'Mad Men': Is Sally Draper's storyline 'child exploitation'?

kiernan-shipka-amc.jpgIn Thursday's (June 7) New York Post, TV critic Linda Stasi takes "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner to task for, in words, "child exploitation" and "Hollywood perversity." Weiner, she accuses, is guilty of over-sexualizing Sally Draper's storyline and exposing the actress who plays her -- 12-year-old Kiernan Shipka -- to child predators.

I hate even having to address this, but the first thing I thought when Sally hit her big milestone on Sunday's show was "someone's going to take this the wrong way." Stasi, conveniently stepped up. It just took her a few days.

Sally -- and Weiner -- deserve a sane point of view. So here we are.

Stasi writes:

"When [Sally] gets stomach pains she runs to the bathroom, where she pulls up her dress, pulls down her underpants, squats on the toilet and there, in close-up yet, they show her little-girl, white cotton underpants soiled with her first menstrual blood ... Excuse me? That is a violation of a child's private moment that no man, let alone an entire nation, should see."

Nevermind that this child is actually a fictional character and that, hey, she's going through something that Stasi and every other woman on the planet has experienced. There's nothing shameful or taboo about it. To the contrary, Weiner handled the moment with extreme delicacy -- giving viewers (yep, even male viewers) a little insight into the often uncomfortable process that is a girl going through puberty.

Stasi goes on to take exception with earlier scenes involving Shipka: One from this season, when Sally walks in on Roger Sterling getting serviced by her step-grandmother and a Season 4 scene in which Sally's mom, Betty Francis, catches her masturbating.

"Again, this was a scene that not only did not move the plot forward," she writes. "In fact, it stopped it cold."

And maybe therein lies Stasi's problem. If she's watching strictly to find out where Don Draper ends up at the end of each episode, she's missing a great deal. "Mad Men" is a nuanced show that is as much about character, relationships and the human condition as it is about what happens at a '60s-era advertising agency. And that scene moved our understanding of both Sally Draper and her mother forward. A lot.

Shipka, who is every bit as poised and intelligent as Sally Draper -- if not more -- was not in the least exploited or jeopardized for being given the chance to accurately portray a 12-year-old girl on TV. And this show, though it hardly needs mentioning, is not aimed at pre-teen girls. Yes, Shipka is a pre-teen girl, but "Mad Men's" audience is decidedly adult and capable of putting a coming of age story in proper perspective.

As Crushable's Jamie Peck notes, maybe Stasi thinks it would be more of a plot-mover to have Sally Draper spend each week at tea parties and playing with dolls. But that just wouldn't suit reality, let alone the fragile, complex reality Weiner and the "Mad Men" cast and crew have constructed.

Maybe Stasi would do better to aim her anger at shows like "Toddlers & Tiaras," that truly, unapologetically make bucks off the over-sexualization of young girls.
Photo/Video credit: AMC
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