I was hooked by Downton Abbey for all the usual reasons: gripping plotlines, gorgeous clothes, Maggie Smith.
But I became obsessed with the hit PBS series because of its depictions of female financial life, barely a century ago.
Mining a British costume drama for historical insight about women and money is like watching Glee to understand American high schools. Still, Downton weaves in dilemmas that women did face once upon a time—it’s just that “once upon a time” wasn’t really so long ago.
If you’ve read Jane Austen or even watched Mad Men, the themes aren’t new: watching an inheritance go to a male relative; being forced to secure one’s future with a wealthy husband; facing scorn for seeking a job.
But Downton Abbey (which wrapped its second season last night) has created a crucible of feminist issues that illustrates why money remains a core challenge for the fairer, still poorer, sex.
We’re only a couple of generations removed a time when women were discouraged from acquiring any financial know-how—and only a few decades from a time when women weren’t expected to manage their own money.
That’s changed, and changing. Here you are with your emergency fund, your 401k, your financial plan. Let’s celebrate, sigh with relief—and keep going.