Becoming Donna Reed

Season 1: Episode 12 – The Beaded Bag


Episode opens with Donna at a local department store. She is there to have a bracelet repaired. While there she admires a bag.The saleswoman notes that Donna admires the bag each time she comes in. A husband approaches the counter looking for a gift for his wife. The saleswoman deftly directs him to a gift the wife had pre-selected. Then Patsy, a friend of Donna’s, comes in and she tell Donna to have Alex buy her the bag for her upcoming birthday. Patsy and the saleslady discuss how easy it would be to get Alex to buy the bag. Donna does not like this suggestion and she departs. Patsy shares a knowing glance with the saleslady and the bag is tucked on a shelf. They comment that Donna will get her bag, “After all, she’s a woman” they say.

At home, Jeff is trying to borrow money from Mary for Donna’s birthday present. Donna enters and the conversation changes to what Donna would like for a gift. Donna leaves the room and Alex enters. He and the kids discuss Donna’s birthday. Alex notes that Donna never really seems to want anything and Mary pleas with him to get Donna something special. She reminds Alex that Donna is a woman.

In his office Alex is finishing up an appointment with Patsy and her son. Patsy takes it upon herself to tell Alex about the bag that Donna liked that is set aside at the store. She gently reminds Alex that Donna is a woman and likes nice things. Alex interprets this to mean that Donna requested the bag be set aside.

Donna and Alex return from a night out. Donna questions Alex as to why he seems to be in a strange mood. Alex tries to get her to directly tell him what she wants. She tells him she’ll love whatever he gives her, even if its nothing. He tells her he has to go downtown the next day and asks if there is anything she needs. She says no and he persists. She remembers the bracelet will ready and asks him to pick that up.

The next day Alex is at the store getting the bracelet. He asks the saleslady if she has any ideas what Donna might like. She reveals nothing. He is about to leave when the saleswoman has a sudden epiphany and produces the bag. He knows he has been played.

The morning of Donna’s birthday the kids wake her up with breakfast in bed and give her gifts. Alex acts like he has nothing for her. The kids leave and Alex gives Donna the bag, She is overjoyed until she realizes that he felt she was manipulating him into buying it. They argue and the gift feels tainted. Donna returns the bag to the store and is angry with Alex. Alex is angry with Donna for seemingly playing games.

Patsy comes to visit and Donna realizes how Alex got the notion she was tricking him. She sits with Mary and Mary reminds her that gifts are symbols of love. She tells Donna, “You returned Daddy’s love to the department store.”

Donna returns to the store to reclaim the bag. The saleslady tells her it has been purchased. Donna is heartbroken and then Alex comes around the corner with the bag. They embrace and apologize to one another. Alex just wants Donna to be frank with him and she promises to be. They embrace again and all is well.


Unless it is manufactured by Milton-Bradley or Parker Brothers, game-play has no place in a marriage.


Why is it that whenever we invoke gender, it always seems to be negative. When masculine behavior crosses a line we roll our eyes and exclaim, “Boys will be boys!” When the women in this episode are being manipulative it is justified with a, “She’s a woman.” As if simply possessing male genitalia gives men a license to act badly and possessing female genitalia gives us a right to sparkly baubles at all costs. This is flattering to no one.

To Donna’s credit, she was trying not to get caught up in this game. She did not want to trick Alex into purchasing the bag, but she is not completely innocent either. I like romance, but things like birthdays and anniversaries seem to set up ridiculous expectations. Donna was hoping that Alex would read her mind and give her what she really wanted. She didn’t want to seem like she really wanted something, but she did. What would have been so wrong with directly telling Alex what she wanted? Why the need to be coy?

There is nothing more romantic than a spontaneous gesture, but there is nothing spontaneous about holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. They are scheduled and, if you let them, each carries a set of expectations. Why do we let a calendar dictate when we we should be affectionate and why, according to popular wisdom, does affection have to come with a price tag?

There seems to be a big elaborate game that men and woman are supposed to play. Perhaps it’s laziness, perhaps it’s enlightenment, but my husband and I gave up on this game years ago. We are terrible at the holiday/birthday/anniversary gift game. We just don’t participate. Our gift giving is much more practical and it occurs when something is needed, desired, or a perfect something is spotted. We acknowledge special occasions with an activity, or a nice meal. Sometimes we go out for that meal, but often it is an excuse for me to try something new in the kitchen.

The big ones, decade passing birthdays and anniversaries, still deserve formal acknowledgment, but I find a trip is so much nicer than a thing. This is what we have found that works for us. They are our guidelines, for our relationships. I am sure that there are couples for whom traditional practices are deeply satisfying. What I am tired of is the notion is that there is only one accepted pattern of affection showing. I still get looks when people ask what I am getting my husband for Christmas and I say nothing. If he doesn’t have a particular desire around December 25 then I am not going to bring some piece of junk into the house just so there is something beneath the tree. I married a mature adult, not a child.

It took me a long time to be OK with this. For many years I went through the motions because I thought that was how its done. Now I am learning that giving out of obligation is neither how I want to give or what I want to receive.

As I get older, I have no interest in male/female games. I have a partner I can be up front with and he, I hope, feels the same about me. Communication and partnership is what I value, not false posturing or pretenses of scheduled spontaneity.

Plan of Action

I will make no apologies for not following expected patterns or playing the traditional gender games. Yes, I am still a “woman” and I love pretty things, but I much prefer a dress bought out-of-the-blue and delivered on a perfect spring day than an uninspired something that was purchased because, “It’s your birthday and I had to do something.”

By the way, Donna’s dinner dress in this episode was glorious! Just had to share