This should be Eddie’s apology…

In a week when a woman was murdered while doing her job for doing her job; in a week the AFL has chosen to highlight the scourge of domestic violence against women, violence which has seen at least 30 women murdered in Australia this year; in a week where the AFL has finally announced the beginning of a women’s league; I really should have known better.

I should have realised that joking about killing a woman I dislike for the way she does her job is wrong. Not only wrong but deeply offensive. Not only offensive but a form of violence itself. A form of violence calculated to keep women from speaking out, from joining in, from doing their jobs without fear of retribution. I should have understood that these words help to entrench and reinforce the barriers to women who are knowledgable and interested in participating in the wider AFL community. 

I should have understood that all the women who so passionately celebrated the beginning of formal women’s participation in the sport now feel hurt and betrayed. That hearing this kind of thing makes them again understand that they aren’t part of the boy’s club which dominates AFL.

I should have realised that casually joking about violence against women is part of the pattern which makes men who see me and my mates as idols believe that there is nothing wrong with it. That it is acceptable to hurt women when they displease us. That this is exactly the culture that leads to the proliferation of violence and hate towards women.

I should have known that as a prominent man, what I say will be vigorously and even threateningly defended by other men when women say how it hurts, upsets and scares them, and I should have known to stop.

As a grown adult man, I should know that “joking” about violence against anyone is unacceptable and that “joking” about violence against a specific women is completely appalling.

I am profoundly sorry. I have thought about what I have said and I understand how it is upsetting to women. I understand how it encourages a culture of violence. I know that it is not an acceptable way to speak or behave. 

I deeply regret that I said it. Violence against women is not acceptable, joking about it isn’t funny. 

INSTEAD WE WILL PROBABLY GET

I regret it if what I said offended anyone and I am sorry they took offence.

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Scorching.

scorch trials(Image from Box Office Democracy)

Of the three dystopian franchises aimed at teenagers that are about at the moment, The Maze Runner is my least favourite. I think it is largely because its world is much less well developed and less coherent than either The Hunger Games or Divergent but also it is, in part, because it is so much less progressive or interesting in its depiction of female characters. In the original film there are essentially only two in the whole film, Teresa, who turns up half way through, and the evil character Ava Paige, and neither is more than two dimensional. The Scorch Trials has more women on screen, but it still barely scrapes past the Bechdel test (I think there is about two sentences exchanged between Ava and Teresa). It is interesting that a film which so studiously ensures it has a beautifully multiracial cast (even if it is the South Asian who is the first to die), still can’t manage women and girls in a particularly effective way. Yes, Brenda is an interesting addition who is smart and capable, but, like Teresa, she really only is defined in terms of her relationship to Thomas. And it is great to put two girls with guns and the ones who find the gang, but it might be nice to give them some sort of personality or role in addition to the guns. While it is true of pretty much all the characters that there is little to them and less reason to care, it feels particularly acute with the women – they are all acting out some archetype or another. To be honest, I liked this more than the original film which was terribly predictable, and at least we got a bit more insight to what is actually going on, but it might be nice to develop some characters who actually have depth.

Evil blondes from the future

Since the inception of film as a visual medium, blonde women have played important signifying roles. Femme fatales of film noir, the victim in horror films, the highly sexualised dangerous  woman – it has often been easy to chart the path of the character by one of her key signifiers, her hair colour. There are notable differences – Hitchcock made Grace Kelly a very different blonde in his films and she was never a victim while Joss Whedon chose to deliberately subvert horror tropes by making Buffy small and blonde. Nonetheless, there is generally a consistent archetype to the televisual blonde.

