The Fear Girls

Category: Author: Caitlin

The Mystery of Nancy Drew, Sometimes Role-Model

caitlin_biconBy Caitlin Clarkson

As a young girl, I was a voracious reader. I read everything I could get my hands on; American Girl books, various fantasy series, Call of the Wild and White Fang, the occasional mystery sneaked from my mother’s bookshelf, and plenty of Nancy Drew. The problem with being a speedy reader, however, is that I never could remember what happened in the books after a while- in one eye and out the other.

So when the opportunity to reread some Nancy Drew came up, I jumped at the chance, if only to see what exactly had engaged so much of my time all those years ago. And let me tell you- these books are kind of bizarre. It’s like Nancy was some crazy pre-feminist experiment to see how far this whole “independent woman” thing could be taken. Nancy is young, white, attractive, and wealthy. She already has tons of advantages in life, so the inclusion of intelligence and superior sleuthing skills makes her damn near perfect.

Nancy, this young feminist icon, has few obstacles when it comes to expressing her independence. She’s backed up by her lawyer father, her two best friends, and a very supportive boyfriend who never seems to mind helping her sneak into abandoned mansions instead of going out dancing.

typical Nancy Drew hijinks

typical Nancy Drew hijinks

After a few books, you start to get the idea that Nancy is this elaborate fantasy; I can’t blame young girls for being inspired by her, especially when she was first published in the mid-20th century. Unhindered by the Great Depression or WWII, Nancy is dedicated to helping those in need (and indeed, she rarely has other obligations- she’s a high school grad who lives at home and, I suppose, cultivates her numerous hobbies and skills when not solving mysteries). Despite the work she does and the danger she is often in, Nancy never accepts compensation for her good deeds. Because of course she wouldn’t.

And that’s where the problems with Nancy start- she’s just too perfect. It makes her pretty impossible to relate to; how many wonderfully talented and whip-smart, courageous girls do you know who also don’t pay rent or even cook for themselves? Who never fight with their ever-so-slightly less than perfect friends or boyfriend?

To be completely honest though… I sort of prefer this crazy robo-Nancy to where she’s been taken in more modern adventures. After going steady for over 60 years, Nancy breaks up with long-time beau Ned. She trades her convertible for a hybrid. She starts showing up on the covers of her books not discovering clues, but stealing glances at boys while in revealing clothes. She becomes less head-strong, more polite. She is frequently subjected to violence and friend drama.

When compared to the new Nancy, Nancy Classic ain’t so bad. She has all the independence that could be afforded to an 18 year-old girl in the 1950s. And, interestingly enough, I found it refreshing to read about a girl who isn’t bogged down in social drama that will be conveniently wrapped up almost the exact second after she solves the mystery.

She may not be easy to relate to, but there’s something wonderfully simple about a mystery book for girls that is just about the mystery, and not whatever else the detective has going on in her life. Nancy is an odd cousin to other old-school detectives (Dick Tracy, Sam Spade, Johnny Dollar, Rocky Jordan, Boston Blackie- I can name names for days) who never have anything more distracting to deal with than a throw-away femme fatale or secretary. The only difference between them and Nancy is that Nancy is constantly underestimated by her foes until it’s too late.

solving real mysteries, like a real detective

solving real mysteries, like a real detective

So while Nancy herself is perhaps difficult to live up to, I’m still pretty excited by the idea of a girl who sets her mind to a task that isn’t related to boys or friends, and is confident enough to get the job done without the explicit approval of her dad or boyfriend. In a world of teen fiction full of complicated emotions and interactions simply fraught with intense meaning, it’s nice to kick back with a smart girl who just does what she wants, and does it well.


The Hobbit Sized Hole in My Heart

 By Caitlin Clarkson

 While I would probably describe myself as a geek if asked, I don’t know if I can quite say what I’m a geek for. When I was younger, that was such an easy question; Sailor Moon, Pokemon, the Dear America series (and by extension, The Royal Diaries), and above all, The Lord of the Rings.

I used to be a major Lord of the Rings nerd. We’re talking writing names on sticky notes and charting out whole Elven family trees on my wall major. The books and movies were introduced to me at the perfect point, when I was twelve and making that strange transition from life as a kid to life as a teenager. The Lord of the Rings (or LotR) drastically changed my life. I bonded with new friends over it, perhaps building friendships through related interests for the very first time. I pored over my concept art book and was inspired to take drawing seriously (for the record, I now have a degree in illustration). The books were the first my dad could, as one reader to another, recommend and share. As a kid, I listened to him read from The Hobbit night after night; looking back, I’m not surprised he took me to the movies and brought the books to my attention.

