Posted by: danzierlea | December 7, 2012

Nancy Who? (Possibly NSFW…)

Hi all. This isn’t a flash fiction post, but I’d appreciate a read-through and whatever thoughts you have anyway. It’s more off-the-cuff than usual and I’m trying to sort out what I’m saying as I write it, but you’ll get the idea. I get a little vehement at the end, so this is maybe NSFW a smidge.

One of the bloggers who I follow, Linda Adams (whose blog is here:http://garridon.wordpress.com/ ), wrote a post on another blog about Nancy Drew.

The idea is, there are strong female characters. There are… Oh heck, let’s go straight to the Steak Rating System. The apparently perfect female character, who has skills and charisma and charm and a good head on her shoulders and can throw a punch or shoot a villain in the middle of a big fight scene–that character is Rare. Rare steak rating, not hard to find, although it applies that way as well.

Nancy Drew is medium rare, steak rating. Her boyfriend apparently has to ride in and save her on occasion.

The wimpy girls who are there to be skirts, or who are mentioned in passing, are well-done steak ratings. You know the ones–Indiana Jones’ arm candy in IJ2, or Rosie the hobbit in LOTR, or any of several others I could mention but won’t because it’s beside the point. Well-done steak, just a shade away from burned-to-a-crisp and I’d-rather-eat-cardboard.

So, back to Nancy Drew, and what I can say about her.

I can say exactly Nothing. I read the Hardy Boys, and the Black Stallion, and a lot of other books when I was growing up. I knew the characters weren’t girls. I didn’t care, because holy cow, there’s a kidnapped Paraguayan diplomat and the only people who can save him are these kids who happened to be looking out the right window at the right time. But I read a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew crossover as a “I’ll try it and see” book, and not only was Nancy only marginally competent, Frank and Joe Hardy were marginally competent when they were around her! Now, as an adult, I know that the author probably had a “formula” mystery and stuck four teenage detectives on it instead of two. But from my ten year old viewpoint, it looked like Nancy made my favorite heroes stupid. She stole their lines (so many times!!!!!!), she found their clues, and for some reason they went out of their way to hang out with her when they canonically had girlfriends who NEVER helped (or, ok, rarely helped) them solve a mystery.

This is not a positive review for Ms. Drew. So I never read another book that had her in it.

The thing is, a lot of writers I know now are enthusiastic in their support of Nancy. Huzzah, a female protagonist who can do stuff, when all about her are saying it can’t be done! This is a genuinely good thing. There are just piles of female protagonists whose jobs are to be female rather than to be protagonists. There are piles of day-saving male characters whose only part in the story is to not be locked in the cage so they can let “her” out. And, there are a plethora of newer stories where she has a lockpick set and he’s in the cage with her… but his role is that of the TV screen. He can’t be a useful helpful character, because, dammit, the girl can do it all. But he’s gotta be there for some reason, so he’s usually just too stupid to figure out why she just stuck lockpicking tools into the wierd hole in the door they need to open, and she has to explain it. “Well, Bob, I’m picking the lock, because we might just want to not knock the door off its hinges.” “…durrr… okay, Sally.”  I am not amused.

I am, therefore, not in favor of Rare Steak female protagonists.

No. Wait for it. No mad rages yet, please.

I am in favor of…

the best damned steak dinner you ever had, with the perfect steak and the best shrimp and awesome mushrooms and baked potatoes with all the butter and gravy and sour cream and chives and bacon and black olives and all the various condiments and some broccoli because I’m wierd and I like broccoli, and enough that you eat until you’re full and there’s leftovers for later, which taste just as good the next day despite being nuked, and it’s cooked by your best friend who made it just for you as a birthday present, so it’s free and you know there’s no spit in it… and you get it every time you want it.

That. In a book.

Screw this Semi-Militant Feminism business. And screw the backlash. It’s not Girls Versus Guys out there. It’s People Versus Assholes. Assholes sit around waiting for someone to rescue them, or follow around someone in hope of one day rescuing them. (Yes, I will catch flak for this statement. I reserve the right to be wrong and learn better later. If I am wrong. Which isn’t necessarily true.)  Assholes don’t use their skills, or they use them to make someone else’s life worse in some way. Assholes put people into catagories and then force them to face off against each other when there’s a bigger issue that it would be wise for both groups to address, and with each other’s help. Assholes divide and conquer. Seeing that I’m an author, this is a big part of my job, and therefore, I’m an Asshole.

