'Mad Men' and Race? Let's Talk Gender

The show's female characters, in marginal roles during earlier seasons, are now front and center.

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Should we even mention Don's young, hot wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), who is trying to keep her husband happy while pursuing her dream of becoming an actress? Eventually Megan is going to have to decide between being a wife and being true to her professional desires -- a struggle that many women share.

Like the characters of Don and Dawn, who have more in common than just similar-sounding names, Peggy and Joan have more in common than just red hair, a child sired by the brass and overbearing, judgmental mothers. Their struggles are rooted in gender constructs, which drive all aspects of their characters' lives, including relationships with other women.

While people are so caught up in the lack of diversity on Mad Men, what the writers and producers of Mad Men are doing with gender is compelling, in a way that introducing Dawn and then not further developing her character this season is not. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it -- particularly regarding people of color on the small screen. While the representation of the female characters in season 5 is highly problematic, their plotlines are still interesting, provocative and well worth watching.

Nsenga Burton is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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