An interesting new archetype I have noticed in a number of science fiction films recently is the powerful, older,  evil blonde. Dr Ava Paige in The Maze Runner, Secretary Delacourt in Elysium and Jeanine in Divergent all exemplify this archetype. Powerful, manipulative and indifferent to the fate of others not of their caste. Willing to sacrifice anyone, Delacourt and Jeanine, in particular, aim to support and improve their own hegemonic privilege while Paige tortures children for apparently scientific purposes. Both Jeanine and Paige are closely aligned with science, while Delacourt is enmeshed in the use of technology. These women are technocrats, using science and technology for evil purposes and using need to be overcome by “good hearted” people with access to lower or no tech approaches.

These depictions are ideological from a number of viewpoints. Firstly, they posit the political and hegemonic power in the hands of women, concealing the general reality that these levers tend to be held by men. The societies in which they operate do not seem to have radically overturned gender norms to achieve this position where women are placed with power, in fact most of the gender relations within the films seem to indicate the reverse, that in general relations are not much further advance. All three of the women (and noticeably two seem to dress primarily in white), wear the feminised clothing, and, if anything, their privilege and separation from those required to do actual work is symbolised by their impractical shoes and tight skirts. In the world of Insurgent Jeanine’s main political rivals are men, and the leaders of the Factions she has assist her are also men – she is unusual in being a woman.  Similarly Delacourt is chastised by a male President and deals with a male CEO. These women are still exceptions, but they are the powerful evil centre. Inherent is an implication that women with power exploit it to maintain their own power and privilege, which, it could be argued is what male powers structures actually do.

Their close alignment with science and technological advance also serves to undermine the importance of scientific progress . In these films the heroes are all on the side of the low tech, with limited access to anything other than their own resources and ability. It is technology which serves to enslave in both Elysium and Divergent and the characters in the Maze Runner are trapped apparently in the service of science. The dystopic futures all three are set in seem to make the power of science enslaving and dividing, something the human spirit must fight against. The idea of the immaculate blonde serves to reinforce the rigidity of science and its danger. In Divergent this science-based approach is directly contrasted with the “humanism” of Abnegation, whose selflessness, low tech public service is pitted against the science-based command-and-control approach of Jeanine and her allies.

Whether this depiction of the middle-aged blonde as dystopian killer technocrat will continue remains to be seen, but it is interesting that it has emerged in three different movies made within a year of each other. As much as I like to see women in science fiction films, and older women who are smart and powerful is doubly terrific, it would be nice if they weren’t the evil one from time to time.

 

Misogyny Blues

I never read Puberty Blues nor have I ever seen the film. I am not entirely sure how I missed both of these. Of course, I knew what the book was about broadly – girls in the surf culture of Sydney in the 1970s and the implications in terms of sex and other things. Nonetheless, it means that coming to watch the series I have very limited preconceptions.

The series was beautifully acted and directed for the most part and I thought the writing was very strong. I really enjoyed it. But that didn’t mean that it was without its moments of discomfort. In fact, the moments of discomfort were its strongest feature. Puberty Blues confronted the sexism and misogygy face by women of this subculture – particularly young women, for whom joyless sex was a compulsory rite of passage. One had sex because it was the entree card to being cool – as long as one didn’t do it too soon, or with too many different people. And this role of women to be used as objects for sex in order to gain acceptance, was reflected in the ways their mothers acted – except in the case of Debbie and her mother the school principal.

For me, the characters one really feels for in Puberty Blues are the girls on the periphery – Cheryl and Freida in particular. Cheryl is the chief “mean girl” dictating permission to enter the “cool” group. But her role in this group is tied in a complex way to her relationship with the boys. For most of the series she is not “going round” with anyone, but she is expected to provide sexual services to the boys, while they also dismiss her as a “moll” when she engages in what the boys deem is socially transgressive behaviour such as getting drunk. Meanwhile Freida is repeatedly gang raped by the boys, and then is shunned socially when not being used sexually. Freida’s plight is ultimately what moves Debbie and Sue to act decisively against the established social order.

