A couple of nights ago, I was pounding the streets for exercise with a friend. We’d been chatting to distract ourselves while we scaled some of the steeper streets, and were discussing the books we loved as children. Our conversation turned to our shared love of Enid Blyton.
As we headed towards home, we were discussing The Famous Five, and my friend asked: “Do you think George was Enid Blyton’s way of sneaking lesbianism into kids’ stories?” For a moment I was slightly gobsmacked, but then I could see where she was coming from, looking backwards from today’s perspectives. So, as per my usual thing, I thought about what my friend had asked, wondered about it a bit, looked around the internet and then had a great desire to write this post. I don’t think George was meant to be a lesbian, (despite the many comments on the internet) but I do think she was an early forerunner of feminism, particularly when you realise that the first book was published in 1942 – the second world war, when women took over many tasks previously performed by men. This is, of course, my completely personal take on her.
As a kid, I hoarded my pocket money so that I could buy more books. Usually Famous Five books, but generally anything that was adventurous, fantasy, or science fiction.
I LOVED George when I was a kid. I probably began my Famous Five obsession when I was six or seven, just after I’d graduated from The Secret Seven. George was everything I wanted to be as a girl growing up in the early seventies, and as I look back now, I can see that my stance on “what girls can do” was heavily influenced by George. For those who’ve never read a Famous Five book, George was a girl who “was as good as a boy” and didn’t want to be a girl. She had a wonderful dog, Timmy, who often saved the day, and she climbed ropes, wore shorts, swam, sailed, rowed boats, and owned an island.
Although feminism had begun in the sixties, in the early seventies and even into the eighties, there was stuff that women and girls were routinely excluded from doing. In my opinion, it was usually the fun stuff.
I remember modelling myself quite a lot on George. I liked having short hair. I wore shorts and trousers as often as possible (and am still known for this – apparently some of my friends thought I might wear trousers, rather than a dress, to my wedding) and competed vigorously with the boys in physical tasks. George was my introduction to the idea that I could avoid gender stereotyping. George was my introduction to feminism.
Looking back, I’m able to say “Thank heavens for George, or I would have missed out on a lot of life.” Probably, I should say “Thank heavens that Enid Blyton wrote a character like George, to inspire me to look outside the box.”
Looking back, I can see that my reading habits shaped me in many ways. Obviously I had a wonderfully supportive family, who coped with a girl who didn’t want to wear dresses, at the same time that their other daughter refused to wear anything that wasn’t pink – poor Mum and Dad! In later conversation with Mum, she spoke of her desire to become a medical doctor – she had been the dux of her high school, but she was the second eldest of eight, and a daughter, and it was the middle of the second world war, so she did as those days prescribed, won a scholarship to secretarial school, and ended up working for the Commonwealth Bank, helping her family make ends meet. Having said that, apparently she was the first female secretary of the Bank Officers Union. (Go Mum!)
From George, I learnt that girls could do anything as well as a boy, despite what girls were often told. To a certain extent, those ideas made me fret when organisations or groups that I was involved in demarcated activities by sex. I remember going on a camp and being ‘forced’ to do marching drill and cut out dolls’ clothes to stick on paper dolls while the boys canoed and hiked. I remember being quite angry. I also remember my mother making sure that that injustice never happened again. I believe that the issue had a lot to do with swimming – apparently we girls weren’t as good at it. At that point in time, I was swimming at state level (never won, but usually made a final), and I remember thinking, “Show me the boy who can beat me, then.” There wouldn’t have been one in that group. I think that episode crystallised my desire to never be constrained by gender.
Thanks to George/Enid Blyton, I’ve been able to do so many things that I might never have considered, had George not sat so clearly in my mind. Thanks to George I’ve hiked, abseiled, fought fires, camped, ridden horses, trained camels and rescued injured tourists. George also inspires my writing, and reminds me that gender shouldn’t constrain a character if I don’t want it to.
So now I’m tempted to sit back, crack open a ginger beer, contemplate exotic foods such as chunks of pineapple eaten straight from the tin, and lashings of butter, and take a trip down memory lane with the Famous Five. But I’d better not. There’s a novel waiting to be written. I wonder if the settlers of Frontier might like ginger beer…