Footnotes of Mad Men: The Promethean Woman, or, Our Dog in the Parthenon

by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

• One myth that arose from some proponents of the women’s liberation movement is that a terminated pregnancy doesn’t change a person. The idea that it does was reasonably considered fodder for the other side-that this view enhanced the notion that not caring for a child conceived in your body is an abandonment of biological and moral responsibilities. In reaction then, a PR move has often been adopted into an unconvincing pro-choice ideology: a woman can go through a pregnancy without some lasting change to her psyche and system. The enlightened woman, the idea was, could go through terminating a pregnancy or putting a child up for adoption without the burden of sin or shame. This idea discounts that a pregnancy can, and often does, change everything.

• Simone de Beauvoir wrote that “one is not born a woman; one becomes a woman.” Even postmodern feminism and materialist feminism in some ways express the same: that there is no essentialness to womanhood, merely constructions-in the eyes of the postmodernists, totally linguistic constructions. But the act of childbirth and abortion are unique to women and there’s much violence associated with both. Blood, suction, tearing, screaming, stitches; all civilization falls away when you enter and exit the birth canal. In both situations, birth or abortion, a woman is at the mercy of nature. Not only is her body surging with chemicals that tell her to bond with the creature metastasizing inside of her-even when the creature is beyond her body-but biology creates a ricochet. The female circuitry is shorted; enormous emotional triggers are switched. A darkness can fall that seems impenetrable. Woman swells, transforms and experiences carnage, she cannot grasp nature’s bare blade without shedding blood. She does this alone and the knowledge derived from this confrontation will always set her apart.

• The Promethean narrative in Western Civilization is an inherently male one. There are exceptions, when women strike out and create their own lasting fires, usually in the arts, sometimes in science or industry. But in general, the protagonist is a man. (Perhaps because he is unencumbered by nature’s strong arm?) The diversion-or destiny-of woman’s will to power in the domestic sphere has been one of our great dilemmas, especially when that ambition for achievement and desire for hierarchical dominance pushes in her into the race with men. Domestic affairs, then, inspire the anxiety of creative annihilation. Especially for women-because not only are you fighting with men all day for glory, recognition and resources, but then having to face the threat that your life and heart could be ensnared in a domestic drama by a man? Ghastly. This is why a woman with the Promethean ambition kindles and protects her spark with the sacrifice of domestic harmony (and at great peril). Any man who does not share her Promethean spark should be regarded as a distraction (sometimes, of course, a welcomed one.).

• For the Promethean woman, most men are a race of confederates, with the frequent exception of two: one’s dad and one’s boss. The latter assumes the role of the former when she becomes an adult. But a boyfriend offers a predestined biological path. The ultimate consummation of that relationship will end with her becoming nature’s conscript: a mother, a wife, the vessel for a lineage. Whereas, what she could achieve with an admired professional patriarch is glory, power, even empire.

Sometimes these desires misfire (Freud’s “erotic transference”); a woman’s desire for approval gets scrambled and mistaken for a desire to conquer. A mistaken lady may endeavor to exploit or control the power dynamic and the intensity of her admiration by bringing her boss down to the level where men most often see her: as sexual object. This undermines his authority and gives her the advantages of other women. With the right amount of backbone, a male boss could resist the storm of her advances in exchange for achievement of their shared goals. If he’s smart, he could tell the difference between admiration and attraction, even when she doesn’t. Acting on these emotions is behavior reserved for equally predatory and pathetic men. But a real boss is equipped to meet the psychological needs of a real, unconfused Promethean woman. He serves as a father-figure, existing as one of the few men in the world who make no biological demands of her. At best, like a father, he is there to reward her best behavior with attention, praise and advancement.

This is why the approval of your boss outweighs that of your boyfriend.

You can always find more footnotes by Natasha Vargas-Cooper right here, or, you know, you can get a whole book of ‘em.