What is interesting though is the timing. A version of Puberty Blues has not been made since 1981. It is thus possible to see the production of Puberty Blues at this time politically, particularly given the bleak depiction of teenage sexuality and the treatment of girls and women. To me it says that the debate about the treatment of women has been reopened in this country – before Julia Gillard made her speech about misogyny, before Jill Meagher’s murder sparked Reclaim the Night marches, before we looked on in horror at the recent events in India. The way Puberty Blues approaches these issues does not indicate to me a view that these are closed topics or the past. The series calls into question the treatment of women, the dismissing of their sexual needs and the exercise of power that is involved in the sexual degradation of women. Puberty Blues is about power relationships, and the exercise of power, and speaks to the need for women to work together to support each other and increase their power.

Once Upon A Time There Was An Active Princess..

There has been a fair bit written about Brave and how it provides us with a princess character who is active, who guides her own fate and who is shown fighting and doing other things. It has led me to think a bit more about Once Upon A Time and how it presents strong women characters guiding their own destiny. I still haven’t finished season one, and I haven’t watched every episode, so my analysis may be bounded by this. However, there are some key aspects of the show which make it an interesting addition to both the “princess” genre, and also mainstream television in general.

Firstly, this is the story of three women. Overwhelmingly, the story is about the SnowWhite/Mary Margaret – Evil Queen/Mayor – Emma relationship and the struggle between the three women. While Prince Charming/David  gets a look in, his character is more about enabling the Snow White/Mary Margaret story than being important in his own right. In fact, his Storybrook character is actually unconscious for the first few episodes. These three characters are the heart of the story and the conflict between Emma and Regina the Mayor/Evil Queen is the driving narrative force. Even when Rumplestiltskin/Mr Gold is about, he is usually enabling or assisting the main characters.

Secondly, all these women are strong and active. While Mary Margaret in Storybrook can be a little on the passive side, in her alternate and original life as Snow White, she is a skilled archer and fighter who can look after herself, trade with trolls and generally make a life for herself in the forest. She seeks solutions to her own problems and certainly does not sit around waiting for a man to help her. She and Prince Charming trade rescues and assistance – she is definitely not always on the receiving end.

Emma is central character of the show and she is definitely not a passive princess. As someone who has had to tke care of herself all her life, she presents a strong, independent character who will fight for what is important to her. As Henry’s birth mother she is intially reluctant to bond with him, but she manages to combine maternal ferocity with single independent woman strength. As Snow White’s daughter, she demonstrates the same characteristics as Snow, resilience and determination, a fierce sense of right and wrong and ability to fight for what she believes in.

While Regina is definitely evil, she still represents another strong woman character. She does not rely on men – in fact she is more likely to kill them off if they get in her way. She knows what she wants, and while what she wants is pretty awful, she works hard to achieve it. Her evil does not make her bereft of maternal instincts and she cares for Henry her adoptive son. She does show a determination which is admirable, even if we can’t admire the ends she strives to appear.

Interestingly, some of the other female fairy-tale characters who pop up have been rewritten to take on much more active characteristics than they have had traditionally – Red Riding Hood is a werewolf who learns to control her powers while her Granny wasn’t eaten by a wolf – she was the wolf. This retelling of fairystories to children who haven’t necessarily been exposed to the traditional versions of these tales as thoroughly as generations before them could help to reset ideas about princesses and women characters more generally. Once Upon A Time may not be Game of Thrones in terms of televisual and narrative quality, but it is a program one can watch with one’s children and which can promote an idea of woman characters as strong and self-determining. I’m hoping the rest of the season doesn’t change this.

Reclaiming a sparkly story

On a plane back from Perth, I was lucky enough to see The Sapphires as the in flight movie. It isn’t a perfect movie-it certainly conforms to many of the tropes of rise-to-success and Benedict-and-Beatrice romances. But there a couple of things about it which stand out. It shows indigenous women with agency, women who are determined and make their own opportunites. Proud, black Australian women who are strong, talented, beautiful, sexual and unapologetic about who they are. They are fun, they are happy. They face institutionalised racism and individual racism, and there are struggles with their own cultural and historical legacy. But mostly it is about strong women who have fun, have choices and make their own way in the world. At the end of the film we learn about the real women the film characters are based on – women who have spent their lives making the world a better place.

