This piece was written for including in the Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival, with an emphasis on women in literature. I immediately thought of my childhood literary heroine, Trixie Belden.
I was introduced to the world of Trixie Belden when I was eight years old. My new neighbor and best friend Michelle was a bookworm like me, and she had shelf after shelf of this wonderful series. She loaned me one book – Trixie Belden and the Black Jacket Mystery, the eighth book in the series. I was immediately drawn to the title character: Trixie Belden was a smart, feisty tomboy who always found herself in the midst of adventure. With the help of her best friend Honey Wheeler, she was not afraid to get right in the middle of whatever problem was afoot.
What a concept: a female heroine who doesn’t need rescuing. She’s not the sidekick, she’s not the tagalong, she’s not the girlfriend. Trixie was a rough and tumble tomboy, not exactly ladylike, but always true to herself.
My best friend and I spent the afternoon in her room reading. I was hooked.
I brought the book home to my mom, who recognized Trixie immediately. Unknown to me, the Trixie Belden series was started in the late 1940s, and mom grew up reading Trixie Belden, too. The following week, she bought me my first two Trixie Belden books. Over the years we’d go on to amass nearly thirty of the books in the series. To this day, a number of them still sit on my bookshelves.
These books were completely unlike the other books that shared the preteen section of the bookstore in the 1980s. Many of my friends were reading the Sweet Valley High books, which were fun reads but the stories focused on boyfriends, on their lives as rich girls, and other things that I just couldn’t relate to. They read the Babysitters Club, which were fun too, but they also suffered from the same boy-craziness that Sweet Valley did. Trixie, on the other hand, offered adventure in her own right. She was intelligent, she was daring, and while she occasionally had a love interest it was never, ever the focal point of any story. The stories were always about the mystery, and Trixie always led the way in thwarting the typically male, adult “bad guy” of the story.
That’s not to say that the stories weren’t without their faults. Many of the Trixie Belden books were written at a time when women’s role was in the home, and that is reflected in the division of labor among Trixie and her brothers. Though incredibly progressive, the books were definitely a product of their era.
Nevertheless, at age 8, Trixie was an incredibly positive role model for me. Her appeal came not from her clothes, her toys or parents’ wealth. Her appeal came from her willingness to persevere, to do what most people would tell a fourteen year old girl that she couldn’t do, and her success in doing it all. If she could do it, why not me?
As the mom of a son, I don’t have to worry about him having positive, fictional male role models to turn to: books, television, movies, and comics are full of strong, intelligent men. Even the books aimed at three year olds, at his age group, rarely feature a single, strong female lead. At best, they show male/female teams, such as the Little Einsteins. An improvement, but couldn’t we do better? Shouldn’t he have the experience of an adventure featuring a strong, female lead as well? When the time comes, I hope that the love of these Trixie Belden books carries on to a third generation, or at least, that he’ll give them a chance someday.