July 3rd 2020 saw a reboot of The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) via a Netflix series. Its predecessors include 213 books from 1986 to 2000, a TV series in 1990, a movie in 1995 and an ongoing graphic novel series. A two decade time jump introduced lots of little (and some big) changes in the BSC and its members. Set in the fictional suburban utopia of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, Kristy Thomas has an entrepreneurial eureka. As she watches her mother struggle to find someone to babysit her baby brother, she recognises their suburbia has a need: good, responsible babysitters that are just one call away.
The answer? The Baby-sitters Club.
Kristy is founder, therefore also President. The club decides to meet thrice-a-week in Claudia Kishi’s room because amongst them, she’s the only one with a landline connection (that came as an extra with a high-speed internet connection, and because underage girls can’t go around giving out their personal phone numbers), making her Vice President. Mary Anne Spiers is Secretary and in charge of the schedule and assigning jobs. Claudi Kishi asks Stacey McGill (new girl in town from New York City) into the club too, and her math genius makes her Treasurer.
The girls’ personalities come alive as they deal with domestic incidents, small things that feel huge when you are 12 years old and in the midst of it all. Kristy is authoritative and as she tries to reign it in a little and be more empathetic, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Mary Anne Spiers tries to assert herself, especially in front of her over-protective father.
The series includes a trans narrative about the importance of gender affirmation for trans kids and the misgendering healthcare professionals are prone to engage in. This is great.
It would have been even better if it wasn’t just reduced to a plot point for Mary Anne’s character development. She sees the child she has been babysitting, misgendered in the hospital and pulls the doctors aside to sternly correct them. Her dad watches this interaction silently in the background, which leads to a turning point in their relationship. Not so great.
Claudia Kishi is an artist and closest to her grandmother, Mimi. When Mimi suffers a stroke, she can only remember the past, causing Claudia to learn about a period of Mimi’s childhood spent in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. This revelation of her family’s painful past enables Claudia to create art that has depth, as opposed to her initial work that focussed on aesthetic.
Stacey McGill chooses to keep her health condition private because of the cruel way it was revealed and reacted to at her old school. Moving to a new, small town meant no one would know. She makes new friends in the BSC, quickly taking her place of that one friend who falls in and out of love with absolute ease. But a rival baby-sitting agency discloses and circulates her health condition amongst the BSC and their clients. Stacey expects her new friends to react the same way her old ones did, but she’s pleasantly surprised. The BSC holds a mature conversation with all their clients, Stacey explains her medical condition and that she can take care of herself, reassuring their clients of the BSC’s excellent baby-sitting service.
Arguably the best thing of the Netflix series is that as 7th graders, the girls act 12-years-old, but they also have real power in their own way as young girls.
While the kid-friendly feminist one-liners are not suprising and even expected, with the introduction of Dawn (newest girl in town from Los Angeles) the show takes an interesting turn. The two-part finale of the Netflix series is set in a summer camp, on realising that certain camp activities require money over the basic fee, Dawn decides to protest. Her proto-socialist character is much needed, but its execution is lacking. The BSC girls have undeniable financial and class privilege, therefore in this protest Dawn and her friends are not the aggrieved party. In both episodes, Dawn speaks for the kids who aren’t able to afford the camp activities that require extra payment. She and her friends even end up negotiating with the camp head on behalf of these kids. To top it off, the BSC members also get rewarded for this by prematurely being made Counsellors-In-Training (CITs), a position for which you needed to be at least 16 years-old.
This entire exchange is worrying.
The fictional Baby-Sitters club members and their very real viewers, have the same financial and class privilege (on account of being able to know about, afford and have the time to watch Netflix). This sanitised revolution and glorification of the BSC members for speaking out against injustice on behalf of the aggrieved, only promotes the saviour complex of the privileged. The marginalised and minorities have the interminable right to lead their own movements. All the privileged are supposed to contribute is their support in numbers, financial and otherwise.
The series also makes an important point about economic inequality. Kristy’s mom and her mom’s fiance are both single parents, but the wealth gap between them is obvious. The boyfriend has generational wealth, with 6 generations of his family being married in the same room of a mansion. As their wedding approaches, Kristy’s narrative points out their upward economic mobility multiple times and the storyline supplements it with Kristy’s second $800 bridesmaid dress and her brother’s BMW. What’s nice about this narrative is that it’s not quietly accepted by either mother or daughter. Kristy questions her mother’s feminist notions about marrying a rich guy, eventually understanding that interdependency in love doesn’t necessarily mean being dependent, as her mother struggles to strike a balance between their old and new life.
The Baby-Sitters Club reboot is a nostalgic trip to the 90s and early 2000s for millennials and older Gen Z kids. While it is unlikely that a book series based on a baby-sitting club is relevant for 7th graders today, maybe it is for the best.