5 tips from Lady Sybil, Downton Abbey’s rebel, lessons from the women of Netflix

Sybil from Downton
Jessica Brown Findlay plays Lady Sybil Crawley

In this the second in the Great Women of Netflix series we continue our look at the ladies of Downton Abbey.  We began the series examining the finer qualities of the one and only Lady Mary Crawley. I would encourage you to begin with the top dog, so to speak, but feel free to first read these reflections on the Earl of Grantham’s youngest and most rebellious child, Lady Sybil.

We all know Sybil is lovely and to quote Billy Joel (which likely will never happen again) ‘only the good die young‘ and that’s what happened to dear Sybil.

Here are the 5 things we can learn from Sybil: Four good, one a cautionary note.

  1. There is no point in being a snob.  Egalitarian, hardworking, independently-minded, Sybil just cut through the crap.  She could have married one of those boring, rich neighbourhood boys but in the end, would have nothing to do with them.  Friendly, yes, attracted, no.  I’m sure if they’d been decent, egalitarian, hardworking chaps she might have given them a second look.  She had convictions and she stuck to them till the bitter end.
  2. Put your actions where your mouth is:  It’s one thing to talk like a progressive and  quite another to behave like one. Like her eldest sister, Sybil was also very good to the household staff, single-handedly orchestrating a parlour maid’s rise in stature out of domestic service and into business. Go out of your way to give someone a hand up – it will not diminish you in the least.
  3. Be a professional regardless of your qualifications.  It didn’t take much in the way of education in those days to become a nurse, among the most challenging professions to enter now. Regardless, Sybil took her work as a nurse seriously, adopted the right demeanor (serious and kind), actively learned, dressed the part.  You and I may not have all the designations and qualifications we might want or need, but we can always behave like professionals, and that commands respect.
  4. Look for the good in others.  This is a tough one especially when you’re dealing with a person completely opposite to your own character.  Sybil even managed to see the good in Mary when there was very little to be had.  I gotta say though, she did pretty much ignore Edith, but then when Sybil was alive Edith was not at her best.  Edith improved with experience, but more on that in the next post.

And now, the cautionary note:

5. The problem with Sybil was her choice in husband.  I think we’re supposed to like Tom.  He is the ‘every man’, representing the real people like you and me, or at least me.  But he’s an idiot.  While Sybil threw herself into productive and difficult work during the war, Tom drove the family car. He was a conscientious objector – fine – but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help with the traumatized and wounded.  Even Barrow put his small heart into that.  But not Tom.  And then he whined at Sybil about her really loving him – basically insisting that he knew her better than she knew herself when, honestly, she showed absolutely no signs of caring about him.  He was a handy conduit to get out of the Abbey  but that was about it.  Why she decided to run away with that sorry excuse for a man is beyond me.

And then to make matters worse, the bugger leaves her pregnant in Ireland to save his own skin. Seriously, why she didn’t kick him out after that is beyond me.  And what happened to his career as a journalist? He returns to Downton and mooches off the family business.  Where is his integrity?  Edith becomes a journalist and then a publisher and Tom walks around the estate in tweeds and has lunch at the Grantham Arms.  Nice life.  All that to say, I think Sybil really got that one wrong. Or maybe the blame should fall on Julian Fellowes who wrote the series.  Either way, it does take the shine off rewatching the series for the 10th time because I have to endure Tom saying, “Well, I hope I am a part of this family.”  You’re not and so bugger off.

And so that’s Sybil.  Eminently loveable. Doomed from the start.

Let’s move on to Edith who just gets better with time.

Be sure to agree or disagree with me. I welcome the debate!

downton sisters

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6 tips from Lady Mary Crawley – lessons from the women of Netflix

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I love January.  Despite polar temperatures here in the great, white north it is a good time to set a few goals clean out some closets and drawers and review finances.

Because of the cold, it’s also a great time to settle inside and watch and rewatch some of my favourite Netflix shows.  Sadly, Netflix offers up a lot of content that I can’t watch beyond about 10 minutes because they’re awful.  Bad story, bad acting, the works.  And so I revisit the old reliables:  yes, another round of Downton Abbey, The Crown series 1 – again- and series 2 (now  watching it again, too).  Like rereading Jane Austen, the more I watch these excellent series the more I find to be gained on closer inspection, and much for the great woman to learn thanks to the female focus in both series.

