Why Women Love Don Draper

WARNING: Season 5 content, which premiered Sunday, is not discussed in this post.

In my mind, it’s very simple. The Mad Men protagonist is a combination of two killer archetypes:

  • He’s a private, brooding, unknowable creative force (he even has a secret identity).
  • He also makes a boatload of money, commands the respect of his enterprise, wears really nice clothes and owns the room when he needs to (sexually, especially).

I’ve seen some writers describe Draper as an alpha. I don’t really buy it. The alpha of the Mad Men universe is Roger Sterling, a bold, unflappable, unapologetic dominator who enjoys poking people in the eye for sport. Don is more like a guy who just picks up trouble whether he’s looking for it or not. In many ways, he’s still the kid he was in flashbacks, reacting to the world instead of pushing it around, seeking booze and sex as escapes rather than main courses of his life.

It has been funny over the course of the show to watch Roger drag Don out of the office and try to figure him out, to no avail. It’s interesting how Roger never really gets on top of Don – Roger only knows how to apply pressure to motivate people, but Don and his creative underlings don’t work that way. They don’t work better when kicked harder. Roger at least understands that enough to keep his hands off of them (undoubtedly counseled in the topic by the dainty and phlegmatic Bert Cooper, the firm’s emotional brakepad).

Roger likes to win, which is why he’s at the top of the business. But his business doesn’t run without Don’s capricious genius (if I remember correctly, Roger didn’t build the business himself but was brought into it by his father), and so Roger has no choice but to tolerate it.

Another interesting facet of the show is how Don and Betty are both awful people in their adult lives, but Don is at least good to his kids (outside of the whole banging a bunch of other women thing), and actively resisted some of Betty’s attempts to bait him into enabling her histrionic parenting. I think it’s telling that many women I know admire Betty’s glamour, but do not admire her as a person. Given that a guy good with kids is a tingle-generator of the first order, I wonder how much the Drapers’ child-rearing habits influence those opinions.


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13 responses to “Why Women Love Don Draper

  1. deti

    This is a great post, Badger. I’ve also been thinking about this.

    1. Draper is classically good looking. Classic tall, dark and handsome. Wears his clothes very well. Always impeccably groomed. Physically fit (despite heavy drinking, heavy smoking, workaholism, 15 hour work days, eating in restaurants half his life and never having time or inclination to set foot in a gym).

    2. When it comes to women and sex, Draper never asks. He takes what he wants, when he wants it. Note the way he deals with women he ends up banging. The dictates of an hour long episodic series necessarily truncates the seduction. But every time, Draper is depicted as simply sidling up to them, taking, groping, kissing, and then banging, all in less than three minutes, all while blasting through LMR and never, never taking “No” for an answer. He’s a lovable, irresistible a**hole.

    3. Draper is very, very good at his job and at the top of his field professionally.

    4. He knows exactly how to comport himself in any situation. He plays second fiddle only to Sterling, who brought him onto Madison Avenue. Otherwise, he’s the boss and undisputed AMOG.

  2. You know, I’ve never watched the show before. I think it might be too late to get into it now.

  3. Love it. I am a fan of the show, not for the characters, mostly for the styling and visual dialogue, but you’re right on about the male hierarchy. It’s interesting that during last season, Don seems to have “broken frame”, which makes him more sympathetic, but less desirable – now he’s every girls hot older brother, rather than her sordid fantasy. She brags about him and his success, she identifies with him in the familial sense, but there can be no attraction. His being married will bring out the interlopers (I’m giving it ’til episode 5 for that reveal), and he’ll likely be written as off his game professionally now that he’s “tied down”.

  4. pippinator

    He’s tall, dark and handsome, Badger. That’s very, very important to his attractiveness. I know this is a self-help site and you like to focus on the more changeable components of a male’s portfolio of assets. But I think one should also recognize that the character has intrinsic plusses, big and small, that many other men simply don’t have and will never get. Height. Handsomeness. A full head of hair. Talent. Brains. A piledriver work ethic. A subdued sense of excitability that prevents him from giving off the skittish vibe.

    He and his ilk are playing poker with seven cards while most others play with five.

    And, yes, women play their own poker game. And I’m taking this pair of threes to the promised land.

    (P.S. Why is it “tall, dark and handsome” anyway? ‘Tall’ and ‘handsome’ are undeniable assets…but ‘dark’? Why’s that better than ‘light’?)

