We Are the Nancys: The Craft and Feminine Identity
The Craft hit theaters in 1996.
I was twelve and dying for breasts that would actually fill out the heavily padded push-up bra I bought from K-Mart with my squirreled away allowance money. I was quiet. Weird. The girl who never quite wore the right clothes or quite had the right hair cut and hopped on the bus in the poor part of town. The girl who stuck jeweled stickers next to her eyes hoping to look like a bootleg version of Gwen Stefani and had to sneak watch MTV because my mother said I wasn’t old enough.
I didn’t see the movie until a full year later. By then I’d managed to find a friend a lot like me. Angry. Starving for attention. Hormones bubbling dangerously not so beneath the surface. Fortunately, we had a lot of free time on our hands and distracted parents. Ashlee was the self-elected ringleader, and I bowed under her heavily kohl-lined stare.
Ashlee’s dad was the absolute height of seventh grade cool. He bought extra packs of Marlboro Lights and looked the other way when those extra packs mysteriously vanished. He didn’t blink when he barged through Ashlee’s ever-closed bedroom door and she screamed at him to “get the fuck out.”
And so we spent hours locked in her bedroom smoking her not so stolen cigarettes and sneaking plastic cups of red wine from a massive glass jug while we listened to Alanis Morissette and The Verve Pipe and Foxy Brown on her hand me down boom box. Ashlee taught me how to layer dark burgundy eye shadow on my eyelids and how to expertly fade it into mocha in the crease. She taught me how to line my waterline and how to line my lips with a dark lip pencil and then fill it in with an even darker brick red. She taught me how to wear a crop top without tugging it down and how to blow a stream of smoke and give the finger to the boys and grown men who’d whistle at us when we walked the two miles down to the Kroger parking lot to “hang out.”
“You have to see this fucking movie,” she said one Saturday night. My overnight bag was still slung over my shoulder, my mom still in the driveway, but Ashlee pulled me inside, her cigarette held just behind her back so my mom wouldn’t see.
That night, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and smoked and watched The Craft over and over until the sun came up.
Here, I thought. Here is a place where I fit.
We talked about ways to connect with the spirit world and bemoaned the fact that our backwoods, Bible-Belt hick of a town didn’t have an occult bookshop where we could shoplift spell books and candles and vicious looking daggers.
That next weekend we attempted a clumsy two person version of Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. Each of us mumbling the words under our breath and waiting for the inevitable moment when our latent powers would finally reveal themselves. We attempted to bind people from harming us; the barbed words so unique to teenage girls like something we could wrap in string and then bury.
We watched the movie until we could recite sections. “We are the weirdos, Mister,” became our mantra.
But I knew even then in all of my limited awareness of the world and my place in it that the subtext of that movie was the lesson I’d heard my entire life. The girls in The Craft are witches, outcasts, sure, but it’s Sarah who comes out of their experience with true power and is (largely) unharmed. Sarah who’s the quintessential “good girl” despite the natural witchy power passed down from her mother. Sarah spends the movie being the voice of caution when the other girls start to tip toward darker things.
Where the other girls use their powers to heal terrible physical scars, to take vengeance against blatant and terrible racism, to advance beyond abuse and poverty, Sarah uses her power to cast. a fucking. love spell. On Skeet Ulrich, no less, who was what the 90s called a heartthrob but whose stupid face made me want to commit murder.
Even then, at a tender thirteen, I hated Sarah. Sarah who could have actually done something important with her natural power instead choosing the path that every dumb bimbo has been choosing since the beginning of time, and I hated her for it. But Hollywood told me, told every girl like me who watched that film and found a bit of herself inside of it, that Sarah was the girl to emulate. Sarah was the girl to be like. Certainly not Nancy who is locked away at the conclusion of the movie, her wrists and feet bound as she’s sedated.
What The Craft told all of those girls was that even the bad girls had “good girl rules.” When that racist bitch’s hair fell out, Ashlee and I cheered. When Nancy’s abusive stepfather died of a heart attack, we toasted each other and lit another cigarette.
We knew who we were supposed to like, but we were the Nancys, and we shaped our confused identities around her rejection of the good girl mentality.
I think about the girl who watched that movie, think about how she learned some hard lessons that year, but I’m thankful for all of it. I’m thankful I’m a Nancy and not a Sarah.