Did you do this today?
In honor of Election Day, I thought a good muse for this week would be Mary Poppins. If you don’t exactly see the link, don’t worry, it’s easy to forget the subtle hints to political activism that Disney drops along the way.
Emerging in 1964, the film version of Mary Poppins added an interesting twist to the character of Mrs. Banks. While only a rather scatter-brained wife and mother in the book, Mrs. Banks is a rather militant “Sister Suffragette” in the on-screen version.
Often portrayed as shirking her motherly duties off onto Mary Poppins and the other servants, Winifred Banks is as distracted from her family by her personal ambitions as her banker husband is his own career. Interestingly enough though, the movie positions both she and Mary Poppins as the reformers of the film. While Mrs. Banks is involved in reforming gender equality, Mary Poppins reforms the seemingly more trivial duties of the nursery.
It is Mary Poppins though that emerges as the most respected hero. A character brimming with traditional feminine qualities, Mary Poppins is nurturing, firm yet extremely thoughtful, kind, devotes herself to meeting the needs of the family, and has essentially no “self” other than her role as the beloved nanny.
So, if Disney was including Mrs. Banks’ character in order to call attention to the need for more equal gender representation in the voting booths, and motivate women into activism, why does the most traditional woman, Mary Poppins, seem oh-so-much-more capable than the ridiculous Mrs. Banks?
Perhaps in 1964 Disney was a bit of a prophet. Perhaps they could see the dangers of an entire generation of women forgetting about being women and instead running headlong into doing everything the way a man does it.
The picture the film paints is pretty black and white: be involved in personal goals at the complete destruction of one’s duties as mother and wife, or, be an emblem of a perfect mother-figure with no interest in the broader world or personal ambitions.
That’s pretty ridiculous. Obviously, women should be able to vote, have careers doing whatever they desire, and be able to have a voice that is respected in the realm of politics. However, the characters of Mrs. Banks and Mary Poppins pin down a very interesting battle in the modern woman’s heart: faced with career-goals, family obligations, and the feminine heart’s natural desire to love and be loved, how do you bridge the dichotomy of being an aloof Mrs. Banks or a Mary Poppins—devoted to servitude? Which do you choose?
Perhaps what Disney was really trying to point out is that by positioning Mary Poppins as the most memorable heroine of the film, her character shows that whoever is in your home and nursery will be the audience who remembers you best. If you want your “daughters’ daughters” to “adore” you, and “sing in grateful chorus, Well done! Well done!” (“Sister Suffragette” song in Mary Poppins) then I suppose you had best tend first to your nursery.