Enid Blyton, JK Rowling, and the hollowness of White English feminism

Like most 90s kids who grew up in India, my initiation into the English language was through Enid Blyton books. At 30, it had been a while since I consciously thought of her work. When a friend requested me to write a crossover fanfiction where the Famous Five get together with the Harry Potter trio to solve a mystery, it required quite a bit of brushing up. 

I was excited to take on the challenge, despite my growing dislike for JK Rowling, whose bigotry had become increasingly visible. I appreciated the opportunity to revisit Kirrin Island and get into the minds of the 10 to 12-year-olds and usher them into the magical universe of Harry Potter. As a reader, I tend to fall in love with characters quicker than I do plots and so, growing up, the reason I loved Famous Five was George, and Harry Potter, Hermione. 

While the latter is fresh in my memories, I would get reacquainted with George during the process, I had hoped. So, I started my research with Five on a Treasure Island, the very first book in the series, and went on to read a couple more to get the feel of the universe that I once loved; spoiler alert: the books have not aged well with time. 

Certainly, the nostalgia was there, and so was the longing for a time when vacations meant going on mini adventures with my cousins and playing make-believe in the rice fields, banana farms, and woods. Unfortunately, what stood out were Blyton’s xenophobia, her racism, her disdain for “girliness,” the ill-treatment of a character who had in childhood inspired me to be the “tomboy” that I was, and most importantly, how highly she regarded British middle-class values.

For many Famous Five fans, George had always represented a fiercely independent, confident, beacon of feminism (especially considering the books were published between 1942-62). George encouraged many women to step out of the traditional gender roles assigned to women and tackle challenges that were not considered a woman’s to tackle; a misfit among a group of cousins who all fit into their gender roles perfectly. 

Unfortunately for the other misfits in Blyton’s world, the luxury of being celebrated for who they were was only granted to George. Remember Prince of Baronia aka Paul from The Secret Series who had to attend an English boarding school to become well-mannered? George also regularly shamed Anne for liking dolls and the color pink, and Blyton made it a point to make Anne do all the domestic chores. 

Blyton has often claimed that George was modelled after herself. Did she mean that, like George, she too liked doing what she desired and not what she was told to? Or, did she mean that the only individuality that she credits is her own? George in the Famous Five books was extremely rich, not unlike Blyton; the very Kirrin Island where most of the Five’s adventures take place is owned by George’s family.

It’s not difficult to see why George enjoyed this special treatment in Blyton’s universe. White, rich, and English seemed to be the checklist that George filled to compensate for “otherness.” The feminism in Blyton’s writing for George is the same as the one we see many White women practice—one with no acknowledgement of the intersectionalities of feminism. 

Coincidentally, JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, which is the other universe I had to explore for the fanfiction, falls in this category as well. She is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF). TERFs are ”gender critical” and believe that trans women are not women, and thereby should not be part of feminist discourse.

Rowling has, time and again, exposed her transphobia on Twitter. During the most recent incident, the author shared her opinion on trans women with 14.3 million followers and supported her stance with half-baked “science.” If you would like to understand why what Rowling presents is not based on actual statistics but her own biases, a good place to start would be the following video by YouTubers Jamie Raines—a trans man and a doctoral researcher in the field of transgender development and wellbeing—and Shaaba Lotun, a doctoral researcher in Psychology and Computer Science.

Blyton and Rowling are both women who gave us strong women characters and took readers on unforgettable journeys with their writing. Are they feminists according to dictionary definitions of the word? Sure. But they certainly are not the feminists that the world needs right now. 

Many hearts were broken when Rowling’s transphobia first came to light a few years ago, and many more when it got more blatant a few months back. Fans of the Potterverse went from trying to separate the art from the artist to teaching the artist the lessons of love and compassion that she narrated in her books. Meanwhile, apologists denounced “cancel culture.” But let us not forget that this is the same woman who tried to pass off an abusive, manipulative man whose love life was never discussed in Harry Potter as LGBTQIA+ representation in the seven-book series. 

Blyton, on the other hand, may have birthed in George, as many have claimed, the first trans protagonist in children’s fiction. There are many instances where he was happy to be “mistaken” for a boy and requested to be referred to as “master” as opposed to “miss.” Blyton, however, has never addressed this. 

The writer’s conservative leanings are explicit in her literature, having openly praised Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the book The Mystery of the Missing Necklace. Her treatment of Anne also showcases her sexist tendencies, and so does the oldest cousin among the Famous Five, Dick’s taunting of George in various instances where he says, “It’s really time you gave up thinking you’re as good as a boy.” It is safe to say that Blyton far from wrote George as a trans character. 

George deserved better than Blyton’s narrative and trans children deserve better writers than Rowling. While these women may have introduced many of us to feminism, the intersectionality of it is lost on them. Our children, trans or not, deserve to read imaginative, inspiring books written by inclusive writers who understand the importance of intersectionality. 

Published by mangaladilipk

Mangala is a writer and a former journalist who wants to use her words to influence changes, to amplify suppressed voices, to educate the uninformed, and to welcome a communist, feminist utopia in her lifetime. She is heavily entrenched in pop culture and tries to be as informed about the news as she can. She also happens to be a fan of puns and cannot help but entertain some nostalgia for cliches.

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