You have to wonder if Nancy Drew was the first feminist role model for generations of young women.
She was smart, brave, confident: the leader of her pack who scooted around town to scary places — at night, no less — in her very own roadster, convertible top down, with sidekicks Bess and George, and sometimes asexual boyfriend Ned, all letting her call the shots.
And in the end, our Nancy always figured it out.
Apparently prompted by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s admission that she devoured Nancy Drew books as a child, Sunday’s New York Times featured a piece by Jan Hoffman who listed a Who’s Who of confident , accomplished and prominent women in their 40s, 50s and beyond who grew up with Nancy by their side: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Diane Sawyer, Laura Bush, Nancies Grace and Pelosi, and former ground-breaking Congresswoman Pat Shroeder, who was given a stack of Nancy Drew books after she failed Home Ec:
“I needed Nancy Drew,” said Ms. Schroeder. “She was smart and she didn’t have to hide it! She showed me there was another way to live,” added Ms. Schroeder, who would earn her pilot’s license at 15, and become a feminist politician from Colorado. For women like Ms. Schroeder and Judge Sotomayor, the acquisition of the books is central to their Nancy Drew narratives.
Clearly, as Hoffman suggests, Nancy Drew was an inspiration for many of us who came of age in pre-feminist times, supplying through fiction what we couldn’t find in real life. She made life — and choices — seem easy. And possible.
Of course the books were thoroughly unrealistic. Probably even silly. Certainly Nancy led the unexamined life. And, the ultimate deception, Nancy was created by a man. (Yes, Virginia, there is no Carolyn Keene.)
And yet. You have to wonder if the beauty of identifying with Nancy (as opposed to, say, Barbie) when you are young and impressionable is that, somehow, a lesson sticks: Maybe choices are easier when you’ve grown up believing in your own resilience, trusting that you can follow your gut wherever it leads, without second guessing, because in the end — somewhere around page 224 — things always work out.
For the record, I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on when I was a kid, and still have a box of them out in our garage. Right next to my red roadster.