women want love and relationships happen after a tense exchange of these commodities.

But carrying on. The blogger universeexpanding admits that some women do get off on the project guys.

He may be an asshole with everyone else, but once he realizes how well you know him, how much you understand him, surely he’ll be different with you!

There’s nothing some women like better than a project, and an asshole can be just that. I know I can’t be the only one who could have earned a Ph.D. with the sheer volume of information I collected, analyzed an interpreted trying to “crack the code” of some of the less forthcoming objects of my affection. Talking about/digging/taking special note of minutiae that wouldn’t interest anyone else/crying/phoning friends/trying to rationalize every shitty thing he does as part of some psychological profile all in the effort to know him better, and more importantly for him to *see* how well I knew him and realize how indispensable I was, how observant, how absolutely in tune with his personality. Once he sees that he’ll be different with me. Sure, he’s an asshole with everyone else, but I know him and he’s mine…he’s different with me.

My first reaction was a bit hostile, because this sort of thing gives Nice Guys® justification to continue pitying themselves instead of work on their own sexism that inclines them to treat all women like one undistinguished mass of wants-to-fuck-assholes-not-you, and realize that thinking this way doesn’t make you that Nice after all. But hell, it’s an interesting point, but I want to point out that project relationships are not only a gendered phenomenon, the idea of taking someone and making them over into something great through the power of your presence is a well-documented male fantasy that goes back at least to the ancient Greeks. It just doesn’t read as pathological or self-defeating because changing women is done through brute force (in the case of “Taming of the Shrew”) or at least self-assurance (“She’s All That”), but mostly because it reflects the larger cultural imperatives where women bend to men’s wishes. And hell, the interesting part of the Nice Guy® fantasy is that somehow the Nice Guy® convinces himself that it’s healthy for him to want to change a woman through loving her, but it’s sick and desperate that she’s trying to do that to the jerk she’s dating.

All in all, the whole thing interested me because while I love the character Don Draper, the only thing I find attractive about him is his looks. I can intellectually see that the show sets you up to see him as a man who has depths that go unnoticed because he bought into the idea that his wife should be a dopey status symbol instead of his true love. After all, he’s got the hots for Rachel, and it’s because she’s sharp and independent. But all that says to me is not that he’s some sexy guy who just needs love. It just shows he’s human, and it’s great, humanizing writing, but being a human being is sort of a low baseline for thinking a fictional character is crush-worthy. Jane Austen knew this well enough, and went out of her way to make Mr. Darcy a prince among men.

All that said, the struggle on the show inside Don has been a fascinating thing. The idea that a woman could be attractive to a man because she’s his equal (or in Rachel’s case, far superior) and challenges him is increasingly a given, especially in more sophisticated places. Watching someone react to it like it’s a revelation is thought-provoking. It’s depressing to me to think that there’s women in the audience who might find Don sexy because his interest in intelligent women still feels unique and out of place.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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