Puberty Blues (2012-2014) had me in all my feels. From relationships to sexual oppression, abuse and more

The Backstory

When I was growing up, I was raised in what could be called a ‘derro suburb’ within the city of Newcastle. It wasn’t too bad a place when my parents were growing up, but as my youth got shorter the growing population only got odder. Which meant the primary school I attended had a few funky families in attendance. Now, I’m only twenty-one and know nothing about raising children (nor am I judging anyone), but I remember my friends at that age were allowed to do anything they pleased. They weren’t exactly exposed to the best of things either. I was always jealous that my mum was so strict in comparison to theirs. I wasn’t even allowed to walk home from school, but I now thank my mum for sheltering me from the dangers of the real world at that age. Not just for not letting me walk home, but for letting me be a kid for as long as I could. I believed in Santa until I graduated grade seven. I remember my new high-school friends discussing how they had to play up the fantasy to their younger siblings. I was pretty crushed. Off topic.

My point is that having such friends who had the ability to do what they wanted at such a young age meant that I was always going on my newly gifted iPad and sifting the web to try and explore the things that they were allowed to watch. Whether it was watching MA15+ movie trailers or downloading YouTube just to watch Puberty Blues… 

I was only eleven and would watch that show week by week because my other friends did too. I remember the quality of the video was always awful and whatever kind fellow uploaded the series to their channel would never upload it straight away. So, I would go to school and pretend I watched it at 8:30pm the night before when, in reality, I was waiting days for the uploaded version (not to mention, my designated bedtime was 8pm).

 The TV series Puberty Blues – which is a remake of the movie, based on the 1979 novel by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey – is a coming-of-age drama that centres around a group of teens in Sydney, Australia. I’m sure everyone has seen it at this point, since it was newly added to Netflix, but if you haven’t, here’s a quick run-down:

 Debbie and Sue are the best of friends and spend every minute of every day together. They decide to try and integrate their friendship amongst the popular ‘Greenhills Gang,’ which is a group of teens and older young adults who either attend or attended their current high school. The group is popular due to their high use of drugs and alcohol, careless sex habits, and external social activities. The girls eventually get close with the gang, and even date some of the male members. They believed they had made it, their social status had risen. But as the truths and consequences of the group’s actions start to become more alarming, the girls are only wishing to get out. 

 I rewatch this show all the time, and one day decided to ask my mum herself, “was this really what life was like in the 70s?”

“Pretty much,” was her response.

She was only young during those years, but she said that drug use was all the rage and sex wasn’t respected – nor were women.

Spoilers Ahead

The more I rewatched, the more I realised how protofeminist of a piece this TV show is. Debbie and Sue are trying to break the social norms of their era by sticking up for other women they see are being disrespected. They break the standard of girls not being allowed, or shone down upon, for surfing; and say, “fuck it, I’m doing it anyway” (despite the disrespectful name-calling that came after because of it). They were truly an iconic duo. In a decade where sexual violence was a norm and girls were merely there to be used and abused, it made me sad to discover that these behaviours weren’t a tale of fiction.

Which is why I think I was so drawn to Debbie and Gary’s relationship. He held emotion, unlike the other boys in the gang, and was angry when asked by his friends to describe his past sexual experiences with other women. He had his flaws and definitely wasn’t perfect, but considering the year in which his character was based and set upon, to me he seemed like a well brought up boy (this opinion changed during season two). But that wasn’t the case at all. His father was a serial cheater, abuser, manipulator, narcissist, misogynistic asshole, and only ever brought Gary and his mum a world full of suffering.  He could feel the pain of his mum’s heartbreak more than he liked to admit, which led to a lot of his character downfalls during future episodes. The abuse towards him too seemingly led to his own emotional sensitivity. Which made me believe that this is where his calm and (slightly) respectful behaviour towards Debbie stemmed from. He didn’t rush to her for any sexual advances and would try his best to be as communicative as possible. As the second season arrived, Debbie was sent away to boarding school by her parents in an attempt to stop her rebellious behaviour. But the distance between Gary and Debbie didn’t exactly make the heart grow fonder, as he cheated on her. No, Gary, noooo! By the end of season two, Debbie and Sue decide to leave their schooling and family behind to travel after the heartbreak they endured over the years. Similarly, Gary hitchhikes his way to new beginnings, and as a viewer, it is up to your own interpretation how they live the rest of their lives. 

 *Sigh* I think about what Debbie and Gary could’ve been more than I’d like to admit…

 To me, this TV series was more than just a group of teens using hard drugs and cheating on one another. It was the start of a conversation. Although the show was released decades after the years it was based upon, it was eye-opening. That might’ve been our parents, or our parents’ parents, and to be able to see the difference in society since then is astonishing.

 Sexual oppression of women dates further back than the 70s, but the way it was represented in Puberty Blues was confronting and alarming. As a young woman, it hurts to become aware that other females didn’t have the capability to stand up for themselves or even realise how wrong this behaviour was in those times. It was assumed that women were created for the pleasure of men’s needs. Even the double standard of infidelity had me screaming. These young teen girls were tossed for turns by other men in order to increase social status. And if they wanted to stay up the top of the social chain, they needed to abide by men and do exactly that. This show really did show the blues of puberty.

 Each new character explored a different systematic, familial, or social issue and there wasn’t a storyline that was left unspoken. I don’t know how the creators managed to target so many affairs in only two seasons, but they did. This TV series delves into a world of matters that should be acknowledged, and it did so successfully. It was written, directed, acted, and shown in a way that will make you go through every and any emotion under the sun as you watch. If you haven’t watched it, please do, and if you have, go rewatch; because despite the systematic inequality, there are some joyous scenes that make you smile and cry, both at the same time.

Rachel Barr

Rachel Barr

Hi, I’m Rachel. I like reading, writing, but no so much arithmetics. I indulge in so much TV and media I thought ‘why not write on it?’

Rachel Barr

Hi, I'm Rachel. I like reading, writing, but no so much arithmetics. I indulge in so much TV and media I thought ‘why not write on it?’