Cover of the first edition (1977) of The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler, by Gene Kemp. Fair use rationale.

Tyke Tiler is a fictional girl from Gene Kemp’s 1977 novel, The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler. A daring and energetic twelve-year-old, Tyke is always at the centre of trouble. Fighting in class, stealing watches, and finding sheep skeletons are not unusual occurrences. Tyke’s main task in the novel is to help her best friend, Danny Price, cheat in their end of year test. Without cheating, the characters believe that they will attend different secondary schools.

Tyke’s appearance and behavior go against gender stereotypes of the time. In particular, she overturns the expectation that girls are quiet and passive schoolchildren. On the front cover, Tyke is holding a mouse while everyone else is concentrating on singing. Tyke is also facing the opposite direction with a perplexed facial expression. Getting through the school day without trouble seems to be a problem for Tyke. Her tomboy appearance further distinguishes Tyke from the rest of the girls. Unlike the rest of the girls, Tyke has short hair. The absence of femininity emphasizes her tomboy personality and lack of conformity.

The risky nature of Tyke’s actions often leads readers to assume that Tyke is a boy. The revelation at the end that Tyke’s full name is Theodora Tiler comes as a shock to many readers, as at no point prior is Tyke’s gender mentioned. It is important to consider the novel’s publication date. 1977 was a time in which books such as Janet and John were popular in English schools. These books reinforced many gender stereotypes of the time. Boys would be natural adventurers and girls would flourish in domesticity. Exposure to an active, disobedient girl in fiction was a rare opportunity.

The influence of second-wave feminism in the portrayal of Tyke is undeniable. Tyke’s image offers a clear alternative to the sexism in popular culture. It rejects the stereotypical image of girls as feminine and passive. It eradicates accepted ideas about the differences between boys and girls.

Tyke may be a teacher’s worst nightmare, but she is a clear reminder of girls’ individuality.

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