by Roxanna Bennett
-Spoiler Alert to end of Season 3-
The third season of Downton Abbey is over. We feminist fans shed some tears when Lady Sybil died, cheered when under-butler Thomas Barrow informed Mr. Carson his lifestyle is “not revolting” and learned a lot more about what it means to be a Lady.
We learned that it’s difficult but not impossible to challenge the social norms (Mrs. Crawley helps Edith move from sex work to domestic employment), that older women may be romantically pursued but it’s sometimes a relief to turn down a suitor (Mrs. Patmore is wooed by a player who wants a captive cook, Mrs. Crawley deftly shuts down Dr. Clarkson). We discovered that slut-shaming is an old tradition (Lady Mary, Lady Rose, Edith, pretty much every unmarried woman in Downton gets a taste of this at some point or another) and that sometimes challenging class and station in life works out for the best (Sybil and Tom), huzzah!
Below are 10 Georgian-era life lessons about femininity and ladyhood we learned from the women of Downton Abbey.
- Appearance is everything
It’s imperative that, as a Lady, you spend several hours a day being dressed and undressed for various meals and events and that you sit still as you are groomed, brushed, petted and scolded in front of a mirror that will highlight your every fault and charm. Eating dinner with your family is the high point of your otherwise meaningless existence and heaven help the Lady who is not suitably attired.
- Always a doctor’s wife, never a doctor
Yes, you spent years a trained nurse and were married to a doctor and competently treated patients and understood as much as your late husband about medical procedures. That’s all well and fine, but you’re a widow and a Lady and therefore, shut up and stop with the whining about saving the lives of dying patients with your fancy, think-you-know-better than the Man Doctor ideas.
- Know your place!
A chauffeur should never sleep with a Lady, but if he does convince her to marry him, he’ll be reluctantly received as one of the family with all the money and comfort that entails. If a woman, however, sleeps above her station, such as a housemaid sleeping with an enlisted officer who happens to be convalescing in the home of her employer, look forward to a life of shame, hunger and misery. It’s alright for a man to marry up but not for a woman. If you are a Lady you are expected to find a consort within your class, and not make merry with farmhands or – far worse – editors and publishers, who are so gauche as to be inconceivable as marriage material.
- Being a sex worker is contagious
A sex worker is the lowest form of life. Serving her in your shop is to invite shame upon yourself, your business and your family. Associating with a sex worker means that you, too, are also a sex worker because prostitution is contagious. Employing a sex worker as anything other than a sex worker is to allow your home or business to become defiled with her dirty ways. Never mind the reasons that she became a sex worker, (because you fired her for sleeping above her station [see #8, Know Your Place] and then she got pregnant and had no way to feed her bairn because you FIRED HER) now she is worse than trash and anyone seen speaking to her is assumed to also be frolicking in the muck of unwed intercourse. Read more