Last night I was trying to explain some of the feministy-things that I’ve been struggling with lately to my friend Jens. Yes, I am that fun. We also touched on jam bands, our friend Jocko’s new skate park, parents who send their kids to rock camp, and saw our first vuvuzela, so don’t worry that feminist talk took up the whole evening. But the feminist part was interesting because it’s all so fresh and new to him! I mean, it is infuriating in general that so many men (and women) never think about this stuff, but on the other hand, kind of rad to talk to someone who didn’t have a 2,000 word prepared statement on why some women don’t like the term “feminist,” because he was just truly baffled as to why anyone would reject it. I did my best to explain the womanist position and various other ones, and he also got a mini-seminar in intersectionality. I am available to give this tutorial for free at any time after two glasses of wine.
There was a much less didactic presentation of feminist issues in the episode of “Lark Rise to Candelford” I watched when I got home. “Lark Rise” is a BBC drama based on a series of books written by Flora Thompson, set in late 19th-century Oxfordshire, England. They center on a young woman, Laura Timmins, who works in the post office with an older, unmarried woman named Dorcas Lane. The series title refers to the communities of Lark Rise and Candleford, which are right next to each other, but Candleford is composed of middle class shopkeepers and the like, while the residents of Lark Rise are tenant farmers. There is a great deal of class conflict throughout the series, with many plotlines touching on the rise of modernity—in one episode Dorcas gets the first bicycle seen in either town. Go ahead and snicker, I love this show. It’s kind of like “Little House on the Prairie” crossed with “All Things Great and Small.”
Last night I watched Season 2, Episode 2, which was about feminism. For real! They never said the word, but it was. Dorcas decides to challenge a local land developer who is running for parish council by running herself. When she goes to Lark Rise to ask the men for her vote, even the most progressive among them is horrified by the thought of voting for a woman. Robert Timmins, an outspoken critic of Britain’s class system and the way that the workers are deprived of human rights and kept in debt, nonetheless uses a familiar-to-us argument to dissuade Dorcas from running, telling her that even if her positions are Lark Rise-friendly, she will never win their support. She cannot hope to advance her cause or theirs—therefore she should abandon hers until the other battles have been won. Where have we heard that before?
Robert Timmins is feeling particularly anti-woman and privilege-protectiony in this episode because his wife committed the grievous offense of joking that she actually runs the household, she just lets him think he does. This seriously puts him in a little snit for the entire episode. The most liberal guy in Lark Rise!
That evening, Dorcas and her campaign committee have a meeting. Ruby Pratt, a seamstress, has been doing research and discovered that only one other woman in all of England has ever run for office. Minnie, the housemaid, asks why some women can’t vote and others can. It is explained to her that women who own property, like Miss Pratt, can vote in local elections, but that since most women do not, they are effectively deprived of the vote. Minnie, instead of asking why the men of Lark Rise, who don’t own land, are able to vote, asks a more basic question: “What is a vote?” It’s kind of mind-blowing.
In the end, Dorcas stands down from the election, but she subverts Dowland’s plan anyway by going to the parish council and getting them to pass a law protecting the workers from rent increases for 20 years. Of course I love this because going to a community meeting actually produced effective change. Ahem.
Watching this show to me is kind of like watching Betty Draper on “Mad Men.” I can’t wait for Dorcas to hook up with the suffrage movement, just like I can’t wait for Betty to read “The Feminine Mystique.” If I just had a job where I write “Click!” moments for fictional characters, I’d be the happiest person ever. Maybe I will launch a feminist fan-fic site for just this purpose.