How does Bennett explore women’s roles within society and history in pages 84-86 and as a play as a whole?
Mrs.Lintott also known as Dorothy is a history teacher at the grammar school and is the only female speaker throughout the play. The boys address her as ”Totty.” The sexual reference to her name reduces her down as a mere object that is regarded to be sexually desirable. The fact that she is reduced to a sexual object perverts the laudable idea that she is a great teacher and strips her away from a sense of respect from the boys. To further expand, the fact that they address her so informally can allude to the fact that they do not take her seriously, otherwise they would have addressed her as ”Mrs.Lintott,” but in fact see her as an object that could be sexually desired. Bennett deliberately employs Mrs.Lintott to reveal how women’s roles in society were degraded down to be sexual objects that please men.
Bennett thus employs the character of Mrs.Lintott to be a sound projector for women’s whose voices are muted because of the patriarchal society. Mrs. Lintott is the only female history teacher in the play, whom powerfully stands up to the boys who immaturely do not take the mock interview seriously in page 84 and 85. Bennett injects Mrs. Lintott with courage to express her unfavourable views of history and gender. She reveals that, ” history’s not such a frolic for women as it is for men.” Here she suggests that history is more painful towards women, as it does not consider women as important but deems them to be irrelevant hence why they are ignored. She states that women are left ignored continuously, possibly the same way she is left ignored by the boys whom favour Irwin and can further reveal how she is restricted in expressing herself as she is never taken seriously and thus can never make way around the ”conference table.” Bennett further re-establishes the idea that women are left ignored as Mrs. Lintott receives no response but silence and ”yawning” and is left with the ”masters” (men) finding it ”distasteful.” Therefore, she powerfully establishes her views in this ”performance” to highlight the problems the patriarchal society have, which is not giving enough recognition to women in society throughout history. Mrs. Lintott further reinstates the idea that women are left ignored particularly in history as she herself must ”teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude,” in which she finds ”dispiriting.” The fact that she feels that a history lesson is nothing but a timeline of wars, battles and men who start these wars, is understandable as to why she feels as women are left ignored. It could be argued, that Mrs. Lintott is in battle with herself as a teacher as she must teach something that she is not passionate about. To further expand, it could be argued that Bennett is exposing the flaw within the education system which has caused this gender imbalance and could explain as to why Mrs. Lintott is feeling ”dispirited” as she must teach about the continuities of men’s mistakes and ”in-capabilities,” which is infuriating and causing her to be frustrated as she cannot glorify or even discuss women’s roles within society because the system itself has prevented her to do so. Notably, Bennett set the play in the 1980’s where everyone believed that the system had apparently changed, perhaps this can reveal that it had not Finally, she implements the anecdote, ”history is women following behind with the bucket, ” to provoke a sense of sympathy from the boys for her, as she has to follow Irwin around even though she has had more experience with teaching. She alludes to the fact that women are regarded to be mere and unimportant. The metaphor of the, ”women following history (men) around with the bucket,” can reveal the idea of how women are the main reason as to why society progresses further on, as women either must clean up the mess that men have made or make sure that have been cleaned as men have left nothing but destruction and mess throughout history. It could therefore be argued that Mrs.Lintott represents the women who are left ignored. However, according to, David Greenberg: ”her character though important, is ”under developed,” a mere cameo role.” It could be noted, that Mrs.Lintott has not been given a huge role within the play as she is the narrative character and not the main focus of the play but it is therefore wrong to mention that she in ”under developed,” as she is used as a tool to express Bennetts views but also her little ”performance,” allows the audience to see the real her as she is emphasizing her views. Therefore, not underdeveloped as she becomes a figure head for women’s roles within history.
Notably, Alan Bennett set the play in the 1980’s where Britain had their first ever female Prime Minister called Margaret Thatcher. Even though, we had a female PM many people still were not fond of the idea that men and women were equal. Thus, Bennett employs the idea that even though women whom were married and above 30 gained suffrage in 1918 because of the Representation of the People’s Act, they were still left ignored by the patriarchal society. Mrs. Lintott states the idea that, ”In 1919, for instance, they just arranged the flowers then gracefully retired.” The fact that married women which made around 8.5 million people at that time could vote but still had to ”arrange the flowers,” around the ”conference table” can suggest that prejudice against women was still evident as this hindered their opportunities to make history around the table. According to the critic Greg Kucich, ‘such creative adjustments not only inscribed a female presence but also furthered the emerging cause of women’s rights.’ The fact that women have been oppressed in the past can suggest that they have had the courage just like Mrs. Lintott and stand up for what they believe in, which further encourages many other women to champion their rights. Even though all women gained suffrage in 1928 and had a female prime minister in 1980, they were still restricted in expressing their views on equality and gender, therefore Mrs. Lintott unlike the women who ”arranged the flowers and gracefully retired in 1919,” she does not stop and continues to uphold her beliefs on women’s roles in the 1980’s. Ergo, this further emerges women’s rights as it encourages women to have the courage and speak out. Therefore, Mrs.Lintott is employed by Bennett to reveal the fact that women still faced prejudices in a male dominant society and should not have to take it. The fact that she teaches at an all boy school can expose Bennett’s intention of employing her for a feminist purpose to suggest that women although given same rights as man, would never be on the same equal status as a man and therefore insignificant.