Peter Pan is a childhood figure that we all grow up loving. The desire to remain innocent and fancy free overcomes us all and, boys and girls alike, imagine themselves as Peter Pan—adventurous, daring, and free of consequences. But the way J.M. Barrie portrays females in his lesser known work “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” (and even in Barrie’s more famous work “Peter and Wendy” Peter Pan has or leads all the adventures while the female characters fawn over him with none of their affections or considerations returned) implies that Barrie might think girls are ill-equipped to be a Peter Pan figure; that all women are fit for is to keep on the heels of heroes.
On the very second page of text in “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens,” Barrie characterizes the qualities that are to be punished in young boys: “disgraced… if they have been mad-dog or Mary-Annish. To be Mary-Annish is to behave like a girl, whimpering because nurse won’t carry you, or simpering with your thumb in your mouth, and it is a hateful quality; but to be mad-dog is to kick out at everything, and there is some satisfaction in that” (4). In characterizing the qualities of young femininity as “hateful” and the qualities of young masculinity as creating some “satisfaction,” Barrie right away points to which sex more aptly fits into the title character role of fearless child rebel. Indeed, one boy is even punished for being too feminine by being forced to go out to the park dressed in his sister’s clothes. Similarly, when a female finch questions the powerful male figure of Solomon, ruler of the birds on the island Peter Pan is stuck on, Barrie characterizes her as speaking out of turn or being annoyingly persistent: “Kate was her name, and all Kates are saucy” (23). In fact, Barrie’s characterizations of the female characters are all very similar. When Peter wishes to return to his mother, “he never doubted that he was giving her the greatest treat a woman can have” (37). When the narrator is describing Maimie, the girl for whom the fairies first built the Little House in Kensington Gardens, he says that “when she was batting, she would pause though the ball was in the air to point out to you that she was wearing new shoes. She was quite the ordinary kind [of girl] in the daytime” (42). Barrie again and again reinforces an image of femininity as focused on nurturing and vanity; as more comfortable in the home than on Peter Pan-esque exciting adventures.