So when my dad texted me the other day, asking if I was seeing a midnight screening of The Hobbit, I was almost embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t even thought about it. Was I going to? It depended, what was my work schedule for the next day? Was it playing anywhere nearby? How much was it going to cost? 3D movies ain’t cheap. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I very excited?

Well, there was one thing I was excited for- only a few feet away from work, this popped up.

What could it mean?! A quick Google search told me it was going to be a display of props from the film. Okay, that sounded pretty cool. I kept an eye on the spot, waiting to see what awesome stuff the would put in there. The One Ring? Of course. Sting? Why wouldn’t they? Thranduil’s crown? If I was lucky! My imagination reeled, overwhelmed by the possibilities. I quickly found myself watching the trailer in anticipation and seeking out production photos to get an idea of what I might be seeing.

After days and days of waiting, I made it to the exhibit. And to tell the truth… I was underwhelmed. There weren’t props, but recreations of different objects, mostly jewelry (all of which, conveniently, are available for purchase). But I was taken back to flipping through my concept art book, squinting because the pages were so close, trying to see every little detail. And sure, Thranduil’s crown wasn’t included, but Galadriel’s brooch sure was beautiful. I made a mental note to look into midnight showings again, and to maybe put The Hobbit on my Kindle.

I ran into a coworker while I was there, and he skeptically asked me what I thought of the whole thing.

“You know… I think it’s pretty exciting, actually.”

What We’re Watching: Call The Midwife

By: Caitlin Clarkson

   I am an unabashed, unashamed Anglophile; as luck would have it, I also love period dramas. Downton Abbey, Bleak House, Wives and Daughters, Jane Eyre, even the zany, soap opera-ish The Grand – I adore them all. But I’m also a bit tired of their formulaic romances and betrayals, where the most rebellious thing a woman can do is marry for love, even if the man is -gasp!- of a lower class. A big appeal of period dramas is the glimpses they offer into life in a different time. Their clothes, their food, their living spaces, all are fascinating. So when I heard that there was a new period drama on the scene (well, new to American audiences) that focused not on romance, but on day to day life for women of a peculiar, and definitely not genteel occupation, I could hardly wait to watch.

   And I have to say, Call the Midwife delivers. Focusing on the lives of nurses and nuns residing at the Nonnatus House convent in 1950s London’s East End, the show gives us a glimpse of a lifestyle we normally don’t see in period dramas. It quickly outlines it’s goal in the first episode- to show how the newly minted National Health Service provided relief for low-income mothers through caring and dedicated nurses.

   Based on the memoirs of nurse Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife doesn’t shy away from the realities of life. The nurses administer enemas, the patients lay down newspaper in hopes of not getting their beds too messy. A teenage prostitute bonds with her baby, only to have it taken from her, never to be reunited. The neighborhood is still littered with rubble from the war, and an eery fog at one point almost makes the show look like a horror movie.

   But Call the Midwife isn’t all gloom and drama; there are plenty of funny, lighthearted moments as well. The oldest of the nuns pilfers cake the other nuns have tried to hide from her. Adding Miranda Hart to the cast was a brilliant move; a big part of the second episode focuses on her character, the clumsy aristocrat Camilla Cholomondley-Browne (or “Chummy”), learning how to ride a bike so she can actually get to her patients.

   It is incredibly refreshing to watch a period drama that focuses on women and women alone. In the first two episodes, the only male characters are on the periphery looking in, like the fathers waiting outside the bedroom for the first signs of a new life being born within. There’s no discussion of politics, of the war, of attracting husband material, of having their own babies in the future. The series focuses on women helping other women in need. Instead of fighting, they solve problems together; instead of going out dancing, they hone their skills and study. And delightfully enough, Call the Midwife still more than manages to be fun to watch. Who knew women getting along could be so entertaining?

Boy Crazy

By Caitlin Clarkson

When I found these little slips of paper, I scooped them up without really thinking about it. I was going through a phase where I had to pick up every little scrap of paper I saw with writing on it; grocery lists, sticky notes, random pieces of mail with just one sentence or address. I liked the brief glimpse they gave me into someone else’s life.
I wonder where these particular slips of paper are from, what the girls who wrote them are like. I found the papers on a street with two high schools in the immediate area, but there was also the art school I went to right in between them, and the notes were written on an unusual, unlined paper. Maybe the papers were torn out of old books in some school library.
As I look at them now, I get the same feeling I got from them before; it’s such an intimate conversation between these girls, and I get a peek at what they confide in each other. But what really strikes me now, a few years after finding the notes, is how much I relate to them. There is something both comforting and painful in having physical evidence of other girls carefully examining the minutiae of their interactions with boys, hoping for some clue to help them figure out how he feels.

Note 1

At the beginning of the notes, the girl A states,

“I’m boy crazy… That boy hasn’t called me yet and I don’t know what to do… I want him to be mine!”

