I took this quiz to find out which Downton Abbey character I was most like, and, not that surprisingly I turned out to be Lady Sybil Crawley, youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham. And since then I've been obsessing about her.
For those of you who are afficionados of the show, now in its second season here in the States (if you're not, check out this hilarious and naughty review), you know that Sybil is the earnest, socially conscious character, the most likely young aristocrat to get punched out at an election rally, as well as the most likely noble to marry the Irish socialist chauffeur, a character who (unlike her intermittently evil sisters) we all love to love. (On the first show of season 2, she's become a Florence Nightingale-like nurse, and learned to make her bed and bake a cake for her mum, for goodness sake!) And yet, she's also character with the least edges, the least three dimensionality, the least (gasp) humor.
Which makes me think - why do we always imagine feminists to be so darned humorless?
Along with the other socially conscious character on the show, cousin Isobel Crawley, Sybil is a sort of public moral compass - the person we're supposed to trust in regard to matters of truth, justice, and the American way (and by that, I mean, the toppling of the British class system). I know, I know, it's a British show, created by Britishers, set in England; but there's such a streak of earnest class critique (with an equal part of class romanticization) in Downton that it feels positively, well, Yankee. (for some interesting analysis of class on the show see this great article)
Isobel and Sybil are also the characters most likely to have subscribed to Ms. Magazine, or hung out with Gloria Steinem, had they lived in the right part of century. They're pro-women's vote (although not quite so radical as to actually go and do something about that), pro-getting your hands dirty, pro-flaring your nostrils and setting all manner of things to good and pure and right.
But do they really have to be so, well, un-funny? Some of my favorite feminists and social radicals are also really funny people. The humorless feminist is in fact such a common trope that modern feminists are often debating why it's used so often against us, and how to comment on sexist humor without getting slammed with it.
I love Downton Abbey, and while I know that it's a show that's already made, and Julian Fellows isn't reading my blog post and making script changes on the spot, I really wish Isobel and Sybil could chill out a little, take some risks that go beyond wearing ugly pants to dinner (or calling out butlers and footmen who have pretend lung conditions and can't go be cannon fodder in the war). Like maybe kissing the chauffeur guy when he declares his love to you, Sybil, while simultaneously stealing Matthew from under your witchy sister Mary's nose (hah! who's the radical feminist countess now?).
Sybil's so earnest, sincere and sweet, she's starting to make my teeth ache. I still love her, mind you, but would just like to laugh with her a little too.