I love to watch the British drama Downton Abby. It keeps me riveted and the period costumes make me have a happy. Also, incredibly well done acting. That’s a nice touch. Today, I want to talk about Downton Abby. This means I will be spouting spoilers like nobody’s business. If you want to avoid the spoilers, you much eschew the post. Let us begin:
I like DA in part because it reveals the complexities and the frailties of the patriarchy by displaying it in an older, and thus more extreme, form. Moreover, it does so in a way that does not reduce everyone down to a stereotype. That happens a lot in the US and it is a destructive fallacy. For example, the way movies portray racists. Racists are always Evil like Hitler. They are completely without humanity or any redeeming features (unless they will become sainted non-racists over a character arc). By making racists monsters this allows the viewer to think, “Ah. I am not a monster. I don’t use the *N* word! I would never lynch anyone or burn a cross or kill a child! QED I cannot be a racist.” Sadly, this is bullshit. Racism is pervasive and systematic and pretending it doesn’t exist does not make it better. Conflating monsters and racists just lets people with milder and often unrealized forms of prejudice off the hook.
But I digress.
The point is that in DA the patriarch, the Earl of Grantham, is a nice person. Grantham loves his wife and daughters. He isn’t mean to his tenants. He is kind to most of his servants. He is benevolent. Notwithstanding his inherent niceness, the patriarchal system sucks ass (at least to some degree) for everyone but him. He is so sure that he knows best and that it is his right/responsibility to dictate the actions (and even the feelings of others) that he unknowingly and without malice diminishes the lives of the people he cares for. His stubborn love of patriarchal privilege, and the system of class and wealth that sustains him, has caused him to lose a fortune, crush a daughter’s burgeoning career as a writer, alienate younger men who try to help him, completely botch the job of managing his own property, and even got his youngest daughter killed in childbirth when he chose to listen to a upper-class doctor over a local and less vaunted physician.
Even those who have benefited the most by making patriarchal bargains and who love him dearly, his eldest daughter Mary and his wife, have suffered because of his high-handed horseshit. Mary was crotchety because there was absolutely nothing else she was “supposed” to do with her life but “wait around to get married”. His wife begged him to listen to the local physician when their youngest daughter had eclampsia, but she had no power to help her child herself. When Grantham convinced/bullied his son-in-law into going along with the opinion of Knight Doctor Lady Grantham was forced to watch while her daughter died, all the time knowing there had been at least a CHANCE of saving her. Although Lady Grantham had benignly accepted her husband’s mistakes in all other areas (including losing all the money she brought into the marriage) because that’s what “good girls” did when the husband was a buffoon, she was enraged (naturally) over his culpability in the loss of their daughter. The rift between them only healed when Grantham’s mother inveigled the local doctor to downplay the possibility of the daughter’s survival if a C-section had been preformed. The actions of Grantham’s mother make it crystal clear how much the patriarchy needs the collusion of some/most women in order to sustain itself.
Carson, the butler, pulls the same patriarchal bullshit with his staff downstairs. Sometimes you want to beat him over the head with a brick, even though he is a good man who is trying to do “the right thing” by his social codes. Both Carson and Grantham try , with all the cynosure they could muster, to prevent “their” women, the “good” women, from being polluted by the presence of a former prostitute who is trying to recover her life as a servant. “Their” women, including Grantham’s wife and mother, ignore their dictates and do as they please. This causes both Carson and Grantham to have a conniption fit and fall in it.
They are terrified/enraged/bewildered by their loss of control/authority. The world is changing and some non-patriarchal people are getting more power and autonomy and that means a decided loss of power for Carson and Grantham. The far right of the GOP is losing its collective mind for the exact same reason.
Nevertheless, Carson and Grantham are still good people. My dad is good people. I’m sure Rick Santorum is “good” people to his wife and kids. That’s nice. But it doesn’t make the patriarchy blow fewer goats.