The Thinking 
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On Female Servants

April 3, 2011


SEBASTIAN C. writes:

I must take issue with your casual dismissal in the entry on the British TV series “Downton Abbey” of employers exploiting their female house maids with the line “But sexual abuse of young women today is rampant among those who grow up with their mother’s boyfriends.” I don’t think the analogy holds. There is a difference between something happening occasionally as a consequence of another phenomenon and something that is institutionalized and ritualized. Let me explain. 

In his ancien regime and the revolution, Tocqueville includes an appendix (or the editor to my French edition includes them, I don’t recall) quoting from some of the Cahiers de Doléances. These were the detailed grievances of the peasantry and provincial shopkeepers against the aristocracy. One of the main complaints is that the aristocratic men routinely helped themselves to the prettiest French peasant girls, usually raping them, sometimes simply kidnapping them. This is so entrenched in French culture that by the 1970’s there were a number of soft-core porn movies centered on this theme. Even non-Marxists historians of the revolution like Francois Furet (who was my own professor at Chicago) have written that the sexual tension created by the presence of young male aristocrats in the countryside contributed to igniting the terror.  Read More »

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