Anyone who thought the 1960s was a Mad Men's world never met Joan Holloway—she'll never be Joan Harris to us. She earned success, wealth, and power, all without ever having access to the opportunities taken for granted by Don, Roger, and the other male executives. Nobody commands a room like Joan. She absolutely shatters the demure, permissive stereotype of secretaries. Whether at home or the office, those who try to put her in her place are in for a rude awakening. But most people know better. Hey, even Don Draper is scared of her.
To think of Joan as merely a secretary is like thinking of Beyoncé as merely a singer. Don't believe us?
10 "I'm not a solution to your problems. I'm another problem."
Joan Holloway is no man's keeper. She may cater to their egos in the workplace, but in her personal life, Joan wants a man who doesn't need constant boosting up. That's what makes her on-the-side relationship with Roger work so well. Neither of them need each other. They're only in it for the want... most of the time.
As exuberant as he is, sometimes Roger experiences intense feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. When he looks to Joan to alleviate them, she has no qualms about reminding him of their arrangement. Joan cares for Roger dearly, but he needs to know that she's his mistress, not his mommy.
9 "You want to be taken seriously, stop dressing like a little girl."
There are times when Joan leaps past fierce and is just plain mean. To avoid office harassment and command the respect she does, Joan wears a suit of armor that goes beyond just her stylish outfits. When she observes other women acting in any way that threatens to undo her work, Joan takes issue with it, and that's when the claws come out.
Joan is especially hard on Peggy, but it's because Joan is smart. She sees potential in Peggy that Peggy doesn't even see in herself. That's why it's so infuriating to Joan when Peggy acts helpless, lamenting about how unfair things are. So Joan offers up some wisdom. If we want to seem fierce, we have to look sharp.
8 "I'm in charge of thinking of things before people know they need them."
The Sterling Cooper agency, and all of its many iterations, would collapse upon itself if it wasn't for Joan. Whether you want to call her head secretary, office manager, or Director of Agency Operations—"a title with no money of course."—Joan's job is every bit as important as anyone else's, but is swiftly and mistakenly dismissed.
Only Joan could describe what she does in a fashion that leaves no room for belittling or downplaying. Short of using sorcery, who else could do this as well as Joan? In fact, nobody on the entire show does their job as skillfully as she does hers. The woman turns human resources into an art form.
7 "I'm glad the army makes you feel like a man. Because I'm sick and tired of trying to do it."
When Joan fantasized about a life married to a doctor, she didn't have a hellscape with Greg Harris in mind. Everyone has their insecurities, but most people don't take them out on their partners like Greg does to Joan. On a bad day, Greg subjects Joan to unspeakable abuse. On a good day, he makes major life decisions without consulting her... like joining the army.
As one to speak up for herself, Joan is always vocal when Greg leaves her reeling after he makes yet another inconsiderate decision. But it's rare that she lays her cards on the table quite this bluntly to him. Greg has a lot to answer for and Joan is done with trying to pretend otherwise. Moments later, he walks out the door. Good riddance.
6 "They just want you to be as miserable as they are. I say let them have it."
Sadly, there are people out there who are threatened by successful, confident people and feel the need to take them down a peg or two. At Sterling Cooper, Paul, like many others, is desperate for Joan's approval, especially because they used to date. But Joan has precious little time for pompous dolts like Paul, because she's singlehandedly ensuring the functionality of the entire office.
When she steps on his man-baby toes one too many times, he gets revenge by posting a photocopy of her driver's license on the workplace bulletin board, revealing that Joan is—egads!—in her thirties. Joan is embarrassed but refuses to let it show. Nobody is worthy of making Joan sweat, least of all Paul freaking Kinsey. She's been fabulous her entire life, all thirty plus years, and if you have a problem with that, it's not like Joan asked for your opinion.
5 "Sometimes when people get what they want they realize how limited their goals were."
This is a bit of an about-face from Joan's last quote, as it's her version of a congratulations when Peggy gets promoted to junior copywriter. Yes, Joan is jealous that Peggy climbed the ranks faster than any woman at the agency, including Joan herself. But even though she'll never admit it, Joan thinks of herself as a big sister figure to Peggy... and sometimes big sisters are brutal. In reality, Joan knows that things will be twice as hard for Peggy, because now that she has a job that traditionally would go to a man, she'll have to work twice as hard to earn respect.
Joan could have given Peggy a day, maybe two, to celebrate, before raining on her parade with the cold, hard truth. But it's that truth that inspires Peggy to always aim higher and create bigger goals. And that's way more valuable than a pat on the back.
4 "I want to burn this place down."
Joan is a master at keeping her cool, but even she gets hot under the collar. Who can blame her? As much as she's whipped most people in the office into shape, all it takes is one pervy client or disgruntled employee to undermine all Joan's accomplishments.
Whether it's a demeaning cartoon or a reference to her breasts as "a work of art", Joan will never be treated as professionally as her male co-workers, despite being a partner. And yeah, it ticks her off. Sometimes it's worth it to swallow our anger. But Joan's been doing that for an entire decade and if anyone deserves to let it all out, it's her.
3 "But that's life. One minute you're on top of the world, the next minute some secretary's running you over with a lawn mower."
It's an important life lesson to know that as good as you may have it now, the rug can be pulled out from under you at any minute. Joan knows this. Many of her entitled colleagues do not. In one of the show's most violent scenes, a drunk secretary accidentally drives a lawn mower over an executive's foot. Everyone in the office (naturally) freaks out. Except Joan.
While others lose their lunch or pass out, she mitigates the situation as best she can, all the while knowing that this man's career is over. Even Don is shocked at the executive's callous dismissal. Joan's observation is as full of truth as it is black humor.
2 "No dull moments or dull men tolerated."
This declaration of awesomeness comes in the form of advice to Peggy. She's having trouble finding a roommate, so Joan helps her jazz up her ad. She may not write copy, but Joan knows how to sell. Rather than Peggy's dry, bare-bones pitch, Joan paints a story of two wild young women conquering Manhattan together.
Even though Joan reins in her harshness, she's doing one of her favorite activities, which is to point out how she thrives where Peggy lacks. And in this case, Joan is absolutely right. Whereas Peggy is still way too attached to her family and their rigid opinions of what a woman should be, Joan does what she wants. When you live like her, every day is an adventure.
1 "If they've tried to make you feel you're different from them, you are. That's a good way to be."
Joan lives in an era that places a premium on being normal. Bucking the trend can lead to alienation, especially at an office full of sheeple like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It's there that Joan makes a real connection with Lane Pryce, the only person besides her who knows half of what it means to keep the office running on a day-to-day basis. Even though Lane is a name partner, he's still not one of the boys. He destroys his home life and his bank account trying, and this leads to an even more tragic ending. It just goes to show that even as adults, fitting in is important.
Not to Joan. Sure, she plays along to get along but everyone knows she's a breed apart for the masses. Rather than trying to conform and let people sand her edges, Joan embraces it. It's what makes her who she is, which is a woman to be admired.