  5. just visiting

    In the old days, dark was linked with a wildness of nature or sexuality.

  6. deti

    Darker haired and darker complected men, “swarthy” men, seemed to exude more raw sexuality.

    Consider “Gone with the Wind”. Compare Rhett Butler (dark hair, mustache, strong chin, darker skin, stronger facial features) to Ashley Wilkes (fair hair, clean shaven, weak chin, fair skin, delicate facial features). Compare their names: Rhett (simple, dashing, masculine) to Ashley (complex, steady, feminine).

    Consider male matinee idols of years past and even today. Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson (yeah I know about the gay thing but consider the physical mien), Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Christian Bale, Colin Farrell, George Clooney.

    Dark hair, darker skin, strong facial features, jut-jawed, physically fit, larger bodies, physically imposing presence, a hint of 5 o’clock shadow).

    Notable exception: Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe. short stature, slight build, less masculine features. But impossibly good looking in their day. Many women I’ve known describe these men as “just too good looking, just too beautiful”.

  7. DC Phil

    Spot on about Don and Betty.

    I agree that Don’s mystery adds to his success (he holds his cards close to the vest), but one wonders what would have happened had the cat come completely out of the bag and Don’s identity completely exposed. Recall what he did with his brother in the earlier seasons; how he paid him off and . And when Pete Campbell tried to out him, and when Betty successfully outed him. He was on the verge of a breakdown. What that tells me is that his core is very weak, because he’s obviously trying to be someone else. He’s inauthentic, but he manages to his this very well through the exteral trappings — not to mention how most people he interacts with choose to believe in the fantasy. They enable him.

    As for Betty, I was on a date last year with a late-30s woman who, when “Mad Men” came up in the conversation, called Don a sleazebag without hesitation — but curiously neglected to mention Betty. Don IS good with his kids, while Betty is especially cruel and abusive with Sally. I’ve always seen Betty as a caricature. She’s emotionally immature, a trophy wife, and has a sense of entitlment, since she came from the upper-classes and attended a posh school (Bryn Mawr College). Hypergamy at work, too, so she married Henry, and Don before him.

  8. lavazza1891

    Jon Hamm reminds me of a popular Swedish actor who seemed to be in everything when I grew up.


    But he mostly played intelligent, hard working working class guys.

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  10. Bill

    Thanks for the insight on Roger (purely Alpha) versus Don (Alpha with a strong Beta for his children and subordinates).

    Others may disagree with me about the Beta side of Don Draper. But he dotes on his children (after watching Betty slip away). And Draper has been fiercely protective of his subordinates.

    Peggy is the prime example. He defends her from Pete Campbell in the first episode.

    Even when Campbell attempts to out him to Sterling and Cooper, Draper protects Campbell.

    Draper had two families: his children with Betty and his team at SCDP. As an Alpha, he protects both fiercely. As a Beta, he nurtures both.

    Draper’s Alpha qualities enable him to divorce Betty when her bad behavior becomes a threat to his children.

    Scraper tolerates and protects Sal’s homosexuality, until Sal becomes a clear liability to the survival so Sterling Cooper. Then he cuts Sal loose without a second thought.

    Great post, Mr. B.

  11. Bill

    Scraper was supposed to be Draper in that next-to-last paragraph.

    Damed auto-correct…


    A conversation with a reader reminded me of another interesting quirk – Draper almost never gives anybody what they want ahead of what he wants. The major alpha trait of “coincidental benevolence.” I was reminded of this when in the premiere of season 5 (SPOILER ALERT) Megan throws a huge shit test at him by cleaning their home in her underwear and saying he doesn’t deserve to admire her body. He dominates her caveman style.

    This contrasted with a scene earlier in the series, when Bobbie Barrett was acting up, and he tied her to the bedframe – and left. She wanted him to take her, was shit-testing him to do it, and he could have gotten his rocks off, but I think he realized the fling had become more trouble than it was worth, and he taught her a lesson (but not the “lesson” she wanted to receive).

  13. doug1111

    You don’t buy that Don Draper is an alpha? What on earth did you mean by that? Of course he’s an alpha. In fact he’s a super alpha. That’s helped a lot by his looks which are really pinning it. He’s as handsome as George Clooney.

    Rodger Sterling is also an alpha but I’d not say super alpha.

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