So, given this, and the fact I was already intending to write about this film for this reason, imagine my total horror when I see the television commercial for the film with the voiceover: they had talent, but one man gave them soul.

Rubbish.

The attempt of this ad is really to take the agency from the women. Sure, Dave teaches them Motown, but other than that, their success is generally in spite of him, rather than because of him. And they certainly had “soul” in every other sense of the word well before they met him. The stars of this film are unabashedly the women. The value of this film is its treatment of the women. And yet, and yet, the television ad tries to make it about the man. Does the producer of the commercial think that audiences need the reassurance that there is a white man in charge of these indigenous woman? How offensive is this characterisation, this assumption. But am I suprised? Not really. Disappointed, but not surprised.

But do go and see it – the opportunity to see four indigenous women on a big screen together in a positive powerful way should not be missed.

 

Sporting legitimacy and roller derby

A post I read this morning discusses the moves by the Auckland Roller Derby League to try and position themselves as a “legitimate” sport. To do so, they are abandoning what the author refers to as the trappings of the “spectacle” of roller derby – the names, the costumes etc, to move to a more “serious” approach. One League member is quoted as saying “You can’t have a name like ‘Cunty McTaintStain’ and expect people to take you seriously”.

While I have no argument with what ARDL are attempting to do, I do wonder about what the “legitimacy’ being chased is. The author also notes “Legitimacy for a sport is hard for a lot of sports. Watch the strength and skill of a rhythmic gymnastics routine then think about all the times you’ve heard people say that it’s not a sport.” Rhythmic gymnastics. Roller derby. Do we notice the pattern that legitimacy here is difficult for what are predominantly female sports.

So who determines legitimacy? What makes a sport “legitimate.” It is interesting that the automatic assumption that male-dominated ball sports are “legitimate” while female-dominated ones, not so much. What is the appropriate ratio of “spectacle” to “sport” that is needed for a sport to gain legitimacy. Why are the outfits of derby players non-serious, while the oft times garish colours of football teams are OK? Or the body hugging outfits that many women are forced to wear when participating in Olympic sports? Why is it legitimate to refer our Australian cricket captain as “Pup” but player-chosen nicknames are non-serious?

Roller derby, played competitively, requires a high level of athleticism, strength and fitness. Players usually have to attain significant levels of skills and fitness to be able to participate in bouts. Training is a serious business, demanding commitment and fitness and a willingness to keep pushing yourself. As someone who has just started training, I can attest that it is not easy – even being able to stand up and skate properly requires a degree of practice and training. The level of physical ability, training and aptitude is no different from any other sport played at a similar level.

What is different is that the sport is largely player organised and controlled. It is not a money-making enterprise which promotes television bidding wars. It is not owned by millionaires as a hobby which makes them money on the side. It represents genuine grassroots participation and control. Its structures are not the same as other sports, it does not have a dominant command-and-control structure. And most of all, it is not (predominantly) played by men.

My view is that our modern versions of the various codes of football, cricket and even events like the Olympics which are the spectacles. They are profit-driven where the athletes are mere widgets, disposable as soon as they are no longer of use. Watching Moneyball demonstrates exactly how players traded as commodities, their own views and desires completely irrelevant. The spectacle of the AFL draft is exactly the same – the players have little control over their destinies. These sporting events have their dancing girls and advertising and musical interludes and the structures try to ensure that teams remain competitive so that crowds will maintain engagement.

Roller derby in its current incarnation is an unashamedly women-dominated sport, in its players and organisational structures. If women who play it like to call themselves by entertaining names and wear sparkly hot pants, how does this make it any less a sport, unless you are examining it through the lens of patriarchal, traditional, male-dominated sports. Fishnet stockings do not reduce the athleticism of a sport, just as dancing girls at half time don’t (apparently) reduce the legitimacy of football. Why should roller-derby be boring, or be less than its players/participants/owners want it to be just to squeeze into a label bestowed by men? Who cares what they think anyway? If people cannot understand and appreciate a sport for what it is, whatever the packaging it comes in, who needs their seal of approval anyway?

