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Nancy Drew and the Syndication of White Savior Feminism

By Kirsten Ginzky

Relatable-yet-superhuman, Nancy Drew has been an enduring cultural icon, debuting in 1930 and starring in hundreds of books along with films, television series, and video games. When I was introduced to Nancy in 1998, I devoured every volume of the yellow-spined mystery series that I could get my hands on. The heroine is a spunky, prodigious girl detective who solves hundreds of cases, succeeding when lawmen cannot. Nancy is sarcastic, confident, and an ace at evading the many criminals who tail her powder blue Mustang convertible during high-speed chases. In the early 20th century, the Nancy Drew series was lauded as presenting “an amazing alternative to the career choice of secretary and milliner that other children’s books provided” (Paretsky, 1991, p. 9). The syndication of the ‘Nancy Drew’ archetype created a significant blueprint for modern American girl and womanhood – one that helped inspire a model of empowered womanhood that dominates 20th and 21st century American life with a Who’s Who of public figures including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Laura Bush, Barbara Walters, Nancy Pelosi, and Sandra Day O’Connor (Murphy, 2009; Shipman & Rucci, 2009) citing her as an inspiration. Viewing Nancy with an intersectional lens complicates this narrative: aspirational, independent, but never rebellious, Nancy Drew is a thoroughly modern product, created through a fine-tuned capitalist production and distribution model. Her actions and beliefs reflect both traditional middle-class values and the expanding role of American youth and women in the wake of the Progressive Era. The books affirm WASP superiority and the original editions, revised in the 60s, are rife with racial stereotypes. A contemporary reader could easily dismiss Nancy Drew as an upper-middle-class ‘white savior.’

Hollywood Won’t Save Us: Instead, Let’s Build a Revitalized Radical Feminism

By Barbara Ransby | Truthout

With the rise of the #MeToo moment and the #TimesUp campaign, Hollywood has discovered activism, and with it, a new lexicon and fledgling new identity. This is potentially a blessing and a curse for those of us who have been fighting feminist and anti-racist battles long before “intersectionality” was uttered from the stage at the Oscars, long before activists formed a phalanx of silent sentinels to serve as props for celebrity performances. This scene was politically counterbalanced, by the way, with a celebratory tribute to war and militarism. But this is the world we live in. And like with every industry and institution, there are a handful of genuine change-seekers in Hollywood — people who have risked their careers and livelihoods to wage uphill battles for greater justice in the arts and media. And we have to give them the opportunity to be better allies going forward, in the spirit of Eslanda and Paul Robeson and others. How do we do this work, and dance this dance, with greater attention to the principles that ground us?

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