My Two Cents on Downton Abby

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.

About Betty Fokker

I'm a stay-at-home feminist mom.
This entry was posted in Feminism, I've been thinking too much, reviews, shit I think y'all should know. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to My Two Cents on Downton Abby

  1. magpiemusing says:

    like. :)

  2. tinapj says:

    Most prescient of you, as the monarchy is about to have the right of primogeniture amended so that it is non-gender specific. That’s right, whatever K&W’s first child will be, it will be the first in line to inherit the monarchy. Unfortunately the same is not the same for inherited titles in general, but baby steps…

    • Betty Fokker says:

      I was really happy when I read that. I am an Anglophile monarchist. It’s my weakness. *shame*

      • Judie Patel says:

        using the word slut even ironically or whatever…”make it crystal clear how much the patriarchy needs the collusion of some/most women in order to sustain itself.”

      • Betty Fokker says:

        I see your point. I was using the word facetiously, but I do understand where you are coming from. I use the word in a snarky manner to describe many things, to highlight how easy it is to BE a “slut” vis-a-vis cultural resistance, but I know that is not in line with how other people feel about it. We are fighting the same fight, using different weapons.

  3. Susan Wirth says:

    Well said! I couldn’t quite figure out what was bothering me about Carson & Lord Grantham, particularly when the got so heated over their “women” being fed a meal by the ex-prostitute. As the Dowager said so perfectly, ” Seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.”

  4. Meghan says:

    Your point on how American media portrays racism is excellent. I had never really noticed that racists are always the unquestionable baddie, when in reality most racism is so much more subtle than that.

  5. All you say is correct and right on. However, the glee I felt when the women politely but firmly did what they were going to do anyway, without male concurrence, is the lesson here. It is how real changes are made. Do not acknowledge nor accede to the male perceived power and poof, the power isn’t. Certainly change doesn’t happen as quickly as it did in 2 episodes of DA but baby steps get us there, just more gradually.

    I love your blog. Keep it up.

  6. Meg Marsh says:

    While I do agree, mostly, with your assessment of Grantham; the comments made by his mother give me reason to believe that she has much to do with his belief in his own superiority. She fights the change from the old way as much, if not more, than he does; and woe be it to anyone or anything that gets in the way of either one.

  7. I go back and forth with the DC, since she did take Sybil’s part when she wanted to go into the nursing school, then somewhat when Sybil wanted to marry Branson, warning Robert not to drive her away with his harsh words, and finally did keep them all at the lunch served by “Evil Ethel”. (She and Robert also spoke so harshly of Lord Anthony that I think it pushed him over to jilt Edith at the altar.) I do think, of course, that the DC strong armed Dr. Clarkson into lying about whether or not Sybil could have been saved, and that she can use her “power” for bad as well as good, which ever one happens to suit her. As for Robert and Carson, of course, they are two peas in a pod, the patriarch upstairs and the patriarch downstairs. At least Carson doesn’t seem to whine as Robert does, and does admit he was wrong from time to time…i.e. Mr. Bates. I believe ti was about 1925 when English law made it legal for women to inherit as Mary should have, but that will be a moot point by the final “Christmas” episode. I think what makes me most unhappy with season three is the fact that there is so much tragedy in ten episodes and only one truly happy moment. I believe that fans were led to believe that something concerning next season was true when it wasn’t and not just with one or two comments, but rather consistently. I understand business contracts, and all that accompany them, but I believe that fan loyalty trumps them all. I think Julian Fellowes is a poor writer, who has said he thinks that tragedy is easier to write than happiness (probably, but maybe he should give it a try) and that, when asked if Edith will ever be happy, “some people are just born not to be happy”. Not a direct quote but the gist is that Edith may just go on and on without someone to love who loves her, etc. Boy I look forward to that, don’t you? Despite the tragic losses of season 3 I am going to watch 4 just to see what happens, but not before I read what happens in the episode before I watch it. I’m tired of surprises, horrible, tragic deaths, and men who need “poker-ectomies”. I like your post, and hope to read it again, but I’m just wondering if you meant to misspell Abbey as Abby?

  8. Cindy Navarro says:

    I like your commentary about DA and the patriarchy. Unfortunately we still live in a patriarchal culture that continues to try to oppress those individuals or groups that do not subscribe to the system. The latest political assaults on Women, Women’s health and reproductive rights show the patriarchy raising it’s ugly heads to dictate how Women must behave and what they can receive.

  9. Braless Betty says:

    I have my husband hooked on DA. I get no resistance from him when I want to watch it for the 3rd time in a week. And you have no idea what a miracle that is.

  10. I wish I watched DA/had cable/had time. Sounds fantastic. The show, not the patriarchy.

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