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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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.

 

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.

JerrieCobb_MercuryCapsule-768x967

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

Enjoy!

Avoiding perfection

Mad-Women
Mad Men women

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.

Links & resources

Become the woman of your dreams – a great TED talk that says it all so much better

Modest style: A trend or a shift?

MH_SS17_Women_Lookbook_Online_10
Margaret Howell SS17

This recent article in the NY Times on the trend towards modest dressing is one of several over the last year.  The skeptic in me wonders if it’s a natural part of the buying cycle – sheer, short and tight have been in, shopping is declining, time to launch a new trend – loose, covered, and long. So the question is, are we looking at a trend or a fundamental shift?  Let’s consider.

It’s fair to say you will consume what is available, and for those of us not inclined to wear low-waisted, tight pants, sheer tops and short skirts, the last decade has been a challenge.  A change is welcome.  But the change I’m look for is one beyond the buying cycle.  Have we reached the point where we will no longer select clothing through the lens of the male gaze?  And to be fair, it is a perceived understanding of what men find attractive.  Mass media frequently underestimates their discernment often reverting to cliche.  What options have they had?  The infiltration of pornographic images into mainstream media, proliferated by the internet and sadly, the music industry, have inundated all of us with a narrow view on what is attractive.  Fortunately, for the vast majority of women, the level-headed man does not embrace the cliche, though I think it is a particular challenge for young men and boys developing into men to keep a balanced perspective.  It’s said that the formative years are where many of your life-long perspectives develop (guilty as charged – still love the clothes of the ’70s and that’s what I see coming back into play now) and so what the young of today have witnessed in clothes, behaviour and culture in the last decade will inevitably have an impact.

How will we know if it is indeed a shift rather than a trend?  Hard to tell what the future holds.  It’s really up to us to make the first move – to dress for our gaze alone.  To rebalance priorities that focus on our taste and comfort, and for what helps contribute to a reasonable approach to consumption – one that doesn’t jeopardize financial security.  If we can resist the lure of new for the sake of newness, break the compulsion to buy, spend our time on more rewarding (and often simple) pursuits than shopping, then we will be in control of whether it is a trend or a shift.  That’s real power.

Links and resources:

For more on modest dressing

The sublime style of Margaret Howell

A bit of women workwear from Nigel Cabourn

The reliable and affordable classics from Muji

 

An even younger you

anti2

Nothing about this post is new.  The relentless pressure to, if not look 25, then at least be seen to be working at it continues. It is, of course, behavioural control which if we worked together, would lose it’s power.  So let’s work together on this one.

It’s one thing for women my age who are endlessly targeted with before and after images of what one sort of filler or another can do to change our features, it’s quite another when the women targeted are even younger, and from what I can see in the younger women I know, they are succumbing to the pressure in alarming numbers.  When you’re my age-ish the issue is primarily one of employability.  Does having a few lines and gray hair signal your thinking is beyond value?  That seems to be the inference. (Though it does make me wonder why so many male CEOs and board directors are well into their 5th, 6th and even 7th decades.) I’m fighting the resistance there and we’ll hope I will succeed in overcoming the oppressors.  If romance is what you’re after then any potential mate who defines him/herself by the age of their partner has issues and that sounds a bit exhausting at my stage of the game.  I’d rather shovel some snow. That’s where I stand but I largely stand alone when it comes to naturally graying hair, and a naturally ageing face.  I can’t really fathom the energy and expense required to be in your 50’s and have to try to look even 45.  It would be a fulltime job for me.

When women in their 30’s and 40’s are choosing intervention to change the nature of their lovely faces, that’s a worrisome thing.  Let’s face it, a woman’s 20’s are not the easiest time, and here’s just a sample:

What am I doing with my life?

How will I make a living?

Who am I?

Who are you?

Do I like this?

Is this normal?

Do I really have to put up with this?

You know what I’m talking about.  It’s tough, and though it was a long time ago for me, I certainly remember those years as being full of ambiguity and indecision.  What is easy, is that you look young.  More like, deer-caught-in-the-headlights young.  And that has it’s attraction. But once in your 30’s you’ve sorted a lot of this stuff out, and through the sorting out you’ve gained character, maybe become more of who you are (personality) and gained a modicum of wisdom.  That will change you inside and out.  It’s really only the relentless force of consumption that puts a negative lens on any of this.  Yes, you won’t be mistaken for 19, but you’re all those questions don’t leave you reeling anymore.  There is also the crushing pressure to have a family, whether that is really the right choice for you or not (more on that in an upcoming post).  This pressure requires a mate, and so the all-consuming distraction is around attracting and securing said parent in a timely manner.  The other scenario is that you nailed the partner/kid thing but the relationship did not survive the effort and you find yourself in your 40’s with a keen desire to find a better match.  All reasonable motivations, all ripe for youthful interventions.  Men are also being targeted for many of the same messages.  There just seem to be a larger number of them who don’t seem to care.  The parallel issue (and one that we’ve all commented on) is how an ungroomed/unattractive man frequently attracts his polar opposite.  While I don’t think women are any better than men at spotting the ‘good’ in people, I do think that men have not been effectively marketed to, and so women may simply have lower expectations around what the potential might look like.  If you’ve ever heard a man comment that he likes a woman with long nails then you know the power of advertising.

Now if we were all to stop this nonsense then expectations would reset.  We could all stop sporting long hair and bangs into our 50’s when we’d really rather just let those curls curl, wearing short short, tight skirts with 4″ heels when we could wear a long, full skirt, or even a men’s cut suit (me), cut off those skinny jeans once and for all (and I don’t mean into shorts) and present ourselves fully as individuals – clean, mind you – but without fillers, buffers, paints and plasters.

What say you?  Shall we go for it?

P.S. More on family life in an upcoming post.  And I warn you, I don’t hold back.