‘Just call me Bob.’

The 1975 Mandy Annual was about as subtle as a sledge hammer in its attempt to stop young girls becoming feminists. The resulting portrayal of a 'women's libber' has got to be seen to be believed.

, 16 August 2001

Think feminists have a bad rep today? Well it was just as bad, if

not worse, in the Seventies. But back then they were called women’s

libbers, and somebody must have been feeling threatened, because in

1975 the Mandy annual for Girls ran a story about one of

them. I think it’s a fascinating example of how feminists were viewed,

and how the writers tried to influence the young readers’ opinions

against feminists.

I’ve no idea how I came to have a copy of Mandy 1975.

Hey, I wasn’t even born then! All I know is that whenever I go

back home to visit and stay in my old room, I go through the ritual

of browsing through the bookcase next to my bed and reaquainting

myself with all the books I love. Last time I went back I progressed

past the Mallory Towers and science-fiction to discover a stack of

girls annuals. All the big names were there: Bunty, Judy,

Princess, Diana, and Mandy. Oooh, it was nostalgic! I

had a great time sprawled on the bed reading the picture


Anyway, then I came across a story called ‘The Farmer Wants a

Wife.’ Remember that old song?

The farmer wants a wife,

The farmer wants a wife,

Eee-i-adio the farmer wants a wife.

The wife wants a child

The wife wants a child

Eee-i-adio the wife wants a child…

and so on…

Notice how the husband’s job is a farmer: but the woman’s job

is simply to be a wife. Hmmm… anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. On

with the story!

Sue and Helen are the daughters of a farmer; a widower. And just

like that kid in Sleepless in Seattle, they’re obsessed with

finding their father a wife. Understandably, the girls are choosy. As

the story puts it: “the prospective wife had to make an ideal

step-mother, as well as being useful on Dad’s small farm. Young women

with these qualifications were hard to come by, but the girls never

gave up trying!”

One day, Sue and Helen noticed someone driving a lorry up to the

farm. “Must be that new pig-feed I ordered” says father, before asking

the sprightly lorry driver: “Can you give me a hand with the

unloading, lad? There’s no one else here but my two daughters.” The

young ‘lad’ turns out to be a good worker, and father says so as they

offer the helpful lad a cup of tea.

But wait! The stranger has something to say: “Oh dear –

it always seems to end up like this! I feel the time has come to tell

you -” – the ‘boy’ whisks off ‘his’ flat cap – “that I’m a girl! Women

are just as good as men, you know. A girl can do a man’s job any


Here she is: the trickster, the feminist:

all the time she’d been hiding her bobbed hair under a hat! But who

can blame the farmer for being mistaken? After all, she is wearing a

black leather jacket, and trousers. Father is shocked, to say

the least. “Good grief!” He exclaims. “Well, you’ve already proved

you can work as hard as a man. But there are some things women can’t

do – they’re useless with machines, for instance.” With that assertion

he leaves the women in the kitchen to drink tea while he gets on with

some work. “Oh, it’s always the same!” Grumbles the blonde-haired

visitor. “The minute a man finds out I’m a girl, he doesn’t treat me

like an equal anymore!”

The girls are awestruck and very impressed. “You must be

one of those women’s lib people! I’ve – er – never met a real

one before.” splutters Sue with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Here

she is, the mysterious women’s libber! Driving a truck, working on

farms, heaving huge sacks around! Impressive. She introduces

herself. “Here I am – Roberta Wilson. Just call me Bob.”

Already the feminist’s character has been established. She

dresses like a man, she acts like a man, she even disguises

herself as a man. And she has one almighty chip on her shoulder.

All she wants is to be seen as an equal – to do anything men can

do. Suddenly the farmer rushes in shouting that there’s

something wrong with the truck. It’s Bob to the rescue! “Let

me see it Mr Harrow. I’m quite at home under the bonnet

of a car.”

Of course, Bob fixes the truck and allows herself a smug

smile. “I think your father has realised I’m as good as any man,

girls.” Sue and Helen exchange excited glances. She’s the woman for

their father, alright! Before she can leave their lives forever they

invite her for lunch on Saturday. Bob seems pleased. “Yes please,

Sue.” She says, leaning out of the window of her truck, cap back on

again. “I’m not much of a cook – I leave all that to the ‘weak little

woman’ types.”

The first suggestion that something’s not quite right with Bob. She

despises cooking and all things traditionally female. They’re for the

‘weak little woman’ types. She seems to despise those weak little

women too. Any woman who can’t do the macho stuff she does is just not

up to scratch: she’s just pathetic.

This is confirmed on Saturday when Bob arrives for lunch on her

motorbike. But before lunch she has some work to do stacking sacks of

potatoes in the barn. Bob gestures to Sue and Helen, both wearing

teensy mini skirts. “Come on, you two! How about showing your father

that you’re as useful as a couple of sons would have been? What a

disappointment it must be for a farmer to have girls instead of


Sue and Helen do their best, but just can’t lift the sacks as well

as Bob. Bob shouts at them for being clumsy as Sue scatters potatoes

across the floor, causing her father to trip. He boots them out of the

barn, leaving Bob smirking.

