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Rachel Demma Headshot

Pride and Prejudice at 'Downton Abbey'

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Like every other "Downton Abbey" enthusiast, I have spent the past few days reeling in sadness and shock over the death of Lady Sibyl. As I watched the episode and the horrific scene of her death, I kept asking myself, "Is this really happening? Sibyl can't die!" Unfortunately, the scene did actually happen and Sibyl did die. Once I accepted that, I was left to grapple with a bigger question: Why?

The next morning at breakfast, that is the very question my mom and I attempted to answer. "It's all because of the men and their stupid pride. If Lord Grantham and his fancy doctor weren't so proud, then they would have listened to the country doctor and Sibyl would've been saved! It's all on their darn pride."

My mother responded with a reference to our favorite book (which, coincidentally, had just marked its 200th anniversary): "Or maybe it was their prejudice! Hmmm, was it pride or prejudice?" I forced a laugh at what I thought was just my mom's lame joke, but then I realized her attempt at humor had some truth in it. "If Lord Grantham and (the upper crust) Sir Phillip weren't so prejudiced against the country doctor for being of a lower class," she continued, "then maybe they would've taken his diagnosis more seriously."

Throughout the day, I shared this interesting point with my fellow Downton-ites in an attempt to help them cope. My brother, who had heard my numerous Jane Austen references for Lady Sibyl's death, attempted to shut me up with "Rachel, you and your health won't be the victims of pride or prejudice because it's 2013, so stop talking about it."

This got me thinking. Why not? What has changed between 1920 and 2013 that can assure that neither pride nor prejudice can jeopardize my well being, or the well being of other women? Yes, we have made incredible medical and technological advancements in healthcare practices, but has human nature advanced enough to save us from a similar fate as Lady Sibyl?

I would argue that, sadly, it has not. Look at some of the current hot-topic issues in the medical arena. Right now, there is a lot of controversy over women's rights. Bills such as Personhood Bills and the Woman's Right to Know Bill and the friction over access to birth control have popped up trying to prevent women from exercising their rights over their own bodies. Not so surprisingly, many of these bills have been proposed, supported and sponsored by men.

The list of issues road-blocking a woman's independence imposed largely by men because of their pride and their prejudice could go on and on. Until fairly recently, men had a lot of control over women's lives and decisions. Are they now too proud to relinquish that power, and give women their own say? Or are they prejudiced against women, and thus don't believe that they don't deserve full independence? Regardless, it is clear that even today women are subjected to the pride and prejudice of men.

"He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman's daughter. So far we are equal."
- Jane Austen, "Pride and Prejudice"