‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ Gives Us Intersectional Feminism Without the Angst
The Netflix adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s beloved book series takes a revolutionary approach to feminism by presenting it as no big deal
There’s a moment, late in the fourth episode of Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club where Mary Anne, the shyest of the titular sitters, who has been hectored all episode long to stand up for herself, finds her courage by defending the little girl she’s babysitting. The girl, Bailey, is running a high fever, and Mary Anne has rushed her to the hospital, but the doctors are being dismissive. She takes them aside and gives a speech on why it’s important to provide Bailey with proper care.
You’ve seen this moment before, both in Ann M. Martin’s original Baby-Sitters Club novels — the book this episode is based on came out in 1987 — and in a dozen Nickelodeon shows from the ’90s. You could likely predict every beat, right down to the part where Mary Anne’s controlling father overhears her speech and immediately decides she’s mature enough to wear makeup and have her own phone. There is one major difference in the Netflix adaptation, though: In this version, Bailey is transgender, and Mary Anne insists doctors use her proper pronouns.
The new Baby-Sitters Club, which premiered July 3, is an intentionally feminist show, one which wears its sometimes corny girl-power politics on its sleeve. (At one point, one babysitter tells another “we’re both strong women with big personalities.” These kids are supposed to be 12.) Nor does it skimp on covering other political issues: Claudia, a Japanese American babysitter, confronts both historical Japanese internment and current U.S. immigration policy. Dawn, the laid-back hippie, leads a “general strike” to protest economic inequality at her summer camp. Yet what’s remarkable is how seamlessly the show folds those heavy politics into its sunny, sweet vision of girlhood. It doesn’t aim to teach kids a lesson so much as it assumes intersectional feminism is already part of how they navigate the world.
The Baby-Sitters Club was always intended to have a feminist message, at least according to Martin. It was, after all, a story about girls who started a babysitting business…