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  • By Susan Welsh

Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Jodie: the feminist role models of my youth

Okay, maybe I don't run 5 miles a day (I walk 3) and maybe I don't do 100 push-ups daily--though the year I turned 50 did vow to do 50 pushups a day, adding one more each year. This goal lasted three days--my arms so sore I could barely lift my toothbrush or morning coffee cup.

"Too many donuts and not enough carrots. . ."

Everything I ever needed to know about being a girl, I learned from Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Lucy was smart, motivated and entrepreneurial, but let's face it, she WAS a bitch. She was mean, cold, and sarcastic--qualities that aren't attractive in any gender.

These were girls that dressed the way I dressed (and still do if you count the Birkenstocks). They liked to do the things I liked to do. . .and if ever there was a gender-fluid character in the 70's-- it was Peppermint Patty. Her voice was not decidedly "girlish", her clothes were decidedly athleisure long before that look was co-opted by upper-middle class suburbanites. Finally, there was a character who didn't identify as a "boy" but looked and acted like me! (minus the bad grades--in that respect I had the more scholarly tendencies and eyeglasses like Marcie)--and was going through ( as my 13 year old niece likes to say) my "bug-eyed glasses and headgear stage" of life.

Of course the year I turned nine, ABC debuted "Rookie of the Year", an ABC Afterschool Special starring Jodie Foster as an 11 year old who wants to play baseball on her brother's all male team. Another tomboy hero comes along. . .

I wanted nothing more than to chew bubble gum and wear a baseball uniform. We even formed an all-girls team in Stockton. It was short-lived because we could never all get it together enough to hold practices. I do remember our coach, Jay. He lived in the pretty yellow colonial in town and he was a year or two older than us. He seemed to be as invested in making the team a success as I was, but alas our vision of a small town team, ala The Bad News Bears never came to fruition.

Instead I ended up running on the cross country team and playing basketball--once running downcourt in the wrong direction scoring for the other team. I refused to play field hockey, much to my mother's chagrin, because I was afraid of getting hit in the face with the ball (not very Tomboyish of me). Then I turned to books and musicals and clove cigarettes and writing poetry. The "feminine" side emerging in a much different way. For a time I actually felt like a "gay man" trapped in a gay girl's body. That's the foolishness of gender identification. We're all different parts of this and that and labeling as one of anything or everything seems pointless to me, really.

Whatever. I was labeled a tomboy. And damn proud of it. Thank you Peppermint Patty, and Marcie and Jodie. I wouldn't be who I am today without your guiding spirits.

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