Girls Just Want To Be George, Jo, or Buffy: Reading Nostalgia and Heroines in Literature

(Cross-posted from Americas Studies)


A colleague shared the above image with me and I was reminded of so many books that have drawn me in to the point where I feel like I’m part of the narrative. For me, the trauma comes from having to let go of  immersed narrative experiences. Women and girls in literature like George Kirrin, Jo March and Buffy Summers diluted my awkward childhood and teen years with soothing images of independent tomboys with attitude and ambition.

Five_on_a_Treasure_Island_(novel)_coverartIt started with The Famous Five series. Of course I wanted to be George, a tomboy whose family and friends accept her to the point where they are happy to forego her real name, Georgina, allow her to wear boy’s clothes and crop her hair. I remember begging my mother to allow me to chop off all my goldilocks like George (didn’t work!). I felt utterly ruined by my name, Donna, which means “lady” – no name for a relentless tomboy!

Later it was Jo March of Little Women, the 19th century tomboy whose independent spirit captured my imagination! Again we have a character who adopts a masculine version of her name, crops her hair, uses slang, earns her own living and almost always rejects society’s expectations of her. As well as this, the matriarchal household was of great appeal to me, not having any sisters.

As a teenager Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a revelation – a female superhero who banishes her abusive boyfriend to hell, repeatedly saves the world from annihilation, and has a witticism for every situation. Of course this may seem like a deviation from the literary theme of this post. But one look at my Buffy book collection should assure the reader otherwise!


Not only did these women protagonists reassure my growing sense of self, but they encouraged me to read more and I have no doubt that they played a significant role in shaping my education and career choices to date. Then imagine my disappointment when I re-read The Famous Five last Christmas and found myself thinking what a petulant child George was – I guess this means I am getting old…

Winona Ryder as Jo March

However, I had my annual Little Women indulgence this summer followed of course by Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. As always I was Jo, annoyed by Meg, bored by Beth, impatient with Amy, but warmed by the enduring Jo. Often readers comment on Jo being a sell-out for marrying. While it was probably the case that Louisa May Alcott may have compromised with the ideals of her contemporaries with this plot decision, one must not forget that Jo refused to settle for less than a man who respected her as an independent, intellectual equal. Let us also remember that Jo was the main breadwinner and head of the family in Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

Finally, Buffy has become even more dear to me in the wake of the current Twilight-infused Fifty Shades of misogynist mania – need I elaborate on these books’ shared message on the importance of having a boyfriend who abuses and infantilises you???


Americas Studies: This blog, Américas Studies is the product of an Irish feminist researcher in transatlantic dialogue with the Américas. It is grounded in my current experience as a doctoral candidate with posts about literature, film, feminism, and issues related to academia.