So let’s take a few positive lessons from the women at Downton and Buckingham Palace. This may take a while (more like a series of posts) so bear with me – hopefully, it will be both fun and informative.  First up, the heiress apparent.

women of downton
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley

Lady Mary Crowley

How can we not begin with Lady Mary and her ‘I’m-so-freakin-bored-by-you’ voice. What does she do that the rest of us should emulate?

  1. First and foremost, she’s really nice to Anna her ladies’ maid.  Rather than take a strip off Anna she saves her venom for her peers, like her sister, mother, friends and of course, the men in her life.  Someone in a position of power and authority who lords it over those with less power and status is abominable.  We’ve all witnessed the woman who can’t thank the waiter, takes a piece out of the sales assistant in a loud voice, finding every opportunity to be rude and dismissive over those they perceive as beneath them.  Lady Mary throws her weight against those who can take it, and throw it right back.  This is a key factor in maintaining Mary’s likeability because otherwise we wouldn’t give a crap about her. She also does nice things for Anna like giving her access to her doctor, her house (wedding night in the Abbey!) and time off when she needs it (and Anna spent a lot of time in and around prisons).  Mary is a great employer.

What else does Mary do well?

2. She doesn’t rush for anyone.  Slow and steady is the way she enters a room – good posture, commanding, not to be rushed.

3. Lady Mary never gets drunk – that would diminish her verbal capacity to take anyone down a notch at a moment’s notice – message there – stay in control of your sensibilities and you have control of the room.

4. Importantly, she never breaks down in public.  She has terrific falling apart scenes in private but never in front of the family at large or the household.  She reserves emotional collapse for her grandmother, Carson, sometimes with Anna but she keeps it together everywhere else.  She never uses crying to elicit attention or sympathy, and she does not lose her temper in public.  She may say things that cause even her to feel a twinge of regret.  Though, who’re we kidding – she doesn’t regret much other than having her way with the Turk made tricky by him dying in her bed. That was a low point.

5. She can cook one signature dish – scrambled eggs.  If you recall the episode where the new piglets almost die for lack of water and Mary and that attractive government inspector (who also happens to be heir to something or other and so one of her kind) spend all night in evening clothes restoring the piglets to life.  Then they head to the Downton kitchen for a snack and what does our Mary do but whip up some scrambled eggs served with a decent glass of red wine.  Talk about style.  And, dear friends, you do not need more than the ability to scramble an egg because that works pretty much any time of the day or night.

6. Finally, Lady Mary does embrace work.  She takes on the managing of the estate and certainly doesn’t need that useless wimp Tom (more on him in the next post).

I welcome your views on Lady Mary.  What have I missed?  I’m so interested to know what you think her strengths are as we all know her weaknesses.

Next up, Sybille.  I’ll skip Edith for now because she is so delightfully complex.  And I have a bone to pick with Sybille, as much as I love her.

 

Forgetting to think

I’ve got a weak right leg.  I’m left-handed so it’s normal that the right side is weaker but just how much weaker has been something of a revelation that comes from trying to hold a yoga warrior 3 pose.

Warrior 3
Warrior 3

I can’t do it at all.  It seems to take a lot of muscles to hold this one but the real trouble is the muscle on my upper back thigh, right under my butt.  Have I ever used this muscle?  It appears not.  It makes me wonder, how many other muscles have been ignored over the course of 5 decades?  What the hell have I been doing with myself?  And if there are muscles in and around this body that have remained largely untouched, what of my brain?  How many compartments and capabilities have laid largely dormant for most of my life?  To name a few:

  1. Math – anything much beyond calculating a tip is pretty much asleep
  2. Science – basic chemistry outside of water and oil not mixing has been wholly ignored
  3. Drawing – largely a skill based on objectively observing and studying lines and how these come together to form a whole
  4. Music – haven’t a clue about notes, rhythm and honestly know so little I can hardly write about what I don’t know
  5. Philosophy – that whole area of arguing around pure ideas – I took a philosophy course in first year university and it completely eluded me

That’s just the list off the top of my head. So hardly a renaissance woman.  I think of what Leonardo Da Vinci tackled, carrying his notebook and wandering the streets of Florence allowing ideas and curiosity to guide him and am appalled at my own limitations.  The sitting that I’ve become so good at over the years is the equivalent of the content consumption that has been made so much easier by the internet and access to so many bite size bits of reading and watching.  Like that sad little muscle sitting at the back of my leg, I’ve got to light a fire into those flabby bits of brain.  But the real problem is that I forget to think – I swipe the ignorance the screen inside my head and turn to something I can speculate on with ease, or flip to Pinterest.

