The Fear Girls

Category: Review

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.


Girls With Mopeds

By Sophia Rowland

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to The Egyptian movie theater in Hollywood. I was there to see the screening of “The Gaskettes” a 15-minute documentary about a group of girls who ride mopeds in Los Angeles. The moped culture in Los Angeles has definitely become a notable addition to the hipster scene in Echo Park. As a Los Angeles native, and a documentary connoisseur of sorts, I was very much intrigued.

The documentary itself does not attempt to really explain or historicize moped culture; rather it serves as a sort of time capsule. It preserves a moment in time with a particular group of moped loving ladies. The Gaskettes themselves are women in their early to late twenties who ride and fix bikes. They wear gold jackets with their Gaskettes emblem, reminiscent of the pink ladies in Grease. In the film we see the girls wear red lipstick, or even tutus (almost certainly paired with combat boots) all the while zooming on vintage bikes. The girls maintain a sort of ‘adorable badass vibe’ – and it is awesome! For 15 minutes you are initiated into the cult (or rather, secret club) of moped-sisterhood.

Before watching the documentary, I admittedly knew very little about mopeds, and I’m not sure if I’m that much wiser now that I’ve come out the other side. However, that is almost beside the point as the real charm to the film is the relationships these young women have with their bikes and also, each other.

The media loves to paint the portrait of the modern young women as vain, bitch and always ready for a cat fight; So it is refreshing to watch real girls just flat out enjoying each others company and having a shared interest that is pretty freakin’ cool. Each young woman interviewed comes off as very real and likable while they also maintain the cool, hipster LA vibe… in a non-pretentious way.

I also had an opportunity to interview two of the Gaskettes – Hilary and Devo. Check it out….

Interview with Hilary and Devo:

Sophia/Q: You’ve been riding and fixing mopeds for awhile now. In the film, you mentioned how sometimes you even help your guy-friends work on their bikes. When talking about it, Hilary said it was like ‘the reverse damsel in distress’. So with that in mind, do you feel that riding mopeds has been an empowering experience?

Hilary: I remember for the spring fling ride there was a fairly new rider who came out and his bike wasn’t running the best, so I pulled over to see if I could help him out; I always try to carry whatever tools I think I’ll need on me. Turns out his jetting was off I was able to diagnose the problem, give him the specific jet size he needed for his carb and set up, and help him install it with a few simple tools and kind words. In the end it was nice to realize that in the moped world I was on even ground with my male counterparts; we were with two of his male friends who were unable to help him.
As far as the gender-gap between guys and gals when it comes to mechanical stuff, there really isn’t any physical reason why one is more traditionally drawn to it than the other, just that a lot of young men because it is socially expected learn basic things about tools and mechanics that younger girl aren’t expected to, and so usually don’t. It is empowering; it’s just one of those many little things that makes you realize, yeah all the stuff we’ve been socially taught to think should be this or that way don’t need to be. He wasn’t offended or emasculated that I helped him, we were just two people with a similar interest in mopeds, and I happened to be a girl, which is awesome I think.

Devo: It’s funny I just stopped to help out these guys on a scooter the other day! They had one of those battery powered bikes, but the battery wasn’t making a connection, and didn’t have the tools to get to it. voila! I never leave home without tools. I’m not sure if empowering is quite the term I’d use? But every once in awhile, I’ll see another woman on a bike & in passing and we give each other that nod or one of those ‘air fives’ it kinda gives me a sense of community. I’m also usually going ‘Hell yeah lady rider!’

Sophia/Q: Where were you in your life, pre-moped, and how have you changed since?

Hilary: In a lot of ways my life is very similar to before I got my first moped in early march 2009, I live the same place, have the same job (although with a pay raise or two thankfully) and am still in school, although my major has changed… but what is important is that I have found a great new group of friends and a new way to have fun and explore my surroundings through mopeds. Before I got my moped, although I had lived in LA my whole life I barely knew my way out of my neighborhood. Now by moped I could lead you on all my favorite routes around the city to Glendale, eagle rock, Pasadena, Silverlake and Echo Park, downtown, Westchester and everywhere in between – all without a map.
And my world has expanded much farther beyond LA area as well. The moped community is very tight, likely because many of the bikes are vintage and to learn to repair or find a replacement for a part, you are going to need to turn to somebody who is also into the same thing; moped people are generally like minded.
So there are many events around the country where the local gang or crew plans a weekend of routes and parties; a “Rally”. It may sound weird but many of my favorite experiences in the past few years have been in Portland, Reno, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, Tucson, hanging out and riding with brand new friends right along side my old ones. Since many people attend multiple rallies in different cities each year you tend to form really close friendships with people cities or even states away. In the end this has made me far more extroverted, and confident in all kinds of aspects of my life from talking to a stranger about mechanical things, to navigating my very large city on side streets, to being social and outgoing in new situations or with new people. Which I think is what your 20s are for.

