women characters

Downton Abbey’s Lessons for Ladies

sistersby 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. patmoreKnow 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.

  1. 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

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

Representations of Women in Canadian Media

Represent Projectby Jarrah Hodge

I’m really proud to be taking part in Represent, a project by Media Action Média aimed at persuading the mainstream media to do a better job at representing women and girls. MAM is reaching out to people across Canada and asking them to submit 3-minute videos to their YouTube contest. Next March a panel of Canadian media-makers will review the videos and provide feedback at an event in Toronto. More info will be announced in the coming weeks but for now you can keep track of the project on Twitter and Facebook.

My submission is on the topic of more positive (meaning more creative and nuanced) representations of women and girls in Canadian media. As much as I think we need to demand more from mainstream media, I also think we need to shout out the media makers who have refused to take the easy path and have created the representations of women we love and are proud of as Canadians.

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture 2 Comments