Nancy Drew and True Womanhood
I’m not talking about the newer series post-1970s that’s filled with nasty bits and epic romance – my nine-year-old self was quite content with an amorphous Ned who appeared ever few chapters to escort Nancy to a seasonal BBQ or give her an occasion to wear her new taffeta party dress. And as far as violence, for me it was pretty dicey when Nancy was bound, gagged and left to starve.
No, I’m talking about that classic Nancy Drew that lived somewhere in the magical world post-high school but pre-matrimony. Old enough to drive and travel independently, but young enough to still need her dad. And, always, regardless of the situation, mature enough to help others with grace and style
I’m not the only one who thinks so either.
In this NY Times piece, all three women Supreme Court Justices identify Nancy as a formative literary role model. What captured them probably has less to with Nancy’s white middle-class upbringing and more to do with the essence of Nancy herself. As critic Melanie Rehak recognizes, “Nancy was courageous and independent but she never used that independence in an overtly rebellious way. Instead, she used her freedom to have adventures, but they were always in the name of doing good and serving justice.”
And that’s one reason why I’m purposefully directing my daughter to these books. (That and it gives me an excuse to re-read them myself.) I’m not vying for her to be a Supreme Court Justice one day—heaven knows we don’t need the High Court adjudicating whether or not Barbie Fairytopia is in copyright infringement of Disney’s Pixie Hollow—but I do want her to have a robust view of womanhood. I want her to know how to bake a cake for the elderly neighbor next door and have the guts to chase away the intruder who’s trying to steal said neighbor’s family silver. I want her to be smart and kind, pretty and unpretentious, appropriate and daring. I want her to be forgiving and humble, gracious and accomplished.
All at the same time.
Certainly I’m not conferring faith or belief on Nancy. And maybe it’s simply an example of common grace, general revelation, or the two times a day that the stopped clock is right, but a lot that I learned about womanhood came from having Nancy Drew in one hand and my Bible in the other. And the more I read the latter, the more I’m realizing that true womanhood isn’t an either/or proposition.
More than likely, it’s both/and.
It’s women with a hammer in one hand and a baby in the other. It’s women with the wisdom to defer an angry king and the kindness to minister to the King of Kings. It’s women with strength to lead and the humility to follow. And it’s women with the grace to move in society at the very time that they are turning the world upside down.
I’m from a generation that is quick to throw off anything that we don’t deem significant whether it’s marriage, motherhood, or social propriety. But I’m also from a generation that is perilously divided and grotesquely caricatured by our private definitions of what it means to be a woman. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere with a powder blue convertible, a twin set, and a pair of pumps. So as for me, don’t be surprised if you peek in the back of my minivan while I’m ferrying my children around town and see an overnight case packed with a change of clothes, pajamas, a toothbrush, and a bathing suit.
Just in case.