Forgetting how to think has got to be truly the worst form of lethargy, and so easy to succumb to as you get older.  I’m not great at new year resolutions but I do think it might be time to push myself into another new routine, one that challenges my brain as much as my body.

If you’re interested in how I’m pushing my body have a look at the videos from Boho Beautiful.  You will need to come to terms with her general gorgeousness, which is difficult, trust me.  But once you do, I think you’ll find these are fantastically balanced workouts which will help you discover muscles you never new you had.

To get there, big, audacious goals are just plain trouble.  I’m a proponent of the Kaizen method – 1% daily improvements – setting micro goals achieves more than those big hairy goals ever will.  A short read here on the Kaizen method, or listen to this Art of Manliness podcast that summarizes the approach.

 

Women of action

Amelia like illustration
Not a Laurence Fellows illustration but a rare one of a woman dressed for more than shopping

Nothing says action like sitting down!  That said, at least she is dressed for action.  I have recently found myself scrolling (for hours) through Pinterest captivated by fashion illustrations from the first half of the 20th century, and largely focused on the menswear illustrator Laurence Fellows.  I have @GreyFox to thank for the introduction – as I do for so many insights and explorations into men’s style.

LF shorts
A fine example of a Laurence Fellows illustration – the detail (espadrilles!) and style are glorious

 

As noted by the Grey Fox, the gentlemen depicted in Fellow’s illustrations are largely, older, incredibly dapper, dressed appropriately for each activity, and I have to say – extremely fit.  In an ideal world for men, they all would be 6’1″, broad shoulders slim hips, and just enough muscle to do a few laps in an Olympic-sized pool before cocktails.  Here are a few fine examples of the man he portrays:

 

Laurence Fellows swimsuit
Note the grey hair and receding hairline.
LF fit getting dressed
Looking mighty fine in his boxers

And then at work:

man at work
No apologies for age

 

 

As with so many things on the internet, one obsession leads to another, and I was determined to find the equivalent for women – to absolutely no avail.  Lovely illustrations of young women in beautiful dresses, lounging, shopping are everywhere,

 

and then this one of a young lady struggling to get out of a car:

 

LF woman and car
This skirt is too long and tight

A woman does need a few role models and while these were not found in fashion they were around in real life with women like these:

Ladies in tennis trousers
No, we’re not smiling for the camera
Ladies in 20s suit
I’ll stand on top of this building cause I feel like it
Anne Marie
Annemarie Schwarzenbach, the adventurer, and clearly doing her own thing

If you think about advertising today, not much has changed.  In the real world, women are operating in virtually every field at all levels (not so much at the very top) and yet most depictions are delivered through the male gaze – or at least, what we believe to be the male gaze.  I wonder if men find the images of made-up 15 year olds as attractive and alluring as we believe?  I give them more credit.

We know that all women love to see a grey-haired model wearing beautiful clothes and living an interesting, engaging life, because we’re all going in that direction.  Like I did on my browsing binge, you have to look for the images that inspire you.  Of course, you will always find them here.

Follow the Great Woman on Pinterest.

The Grey Fox is a terrfic blog presenting the stylish older man, suitable for all men.

The Gentlemen’s Gazette, another style blog for men.

The trouble with gender

GI joe and barbi
Barbie and GI Joe

 

Passing on for your general edification (and hopefully an opinion or two) Mark Manson’s thoughts on feminism brought to you by his website MarkManson.net and entitled What’s the problem with feminism?

And if you want to see the other half of the equation try What’s the problem with men?

I can’t remember a time when gender, transgender, no-gender has  been so debated.  The rights of one compared to the others, the study of gender, the constraints and advantages.  I would like to move beyond gender and do what suits me as a person.  But as these articles point out, we remain largely constrained by ideas of the feminine and masculine, where happiness and success are measured against outdated norms.

I’ve just discovered Mark Manson and hope you enjoy his writing as much as I do.

