Girl Talk: In Defense Of Peggy Olsen’s Anonymous Hand Job

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It happened so quickly, and it was so dark, that it was hard to tell what Peggy Olsen was doing in that movie theater. I texted a friend. 

“Did Peggy just give a hand job to her boyfriend or a random man?”

“It’s hard to tell the way it was shot, but consensus says random,” my friend wrote back.

That was the answer I was hoping for. I was thrilled that “Mad Men” finally featured a meaningless sexual act involving one of their female characters. Maybe this scene would have been more pedestrian if it were Don or Pete or Roger. We’ve spent the last five seasons watching their messy sex lives. The guys of “Mad Men” have had so many sexual indiscretions that it’s hard to keep track.

While I’ve never given a hand job to stranger in a movie theater, I have had my share of meaningless sexual experiences, even while dating someone else. I could understand Peggy’s state of mind entirely. Her day started with a fight with her boyfriend, got worse when she failed to impress a Heinz executive with her baked beans pitch. I know that feeling. It starts in a deep place in your gut, an emptiness. You feel alone. You feel out of control. You feel anxious. Your life collapses on your head. It feels symptomatic of a bigger failing as a human being. Dealing with it feels insurmountable. There’s no one you can talk to because you don’t even know how to articulate the problem. 

Recently, I was on a date with a guy I had been seeing for a couple of months. I was feeling terrible about an upsetting email I received at work. I was doubting myself, doubting what I was trying to do with my life. I didn’t talk about it with my date. I kept things light, instead.  We laughed and swapped stories of the safe and comfortable variety. He gave me a gentle kiss goodbye, looking at me like I was some perfect, angelic creature. It made me sick, because I felt anything but. As we parted ways, the feeling of awfulness inside of me was snowballing, creating an unsettling anxiety. Soon, I was at home pouring myself a glass of wine and logging on to every chat function on my computer. I wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to talk to about how I was feeling, because I couldn’t put it into words anyway. If anything I was looking for someone to listen to, and maybe all those feelings would unload, unspoken, in some other way. Before I knew it, I got a Facebook ping from the exact right person, someone with whom I share no emotional intimacy, have no attachment to, and I know he feels the same.

Our chat session was absolutely filthy and disgusting. I’ll spare you the details, but I think we hit every subversive sexual taboo out there. I felt relieved after we both came. The distracting anxiety that had built up was nowhere to be found. I slept really well.

Acting out in this way doesn’t always result in sexual intercourse, or any physical contact at all, although there have been times that I’ve found myself in an alley making out with a stranger. It’s just a kind of sexual release of anxiety, getting off instead of stressing out. There’s a debate to be had about what Peggy’s anonymous handjob meant within the context of the show, but outside the realm of “Mad Men,” I saw it as a nod to the fact that women are capable of having meaningless sexual encounters, too. We get overwhelmed and stressed out by our lives, and love, sex and intimacy get all confused and jumbled up and we don’t know how to untangle the knot. And sometimes it’s easier just to give a stranger a hand job and call it a day.

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