I cheered, when I saw this. It was almost an involuntary reaction, and I doubt I was alone - her husband sucks, and he's hurting one of the best characters on Mad Men, the hypercompetent, beautiful, confident, Joan.
But I shouldn't have. As awesome as Joan is, and as crappy as Greg (her husband) is, this is not okay.
This is domestic violence.
What else is it? How is it anything else? In the scene, Greg is complaining about his professional woes. It's not okay to respond to that by breaking ceramics over his head. That's abuse. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and that's domestic violence.
Furthermore, this is the show's only depiction of domestic violence, after almost three full seasons. Mad Men specializes in pointing out that which was silenced in that era (and today) - sexism, rape, racism, ableism, ageism. But Weiner & Co. have, with the exception of a couple of references to Don's refusal to use corporal punishment, completely ignored that silent epidemic until this unsatisfying scene.
This scene is not an acceptable context for introducing domestic violence. It's likely a one-off incident, unlike most abusive situations. The abused is one of the most irredeemable characters on a show of irredeemable characters - he explicitly raped fan favorite Joan (I'm using explicit to distinguish that incident from Pete's rape, which, while rape, was more ambiguously framed) and has since been the cause of her absence from the show. No one likes Dr. Rapist. Everyone loves Joan. She deserves this revenge. Her history as the victim of abuse at his hands means that this is not easy to read as valid domestic violence:
When Joan hits Greg on the head, not only is she pissed: She is trying to knock some sense into him, and rejecting his notion that she doesn't know what it's like to work towards something all your life. from JezebelDouble X has a similar "you go girl" take:
Sure, her swing had about all the staying power of Jai Alai (she was back to being the dutiful wife by the next scene), but at least it came out, if only for a moment.The Feministing crew also gave it an okay, even calling it "awesome" and Joan "badass". Seriously, domestic violence is not cool, or awesome, or badass - and particularly not in the feminist contexts of these shows. "Knock[ing] some sense" into another human is not doing them a favor. Nor is it an effective way to assert yourself in a relationship. It's enacting violence against them, and it's domestic abuse.
Joan has been a victim of this man's violence, and that complicates this act. What Joan did to Greg was nowhere near the same; Greg's act of violence and entitlement was one of the most horrific scenes of the entire series, barely approached by any other acts of violence or cruelty on the show. I can understand that urge to applaud her for kicking his ass - it's delayed justice. But she actually hasn't gotten justice from one awesome scene, and Joan being kickass doesn't mean that it's okay for her to be physically violent to Greg (outside of of self-defense, of course). And this is particularly striking and unsettling because of Mad Men's habit of ignoring this serious, contemporary (in the sense of 1960s and today) issue.
Women are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence, and the situation was much worse in 1963. Why is the only portrayal of the silenced population of domestic abuse victims in this era a man? Why is he unsympathetic? Why is the scene almost comic? Why is the viewer meant to root for the abuser in the context of the situation and this show?
Domestic violence is not a physical comedy gag, or a vehicle for vicarious acting out against an unpopular character. Mad Men has a good history of exposing violence against women within this very relationship. But thus far in the series, they have erased the history of domestic violence and abuse against women and children, and trivialized male victims. A series that seeks to penetrate and puncture the glossy nostalgia surrounding the sixties has a responsibility to carefully consider its treatment of domestic violence. Mad Men needs to cease marginalizing and directly confront the still-present demons of DV with the same critical point of view it applies to so many other social ills.