Booze. Drugs. Sex. Every Mad Men character has a vice—most have several. But for many a Mad Men viewer, there is no greater pleasure than throwing supreme shade at Betty Draper. From her lousy parenting to her chain-smoking, no Betty crime was too small.
Betty has the misfortune of being a female character during the "Difficult Men" era of television. Her husband Don could get away with murder, and the audience is supposed to cut him slack for being dark and complicated. Yet, when Betty misbehaves, she's just a cold shrew. Don't get us wrong, she can be a piece of work. But strip away your judgment, and what's left is a mistreated, sympathetic woman with a surprising amount of heart. Here is Mad Men: 10 Reasons Betty Draper Isn’t As Bad As You Think She Is.
10 Fires back at obnoxious neighbors
As a 1960s suburban housewife, Betty is dependent on Don for everything. Though most of her peers would envy her seemingly idyllic life, Betty has precious little agency. Her beautiful home is also her prison. So when a neighbor's pet pigeons—yes, you read that correctly...pet pigeons—won't shut up, Betty decides that she'll take matters into her own hands. Armed with her son's BB gun, Betty goes out back and fires a few rounds at her winged tormentors, all while smoking a cigarette.
A little extreme? Yes. But earlier, that same neighbor threatened to shoot Sally's dog, giving the little girl nightmares. Plus, Betty specifically asked Don not to intervene. To her, this is woman's work.
9 Gives up her modeling career for her family
Betty isn't some trophy wife who spent her maiden years waiting by her window for Prince Charming. Before Don, she was a successful, jet-setting model. But after getting married, Betty hangs up her couture in favor of an apron. Whether Betty fully wanted to quit modeling or not is of nobody's concern. As long as she's got a roof over her head and food to prepare, society tells her she has no right to complain.
It's clear that Betty misses modeling, as evidenced when she and Don run into a Coca-Cola executive and he offers her a job. But it turns out she's just a pawn in a bid to nab Don. Betty is crushed when the offer falls through, but instead of dusting off her head-shots, Betty quietly serves Don dinner and never speaks of modeling again. Her sacrifice may be lost on her husband, but it shouldn't be on the audience.
8 Kindness to Glen
Betty's unconventional relationship with Glen the neighbor kid is catnip to her detractors. Yes, it's a bad call for Betty to give Glen a lock of her hair while babysitting him. But Glen's just a boy who isn't familiar with social boundaries and Betty is lonely and thrilled to have someone paying attention to her.
Odd as he is, Glen recognizes Betty's melancholia. At one point, he runs away from home and tells Betty he wants to "rescue" her. Years later, Glen, now a young man, makes a point of saying goodbye to Betty before shipping off to Vietnam. She may have a reputation as an ice queen, but her warmth has a profound effect on Glen.
7 Perfect executive's wife
Don may think of his former wife as an emotional train wreck, but even he's got to hand it to her—Betty knows how to put on the ritz and turn up the charm. Unlike other executive's wives—we're looking at you, Jane Siegel—Betty isn't just arm candy. Whether at parties or work dinners, Betty always makes both herself and Don look stellar. She's pleasant and bubbly, always fueling the conversation without ever dominating.
When hosting Don's colleagues, Betty makes sure everything is perfect. An impromptu visit from Roger finds Betty giving him her dinner while she eats the saddest looking salad ever. And does Don thank her for her social grace? Nope. He violently grabs her arm and calls her a little girl. Don may make the money, but Betty more than contributes too. A bruised arm is about all the thanks she gets.
6 Present parent
Nobody's looking to crown Betty as Mother of the Year. But at least she's there, which is more than anyone can say for Don. He's the sole breadwinner, so it's fair that he spends a lot of time out of the house. However, when off the clock, Don often prefers nights of booze-filled adultery to tucking his kids into bed. When he is home, he's always looking for an excuse to leave. Remember Sally's birthday party? Betty plans and executes the entire thing and gives Don exactly one job: pick up the cake. He does not pick up the cake.
Despite her flaws, Betty really tries her best. When Sally's upset about the arrival of baby Gene, Betty tries to comfort her and gives her a Barbie doll. It's hardly Betty's fault the doll winds up flung out the window. Being June Cleaver when you're constantly undermined by both your husband and kids is tough. But it's a job that Betty will never quit.
5 Solo disciplinarian
Though Betty's reaction to Sally chopping off her hair is the slap heard 'round the world, Betty hardly revels in her disciplinary duties. She's not a monster lurking in the shadows, pouncing on every opportunity to beat her kids. While her treatment of Sally is unjustifiable, overall Betty should get some sympathy for having zero support when it comes to punishing her kids.
When Bobby develops a belligerent streak, Betty all but gets on her knees and begs Don to discipline him. We're talking about a man who has made multiple people cry at the office, yet all he can manage for his own obnoxious son is a stern, "Don't do it again." Really? Don finally gets fed up with Betty asking him to be a dad and breaks Bobby's toy at the dinner table to prove a point. When it comes to being a father and husband, Don's a big baby.
4 Tries to leave her marriage with dignity
Don has approximately six million affairs, give or take. In contrast, Betty has one itsy-bitsy hookup in a bar restroom...out of revenge for her husband's six million affairs. But when Henry Francis comes along, Betty knows she's been bitten by the love bug.
Her marriage is dying. Neither she nor Don love each other. The writing is on the wall, and Betty has a shot at being happy with Henry, so she decides to go for it. She consults a lawyer and goes about things in an entirely mature, classy way. But Don being Don, he blows a gasket and calls her a whore. A little pot calling the kettle black, no? And the kettle's not even black—it's just done with being married to a sociopath.
3 A woman of her time
Betty has received a lot of viewer vitriol for being vain, shallow, and entirely dependent on men. Guess what? That's how she was raised to be. Her mother told her, "You're painting a masterpiece. Make sure to hide the brushstrokes." All Betty knew growing up was that it was her job to be beautiful. That's it. The man is supposed to take care of the rest.
Other than her brief modeling career, Betty went from being Daddy's little girl to Don's perfect wife. She's spent her entire life being defined in relation to a man. Betty did everything she was supposed to, and she finds her life empty and full of unhappiness. So she lashes out sometimes. If your entire life was a paradox, wouldn't you?
2 Takes control of her life
Upon her marriage to Henry, Betty's happiness drastically improves, but something's still missing. She decides to go back to school and earn a degree in psychology. This is her first decision ever that has nothing to do with a societal obligation or her looks.
But a wrench is thrown into her plans when Betty is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Instead of dropping everything and taking off on a trip around the world, Betty continues to pursue a degree she'll never earn. After a lifetime of deferring to men, Betty plans to spend what precious time she has left living life on her own terms.
1 Don is always worse
It is truly baffling that people hate on Betty so much when the show's protagonist is such an unconscionable cad. He has Betty's psychologist report on their sessions, in which Don vents at him because Betty isn't getting any "better"—meaning she's still an earache for him. He frequently calls Betty out for her lack of maturity, yet squashes any efforts she makes toward independence.
After the modeling stint blows up, Betty takes an interest in horseback riding. It's the one thing in her life that doesn't revolve around domesticity, yet Don criticizes how much time she spends at the stables. When Betty decides to spice up her summer wardrobe with a bikini, Don pitches a fit. Betty deserves better—from Don and the decade she lives in.