I hope you enjoyed our examination of the Downton Abbey ladies. We now move on to The Crown though, sadly, not a stellar group much beyond the Sovereign herself. In fact, what a sad group of women! This is what happens when you have nothing to do but get dressed and husband hunt. In this final installment in the series (:)) we have no choice but to focus solely on the Queen herself, and much to learn there.
Hard to imagine the pressure she was under to master all the protocols and responsibilities at the ripe young age of 25. The expectation to be perfectly in control, well-informed, forthright in providing direction, not to mention immaculately coiffed and dressed – all this is daunting and the fact that she managed to pull it off (and still is) shows what an impressive and even masterful woman she is.
Let’s begin by looking at her formidable control – control of emotions, schedules, planning, just to name a few areas. She almost never says a cross word out of anger – though that doesn’t seem to hold anyone else back. While she self-describes as uneducated, she is clearly brilliant and incredibly strategic. To get what she wants she carefully considers the options, and while she doesn’t always succeed, she has an excellent go of it. She does get caught out now and then by some wily member of court, and her husband is nothing but difficult, but overall she does a great job of preparing for difficult conversations and then executing. Something to be learned there, and especially for those among us more prone to flying off the handle. It will be interesting to watch as she, over the course of this wonderful Netflix series, becomes less reliant on the advice of the establishment, not to mention her mother.
Then there is the business of being the Queen, for which she needs to have a strong understanding of the political issues of the day. Darned if she doesn’t do that well. To spar with the hero of the Second World War, a.k.a., Winston Churchill is a remarkable feat. She also does a nice dressing-down of each of her prime ministers who as she says are either too weak or too sick to get the job done. She triumphs there, and so let us not be intimidated by those who have gone before and consider themselves superior. Focus on the facts and give it right back to them.
And just look at the schedules! Crazy long trips via ships for months on end – can you imagine? Actually having an injection to release a facial muscle spasm due to too much smiling. And the daily grind of the business of sovereign which she takes on without a lot of grumbling, meanwhile her husband does nothing but play – endless hours of recreation not to mention affairs. On top of this, she ends the day hosting state visits, making small talk and basically playing dress-up so people get to meet the Queen. Exhausting!
Until I watched the series I never fully appreciated just how alone she is illustrated by the fact that the Queen always goes first. Everyone follows a few paces behind. There she is time after time, walking first, greeting first, always alone. That must be an unusual feeling and especially when all the presidents and prime ministers, always have a supportive partner by their side. But not the Queen – she’s on her own. As women, I suggest we should be emboldened to embark on our own – prepared- yet unafraid to venture forth. She doesn’t shrink from the entitlement of being first, nor should you.
The series also illuminated the disadvantage of her lack of education. To be placed in so many situations to engage with experts, brilliant thinkers, artists, musicians and with no foundation. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be not to feel like a fool. She has clearly mastered the fine art of asking questions and showing keen and sincere interest in others, which is the only way to survive these encounters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that suggests the Queen is an idiot. And so that’s an interesting lesson – curiosity and interest can make up for any lack of knowledge.
Finally, a word on the whole presentation of self. She is naturally quite lovely and obviously very practical when it comes to clothes. Though it may have been difficult at times (and a few of the dresses, notably when Jackie Kennedy visited were quite hideous) to host fashionable people while relying on the taste of one or two dressmakers (Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell). What I do love is her feminine style. I couldn’t pull it off but it sure worked for her. And let’s face it, she has stuck with what works for her and it is both distinctive and endlessly appropriate. Isn’t that what we’re all after, an approach that makes sense for our lifestyle, feels right, and that we can just replicate day after day so it doesn’t consume our time our minds.
Looking pretty gorgeous here!
So we end this series on a royal note with a story that is still unfolding. How wonderful is that?
Who shall we profile next? Leave your suggestions in comments or email me at thegreatwomanblog.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Math – anything much beyond calculating a tip is pretty much asleep
Science – basic chemistry outside of water and oil not mixing has been wholly ignored
Drawing – largely a skill based on objectively observing and studying lines and how these come together to form a whole
Music – haven’t a clue about notes, rhythm and honestly know so little I can hardly write about what I don’t know
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.
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.
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?
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.
Thanks to the wonderful blog swissmiss for the introduction.
There are so many views on perfection: It is the key to success or a recipe for dissatisfaction. It can never be achieved, it is the only way to achieve. It can drive passion or foster unhappiness. What is a great woman to do?
We are all too familiar with the pressure to look perfect and the tired tale of the role advertising continues to play in convincing us that perfect hair, nails, makeup, clothes, legs, arms, abs – I could go on – is the route to happiness, success and romance. That is a load of nonsense and I hope you, dear reader, have let that go. It’s a bit like meditation, you have to practice releasing these thoughts consciously before it becomes second nature. The critical move is to start questioning the value of what you do on a daily basis to get yourself ready to face the world. Removing one bit of bondage at a time is a good way to test the value of your efforts.
What of other pursuits? Is perfection an idea or a standard? As an idea it enables you to think something through to what you hope will be its natural conclusion. You ponder and introduce new ideas, reject others. It leads to practice and improvement, accomplishment and confidence. As a standard it may become a relentless dictator, leading to processes and procedures that give the illusion of achieving perfection while driving those around you (not to mention yourself) absolutely crazy. When I think about the people I enjoy working with and for, they are the ones who look at a thing from every which way to arrive at clarity. The ones who try to turn perfection into a standard and a specific way of behaving and recording, can become rigid and critical, labeled as a merciless micro-manager – demotivating and alienating everyone in their path.
The quest for perfection seems to be rooted in criticism. Criticize the young relentlessly and you will render them slaves to perfection. This is so true of children but also true of people embarking on careers. Criticism can bring the brightest soul to their knees, and they recover their stance often through the pursuit of perfection, second-guessing themselves, working long, fruitless hours, and in turn rendering them in turn as employers who wreak the same havoc on their employees. I don’t think the perfectionist drive is gender specific, but I do think women have often compensated for a lack of power (perceived or otherwise) by subjecting themselves and others to standards of perfection that are not valuable. I know women of my generation, many of whom entered into professions and workplaces still largely dominated by men (and if not by men alone then certainly by male-thinking) found that on the outer edge of acceptance, the path forward seemed to call for pushing harder than everyone else – dotting more ‘i’s’ and crossing more ‘t’s’ . I understand all that very well. I also know that it is behaviour we don’t want to pass to the next generation of working women and certainly not to our kids.
A woman can and will be great without being perfect, distinguishing between constructive and ruinous criticism, by focusing her energy on the stuff that provides deep satisfaction. By letting the small things go, by actively leading a balanced life, pursuing interests for pleasure and accomplishment, without expectations of perfection. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of learning something new, doing something differently, or pursuing an interest. If you’re not perfect, don’t worry, you don’t have to be.
I would be interested in the role perfectionism has played or not played in your life. Let me know.