The awful truth dawns on Sue and Helen. Bob

seemed great to begin with, but in reality she’s just a real bitch,

and she disapproves of the girls. “We’ve got to get rid of Bob” says

Helen, back in the kitchen as the girls prepare dinner. ” – and prove

to Dad that girls who enjoy being girls aren’t such a bad

thing.” They form a cunning plan. The tables will be turned. Dad

shouts at us for being girly: so lets show him what life would be like

if we did act like Bob…

Sue and Helen emerge into the kitchen transformed. Instead of their

blouses they’re wearing thick polo neck pullovers… instead of the

mini skirts, trousers of course, and to finish the look, huge heavy

work boots. “Why are you dressed like a couple of scarecrows?” their

father asks. “I want to be called Sam from now on” says Sue, ” – and

Helen’s changing to Len. We’re as good as any boys – just like Bob


Their father is bermused, but he has other things on his

mind. “Well, how about some lunch Helen? Er – I mean, Len?”

“Help yourselves,” says ‘Len.’ “It’s cooked. We may as well drop

all that nonsense of serving it out. It’s just a waste of time.” They

sit at the table with the saucepans plonked on top instead of serving

dishes. Bob complements the girls on their stew and suggests they join

the army as chefs when they leave school. “Oh no!” says their father.

“Helen always talks about being a model, and Sue would like to be a

fashion designer.”

“We’ve shelved all that now, Dad. I’m going

to serve my time as a motor mechanic, and Len’s keen on being a

carpenter. If boys can do these things – so can we.” The meal

is over, but ‘Len’ and ‘Sam’ aren’t bothering with the washing up:

“That’s silly women’s work. I’m off to practice putting screws into

bits of wood.” ‘Sam’ proceedes to strip down the old tractor engine –

on the kitchen table!

Their father is getting more and more irate. “Isn’t it time someone

tidied up around here?” He shouts. “I’ve never seen the place in such

a mess!” Er – well why don’t you tidy up for once Mr farmer,

sir? But he’s spotted something else: “It can’t be – it is!”

He lifts up an oil-stained rag in disbelief. “This is my best shirt! I

left it out for you to wash!” Whoops! “I must have used it to wipe the

valves! Sorry Dad!”

This is the last straw. The farmer doesn’t seem to mind the girls

trying out boy stuff, but when their domestic duties are neglected, he

gets angry. He turns on Bob, pointing agressively. “Everything was

fine around here until you came along. Now the place is in

chaos, and my two lovely daughters have decided to become boys – and a

more useless pair of boys I’ve never met!” Bob is outraged. She stands

shouting, hands on hips. “OH? Well, I can see that all

you want around here is a slave! I’m going!”

As Bob storms out slamming the door behind her, the girls can feel

satisfied that their plan worked. As Helen’s home-made shelf collapses

from the kitchen wall, she says she think she’ll go back to her old

ambition of modelling. Sue promises to move the tractor engine from

the kitchen table. Ahhh…. back to normal!

The final scene shows the three sat around the table. What a lovely

family scene: the father in shirt and tie, the girls in pretty flowery

dresses… there is a vase of flowers and a tablecloth on the table.

Things are back to normal, and their father is obviously relieved.

“This is more like home!” He comments, grinning. His final words:

“Give me the feminine sort of girl every time!”

Sue and Helen exchange glances. “Phew! That was one of the

narrowest escapes we’ve had!” thinks Sue. “Better luck next time – I


So what message is the story trying to send out? Well, the

image of a women’s libber is interesting. At first impressions

the girls are in awe. Bob can do anything as good as a man – but

this means she can’t cook, and doesn’t want to cook or do

anything remotely traditionally female. All she cares about is

being like a man. But it’s not just being as good as a man, she seems

to want to be one. She calls herself a man’s name, dresses

like a man, even talks like one. She’s like the traditional stereotype

of a feminist, who despises everything feminine and rejects any

traditionally female activities.

This intimidates the girls as Bob does not respect them and gloats

over their inability to lift heavy sacks. Bob is certainly out for

herself; sisterhood is meaningless to her: all she cares about is

proving herself better than all the other ‘weak little woman’


On the one hand, the story validates feminism by proving that some

women can be as good as men. It certainly proves that Bob can fix an

engine or lift heavy loads. It points out the farmer’s old-fashioned

and sexist attitudes when he comments that women are ‘useless with

machines’ and then is spectacularly proved wrong. But even as the

story validates the basic theories of feminism, it trashes the

feminist herself. It’s the same old story: feminism tolerable (we

suppose): feminist evil.

The moral of the story seems to be: isn’t all this feminism stuff

silly? Who’d want to be like a man when they can be lovely pretty

girls? Some women may be able to be as good as men: but they’re

nasty and, well, freaks. In the words of the father: “Give me the

feminine sort of girl every time!”

All images are taken from the Mandy annual 1975, published by D.C. Thompson & Co. Ltd., 1974.

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