The Baby-Sitters Club shatters one of the most pernicious myths about teenage girls
Thanks to some quarantine cleaning, I now know exactly what I was doing on Monday, September 30, 1991.
While going through a dresser drawer, I stumbled upon the diary I kept during elementary school, last cracked open years ago. A gift from a friend for my seventh birthday, one of its earliest entries was me channeling a literary hero. (Full disclosure: I actually dated the entry Monday, September 31, 1991, because calendars are hard.)
"Today I am so fab!" I wrote. "My New York scarf is hot! I am pretending am Stacey from the Baby-Siters Club. Luv, Stacey A.K.A. Catherine." I even copied Stacey's distinctive handwriting, dotting my i's with tiny hearts.
The Baby-Sitters Club books were all the rage at the time, and I couldn't get enough. Written by Ann M. Martin, the series was about a group of middle school girls living in fictional Stoneybrook, Connecticut. They babysat, but more importantly, they led very exciting social lives that involved such things as going to dances and being allowed to shop unsupervised.
I was drawn to Stacey McGill, the cool girl from New York City who was good at math, wore awesome clothes, and permed her hair. She was always described as being "sophisticated," and I wanted to be sophisticated too, even though I was in the second grade and, judging by that diary entry, couldn't even spell the word.
Each member of the BSC had her own strengths and quirks. While I appreciated all of the girls as individuals, they were at their best as a group. Nothing could stop them — they organized fundraisers and planned summer camps and even solved mysteries. Put the BSC in charge of the United States' coronavirus response, and I guarantee within 24 hours, club president and fearless leader Kristy Thomas would have all of us wearing masks and happily sheltering in place.
The Baby-Sitters Club remains an incredible example of the power of female friendships, and it's often read by girls at a time in their life when it's so important to form supportive bonds. While still in elementary school, young girls are bombarded with messages that once they hit the tween years, other girls will be mean and catty, starting rumors that ricochet around campus if you so dare to look at their boyfriend or earn the part they want in the school play.
It's true that teens can be moody, rude, and inconsiderate. They are going through a time of drastic change, and no one comes out of it unscathed. But the idea that once girls hit a certain age they are all but destined to become mean sets young women up for failure. They'll constantly be on the lookout for malicious behavior, worrying about every whisper or sideways glance, or they'll think they have to live up to the expectation and become the villain.
This is a dangerous myth, and one that The Baby-Sitters Club shatters. The girls had their fights and disagreements, of course, but they weren't bullies and didn't go out of their way to be mean. They were understanding of one another, and honest, and would try to solve each other's problems. The girls each had their own interests, and knew that they could like different things and it would all be okay.
Netflix's delightful new Baby-Sitters Club adaptation, streaming now, totally gets this. It's the BSC we know and love, but with some changes — Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker) is now biracial, and Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez) is Latinx. The new show also tackles topics that weren't a part of the books, like having a gay parent. Showrunner Rachel Shukert and executive producer and director Lucia Anuello were able to deftly bring Stoneybrook into the modern era.
The casting is spot on and the acting strong, with Momona Tamada standing out as Claudia Kishi, the artistic vice president of the club who loves candy and could do without school. Tamada is able to effortlessly transition from the girl who is confident when it comes to her art and sense of style, but who crumbles as soon as her genius older sister Janine steps into the room. When Claudia's beloved grandmother Mimi first appeared on the screen, I surprised myself by choking up. The books were so good about depicting family relationships, and Claudia's close bond with her grandmother reminded me of my own.
The issues that the girls deal with are timeless — we see Kristy (Sophie Grace) grappling with her mom's remarriage, and Mary Anne trying to become her own person under the watchful eye of her overprotective father. Ann M. Martin wrote about these topics with sincerity, and the show handles them the same way. In a refreshing change of pace, the girls all deal with matters the way actual 13-year-olds do. They aren't wise beyond their years, and don't default to snark mode.
The BSC meant so much to me, and this series really is everything I could ask for. It's funny, charming, and real. The Baby-Sitters Club is a celebration of an age when you start to see the world differently, and the best way to make it through is with your friends by your side.
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