I think that even today, a strong woman is quite often considered to be a bitch for being assertive, for having authority. Women still quite often utilize less direct and more nurturing or pseudo nurturing ways to couch issues in order to get done what needs to be done. Men are bastards and everybody simply accepts that they are. Of course not all men are bastards or even most. But no one thinks a man is unsexing himself or out of line or pushing boundaries for being assertive.
Don/Pete: I know we've had this discussion before. Both are extremely flawed individuals, and flawed men and flawed fathers. Both had lousy upbringings, with Pete having a great deal of wealth but no emotional warmth from either parent. Don had no money, no parents, an abusive step mother who hated him and who felt obligated to him and was raised, partially, and imo, unbelievably in a whore house.
One big difference between the two is that Don has always sought to transcend his circumstance--often through escape,yes. He left to join the army, and when fate/circumstance presented an opening, he left his old, despised (bastard son of a whore) identity behind and took the identity of a dead man, which was as close to a clean slate as he could get. He received probably the first genuine nurturing in his life from Anna who did not judge him and encouraged him to make the most of himself. Understandably, if not necessarily admirably, Don believed that the way to better himself was through financial success. He was blessed (and cursed, in a way) with good looks and charm to go with his not inconsiderable intelligence. He understands what people (in the abstract, and as a group) want and how to give it to them, or make them think they're getting what they want and need, and to want what he has to offer. He understands the mechanics, he understands the formula, even the poetry of the human heart. But he doesn't quite understand actual relationships, and love. He is caught in the idea that beauty is the most important thing (Betty, and also Megan) and providing luxuries is the most important thing, is the way you demonstrate love. He understands sex, he understands form but real emotion? Not really. He saw absolutely no examples of healthy human interactions on any level when he was growing up so he has little basis on which to build real relationships himself. We've seen him gradually, painfully, realize that he is missing some very key elements, some important understanding. He wants to be a good husband to Megan, and I think he wanted to be a good husband to Betty as well. He just didn't really understand how he hasn't been a good husband. With Betty, it was largely about sex and control: remember his conversations with the psychiatrist? I felt so bad for Betty--and in fact, that was largely what made me not hate her. With Megan, he's faced with a woman who is younger, more modern and more in tune with the changing culture and who isn't interested in being controlled. The extreme example of attempting to control a woman was with Sylvia and of course, failed miserably because she realized he did not realize it was all play acting. In Don, I see genuine strength of character (however deeply flawed--and he is deeply, deeply flawed) but he is strong, effective and is genuinely trying to be a better person, even if he has little clue how to do it. He is making some attempts to forge a real, genuine relationship: he revealed more to Megan (learning that his secrets destroyed his marriage to Betty) and to Sally because he actually does love his kids, even if he doesn't know how to relate to them very well and certainly not on an emotional level. In many ways, he relates to them as most men of that era related to their kids.
Pete also came from a family which emotionally neglected and perhaps abused him. He had lots of privilege but instead of being stronger for it, he is weaker and pretty ineffectual. Like Don, he really sees only surface: he married the rich wife with plenty of the right connections, he sees having mistresses or at least sex on the side as simply a perk of being a man of certain means. He is, imo, mostly petty and mean spirited and dishonest to the core. He is dishonest with himself and his idea of bettering himself is to be in charge. However, he lacks the talents to do so. He doesn't care about becoming a better man: he cares about winning. I think he was genuinely sorry when his marriage fell apart. I think he cares about his daughter but not enough that he would give up the chance to be on the west coast so he could spend more time with his daughter. He didn't even want to have to commute to the suburbs to spend time with his daughter, instead preferring his pied a terre where he could take his sexual conquests. I see him as a small, petty, bitter little man who has reached the peak of his human development and probably did so by age 9.