I was having a conversation with a friend recently about movies and nostalgia, and childhood. Somehow we got to Mary Poppins, which I haven’t watched in years but remember very fondly. I feel sheepish even typing this, but all of a sudden a realization hit me like a thunderbolt — Jane and Michael’s mother was a suffragette. I remembered (barely) her “votes for women!” line in the song Step in Time, but I never connected the dots. Mrs. Banks was depicted as a bad mom, neglectful and flighty, because she spent her time blithely campaigning for a woman’s right to vote rather than staying at home with her children. She had a nanny. A nanny who had to show Jane and Michael love and care with a sprinkle of magic, because their parents were blind to their emotional needs.
I’m not sure if it is sadder that this movie depicts a suffragette as a terrible mother, or that it took me decades to realize it. Sexism, female subjugation, and the expectations of motherhood are so deeply ingrained in our patriarchal society that even a self-professed feminist can be blind to things that are painfully obvious. That Mrs. Banks trades in her sash and signs for kite-flying with her family at the end of the film seems obvious, the perfect ending. Another woman perfectly tucked away, motherly and nonthreatening. And I didn’t even notice.
Women, the vote, and societal expectations are big topics on my mind these days as we head through the primaries and towards Super Tuesday. We have two remaining female candidates for the Democratic nomination, both of which have bucked the societal expectation that women shut up, stay home, and mother their children. And there is a nation full of women who have the right to vote, when less than 100 years ago we did not. I don’t want this moment in time to go unnoticed. And I don’t want the sacrifices of so many women a century ago to go unnoticed. Send in your ballots, get out and vote next week, and make sure people take notice. Let’s make this our time.