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Does Downton Abbey Hate Women? [Spoiler Alert]

Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about things that happened on Season 4 Episode 2 (or are they calling it 3?) of Downton Abbey. Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens/be outraged.


Image courtesy of PBS

You guys. You guys. I don’t remember kicking Julian Fellowes in the balls, but I must have, because it’s like he hates me.

Or, if he doesn’t hate me personally than he (and his creative team, I’ll let him share the blame on this) must have it in for ALL WOMEN, because the second a woman on the PBS drama is happy or doing well, he and his creative team beat the smile off her face with a narrative baseball bat. OH THE HUMANITY.

Cora’s going to get her male heir and the assurance her fortune won’t go to some stranger in the bloodline? HA! JUST KIDDING! MISCARRIAGE!

Edith dares to love someone her father disapproves of? JILTED, B*TCH!

Sybill falls in love and against all odds gets her family to accept her husband? JOKES ON YOU SIBBY! DEATH BY ECLAMPSIA!

Mary dares to believe she could grow old with Matthew? DUDE IS DEAD BEFORE HE MEETS HIS SON.

Isabel, Daisy, Ethel … the list goes on.

And now Anna … dear sweet Anna has the gall to tell her over-protective husband to step off for just a minute … RAPED WITHIN EARSHOT WHILE NO ONE IS LISTENING.

And don’t even get me started on whatever is going on with that shady minx Edna Braithwaite.

I mean … I love Downton Abbey as much as the next girl, but it’s time to face facts: the women on this show are either awful human beings (uh, hello O’Brien, or should I say goodbye …) or they’re punished, in brutal, traumatic, finite ways. There’s barely an undamaged soul in the bunch. And so I have to ask, what gives?

I can’t help but notice that the unsavory male characters drop in, do their damage and vanish quickly, rarely hanging around for their behavior and motivations to be explored while instead we linger again and again on the aftermath of trauma on women, and only women, save for token male charity case Mr. Moseley who is time and time again faced with the indignities of *gasp* doing work below his pay grade. Even Branson gets off easy when faced with the possibility of moving on from his late wife —the gratuitously forward Edna repeatedly lures him behind closed doors while the more recently widowed Mary emerges from her depression to immediately and unabashedly flirt with suitors in full view of her late husband’s grieving (and self-pitying) mother.

The only woman who gets off unscathed is the great Dowager Countess, and it’s likely because we never delve deeper into her psyche (or life) beyond her (brilliant) one-liners.

During this past weeks episode I found myself having a visceral reaction to Anna’s rape — which is obviously a credit to the filmmakers — but at the same time, I found myself deeply disturbed by what the scene insinuated. Is it Downton Abbey’s central premise that as women and other second class citizens of early 20th century Britain move up in society, their freedom must come at a tragic cost? The kitchen maids are allowed out of the hole for once to enjoy a bit of culture with the aristocrats and their absence from downstairs sets the stage for Anna’s attacker to find her alone.

Anna’s comeuppance was particularly violent — despite her attack taking place off camera, she can be heard screaming and being hit throughout the scene, intercut with her smiling husband and friends enjoying the painfully beautiful performance of a world-class opera star. I found myself trying to get my mind off of the rape occurring downstairs for the few seconds of aural reprieve we were given from the assault, only to have my breath catch in my throat when we’d return to the harsh reality time and time again.

I’m not the only one who was taken aback by the violence of the scene — when it aired in the UK over 200 viewers complained to the network. Fellowes told The Guardian in response:

“If we’d wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out. The point of our handling is not that we’re interested in sensationalising but we’re interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage.”

So, what do you think? Am I looking for reasons to hate on Downton, or have you noticed how much harder the female characters seem to have it? Where are the emotionally damaged men?

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