It’s hard to imagine a system more driven by privilege than the fraught application process to elite colleges.
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.’