Depictions of Women in STEM: Stacey McGill, "The Baby-Sitters Club"

January 20, 2020

Written by: Vanessa Hennessey

This post contains spoilers for The Baby-Sitters Club #105, Stacey the Math Whiz.

When I was young, I somehow discovered a book series that would become almost an obsession for me from the ages of maybe 9-13, one that I discovered then and have since discovered was extremely popular for (mostly) girls of the same generation. It was The Baby-Sitters Club, created by Ann M. Martin and written by her and ghostwriters. It was first published in 1986 and publishing ceased in 2000, and while the series’ popularity has waned, those of us who grew up reading the books still think of them fondly and with nostalgia.

The series followed the story of a group of friends in their early teens, in a fictional town in Connecticut, United States, who run a local baby-sitting service called “The Baby-Sitters Club.” The series is told in the first-person narrative and deals with issues from illness to crushes to divorce (and more!). The founding members were Kristy Thomas (founder and president), Mary Anne Spier (secretary), Claudia Kishi (vice-president), and Stacey McGill (treasurer).

Source: The Baby-Sitters Club - Fandom

I’m going to focus on that last character, Stacey, in this post. Her knack and love for math made her the perfect choice for treasurer in the group, and her math skills were the focus of at least one book told from her perspective (Stacey the Math Whiz, 1997). This math-loving part of her character was also mentioned often in the books throughout the series.

In Stacey the Math Whiz, Stacey is asked by her math teacher to join The Mathletes, the school’s math team, as they compete in their state’s math championship. She accepts, and the book then chronicles her story with the Mathletes as she struggles with questions such as “what if the Mathletes are losers?” and whether or not she will be good enough to become state champion. In addition, her father surprises her with tickets to a rock concert that will take place the same night as the first Mathletes meet, which she cannot miss if she is to advance to the championships. She must make the decision whether to be “cool” and go to a concert, or spend the evening competing with the Mathletes. In the end, she does attend the Mathletes meets, and during the championship, Stacey’s family and friends show up to support her.

Source: The Baby-Sitters Club - Fandom

An unfortunate aspect of this book is that Stacey constantly regards the students who perform well academically as losers or “dorks,” even though she is passionate about math and is even a math tutor on the side of being a baby-sitter. Stacey is multi-dimensional, in that she is a student with good math grades, but she also has a passion for fashion and other hobbies that are stereotypically seen as feminine, as well as being depicted as “boy-crazy.” She wrestles with her identity as a good student and someone who considers herself to be “cool.”

She also is faced with parental issues – her parents had divorced previously, with her father moving back to New York City where Stacey grew up for the first 13 years of her life. In Stacey the Math Whiz, he shows up unexpectedly because he has lost his job, and although he is jobless, he wants to cook expensive meals, invite Stacey and her mother out for fancy dinners, take Stacey to New York City to shop, and buys expensive concert tickets for himself and Stacey. There is more than one review of this book on the internet pointing to the fact that he is entitled and exhibits traits of toxic masculinity in that he expects Stacey and her mother to do everything for him, causing Stacey to feel worn out, not to mention angry when he tells her he cannot attend her Mathletes meets because a new job opportunity is taking up too much of his time.

Source: Tumblr, User "Jununy"

All in all, Stacey the Math Whiz is an interesting examination of how a middle schooler may feel conflicted in her identity – she wants to be seen as “cool” or fashionable, but she also is book smart. The story often equates being academically successful with being a “loser,” but in the end, Stacey realizes she cares about the Mathletes and she can be both “cool” and smart. She also learns that she does not appreciate her father’s preoccupation with wealth and his tendency to show off flashy, expensive gadgets or show his love for her with money. By the end of the book, she realizes her friends and her family who support her in intangible ways are the most important. As a side note, the B-plot of the book also shows the Baby-Sitters Club’s charges excited about their involvement in a local math fair, depicting math as a fun, albeit difficult, activity.


The former Obama Administration's White House fact sheet lists 3 goals for fictional representation of women in STEM. We are noticing a trend in the movies and television shows we have reviewed - they meet some of the following goals better than others.

1.  Include diverse STEM role models (past and present): Does this book meet this goal? Yes and no. Stacey is a 13-year-old who loves and excels in math, which is a positive representation for others in their early teens. But, she is white, has at least one wealthy parent, is depicted as heterosexual, and throughout the other books in The Baby-Sitters Club series, she is accepted by the "cool" kids at her school. In terms of diversity, the only thing she really has going for her is the fact that she is a girl.

2. Highlight the breadth of STEM careers and social impacts: The book does not highlight various STEM careers. In fact, the only characters who are participating in the Mathletes are middle school students and one math teacher.

3.  Debunk STEM stigmas and misconceptions: In the end of this particular book, Stacey remembers that she loves math and that she can be a math whiz while still also being interested in stereotypically feminine activites such as shopping. She wrestles with these parts of her identity throughout the book and wonders if she can happily experience both. This kind of struggle is realistic for a teenager, and this overall message that she can honour all parts of her identity does go against stigmas and misconceptions in a way that is easy for the target audience to understand. Because of this, I think this goal is met.

Were you also an avid reader of The Baby-Sitters Club? If not, what were your favourite books? Let us know on our Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!