Downton Abbey: Feminism Understated part three

‘Feminism’ has become a bad word.

It really has become a bad word.

And it shouldn’t have ever been a bad word. Because, as it stands, ‘feminism’ means one of two things:

1. Man hater

2. Woman hater

A shame on both side because really, feminism isn’t about either of those things. It’s really about women getting the same treatment as men. Which means that we (as a species) are thought of exactly the same as men; given the same opportunities, have the same adjectives defined the exact same way in references, rape culture goes away, in short; a complete 180 from how women have been treated since the Bible decided to blame Original Sin on Eve.

Why's it always gotta be the woman's fault?
Why’s it always gotta be the woman’s fault?

So, here’s the funny thing about women; (historically speaking) we haven’t had the vote very long, in the 50’s we were forced back into the household by men coming home from war who (apparently) needed jobs more than we did, the make-up industry keeps telling us we need to look younger and younger to keep a man, up until Frozen Disney told us the only way to be happy was to get a man and give up something of herself to do so, Twilight ushered in the ‘okay-ness’ of a very bad relationship, and 50 Shades told us that an equally abusive BDSM relationship is exactly what every woman (secretly) wants for realsies, and oh my god you’re not a size six (or is it two, now)? what is WRONG with you?

Am I right?

Adding to this is other women telling us that those women who choose to stay at home aren’t living up to their full potential, that women who choose career over family are abandoning their husbands and their children, that women who don’t want kids obviously aren’t real women anyway, and that you don’t have a real marriage if the woman doesn’t submit to her man.

On top of that, Hollywood AND television and every other company out there that wants to make a quick buck, objectifies women and gives them subordinate and really not that important roles in movies. No woman can lead a television show or a movie. Pshaw, what are you? Crazy? You must be crazy!

She was just a fluke, we swear!
She was just a fluke, we swear!

Don’t forget that we can’t write sci-fi either. Topping that ‘can’t’ sundae is bloody Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, and George R. R. Martin talking about ‘strong female characters’.

I'm sorry, what?
I’m sorry, what?

So, wait wait wait, we have people asking men about writing women who come off as ‘strong female characters’ and treating it as some kind of phenomenon whilst these bewildered men look at the reporter and say ‘women are people, we write about people.’ So, we have this phenomenon that the people who supposedly created this phenomenon didn’t know it was a phenomenon but it so is and the whole conversation runs right back around to feminism and the polarising starts.

Because that’s how we do. Apparently.

Confused yet?

So am I, really. But that’s not the point. The point to this roundabout conversation, is continuing on the Downton Abbey vein. Because Downton, and a few other shows, get women, right.

This show
This show

Downton takes us into 20th century England. It tells the story of a family’s drama through an ensemble cast. Interwoven story lines both upstairs and downstairs let us in on how life was back in a time where the Aristocracy of England was going under a severe shift. We see the tide of change affect the men ushered in by the women and both men and women react to the change. I’ve outlined the characters for you in the previous two posts, emphasising that the men of Downton are comforted by their assured place in society. It is the women who get things moving and really set the tone for the show. There are no weak women who are defined by their men. No women but Edith and Anna want a man, and even that is only for a little while. Mary resigns herself to marriage at the beginning, Sybil takes her sweet time deciding that Tom is worth her, and poor Edith gives up on the whole endeavour in favour of a newspaper column. As for Anna, well, she goes right out and gets Mr. Bates to marry her,  Mrs. Hughes doesn’t concern herself, Daisy gets married for a man who goes off to war, you get the picture right? We have no storyline that revolves itself around a woman desperately in love with a man and who gives up a part of herself to have that man for a ‘happily ever after’. We see women, albeit rich women, turning the tides on their husbands, and poor women making very hard and sometimes very bad decisions. There are consequences for every action, and bad things always happen to good people, no matter how happy we desperately want them to be.

Don't ever, ever, EVER tear them apart!
Don’t ever, ever, EVER tear them apart!

Are the Downton Abbey women ‘strong female characters’? Hell yes they are. They are women who are bound by society. Some of them, like Sybil, choose to do something about it. Mary is defined by those rules and staunchly insists on the Abbey’s preservation because there is a sense that she would not know what to do with herself if the family had to move into a smaller manor house. Edith just wants to be loved. Barring that, she chooses the newspaper because she is bored with an aristocrat’s daughter’s lifestyle. Anna chooses the man she wants, and Daisy comes to understand the meaning of love.

The list keeps going, trust me, but the bottom line is this: women have always had power in history. Maybe it’s not power that you would recognise, but it’s always been there. In Terry Pratchett’s Dodger, the main character Dodger makes the observation that a marriage is like a ship, and whilst the man is the master (which is of course, good and proper) the wind is the woman, directing her husband which way to go.

You can’t tell me that isn’t power.

Writing women, that is, having a female protagonist means throwing away the concept of ‘strong female character’ and ‘Mary Sue’ and even the ‘damsel in distress’ and writing a woman. Maybe (as is the case for Grimm and me) she’s the kind of girl you wanted to be when you were fourteen, or the woman that you’ve always wanted to be but never knew how, but what she isn’t, is a stereotype.

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Write.


4 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: Feminism Understated part three

  1. About thirty years ago I created a definition of the word ‘feminist’ that I still love. Let’s see if I remember it exactly. A feminist a a person, woman or man, who understands that women have been oppressed, historically, by the practices and attitudes of patriarchy, agrees that this is wrong, and sees that those forces are still in operation today. By this definition I am proud to call myself a feminist.

    Even men can be feminists. They can be our partners in the struggle for equality and respect. I am married to one.

  2. I love Yvonne’s definition (and this post). I’ve always looked sideways at those purporting to be feminists but who were really feminazis. One of my favorite bumper stickers used to be “You’re a feminist? Well, isn’t that special?” Probably because the feminazis I knew always took themselves so seriously. I’ve never seen Downtown Abbey or really knew what it was about. I may have to check it out; strong women are worth watching. 🙂

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