Update 28 February 2013: Today has been a funny old day in this debate, learning that Short Stop was voted online Australia’s best sportswoman, but then not even rated in the Top 25 as “legitimate” sports disapproved and could handle this idea. Surfing has made it to legitiamcy though! Christine Murray, Short Stop, has competed for Australia in the World Cup, proved her versatility and her ability to compete at an international level when playing banked track roller derby with the Gotham Girls last year and is always an impressive (and modest) athlete to watch. Her skills and athleticism are outstanding, and she is inspiring to watch.  But I doubt the organisers and judges of this event have ever even seen a roller derby game. And then, we are faced with this sort of commentary about whether it is a sport or not.

This questioning of roller derby’s legitimacy again at a time when “legitimate” sports are being revealed as corrupt and drug ridden is entertaining. If the scandals around sport are what it takes to ensure legitimacy, then count me out. And believe me, when I come home cover in sweat and exhausted from 2-3 hours of derby training, I certainly don’t feel like I am just preparing for someone else’s entertainment. Any more than your average footballer does at any rate.

Be what you want to be…

One of the reasons I started the list of 100 Science Fiction Women was to address the idea that science fiction, in particular, but genres like horror and fantasy as well are primarily the realm of men and boys. I wanted to showcase the fact that we can find women role-models within “nerdy” genres, and that these women can be powerful and action-oriented, or intelligent and wise, or, quite often, both. Women in science fiction can love men or women or can be strong alone; they can be mothers and grandmothers or can be without children. What the spread of women we see in science fiction shows is that there is no one path for women, and that as a young girl, or as an older woman, we should be free to make choices and follow what appeals to us. I have loved science fiction and fantasy since I was quite young and I don’t think this in any way detracts from being a girl.

In that context and with that background it has been interesting to follow the discussions on girls’ toys and boy toys, which, while already ongoing,  has been galvanised around Lego’s introduction of its “Friends” range for girls.

ImageI must say that I agree with many of the commentators that this Lego ad from the 1970s is a much better representation of how I would like to see Lego marketed to girls. I played with primary block colour Lego as a child and continue to be a big fan. We used Lego alongside our doll’s house, our Fisher Price toys, our blocks and my brother’s cars to build sprawling cities which were inevitably struck by natural disasters (usually floods). These were games in which my sister and brother and I participated equally (actually, to be honest, as the oldest I was the bossy one and the director of the mise-en-scene) – not games for boys or girls.

Anyway, a fabulous discussion on the Lego decision from The Age is worth a read. Lego is trying to respond to a market it sees, and it is that broader notion that toys are gendered which is increasingly problematic. Another good discussion of the general approach is here. There have been some alternative views – that little girls can under-cut stereotypes and play subversively with Barbie (and I certainly know some mothers who do that) or that constant attacks on pink or girls’ toys is another form of anti-womenness. While I see these views, it is easier for girls to be subversive if exposed to different ideas and not subsumed in princesses and hairdressing, and while there is nothing wrong with pink per se, why is it all girls can have and forbidden to boys? The fact that pink and Princesses are so confined to the world of girls leads to the denigration, and that same notion that girls are best when they are decorative and house-making. Do serious people of business wear pink? It is funny how mothers of toddler boys (including myself) often end up investing in girls’ pyjamas or shoes because their boys want some pink like their friends. At 3 and 4 children are relatively gender-blind and do not understand the binaries of society.