But I’m also a People. I don’t know judo and I can’t shoot a gun if it doesn’t have a scope and expect to hit the broad side of a barn, and I do have asthma and can’t run, and I’m scared of the dark. I’m a people. Characters should be people, too. And if the character has no gender but has asthma and a set of lockpicks and is surrounded by other genderless people who know judo and are scared of the dark, then I as the writer will–guaranteed–stick them in the dark, force them to run, give them standard-issue sidearms with only a few rounds of ammo, never let a locked door cross their path until absolutely necessary, give it a palm lock, and have it open onto a room full of black belts. And make the law of multiplication of ninjas invalid. (And if you don’t know that law, go read Dr. McNinja. It’s an internet comic. This post will be here when you get back probably.)

People solve their own problems. People team up with People to solve bigger problems. I do not give one hoot if the People have boobs or estrogen or periods or get distracted by pinup calendars.  I do care about whether kicking certain parts of their anatomy will incapacitate them and whether they have the height and muscle it takes to keep them from being able to use the ducts as a viable escape plan, because it’s a conflict area. But a kick to the knee will work on anyone. And, guaranteed, if they have periods and boobs, these will make trouble, just like extra muscle will. Just TRY running for your life with secondary dysmenorrhea.

Characters are people. They should damn well act like it. They should get tired. They should have bruises that last for nine days and hurt for twelve. They should hurt, and mess up, and make snappy rash decisions out of anger. They should love. They should make stupid choices and end up with problems that need fixing, and then they should fix those problems by becoming less stupid. Yes, sometimes they should get help. Nobody can do this life thing alone. But the helpers are People, too.

Yes, yes, I know, it’s fiction. Everything for a purpose, lest I lose the reader. Fine. Plot must advance! Fine! But dammit, I will NOT sacrifice the People I’ve made on the altar of Female Protagonist, Male Villain, Superhero, or any other label. Characters and their conflicts drive story, in the vehicle of their needs and wants, through the wasteland of everyone’s different. Plot can change.

I want to read about characters like me, too. Including characters who use a plural tense as a label for a singlular noun on occasion.

Now, feel free to rant at your leasure. 😉

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Responses

  1. Good rant! I totally approve. Hehe.

    You are so right that we should focus on people, not a certain gender/sexuality/skin-color. It doesn’t matter if they are “perfect” or a stereotype, they will be just as bad no matter if it is a boy or girl.

    If I wrote modern stories, I’d make a judo-black belt (do they have black belt?) and make him/her afraid of the dark! Hmmm…I could use something similar in my fantasy world I’m sure!

  2. Well written and true. And funnily enough, it’s the one thing the female main character of my current WIP has to learn throughout her story. I’d say like-minded people think alike, right? (BTW, I love broccoli too, preferably baked with cheese)

  3. Uh…hi!
    Nancy Drew is children’s literature and dates from the 1930s. It was written by…Carolyn Keene was an author the way Betty Crocker is a housewife. The originator of ND was, IIR, a man. No idea how many authors have written ND books, all using the Carolyn Keene name.

    For your generation, Nancy Drew is a shared universe.

    For my generation, Nancy Drew was someone to envy (what’s a roadster? no idea, and my parents will never be able to afford to buy me one, so that’s some research I can skip) but she was also a gateway drug to Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, who helped me step up to Nero Wolfe and the Continental Op and Maigret and Lord Peter Wimsey.

    Aside from the blue roadster, which I now know is an open sports car thingamie, I never took Nancy Drew as any kind of role model. Why should I?

    I had Mom, Mammaw (Texan for grandmother), aunts, Sunday school teachers, and older cousins to model possible roles for me.

    You haven’t been fair to Nancy Drew.

    I loved both Magnum, P.I. and Murder, She Wrote. Two of my all-time favorite characters played by two of my all-time favorite actors. But the cross-over, two-part episode that had both characters in it was dreadful. J.B. Fletcher looked a fool, and Magnum didn’t shine his prettiest, either.

    As for the Hardy Boys–I tried to read them, but could never get into them, so to speak.

    Personally, I outgrew “feminism” a long time ago, and reverted to being–and valuing in others–a take-no-prisoners brand of individualism. Not everybody appreciates it. Sorry about that.

    You seem to be crying out for characters to be themselves, and not to try to fit into some roles–whatever is trending today.

    I’m with you on that, 100%.

    • 😀
      You’re right–I haven’t been fair to her. But I haven’t really got up the guts to go read the books, either. I will have to do that.

  4. In other words, you advocate Real-People-Characters over Fit-a-Label-Characterizations. I don’t see a problem there!.

    Keep in mind though, that as society changes, what was once forward-thinking becomes laughably backward. For girls of a much earlier era Nancy Drew was perhaps inspiring. Nowadays we expect more (rightfully) but I do recall ND making me realize how useful it was for a person to be observant.


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