Saturday, April 7, 2007

Heavenly Mother and Mary Poppins

(Fourth post in the Heavenly Mother series inspired by Carol Lynn Pearson's "Mary Poppins and the Return of God the Mother.")

The Banks family in the film "Mary Poppins" is a very rigid patriarchy. Things are kept shipshape. It’s a man’s world, it's the age of men. Mr. Banks (who works at the bank) is the patriarchal leader of the home. Mrs Banks is not a presence in the household. She is a suffragette, and physically she is gone a great deal. A new nanny is being sought at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. As in the previous films, the children know what is needed. They make an advertisement and it wafts up the chimney like a little prayer. It ascends to heaven and the wind changes. Down from heaven comes the holy magical woman.

Don't worry, readers, Julie Andrews is not really Heavenly Mother in disguise! Perhaps she is a witch. Carol Lynn Pearson tells us that that is what we call any woman who is powerful.

I have known members of the patriarchy to react in fear toward a strong woman. I often wonder if it is fear which motivates the suppression of Heavenly Mother and those who seek to know more about her.

Mary Poppins becomes the new nanny and takes over the household. Carol Lynn notes that from her handbag come things that are rich in symbolism. In her talk she says she has no time to discuss these in detail. This piques my curiosity. It's been a while since I saw "Mary Poppins." Does anyone know what came out of the purse? I'd love to discuss the symbolism of these objects.

Dick Van Dyke is the masculine counterpart to the patriarchy. We have lots of men like him. He is a delight. He is free, extrovertive, uninhibited, supportive. Perhaps he is a bit irresponsible. You will notice that "Bert" is not an overly masculine character. He sings, he dances, he floats in the air. Carol Lynn tells us that our society is out of balance in the masculinity department. She quotes Alan Alda saying that we are suffering from "testosterone poisoning."

Mary Poppins brings warmth, joy, and fun into the Banks family. If feminism is not more fun than patriarchy, Carol Lynn submits, why bother? Mary's activities are noticed. Mr. Banks is not pleased. The female brain produces more cooperation than competition. This is just what the household needs, but patriarchy is losing control. Here is this person with chaos in her wake. Chaos theory is a necessary next step to a different higher order. Mr. Banks calls it moral disintegration. When Michael wants to give his tuppence to the birds and not invest it, Mr. Banks is furious. Bert says, "Your father is a fine gentleman. There he is in a cold bank, I don’t like to see anything caged up." Carol Lynn points out that patriarchy has put a lot of men in cages.

Mary Poppins asks the children, "Do you think father needs our help?" This is the final step in the transformation of the patriarchy in the Banks home. The children come in and give love to him as they can. Our patriarchy is shaken. Carol Lynn advocates this as an important step in revolutionizing the patriarchal system of things. She explains, "I am not saying no marches, no civil disobedience or whatever is your style, but let us not forget the simple gesture of love is important."

Thus it comes to pass that Mr. Banks offends the sour dour patriarchy in all of their extreme. He is cast out, he is excommunicated. He has nothing to say to their reprimands--except “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” He sings and dances his way out of the bank. He has given himself over to a new teacher. The wind has come around. Seeing the transformation in the family, Mary has finished her work and ascends.

I am especially interested in the reactions of my readers to the idea of the patriarchy's fear of a strong woman. Are any of you men uncomfortable identifying with the characters of Dicken in "The Secret Garden" and Bert in "Mary Poppins?" Do you feel uncomfortable with a man choosing a supportive and building role to a strong woman's vision?

*Yet to come--Carol Lynn Pearson's questions and conclusions on the subject of the Divine Feminine.


C. L. Hanson said...

I'm far less impressed with this analysis than I was with "The Sound of Music."

First of all, the Banks home wasn't "ship-shape" -- that was the next-door neighbor. Mr. Banks wanted his home to be an orderly patriarchy but it wasn't -- it was quite chaotic.

Second of all, I don't think it's reasonable to dismiss the suffragette mom as "absent" and focus completely on the dad (for the film version at least). The two parents were presented as quite parallel -- each is introduced with a song-and-dance number showing that they're successful in their separate spheres (her as an activist, him at the bank), and both oblivious to problems in their home life. In the course of the film they both learn that they need to pay more attention to their kids.

A couple of points where I agree:

I can see Bert as freeing men from the cage of rigid roles. Also, it's true that the stuff Mary Poppins took out of her carpet bag was symbolic:

A hat stand (because that's the place where you put a hat), a lamp for more light, a full-sized mirror so that she can see her whole face at the same time, a plant ("a thing of beauty is a joy forever"), and a tape measure to see how the kids measure up.

(There may be more -- I'm doing this off the top of my head... ;^) )

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. I've written a post that contains further analysis of Mary Poppins here.

amelia said...

i'm with c.l. on this one.

and i continue to have a problem with identifying female divine solely with motherhood. mormons obviously place a lot of emphasis on god's role as father. but he is not only father. he is also god. he is also a lawgiver. he is a creator (and not just of human life). he is many things that don't fall into the traditional purview of father.

what of our heavenly mother? our goddess? is there nothing to her role other than mothering and the domestic sphere?

i appreciate what pearson is attempting in these analyses and i welcome them. but i chafe at representations of the feminine that are limited to the maternal.

Bored in Vernal said...

cl--A hearty "Amen" to what you said about focusing too much on Mr. Banks. I think it's a great point that both husband and wife were successful in their respective spheres but neglectful of problems in the home. Mary Poppins and Bert act in concert to teach both children and parents many things about family life. The children are taught that joy in life is important and is something that they can share with the adults in their lives. Yet they are encouraged to show respect and love. The parents are taught that "no success can compensate for failure in the home." Though in a more complete picture the male and female might be taught how to more successfully integrate career/interests and family. I like the idea at the end of "Mary Poppins" when the family flies a kite and Mrs. Banks ties her suffragette ribbon to the kite as a tail. I like to see this symbolic action as her bringing her talents and interests into the family circle but not rejecting them outright or losing them. It seems to imply the whole family's acceptance and embracing her individuality and role as champion of women's rights.