As I have said in another post, feminism should be about having choices, not having choices made for you. If girls (or boys) like dolls, then dolls they should have. But if they like trucks or trains they should have those also, and not be judged for it. Choice is more than everything being physically available to you – choice is about being able to do things without social approbriation. My concern is that the more girls and boys are forced in gender-based choices of toys and the like, the less choice they have as people around them expect more and more conformity. I had a chemistry set at 11 and bug catchers before then, and I would love my nieces to want the same things. If their choice is genuinely different, then that is their choice, which should also be respected and not denigrated because it is a ghetto for girls.

For Christmas this year I bought my 2 and a half year old niece a train set – not because I was trying to force non-gender specific toys on her, but because I am told she loves Thomas (personally, I’ve never really been a train person). I bought the similarly aged-daughter of a friend a Playmobil castle with a Princess and a pink unicorn, but I did buy her a Self-Rescuing Princess t-shirt to go with it. My boys have all had dolls, which they played with to a greater or lesser extent, but various teddies have been nurtured and put to bed and played with over time. They have also had tea sets and have served us endless cups of tea and muffins, and have learned to cook themselves. I was impressed this year when our 9 year old got real cooking equipment from two different sources. But they also love nerf guns and Star Wars and endless Lego and cars and all those things too. All kids can and should be allowed to be multidimensional, as the following young social theorist says:

Update: Here is a link to another fabulous article on pink-ification and Pink Stinks from The Guardian

Upstairs, downstairs and the fantasy in between

So I have finished watching the first season of Downton Abbey. And I did enjoy it. It is beautifully cast and filmed and the sets and outdoor locations are beautiful. So are the costumes. The scripts are strong and the performances good and it is not overly melodramatic.  In fact it captures a certain, stereotypically English, emotional stoicism and repression. But I think there are elements of it which are worth considering, because it is such a romanticised, nostalgic, and, ultimately I think, conservative interpretation of an imaginary history.

The central themes of Downton seem to be about loyalty and betrayal, family and the challenge of finding one’s way in the world. It is also about class. When I have written previously about soap opera, in an academic space, I discussed the class based nature of much British soap opera and the fact that class mobility was highly restricted and unusual. It is interesting that two television series of the past which focused closely on class mobility were comedies – Keeping up Appearances where the central joke of the show was that Hyacinth could never quite cut it as a class milieu beyond her working class roots; and To The Manor Born where the class-climbing Richard will never be an aristcrat and Audrey will always be one, no matter how poor.

In Downton we seem the same challenges with Matthew. He is not to be allowed to inherit the title and the money without his absorption in the aristocratic society. He has to become one of them in order to be worthy, and the dynamic of the plot sees us applaud his conversion from middle class lawyer to budding aristocrat-with-no-job. He is scolded when he objects to his butler helping him dress, and made to see that he is in the wrong – the man is a butler and should be allowed to do his work. As Matthew allows Molesley to help him dress, we celebrate that he is assisting this man with his self-worth, inducting himself into the aristocracy and reinforcing the class divide. Matthew is liked and respected for the way he comes to accept and absorb the aristocratic culture and it is then that he becomes an acceptable potential husband to Mary. It is not only Mary and her relatives who have doubts about whether she should marry him when his inheritance comes into doubt, as audience members many of us do too. The wife of a suburban lawyer?!?

The importance of the static nature of class is also reinforced by the lauding of the loyalty of servants who serve and give their lives, essentially, for a family which, as Thomas says, “hardly know their names.” But Downton demonstrates that this is all fine, even good, because they are such great people who will look after them in return. Sack the cook who is going blind? Of course not – we’ll pay for expensive surgery for her because We Are Noble People. Overlook a possible shady past – of course – because we are fair and just and happy to give people a second chance. The depth of the betrayal that O’Brien has enacted upon the family is palpable and we shake our heads at her saying How Could You Have Doubted Them. O’Brien’s doubt and betrayal is indicative of her unpleasant nature – had she been a better person she would not have doubted, nor acted, so. On the other hand, Mrs Hughes is shown to have twice sacrificed the opportunity for love for service, and this sacrifice is viewed as noble, with only the barest nod to the kind o yearning lonely emptiness it may result in – something captured so well in The Remains of the Day. The depiction of aristocracy as noble, as benevolent, and that loyalty to them is similarly noble, is laid on with a trowel, and a prime contributor to this romanticised fantasy of history that we see here.