Her friend, girl B, replies,

“Oh gosh… dear!!! Find a boy that is crazy for you!!!

Girl A’s response,

“But I want that one!”

is an all-too familiar feeling.


Note 2

The conversation between the two girls could almost be my own inner dialogue, when I struggle with balancing my own self worth and my need for validation from a boy. And it can be difficult some times, to know deep down that I’m a pretty-okay girl, so why don’t any boys seem to think that as well? It seems like an oddly pathetic feeling, to just want to have someone tell me I’m cute and funny and smart and talented, and that those qualities make me attractive. I know that I’m all those things, but what does it matter if no one I’m attracted to seems to think so? Like I said, it’s a pathetic feeling.
And I see girl A and girl B struggle with the same feelings. Quickly after calling herself “boy crazy,” girl A seems to pull herself together a little, stating,

“Yeah but I think I won’t call him anyway…. I am a woman! I don’t follow boys! […] You remember when I broke up with my ex? So sad… Fuck that!!!”

Girl B, who has been trying to be helpful throughout the notes, only opens up about her own feelings in the last bit she writes. Earlier she states,

“There are so many fish in the ocean! You’ll find other [sic] boy!”

Only to immediately contradict herself:

“For me, I can’t really find the one yet! There are no guys.”

Girl A offers her friend no written consolation, and only vows to heed her earlier advice to be patient.
At the end of the day, that’s all any of us can be when searching for love and the fulfillment it gives us: patient. And whenever I dig myself out of my self-pitying spiral of doubt, I’m left with one piece of truth: I genuinely like myself. I really am cute and funny and smart and talented. See the banner at the top of this blog? I did that! Pretty neat, right? I know! And I also know that as tough as it can be sometimes to be alone, if I keep being not only patient but also my own badass self, regardless of who is or isn’t around, I’ll be okay. Because the hardest part, learning to love and live with myself, is already done. All that’s left is to find someone who agrees. And anything less? So sad… Fuck that!!!

Boy Toys and Girl Toys

 By Caitlin Clarkson

During my last semester of school, I took a class titled Girl Culture. It fulfilled my one remaining academic credit, but even more importantly, it was a feminist studies class. I had taken a real interest in feminism the week I moved into my dorm freshman year and started reading Jezebel (which, in 2007, was a very different place than it is now). It felt right, to have this interest of mine culminate and end in outright academic study.

One thing that always interested me, and that I focused on in this class, was the distinction between “girl” and “boy” things given to children. Even if you haven’t read any of the many books on the topic, it’s obvious to anyone walking into a toy store how obvious the differences in objects and presentation are.

Even the options given at a small, independent toy store I visited were paltry. While a few categories offered only ungendered choices (board and card games for instance, focused primarily on building language and mathematical skills, and had a distinct lack of fairies and princesses and monster trucks), more often then not, many toys were clearly made for girls’ use only.

In one part of the store, two shelves stood next to each other; on the left, supplies for playing house. On the right, erector sets and model cars. The toys on the right all encouraged play that involved making an object that could be used; they would provide opportunities to learn how to build things, and then the satisfaction that would come with making one’s own toys. The boxes were all blue and yellow, with bold, dynamic print; the only children shown on the packaging were boys. Not only that, but boys wearing glasses. These were toys that only smart, engineers-in-training were to play with.

Populated with fairy-covered tea sets and “tiered special occasion cakes” (which came with decorations, including a wedding cake topper), the house supplies on the left were clearly meant for girls. About half of the items were pink, even when they didn’t need to be. There was an emphasis on cooking and cleaning supplies, including a refrigerator that came with food to be organized. A kitchen sink play set that included a bottle of soap, a sponge, and dishes and utensils to be “cleaned.”

It’s always easier to blame whatever company is manufacturing gendered toys than to seek out a deeper, underlying cause. Even when I was studying the topic, I didn’t really think about it. Then school ended, and my academic pursuit slowed. My interest, however, has been recently piqued again by working in retail, of all things.

To be more specific, I work at a children’s clothing store.

While it doesn’t happen too too often, it’s always disheartening to hear comments from customers about what they will and won’t buy for their children. There are moms who won’t buy little moccasins for their baby girls just because they came from the “boy side” of the room.  Well-meaning aunts and uncles wonder if our non-gender specific clothes aren’t pink enough. I’ve had to smile apologetically many times this summer and explain that we don’t carry rash guards for girls, only for boys.

I still haven’t figured out how I can help make things better, but others are taking steps in the right direction. A Swedish toy catalog recently included pictures of a boy dressed as Spider Man pushing a pink stroller, and a girl in denim driving a race car. When asked about the catalog, the company’s CEO simply responded, “Gender roles are an outdated thing.”