Secondary Source

Examining Depictions of the Suffragette Through the Lens of Mary Poppins

Laura E. Nym Mayhall. "Domesticating Emmeline: Representing the Suffragette, 1930-1993." NWSA Journal, Vol. 11 Issue 2. (pp. 1-24).

Era: Post-Suffrage Era | Media: Academic Paper, Film

In this article, historian Laura E. Nym Mayhall examines how suffragettes were represented in post-suffrage social and political orders of the 20th century.

Analyzing a statue of the suffrage luminary Emmeline Pankhurst and the character of Mrs. Banks in the film Mary Poppins (perhaps the first representation of a suffragette that recent many Americans of recent generations encountered), Mayhall concludes that the suffragette was repurposed in the post-suffrage period; while the figure of the suffragette had the potential to be “a radical disrupter of the political order,” it instead “serves to consolidate the authority of the nation-state and women’s subordinate place within it.”

The following is the article’s abstract:

Part of a special section on the politicization of mediated, celebrity representations; the histories and processes related to the transformation of female icons; and the global commodification of women. By means of a juxtaposition of readings of the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the militant British suffrage organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union, and Walt Disney’s 1964 blockbuster film Mary Poppins, the writer contends that the figure of the suffragette, while potentially a radical disrupter of the political order, serves to consolidate the authority of the nation-state and women’s subordinate place within it. She contends that anxieties about shifting configurations of dominance and subordination along the lines of race, class, and gender find expression in a figure removed far enough historically to pose no threat to the existing order yet apparently sufficiently radical to denote progress.

You can read the entire article for free via JSTOR—though you will have to register for a JSTOR account to do so if you don’t already have one.

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