The benevolent aristocrat trope is also reinforced with Lady Sybil and her quest to help Gwen find a job as a secretary. Sybil is the most thoroughly likeable of the sisters, and it is interesting how the show gives her space to be a bit radical, but the stomps down hard on her for disobeying her father or lying to her family. It is totally fine for her to have a radical choice of “dress” but when she sneaks Gwen off to an interview, her horse ends up throwing a shoe and she and Gwen must tramp home enduring all manner of hardship. And yet this is nothing to what she faces when she dares to step out to a political rally, in direction defiance of her father. Defying her father and following her own very slightly radical intentions end her up knocked unconscious. She has to be saved by Matthew, the heir apparent (that socialist chauffeur isn’t able to protect her). Here we see that radical intent is all very well, as long as it is displayed in only socially acceptable ways, approved by one’s father.  It is telling that is only when Gwen is interviewed under the roof of Downton that she gets offered the job. And of course Sybil isn’t crazy enough to miss the season and being introduced at Court – a season where of course she is a great success. Our radical ladies aren’t that radical.

With Lady Mary there is also a tilt toward changing roles for women, as she bemoans the fact that really there isn’t much for her to do in her life, that her role is to wait for a husband. She doesn’t seem particularly motivated to change this though and her lack of much to do can be see contrasted with Matthew’s surprise when he learns that the Earl has never had any job “except Downton.” The lack of anything as mundane as a job is a class issue, and one that is not depicted as such a terribly bad thing. The family’s job is to keep Downton and tradition and life going, to ride the horses and ensure the flower show goes off fairly. The fact that the show rarely depicts anything of the world outside the estate and the village works to ensure that this comfortable depiction is not challenged or disrupted, and it will be very interesting to see how the advent of World War I might impact, as it seems likely to draw characters out into a wider world.

I also find the depiction of Lady Edith highly problematic. She is characterised as petty and jealous, a sneak who reads her sister’s mail and goes behind her back. By the end of the season her mother and grandmother and even the sainted Earl are all essentially referring to how plain she is and how unlikely to find a husband – “beggars can’t be chosers” and she then calls her sister a slut. I think we are not meant to sympathise with her, but to understand the shaken heads and looks of resignation the elder members of her family adopt when speaking of her. What Mary does to her in the final episode is cruel, but the logic of the script seems to be that she, at least in part, deserves it, and we are given almost no chance to sympathise with her. Her plain-ness makes her mean, and we should like her less for it.

Finally we come to Thomas. There is nothing subtle about the way in which Thomas is portrayed. Thomas is gay, a blackmailer, scheming, disloyal, grasping, gay, a thief, a backstabber, heartless, manipulative, gay, disrespectful and coldly calculating. There is absolutely no reason why Thomas has to be gay, even if an early plot point utilises it. His character is utterly one-dimensional and the lack of a wider social milieu means that the difficulties and challenges of being gay in the period are barely even touched on. And it isn’t like it is a secret – even blind Mrs Patmore can see it. Such an unnuanced villain whose speech in the kitchen in the last episode is so openly reviled by his fellow staff members seems like an odd dramatic mis-step, almost vaudevillian (which Mr Carson could relate to).

It is interesting how Downton Abbey has captured such a giant audience for a show which is relatively slow-moving and, like the lives of most of its characters, fairly uneventful. It does clearly tap straight into the vein of beautiful nostalgia though, and a yearning for a time which was better, and simpler, and when the frocks were fabulous. I wonder how many of us see ourself as Anna though, if that nostalgic dream came true. Then again, the servants always seem to be hanging out in the kitchen or heading off to fun fairs, so maybe a servant’s life was not that bad after all.