After this week's Mad Men, where my lovely Joan gets put in a compromising position and makes a morally questionable choice for the sake of financial security for her and her infant son, I started thinking about what I'd do in that situation -- how would I go about reaching that decision? And once I made it, how would I approach the issue later with my children? Would I admit what I'd done or take it to the grave? I mulled this over, but then I realized that I'm not really much of an authority on explaining myself to children, since I have none of my own, and kids have always kind of weirded me out, to be honest. I wanted to find out how actual mothers would approach this choice, and why not go to the ultimate source? My own mom!
I started the discussion off by explaining the situation, as she doesn't watch Mad Men (the nerve!). Just so we're all on the same page, here's what I told my lovely Mumsy:
It's 1966, and a woman's kind-of-abusive husband has just filed for divorce. She has a fairly secure, good job in a managerial position, but lives in an apartment with her mother who helps care for her infant son. Her office has the opportunity to land a very lucrative client, whose only stipulation for his approval is the chance to sleep with her. The company's partners come to her with the offer and give her the ultimate decision of whether to accept or decline. They initially offer her $50,000 to do it. She considers, and then counter-offers with a 5 percent share in the company as a whole, making her a full partner and potentially setting her and her son up for life. The partners agree, the deal is made, and they get the account.
VB: You were a single-mom, raising me for several years on your own before you married my step-dad, given Joan's somewhat similar circumstances, would you fault her for making the choice she did? Why or why not?
Maria: No, I would not fault her. A mother does what she has to do for her child and there should be no shame in that. I am very happy that she was smart and looked at securing her future. In that day and age that is a lot of money. The lure of financial security for your child is powerful. However, I would secure my position with a written stipulation that there be a clause in the contract that would prohibit anyone talking about it, because if the ex got wind of it he could take the kid from her. As [Joan is] a prior-abused woman, this would be a way to be in control in the bedroom. Then I could think that I literally slept my way to the top.
VB: Ha! That's like saying it's a badge of honor -- do you think what she did is something to be proud of? For the record, I'm not making any judgments -- if I were in her position I'd probably do it too -- opportunities for women back then were hard to come by, so I totally get it and would make the same choice, but do you think the fact that her ex assaulted her would then equate to her feeling more empowered after getting paid to sleep with the other guy?
Maria: In my opinion, what she did is simply the cost of doing business, not anything to be proud of or be ashamed of. I'm not sure if it would empower her, more like it would make her feel that she was more in control of her sex life.
VB: Do you think she should ever tell her son what she did to secure their future? I don't think I'd want to know you felt compelled to do that. It's kind of a weird birds and bees conversation!
Maria: I would never tell anyone. I would consider it a cost of doing business. To enter into a situation like that, you'd have to go into it as what it should be, a business proposition. And anytime my guilt would kick in, I would just look around my big office, think about my big bank account, and smile.
VB: Oh lord. Okay, Joan's a single-mom in the late 60s, and you were a single-mom in the late 80's -- women's rights have come a long way since both decades -- do you think women today have the same problems to worry about? With being a divorcée not quite the scandal it used to be, would the offer still carry as much weight?
Maria: Yes, I do believe it still happens. I doubt if the payoff would be as good. And yes, I would still do it in this day and age.
And that's when I threatened to call Dad.
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