When it comes to current developments on an international scale, I turn to an unusual source for the most accurate expression of my sentiments: Winifred Banks. Let me explain. I was eleven years old when Disney’s greatest hit came to the screen. Mary Poppins descended on our circumscribed lives like the haint she really is, and she left behind not a trail of fairy dust, not a ghostly rattling of plates in the cupboard, but a warning for future generations: The dragon is growing restless.
The savvy Ms. Poppins, rather than sully her saint-like reputation, offered a warrior instead in the form of her employer, Mrs. Winifred Banks. Mrs. Banks was the mother of the children under Mary’s care, and there was a good reason she needed a nanny: She was not cut out for motherhood. She was busy doing other things. And the thing she was most busy doing was trying to move society along when it came to the rights of women. She was a suffragette, a member of the Votes For Women suffrage movement. In the movie, her catchiest number is the one that flew around inside my head this morning, like a rabid bat without an exit strategy. It took me awhile to figure out the source of the memorable words, but I was finally able to trace them to Winifred Banks. She starts up singing and marching around inside her home, a woman’s place after all, and here’s her message:
We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats
Dauntless crusaders for women’s votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid.
Cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughter's daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
Well done sister suffragettes!
From Kensington to Billingsgate one hears the restless cry!
From every corner of the land womankind arise!
Political equality and equal rights with men
Take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!
No more the meek and mild subservients we
We're fighting for our rights militantly!
Never you fear!
But Mrs. Winifred Banks, I do fear. For one thing, your daughters’ daughters are old enough to vote, and do vote, but political and social equality for women is on a downward slide. The abortion issue in the United States is only that in name; more accurately, it’s an issue of women’s rights. The fact that a shocking number of women in these same United States are imprisoned for decades for the crime of not protecting their children well enough from an abusing male, while that male gets two years of jail time, that’s an issue of women’s rights. Women fired from the workplace for blowing the whistle on sexual harassment. Girls unable to go to school. Women prohibited from driving or appearing in public. This is a global issue. I could go on and on but it’s such a familiar story it takes on the trappings of every other cliché. The point is, sometimes it just gets to me. We aren’t invited to be equal. It’s as straightforward as that. We can’t dance unless we crash the party, and even then we’re often dancing alone.
I think we compensate for this reality all the time. I know I do. I do it by not thinking about women in Afghanistan, women in Indiana, women in you-name-the-next-place, women in prison. I say I don’t have the bandwidth, but that’s a miserable excuse. The fact that women in the great republic of the United States of America were not even nominally created equal until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, speaks volumes. And that’s women of every race.
I don’t believe the issue of racial inequality in our country overshadows the issue of women’s rights, but I do believe it’s the more potently categorized injustice at this moment. I believe both injustices spring from the same source, and the source is a kind of misogyny as far as misogyny always reflects a threatened and often self-loathing male mind. I may be getting into the weeds here, and I’ve strayed far from Winifred Banks, but after recently rupturing my Achilles tendon and literally exposing my Achilles heel, I see that heel, that vulnerability, to be an unwillingness to engage in difficult conversations. Let’s change that. Bring it on, I say. I’m tired of fighting over and over again for my own right to exist and make choices as a woman. Include gay if you want, include white if you want, include old if you want, but the underlying issue for me is this: The dragon is restless. When will we be respected, heard, and legislated in favor of?
Decades ago, we rejoiced when Winifred Banks’s associate, Mrs. Pankhurst, was “clapped in irons again” for the crime of using her voice and her mind. (She was, by the way, a real person, a famous English suffragette.) We weren’t in favor of her incarceration per se; we rejoiced at our ability to create consequences. This is our power. We are the same animal as those who would keep us from power. The difference lies in their intention and ours. What will we do with the consequences we create?
A place to discuss writing or anything on your mind. All visitors are invited to join the conversation by commenting on posts, asking questions, and joining the newsletter below for even more opportunities to connect and converse!