The question I put to you, are you willing and ready to be truly equal?  Would you miss any of the privileges your gender provides?  Hmmm.

The Great Woman weekend

A few things to catch up on this weekend. Some mind-blowing (Cindy Gallop interview), some illuminating (women drinking too much), women have been in STEM for decades (Beatrice Shilling and Mercury 13).

How did I not know about this podcast?

Role Models podcast

The Role Models Podcast: The Role Models Podcast is a series of interviews that captures and shares the stories of inspiring women. These are far-reaching conversations with female leaders we look up to. We discuss how they got to where they are – including the lessons they’ve learned, the decisions they’ve made, and the challenges they’ve tackled.  And start with this one with Cindy Gallop – a dose of straight talking.

Cindy
Cindy Gallop interview

Thanks to the wonderful blog swissmiss for the introduction.

Why are women drinking so much?

arnold palmer drink
The Arnold Palmer = tea and lemonade

Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink

A role model for all girls and women.

Beatrice Tilly Shilling

 

Beatrice Shilling – Electrical Engineer who solved WWII airplane troubles.

Pilots and astronauts way back in the ’60s.

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Mercury 13, the group of women to whom NASA gave the same training as astronauts.

Enjoy!

Clothes without gender

yohji ss13
Yohji Yamamoto SS13

“When I started designing, I wanted to make men’s clothes for women. But there were no buyers. Now there are. I always wonder who decided that there should be a difference in the clothes of men and women. Perhaps men have decided this.” Yohji Yamamoto professing his preference for gender-neutral dress way back in 1983 to The New York Times.

What strikes me is how long this notion that men and women should dress differently has stuck.  And as constrained as women are by expectations around presentation (makeup, dresses/skirts/heels/purses) so, too, are men. And boys, judging by the recent protest by schoolboys during the UK’s recent heat wave.  Why do girls get to wear skirts and boys not shorts?  Or vice versa for that matter, as witnessed by this photo.

boys in skirts
As witnessed in The Guardian

Now Thom Browne is adding his voice.  Interesting message, execution of long and slim with heels will inevitably lead to the hobbling walk that has plagued many a great woman, but that’s not the point.  Why not genderless dressing?  What has taken so long to come around to this simple yet still radical notion?

Thom Browne Men's Spring 2018
Thom Browne SS18

 

Browne long and grey.jpg
And again, working those arms

As Browne told the New York Times, “It all started with these,” Browne says. They’re his own shoes from childhood; it’s a tradition in his family to dip a pair in gold and have them on display. “I was thinking about how we all start off the same — wearing almost the same clothes,” he says. “And then, it changes.”

While the women’s line has some playful yet traditional womenswear, then there is this example of what is good for the goose is good for the gander:

06-thom-browne-resort-2018 beige grey women

A women’s appearance is no longer an indication of her spouse’s wealth, nor need it be the lure to reel in the fish.  Those notions are no longer relevant.

It might  also be helpful if the prevailing idea wasn’t to radically change one’s wardrobe each year. Even if you can’t do (afford) the absolute classics, anyone can find a wardrobe that makes sense for the cold weather, hot weather, the roads we travel and the work we do.  And if women could take more of the pragmatic from menswear, maybe men might be free to take a fraction of the liberties women take for granted and particularly as it applies for dressing in hot weather – if not a skirt, then at least shorts.

You may not approve of all his clothes but you can’t argue with Yamamoto’s thinking.  Let’s give the last word to Yohji taken from a recent interview in Dazed.

“But, after almost fifty years in the industry, in which fast fashion has replaced craftsmanship, and globalisation has promoted homogenous idea of what’s ‘in’ across the planet, he’s come to have a critical distance from our cycle of trends. ‘Casual fashion became like garbage in the world. There are so many cheap, wasting fashions. Young people look so ugly.’ How can you avoid becoming a fashion victim? ‘It’s quite easy: don’t copy your friend,’ he enunciates. ‘Don’t be one of a group. Be yourself. Stay a little bit monotone – walk on our side of the street, don’t walk the mainstream of fashion. You’ll be polluted by trends.’

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Yamamoto from 2007, the no-pantyhose dress look.

Who am I kidding?  This won’t be the last word from Yohji.

yohji headshot
Yohji Yamamoto