Devo: Pre moped I just got out of high school & was studying acting. Before, I just knew about mopeds through Hilary, and her brother Danny. I had no idea it was such a big community! Now, I’ve been riding for a couple years and have had the chance to go out to rallies and meet other mopeders from across the country. I guess the best sum of it is I’ve gained a lot of ridiculous moped lingo (‘Throw a kit on that shit!’), plenty of life experience points, engine grease under my nails, and a group of amazing people whom I couldn’t imagine life without now. I still am going out on auditions and castings, now I’m just doing it on a moped!

Sophia/Q: Has the group dynamics changed at all since the making of the documentary? It was refreshing to watch a film (albeit, a documentary) about a group of girls interacting together with little to no drama – was that a realistic depiction of how you guys are together? And/or do you agree that groups of girls, in fiction and real life, are often depicted as catty and drama-ridden? Does having a unifying love like mopeds bring together more focused individuals?

Devo: I feel so lucky to have been absorbed into this group of phenomenally badass ladies. Each one of them is talented, unique, and fierce in their own way. Sometimes it’s hard getting us all together in one room (we all have insane schedules!), but when we do get together it never feels like much time has passed at all between us. These girls have really become my family. In the past year or so since I became a Gaskette, we’ve all laughed together, shared sadness together, (not to mention a few shots of whiskey) and made awesome memories. I have always had more guy friends than girls, but I know that if I ever need to borrow a wrench or pour my woes out these girls got my back!

Hilary: The group has changed, we now have Zoey, who I think is in some of the footage but wasn’t a Gaskette at the time, but we also have lost a lot of girls. Kelly moved to Portland, and both Saras are in the Bay Area now. It’s weird to watch a film that was started so long ago, because its like a time capsule of a period in time that is different now.
The film also shows a slightly more glammed up, shiny, girly version of us… but I guess that comes from a bit of vanity and knowing you are going to be filmed.
I like that you mention how we are all getting along, because that is true, I love all those girls, and have depended on them for all kinds of things from a bit of girl chat over a glass of wine to serious cry fests over a breakup. Some of us are closer than others, and we don’t spend as much time together as I would like but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight or heard bickering or negative words from one of us to or about any others; it’s really refreshing because there is no competition or need to prove ourselves to each other.
My moped friends fast became my family. They are who I spend my birthday with, go camping with, who I have thanksgiving dinner with, who I take silly Christmas card photos with, and who I do all the small things in between those big moments with. We ring in the joys of New Year’s together and sit by the fire and contemplate the losses our family has had together. It’s a sense of family I don’t think I’ve ever had before.

If you are in the San Francisco area be sure to check out the next screening on November 16th / click ‘here’ for details.

What We’re Reading: The God of Small Things

By Taylor Majewski

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a microcosm of gender issues that examines the foundations of post-colonial Indian society. This debut novel by Arundhati Roy, published in 1997, is the recipient of the Booker Prize and the Sydney Peace prize, as it challenges the injustices women faced and continue to face in India. The novel tells the story of Ammu, a divorcee, single mother, and educated woman living in Kerala, India during a time that predated Western Colonialism, a time in which the “Love Laws” were practiced and abided by. The Love Laws determined who a person can love, and how, and how much. Simply put, a person can only love and marry another person from their same caste and religion, and insurgents would be ostracized or even killed by the community. The basic concept of the Love Laws in which the novel is centered around was foreign and shocking to me, and at times it makes the story graphic and difficult to read. However, Roy’s character Ammu is a powerful representation of a person secondarily ranked in society, who challenges power structures to improve positions for women.

Ammu is a member of the middle class bourgeoisie, mother to fraternal twins Estha and Rahel. She initially married a man from a different caste and religion, divorced him, and consequently was not welcomed back into her father’s home after violating the Love Laws. Her children were even considered illegitimate due to her infringement. As the novel progresses, Ammu falls in love with Velutha, a Dalit, or Untouchable, a member of the lowest class. Their relationship is an illegal cross-caste liaison of revolutionary significance within the novel and shapes the struggle that Ammu copes with in her rebellion.

India is similar to the United States regarding gender issues because even in a post-fairness culture, the fight for gender equality continues.  Ammu is a fictional pioneer who sought to alter the hierarchy of rights and power between men and women in her rejection of solely serving as a wife and mother to someone she was supposed to love under the law. She wasn’t satisfied with being subservient in her society and defiantly risked her life in the name of love and her children.

As a tragic love story with a distressing setting, this book is not for the light hearted. But Roy crafts beautiful relationships between Ammu, her children, her mother, and Velutha which all invigorate the compelling effect of her revolt. The novel shows special insight into a possibly unfamiliar culture and is a promised great read.

