For an untold number of girls who came of age in the '80s and '90s, the initials "B.S.C." bring to mind one, iconic book series: the Baby-sitters Club. Created by Ann M. Martin in 1986, the Baby-Sitters Club books followed a crew of friends through the trials and tribulations of owning a business. But we gained more than just an understanding of independent entrepreneurship. Here are ten feminist lessons I learned from the Baby-sitters Club series.
A group of girls, on the cusp of their teenage years, identified a need in their fictional hometown of Stoneybrook - babysitters! - and created their own business to fill that void. That premise alone - middle-schoolers in charge and killin' it - was in itself a revolutionary concept for many young readers. I personally started dozens of businesses, inspired by the success and the tenacity of Kristy (President!), Claudia (Vice President!), Stacey (Treasurer!) and Mary Anne (Secretary!) and their crew of babysitting professionals. I learned from them the importance of creative problem solving and building your own solutions when no one else's seem to do the trick.
In a 2016 interview in The New Yorker, Martin revealed that while the Baby-sitters Club wasn't written with an explicitly feminist "agenda," she personally identifies as a feminist, and consciously created a group of friends who embodied a host of narratives. Her girls had economic diversity, family diversity and, though this was certainly improved upon later in the series, a certain amount of racial diversity.
Hundreds of BSC books have hit the shelves in the 20+ years since Kristy's Great Idea came out. A 1995 film adaptation solidified the popularity of the BSC for a newer generation (mine!). And the books have continued to succeed to such an extent that they've entered yet another round of printing, complete with a cover redesign and digital presence.
Teenage Girls Can Start A Business...
If there's a demographic the media loves to underestimate and diminish, it's teenage girls. They're petty! They're silly! They can barely get through a sentence without giggling! But The BSC gave us a friend group that passed The Bechdel test with flying colors. They were financially self-sufficient and unapologetically in charge.
Create The Rules
In introducing readers to the actual, start to finish process of establishing a business, Martin illustrated the importance of creating a business plan and company rules that apply specifically to your own situation. The BSC is a club, both in name and in practice, so communication and an across-the-board sense of fairness and equality were essential. Listening doesn't make them weak - it makes them unstoppable.
And Be The Boss
Per the very first book, Kristy's Great Idea, Kristy becomes the de facto leader of The Babysitter's Club. She's barely a teenager. She's a consummate tomboy. And she makes plenty of missteps. But Martin never, ever demonizes Kristy for being "bossy" or overbearing. Kristy doesn't apologize for being in a position of power.
Because Leadership Doesn't Look One Way
Issues often arose when Kristy and her leadership board weren't effectively communicating. A business doesn't need to be some sort of cutthroat, ruthlessly capitalist endeavor. You can work with your friends, Martin showed us, and treat them with respect and kindness. And still succeed. Like, a lot.
And Neither Do Artists...
Claudia Kishi, Vice President of the BSC, is a passionate, messy, prolific artist. She consistently butts heads with her Japanese-American parents, her academically skilled sister and their expectations for her, as she performs poorly in school and struggles particularly with spelling. But her fiercely creative spirit helps her break out of stereotypes again and again. Plus, she has absolutely the best style of any 13 year old I've ever seen.
Or STEM Nerds
Stacey, the Treasurer, is blonde, popular and loves math. She's put fully in charge of the BSC budget and financial records. She's never embarrassed by her interests or her skillset. She transcends boundaries.
If There Isn't Space, Make It
When they notice an opportunity, the girls create their own rulebook without any sort of outside intervention. Bye, societal expectations!
Effortless Perfection Isn't Just Overrated - It's Toxic
The very first tagline for the BSC was, “Having a baby-sitters club isn’t easy, but Kristy and her friends aren’t giving up until they get it just right!”
Martin has stressed in interviews that she wanted her crew of babysitters to be imperfect, to show readers that they can make mistakes and still succeed, thrive and, most importantly, be okay. In our current neo-feminist environment, we can often crack under the pressure to "have it all," and sail through with ease. We can make mistakes. We can give ourselves a break.
The Driving Force Behind The BSC's Success? Female Friendship
Hi, this group of friends drafts a business plan, creates a logo, identifies potential clients and advertising opportunities, and brainstorms marketing tactics to set them apart from competitors - all in the first book. And they do it, and succeed, because they're friends and treat one another with respect.
And The Shine Theory
When your friends shine, you shine. When you shine, your friends shine. The Babysitter's Club movie opens with a montage of Kristy introducing each of her friends and describing their strengths as people, as friends and as contributing members of The BSC.