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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.’

The Lit Review: No Justice, No Pride

The Praxis Center is proud to feature The Lit Review’s weekly interviews conducted by hosts Monica Trinidad and Page May. Every week, the hosts of The Lit Review chat with people they love and respect about relevant books on Black struggle, movement history, gender, cultural organizing, speculative fiction, political theory and more. Sparked by the urgency of November 2016, they recognized that political study is not accessible to many for a variety of reasons, and their hope is that his will make critical knowledge more accessible to the masses.

Passing Strange: Racial Crossings and the Construction of Identity in America.

In this class we will interrogate narratives of racial passing in a variety of forms. These narratives raise questions about the construction, reinforcement and subversion of racial categories. There is a rich trove of literature focused on passing within African American literature alongside many examples in the 20th century of narratives focused on ethnic masquerade and cultural assimilation.  In essence, if individuals can undetectably pass through social boundaries meant to keep them out, then the very act of passing calls into question the nature both of the boundaries and of the categories they delineate.  This course uses the paradigm of “passing” to examine notions of race (as well as gender, sexuality and class)to illustrate how those categories are produced. Using fiction, history and film we will endeavor to get a deeper understanding of the category we call race. Visit the PDF version of Passing Strange: Racial Crossings and the Construction…

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