So much beauty out there

December 16, 2009

As opposed to Bunty for boys?

Bunty for Girls, Summer Special (1972)

This came free with the Guardian a while back. While I wasn’t imagining a modern feminist progressive perspective, it was a bit shocking to see the expectations for women born only a few years before me.

The cover depicted a girl relaxing in a hammock, reading a book and listening to the radio. Her punishment for this frivolity was a goat sneaking though a hole in her garden fence to scoff her picnic.

The first major story was Tommy the Tomboy featuring a middle-aged battleaxe from the “Feminine Freedom Fighters”. Far from fighting for femininity however, she claimed that they sought equality by bringing up women the same as men. Her daughter, Tommy, who was about 13, was to be so educated as a pioneer of the movement. Tommy (real name Thomasina!) was unenthusiastic but obedient.

The female teacher entrusted with the task started off with the basics of a boy’s education: boxing, marching, shovelling coal and digging ditches. After some progress with this curriculum, Tommy’s mother returned in great agitation with the news that the girl’s great uncle had died and left them his fortune – providing she had brought up in a feminine manner. A solicitor was en route to check Tommy out. They had just enough time to change her out of jeans and into a nice floral dress before he arrived, but the malign influence of her unnatural education had made their mark. Scandalously she gave the solicitor a firm handshake, before offering him a light for his “fag”.

All seemed ruined, until the teacher cleverly released a mouse into the room. All the social conditioning couldn’t prevent Thomasina’s natural female reaction of screaming and jumping onto her chair. The solicitor was reassured that she was what he liked: “an old-fashioned girl who needs masculine protection.” The mother was hugely relieved.

Next up was The Four Marys, about four friends, all called Mary, who were about 15 studying in the St Elmo’s School for Girls. As you’d expect in such an institution they weren’t wasting their time with fancy maths or science classes. No, they were having housecraft lessons, trying to look after a cottage. Suddenly, disaster struck when ghastly snobs Veronica and Mabel were put on their team. These poshos haughtily refused to lower themselves to do any cleaning, which was fit only for char women, or maybe Mary Simpson who was “of the lower classes”. Their bad nature was apparent instantly, as unlike the pretty Marys they were rather unfeminine looking. Mabel looked remarkably like Kenneth Williams, Veronica like a lock forward. They soon went beyond mere indolence and began sabotaging the hard work of the Marys.

But Mary Simpson had a cunning wheeze, getting some kids introduced in the house. This confounded Veronica and Mabel, used to having nannies deal with little brats, but Mary Simpson was able to rely on her working class upbringing that required women to look after children while undertaking household chores. In the end, the Marys won a special treat – a spiffing trip to the Ideal Homes Exhibition!

Nowadays of course children have to be kept indoors because of paedophiles lurking on every corner. In the 1970s, DC Thompson had to find a different way to terrify kids into staying indoors and reading their comics rather than going out and making their own entertainment. A quiz asked the reader to identify “some of the dangers you may encounter [on a] quiet stroll in the country”. As well as the reasonable – wasps, thistles and nettles for instance – the quiz also suggested that you might plausibly be menaced by eagles, wildcats, vipers and jellyfish!

The one positive thing in the comic was that although the heroines were restricted to very traditional occupations, within those limits they were independent and self-reliant, rather than constantly requiring men to help them out. You go, girls.

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