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?

Girls: Post-Sex and the City

 By Nusha Ashjaee

As I have stated before in one of my previous articles, I love TV.  I was raised by it and continue my relationship with it to this day. Spending more time searching for great new shows than with my actual friends or trying to find a boyfriend.

One show that I started following is HBO’s new and controversial series, Girls.  Created by Lena Dunham (director, writer and star of indie dramedy Tiny Furniture), the show follows four twenty-something girls living in New York City, attempting to attain the dream set up for them by Sex and the City.  The main character, Hannah (played by Dunham), is a struggling writer who, after two years of support from her parents, has been cut off and now has to deal with the very real struggle of finding a job and paying the bills in one of the most expensive cities in America.  Not to mention she also has to deal with an unaffectionate boyfriend, sexual harassment in the workplace, an STD, writing her book, and the general woes that come with going through a pre-life crisis.

One of the more noted aspects of the show is the incredibly uncomfortable sex scenes Dunham sets up for her characters.  Jessa hooks up with a stranger in a bathroom stall only to have the guy discover she is on her period.  Shoshanna, still a virgin, gets eaten out for the first time, the camera focusing on her tightly wound face.  The most awkward one by far is the opening scene in episode two, titled “Vagina Problems.”  Hannah is in bed with her boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver), humping away and role-playing.  Watching these two have sex is weird enough considering how uncoordinated Hannah is and the fact that Adam can’t keep their scenarios straight, and doesn’t seem to care about it either.  During their role-play, first they meet at a party, then out on the street, until Hannah is inexplicably an eleven-year-old junkie prostitute.

Again, the show gets a lot of comparisons to Sex and the City.  Like SatC, Girls centers around the friendship of its four female characters: Hannah, Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet).  They confide in each other, offer advice despite their lack of life expertise, share beds, showers, bathroom time, and offer general support no matter the circumstances.  Also like SatC, Girls has frank discussions about sex.

What was so radical about Sex and the City when it first aired was the fact that these women—independent and successful—were speaking so openly and, at times, graphically, about their sex lives.  The show made it okay for women to talk about sex without being chastised for it or for being referred to as “whorish” for admitting to enjoying sex.  It was the Golden Girls for the 90s/early 2000s where the women were stylish, powerful, and sexually in charge.

Obviously, my issues with Sex and the City are not so different from most critics of the show—the characters were too concerned with finding a man and fulfilled too many female stereotypes. But my main issue with it is more personal. Admittedly, having watched a handful of episodes growing up, the show did make me more comfortable discussing sex, but it also added the pressure of having to be good at it. The women of SatC are thin, beautiful, and sexually confident women who know how to please a man. I feel this does not reflect who I am.

At the risk of offering too much information, I am not good at sex. I shy away from men’s attention towards me.  I tense up at the slightest gesture towards any private area on my body.  I don’t know how to give a proper hand-job.  The first time I tried to give a blow-job, I kept accidentally biting the poor guy.  I am far from being any kind of sex goddess.

Back when I was with my boyfriend, he asked me once to pose nude for him for his illustration project.  The poster he was drawing called for a sexy female figure–poised and happy.  Though we had already slept together, I still wasn’t ready to stand confidently naked in front of him, and knowing that his classmates were going to see this too didn’t help.  Still, I agreed to do it out of my affection towards him, and with a compromise that I could keep on my jeans since they were form fitting, and that I could keep on my bra.  He sat on his bed sketching away while I stood in the middle of his room trying to suck in as much of my stomach as I could and angeling my thighs to give him their skinniest profile.  He tried to ease my discomfort, every now and then coming up from his sketchbook and telling me how beautiful and sexy I was, but all I could do was try to eye his paper to see how big he had made my waist.  Even afterwards when we made love, I could only believe that he was doing it out of pity because there was no way the girl standing before him, stiff and bloated, was a woman that was able to turn him on.

This is why watching the sex scenes on Girls are such a relief to me. As painful as it is to watch Dunham’s character attempt to text her boyfriend a gawky topless photo of herself, she is a character I can sympathize with.  Just like Hannah–and the majority of girls for that matter–I do have the desire to be desirable, but when I do end up in the bedroom, I feel myself coming up short.  As much as I attempt to be that sexually adventurous woman, in the end, I feel like a little girl trying to wear her mother’s shoes.  Every moan, every dirty word that comes out of my mouth is forced out, disappointing myself for being so disingenuous.  The best I can be is loving and affectionate, but not sexy.  Whether it is right or wrong for me to forge this aspect of myself, I am grateful that there is a show out there that communicates my experience so honestly that it is painful and embarrassing to watch.