Monday, July 6, 2015

Peppermint Patty is Not Gay

Okay, this has been bothering me for some time now and I really need to get it off my chest.

Here goes...

Peppermint Patty is not gay. And neither is Marcie. This is one of those "pop culture" things that will not die and I'm so so so tired of it. As recently as last month, Entertainment Weekly had a little sidebar in their gay pride issue about TV characters who gays identify with and one of them was Peppermint Patty. I can understand why people would relate to her, but that doesn't make her gay. I relate to Ariel, but that doesn't make me a sixteen year old girl or a mermaid, nor does it make Ariel a man.

Peppermint Patty is a tomboy, and she definitely stands out from the other girls of the Peanuts universe. Sally, Lucy, Patty (the other one that no one remembers), Violet all wear dresses. Peppermint Patty doesn't. She's athletic. And in most animated specials, she's got kind of a husky voice. But to take all of these things at face value and label her lesbian because of them is to deny her her identity for one ascribed to her, and to rob her of her nuance.

She's being raised by her father without her mother. Her psychology makes perfect sense that she would associate herself with more masculine attributes, as she's very close to her dad. There's a series of strips where the school demands she adhere to a new dresscode and stop wearing sandals and shorts. She doesn't feel like herself. And yet, this is not to say there is nothing feminine about her. For there is also a series in which she takes up figure skating and signs up for a competition. These were worked into the animated special She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown. And in these, a decent amount of focus is put on the perfect skating outfit to wear. What she chooses is something feminine and skirted with sequins. To write her off as the butch baseball player is putting her in a box.

To ascribe a sexual attraction to girls to poor Peppermint Patty is to ignore the many many hints that she is attracted to Charlie Brown. It's a little bit tragic, since he's infatuated with the Little Red Haired Girl, and thus doesn't know what to do with her advances. But she certainly does make advances. How many times does she flirt with him with a "you kinda like me, dontcha Chuck?" She has only ever shown this sort of attraction to Charlie Brown. It's not as overt as Sally's crush on Linus, Lucy's attempts to woo Schroeder, or even Linus' brief infatuation with Miss Othmar, but it is absolutely there nonetheless.

June 13, 1972

Part of what seals the image of lesbian Peppermint Patty is her connection to Marcie. Indeed, some even suggest that it's Marcie who's gay. A recent Big Bang Theory agreed when Leonard, after it was suggested Peppermint Patty was gay said, "That's Marcie. Peppermint Patty's just athletic." Yes, Patty is just athletic, but neither does that prove Marcie is gay.

Why do people think Marcie is gay, or that the two are some sort of couple? Is it because they are always together? Linus and Charlie Brown are always together, and no one is suggesting they do unspeakable things beneath that blanket. Patty and Marcie hang out together all the time because they live on the other end of town (or in a neighboring town). Remember that Peppermint Patty's got her own baseball team separate from the rest of the gang. So she's going to spend more time with people closer to her.

I think some people assume that Marcie thinks Peppermint Patty is a boy, and that's why she calls her "Sir". Perhaps her poor vision plays into this, as Marcie wears glasses. But if that's the case, it would also be evidence against Marcie being gay, for even if she were attracted to Peppermint Patty it would be under the assumption she's male. But in reality, this reading is incorrect as well. Marcie is well aware Patty is a girl. The "sir" thing comes up as a sign of respect because when they first met, Peppermint Patty was a counselor at the girls' camp where they both were for the summer.

This is the first appearance of Marcie:

July 20, 1971

So obviously Marcie calls her "sir" not because she's mistaken for a boy, but because she's in a leadership role, and Marcie's kind of a dork. I think Schulz kept the "sir" thing because he liked running gags. It also makes Marcie seems subservient to Peppermint Patty even though she's often really the brains of the operation. It's a relationship dynamic that works well comedically. But if all we've got to go on for this lesbian relationship is that, it's a very weak foundation.

June 8, 1972

Peppermint Patty and Marcie are just best friends and to insinuate anything beyond that is to suggest something strange about same-sex friendship. Just because people are close does not mean they are more than friends. And just because one friend is more "masculine" doesn't mean they are more than friends. And again, no one has suggested anything about any of the male characters being gay. I could say "Schroeder is totally gay for Beethoven and that's why Lucy doesn't get anywhere with him", but that would be ascribing things based on very little evidence. In fact, there's even a couple strips where Marcie admits she loves Charlie Brown, too. 
July 22, 1979

But hey, why take a character's words at face value when we can read them as queer pioneers?

I don't deny that in some ways Peppermint Patty is an outlier, and I can understand why gay viewers would relate to her. However, to try to put her and Marcie into this box because you want her to be that way is unfair to both characters. And from a broader standpoint, it suggests that sexual orientation is easily identified by external factors and trains readers to think "Of course this person is gay because..." I fear this does a disservice to everyone, gay and straight alike. It's like Ernie and Bert. People love to joke about them being gay, as if it's absurd to have a best friend. They've got separate beds. Maybe they're roommates because they took the cheapest apartment they could find in a puppet-friendly neighborhood. Anyway, by saying, "Oh, those are the gay ones," we undermine existing relationships and perhaps even foster homophobia. Maybe some athletic girl like Peppermint Patty doesn't want to be mistaken for a lesbian, and so she stops associating with her best friend. 

I'm tired of the armchair psychology that wants to ascribe sexual orientation to comic strip characters where no real evidence exists. The fact that so many have come to think of Peppermint Patty and Marcie as the Peanuts lesbians is I think really kind of sad. And I wanted to set the record straight. Peppermint Patty is not gay. She's a complex, funny, lazy, athletic, masculine, feminine character. In short, she's a girl. And she doesn't need any other qualifier. Neither does Marcie.

July 21, 1979

No comments:

Post a Comment