What Peggy Olson Should Have Said to Joan Holloway

At the end of Mad Men Season 4, Episode 8 (“The Summer Man”) Joan takes Peggy to task for firing Joey, the copy editor who drew and posted a rather vulgar picture of her. In the final scene, inside an elevator, Peggy tells Joan what she did, with some pride. Joan replies with considerable sarcasm and anger.

“I don’t know if you heard, but I fired Joey.”

“I did, and good for you.”

“I defended you!”

“You defended yourself. All you’ve done is prove to them that I’m a meaningless secretary, and you’re a humorless bitch.”

The scene ends before we get a chance to see what, if anything, Peggy said in response. Here’s what I would love to have watched Peggy say back to Joan:

“Look, Joan. I’m well aware of the fact that you used to be my boss. But you’re not any more. And even if you were, that doesn’t authorize you to use that kind of language with me, which is totally out of line. I would never address you in such a manner and hope you would extend me the same courtesy.”

“Now if I hear you correctly, you’re saying you were handling Joey and his crowd your way, and that by firing him I undermined you, demonstrated a lack of a sense of humor, and behaved like a ‘bitch.’

“I need to apologize for the way I just presented firing Joey, as something I did to protect you or earn your approval. That’s wrong. You don’t need protecting, and firing someone is not and should never be done as a personal favor to someone. I’m sorry I presented it that way to you just now.

“Truth is, I fired Joey for three reasons. First and foremost is the fact that it’s wrong for any member of our workplace to harass another. Period. What Joey did was harassment, and that has no place in this company, regardless of who does it to whom.

“Second, after speaking with Joey, I got the sense that he really didn’t understand what harassment is, how it affects people, or how his behavior was a prime example.

“Third, I couldn’t reassure myself or the people I’m responsible for in this workplace that Joey would not harass again. Indeed, given the incredibly dismissive and disrespectful way he treated me and the situation to the very end, it seemed quite likely.

“Now should I have given him a second chance? I don’t know, and that’s something I’ll have to deal with. And Joan, I think you know me well enough to know I have a sense of humor, regardless of whether others share it or see it.

“But you know something? I don’t think I’ve ever had to prove that to anyone, even when I was a ‘lowly secretary.’

“I fired Joey because I believe it was the right thing to do, both morally as well as in the best interests of this company, not because I think it is what you would have wanted.

“Now here’s what I think happened. I think you have a very powerful behind-the-scenes way of handling people like Joey, and I admire that. At the same time, I have a responsibility to my team and to this office that you don’t, so I had to act out in the open.

“Joan, it doesn’t have to be your way or my way. I did what I did as a boss, and you did what you did as a co-worker. Neither one of them has to be opposed to the other.

“Now with all due respect, I think you believe a number of things that I just don’t. You may believe that boys will be boys, that little can be expected of them by way of manners and respect, that it’s OK, fun, or even funny to treat women the way you were treated, that it’s humorless to assert otherwise, or that there’s something intrinsically unfeminine about wielding more overt forms of power.

“You and I may even disagree more than me and Joey on what constitutes harassment. But you know what? I have a responsibility to act on those complaints in a manner that’s transparent and open, which you don’t have.

“My main concern now is the fact that you feel your position was compromised by my actions, and that you feel belittled by the way I handled things. Going forward, I hope to mend fences with you and not step on your toes ever again. So let’s keep talking about this and see if either of our thoughts change afterwards.”

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