Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Grandmother of Girl Power

Today marks the 80th birthday of a woman many of us grew up admiring -- Nancy Drew.

As a book lover, this is a big deal to me even though I will confess that, growing up, I was not a big Nancy Drew reader. I much preferred the spunky, ginger-headed Trixie Belden. Trixie seemed much sassier than Nancy, a little more tomboyish. Even though my childhood was spent happily devouring books, I admired tales of girls out doing things like riding horses and tromping through the woods. Nancy Drew seemed a bit too dainty for my tastes, and I missed the richer family dynamic at work in the Belden series. (I had such a crush on Trixie's brothers Brian and Mart!) While the Trixie Belden books came out just 18 years after the debut of Nancy Drew, Trixie seemed more modern, more like a girl I could imagine knowing and wanting to be friends with. Trixie was flawed -- prone to sticking her foot in her mouth or bumbling into some sort of catastrophe. Nancy always seemed much more perfect and put together. Nancy was the girl our parents probably wanted us to be; Trixie was the girl we knew we always would be.

Nancy Drew, though, was the legend who lasted. While there is a devoted cult of Trixie fanbase out there, Nancy was the one who permeated pop culture via movies and television shows. While I never loved the Nancy Drew books the way I loved the Trixie Belden books, I did love the Nancy Drew television series. Pamela Sue Martin gave us a Nancy for modern times -- well at least for the 1970s. Her Nancy was a little sassier, a little less prissy, and a lot of fun.

Looking back, I can find more love for Nancy than I did in my youth. Nancy and Trixie both presented girls with incredible role models -- girls who were smart (and not afraid to show it), curious, strong, adventurous. When you consider that Nancy debuted in 1930 (and Trixie in 1948), they were rebels at heart -- telling girls with seemingly no real options in life that they could be strong, independent, and smart no matter what society was telling them. Girls could be protectors; they could be heroes. Nancy opened the door for any number of great pop culture heroines -- Wonder Woman, Harriet the Spy, Lara Croft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sydney Bristow, Sarah Conner, Hermione Granger, Stephanie Plum -- all women who are curious, brave, and strong, women who aren't afraid to defy conventions and shake things up a little, even if it is just spying on your neighbors. Nancy ushered in a period in our culture where feminine no longer needed to be equated with weakness and strength and intelligence no longer were male-dominated traits.

So on this day, her 80th birthday, let's all take a moment to think of Nancy and thank her for letting us be all that we can be, even if it didn't involve baking a killer cake and vaccuuming in our pearls and heels.


Mike said...

Did you ever read "Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her" It's a non-fiction book that came in 2005 (I think) and even though I don't think I've ever actually read a Nancy Drew book (despite all the Hardy Boys books I did read) I picked it up at the library a few years back and really enjoyed it -- a very interesting story.

(* ah, gender "normalcy", how you just didn't work for me in the long run)

Mel said...

I've not read the book although I think I MIGHT own a copy of it. (I seriously have no idea some of the books I own. It's amazing I've only ever bought the same book twice maybe one or two times!)