‘Mad Men’s Don Draper, Rick Ross, And Narrowing Down The Definitions Of Rape And Assault

Over at Feministing, Mychal Denzel Smith has a great piece comparing Rick Ross and Don Draper as men who are very invested in building up fantasy worlds that justify their own privilege:

I don’t mean to compare the rapper and Mad Men’s leading character’s status as sex symbols, because the parallels go beyond the superficial. They are both products of fiction. They’re both identity thieves whose actual life stories hold the potential to ostracize them from their chosen communities. But more importantly, they both have constructed elaborate fantasy worlds around an idea of masculinity they know isn’t true to who they are. And neither one can escape.

Or it might be that they don’t want to escape. They both know that what they’re selling is bullshit, but they do it anyway because it affords them the opportunity to indulge every hyper-masculine fantasy they’ve been told would bring them happiness. In Don’s 1960s world it means he has a beautiful wife, a beautiful ex-wife, beautiful mistresses, beautiful kids, a beautiful home, a thriving business, the envy of Pete Campbell, and respect. Every night he should lie down to sleep feeling like a king.

The occasion for the piece was Ross’s decision that it’s super-cool to rap that he: “Put molly all in her champagne, she aint even know it. I took her home and I enjoyed that, she aint even know it.” After having it pointed out to him that this sentiment is less than charming, Ross insisted that he wasn’t advocating rape because that wasn’t the term that he used, and added that “”I would never use the term rape in my records. As far as my camp, hip-hop don’t condone that. The streets don’t condone that. Nobody condones that…I just wanted to reach out to all the queens that are on my timeline and all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding.” Talib Kweli has been among the people who have pointed out that this sentiment is idiotic.

But Ross’s attempt at an explanation also points to a direction I think Smith could have taken his piece in: Ross is making the same attempt to narrow down what constitutes rape and sexual assault that characters on Mad Men make all of the time. Don Draper would never think of himself as someone who assaults a woman when he shoves his fingers up Bobbie Barrett’s vagina in a restaurant. Ken Cosgrove couldn’t possibly think that chasing a coworker down, dragging her to the floor, and pulling up her skirt to see the color of her panties is harassment or assault. Pete Campbell doesn’t understand that pressuring the German au pair employed by his neighbors is an ugly form of sexual coercion. And Greg Harris, Joan Holloway’s fiancee, doesn’t see himself as a rapist for years after he assaults Joan on the floor of Roger Sterling’s office—and maybe not even after Joan tells him that “You’re not a good man. You never were, even before we were married, and you know what I’m talking about.”

Because rapists are bad men, and a specific class of bad men. They’re men who can’t get a woman’s consent to have sex, rather than ones who just don’t, or won’t. Rapes happen in alleys, in bushes, late at night, rather than in martial beds, during the day. Rape only happens between strangers, rather than between people who know each other. A woman wasn’t raped unless she has cuts, bruises, was in fear of her life. If a woman had too much to drink, she wasn’t raped. If a woman consented to sex with a man before, she wasn’t raped. If a woman is unconscious and therefore unable to give a definitive no, it isn’t rape. If a woman ought to be sexually available to you, it can’t possibly be assault.

Rick Ross may have a better class of drugs available to him than the men who harass and assault the women around them and go on thinking of themselves as perfectly nice guys, if not world-conquering ballers on the same scale as Ross or Don Draper. But he’s a great illustration of how the same old excuses echo down the ages—and how they transfer from one set of men to another as men of different races and classes get access to the kind of privilege that men like Don guarded so carefully in the past.