Laura Sook Duncombe’s previous Literary Ladies Cage Fight columns for The Butter can be found here.
Hey gal-pals! Welcome back to Literary Ladies Cage Fight, where we celebrate the heroines of our fave novels by pitting them against each other in head to head combat! I am Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, and my sister Artemis and I co-write this column.
You mean I write this column and I allow you to help out. In any case, let us waste no time in introducing this week’s competitors. There are many eternal debates: chocolate or vanilla, Democrat or Republican, butter side up or butter side down. Today we tackle one of those debates: Babysitter’s Club or Sweet Valley High? We will examine this topic through the figureheads of these iconic series: plucky Kristy Thomas and go-getter Elizabeth Wakefield.
Same rules as always: at the end of five rounds, lady with the most points wins. Fight fair, ladies, and have fun!
Nearly every babysitter in the club has a one-word epithet, and Kristy’s is “tomboy.” She grew up without any sisters, and so she likes lots of “boyish” things, like sports, having big ideas, and being a leader. (These books are rather dated, no doubt the reason they went out of print in the late ’00s. They have since been re-released in updated versions, but one imagines Kristy is still “bossy.” #YesAllWomen, Kristy!!) She is the President of the BSC and the coach of the local softball team, Kristy’s Krushers. She is a true Gryffindor if I ever saw one (and would be welcome as one of my supplicants any time. Artemis loves bossy women.)
What have I said about talking about yourself in the third person, Artie? Elizabeth “Liz” Wakefield is four minutes older than her twin sister, Jessica. They are physically identical (“perfect size 6, with blonde silky hair, blue green eyes, and a California tan”…I know I’m the goddess of beauty but give me a break! Did any teenager ever look like this?). Elizabeth is the “good” sister, responsible, serious and mature where Jessica is irresponsible, silly, and immature. Despite being such a horrible stick in the mud, she is still super pretty so she is very popular at Sweet Valley High. I think she’s a Ravenclaw because she’s too timid for Gryffindor and too self-important for Hufflepuff. Her sister is one of the greatest Slytherins I’ve ever seen, but alas, we are not profiling Jessica today.
Winner: Kristy. Both she and Elizabeth are ambitious and bright, but Kristy isn’t so sanctimonious about it.
Round 2: Sidekick
Kristy has an army of sidekicks: her eponymous babysitter’s club. There’s the saintly, mousy Mary Anne, the hippie Dawn, the creative Claudia, the avant-garde Stacey, and a whole bunch of other ones that got added later that nobody cared about. (Except Jessie! She was a ballerina and she was awesome.) These gals are Kristy’s willing accomplices in her zany schemes, which usually result in them getting money or fame. They don’t always see eye to eye, but when they work together, Stoneybrook takes notice.
Elizabeth’s sidekick is totally her sister, Jessica. Jessica is really good at getting into all kinds of trouble, and Elizabeth is able to get her out of it. (Although, Elizabeth gets into trouble sometimes too…remember when she rode that guy’s motorcycle and had an accident and got amnesia?) They fight a lot, but they are also best friends. Jessica tries to get Elizabeth to be more adventurous, and Lizzie tries to get Jessica to stop being evil incarnate. I’m not sure if they make each other better, but they do balance each other out…?
Winner: Kristy. Because none of the other babysitters spiked her drink so that she lost prom queen, which led to her getting into a car accident and killing a guy. So, pretty easy choice.
Kristy very sensibly doesn’t have much of a love life. She occasionally flirts with Bart Taylor, the coach of the rival softball team, but she’s not as enamored with him as he is with her. She also has a love-hate thing going with her frenemy Alan Gray. As an eighth-grader, she is too busy running her babysitting empire and various other Ponzi schemes to waste time on a man.
The love of Elizabeth’s life is Todd Wilkins. She handed him a tissue in kindergarten and has had the hots for him ever since. They cheat on each other often, make up and break up, but hey, that’s love? He was her first kiss, and first love is never really over. I like to think that they ended up nerdily ever after. (Yes, I am IGNORING “Sweet Valley Confidential”! Because it was a piece of trash. Like, more than the rest of the series. And that is saying something. Todd would NEVER marry Jessica and I refuse to acknowledge that book’s existence. Lizzie and Todd forever!)
Winner: Elizabeth. Because sometimes I get to pick the winners, and I always thought they were really sweet together.
Round 4: Tragic Flaw
Kristy is flawless. She is a perfect person and I won’t hear anyone say anything different. Yes, she is “bossy” and “a tomboy.” All of us know those are really code-words men use to bring down women who they perceive as a threat. Darn right, Kristy is a threat! She creates a highly profitable business at 13, she still finds time for charity, and she occasionally solves mysteries. Kristy is the girl you want in your corner.
Elizabeth’s biggest flaw is being a doormat. Like, she lets Jessica take advantage of her over and over. Learn your lesson, girlfriend! Tell Jessica NO! Explain to your parents that she is heading for disaster and needs professional intervention! Don’t let her run your life! I know that her life would be pretty boring without Jessica to mess it up all the time, but get a hobby. Think of what a better journalist Elizabeth would be if she didn’t spend so much time rescuing Jessica.
Winner: I guess technically Elizabeth, because she has an actual flaw? Let’s go with Elizabeth.
Round 5: Happy Ending
The Babysitter’s Club are encased in amber. They never age. They never leave the eighth grade. They just keep on babysitting the kids of Stoneybrook for all eternity. Being 13 forever sounds like hell on earth, but they all seem pretty okay with it. The future is always bright.
Since we’ve already discussed that “Sweet Valley Confidential” DOES NOT EXIST, we are only looking at Elizabeth’s life up to senior year. The series ends with Elizabeth turning down Oxford to go to SVU with her terrible sister, Jessica. But—she and Todd get back together! So at least there’s that! And they will live HAPPILY EVER AFTER FOREVER.
Winner: You know what, how about YA fiction? Because I love these series. I grew up on them. But looking back, that is some seriously anti-feminist shit. There is NOBODY worth looking up to or identifying with. Sweet Valley was weirdly moralistic and soap opera-ish (how many kids died after disobeying their parents? A lot. #RIPRegina!) while the BSC was pretty heteronormative, ethnically non-diverse (other than some tokenism), and pro-traditional-gender roles. They made me a reader, but thank Goddess I graduated to better things.
So, the winner of this round, and of this match, is YA fiction! You’ve come a long way, baby. Join us next time for some classic literature favorites.
Laura Sook Duncombe lives in Alexandria, Virgina with her husband and a mutt named Indiana Bones, Jr. Musical theater, pirates, and Sherlock Holmes are a few of her favorite things. Her work can be found on the Toast, the Hairpin, Jezebel, and at her blog.