Can We Stop Calling Grandma a Whore?

by Kerry Scott on 10 September 2014

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It’s possible I’m about to get rant-y. Also, if you intend to watch Downton Abbey but haven’t yet reached season four, you should know that there’s a spoiler ahead.

Are we good? Okay.

So this show, Downton Abbey, has a maid named Anna Bates. Anna is married to John, and she’s a maid in a big house in England. These big houses have lots of visitors, and the visitors bring their own maids and valets.

It’s 1920-something, and the big house has visitors, and the visitors bring their valet. The valet rapes Anna in the kitchen. Anna tells no one for some time, and she especially doesn’t tell her husband, who has had trouble with the law recently. She thinks her husband will kill the guy, and she doesn’t want him to go to prison.

So she keeps quiet. And she wonders if she’s pregnant.

Now, in the show, it turns out she’s not pregnant. But what if she had been? She, like all women of that era, had few choices. She may well have had to keep that baby and pass it off as her husband’s. It’s awful to contemplate, but it’s a reality many women faced. Even now, with supposedly-enlightened attitudes and DNA testing, many women choose not to report sexual assault. 100+ years ago, things were much worse.

So if Anna had had a baby, the baby would not be a Bates. That means that if Anna’s great-grandchild had done DNA testing today, he might well have found out that he was Anna’s descendant, but not John’s.

And, if what I’ve seen recently on social media is any indication, he’d talk about how Anna must have cheated on John. There would be cutesy jokes about the milkman, or, if the writer was particularly cluefree, there might be a reference to Anna “whoring around.”

Now, even if Anna had been “whoring around,” I’m not sure we need to be shaming her for it one hundred years later. It seems that if we felt the need to do that at all, there should be a statute of limitations or something. But when we’re looking at DNA results and discovering non-paternity events, we need to remember that we don’t know the circumstances of the conception. My personal feeling is that judging your ancestors gets old real fast, but if you’re inclined to do so, at least make sure you know what the hell you’re talking about. In these cases, most of the time, you don’t. You can’t.

Let’s cut Grandma (and the milkman) some slack, okay?

Photo by Teodora Taneva

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Ancestor Hate Mail

by Kerry Scott on 1 August 2014

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