Like most long running serial works of fiction in the 20th Century, The Peanuts comic strips reflect the ever changing world in which they live. It is necessary in order for these changes to occur, otherwise a property can grow stale and forgotten. This was the case with the Archie Comics, which tried so hard to be relevant in the early years of the 21st century that they did some pretty ridiculous crossovers with properties like The Punisher, Predator, and Glee. While Peanuts may seem to have been stuck in the same time continuum as Archie in terms of technology , such as rotary phones and giant box TV”s with dials, Charlie Brown and the gang managed to successfully retain a place of relevance in pop culture that Archie lacked.
No one reflected this change in cultural views of women more than Peppermint Patty. The
one way they did this was with their characters. Schulz found early on that some characters just weren’t that interesting, and would slowly let them fade away as was the case with Violet, Patty, and Freida, three of the girls in Charlie Brown’s neighborhood. This made room for other more unique characters, such as Peppermint Patty.
Peppermint Patty was more able to address the society’s changing views on girls than any other character, as she first debuted in the strip in 1966, right at the height of the women’s liberation movement. As Jesse Fask notes in “Charles M. Schulz, the Feminist” for The Baltimore Chronicle,
“ The other girl who holds much power in Schultz’s cartoon world is Peppermint Patty, the “Peanuts” jock. Patty is good at every sport. She is assertive, loud, and aggressive. She allows Charlie Brown to play sports only because she seems to have a bit of a crush on him. But whenever Chuck gets too emotional, she blasts him with a barrage of insults. And Schultz’s most obvious gender reversal occurs when Peppermint Patty’s best friend Marcie, who is the smartest and best student of the group, calls Patty “Sir” every time she addresses her.”
Patty also as cued many of the fashion trends that accompanied the children who proceeded her. This isn’t a very noticeable thing with the boys like Charlie and Linus as they stayed consistent throughout the series run, with the only difference being since it is implied that they live in Minnesota, they wear shorts in the summer and long pants in the fall and winter. With the girls however it was a different story. As was the case in the real world, girls weren’t even allowed to wear pants to school well until the late 1960s early 70s and were otherwise expected to wear dresses. This was the case for Lucy and Sally who would go from wearing their classic puffy dresses in the 50’s to wearing shirts and pants by the time the strip ended.
Patty however was different. She had the audacity to wear shorts and sandals to school, even in the middle of winter which considering the fact that she lives in Minnesota is a brave feat indeed. In fact only when she’s skating do we ever see her set the sandals aside. In fact in the special It’s Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown, she is eager to play the part of Mary, using her footwear as a selling point, saying,
“I’m going to ask the teacher if I could be Mary in the Christmas play this year…I think I’ll be great in the part…She asked me yesterday…I like the part where the angel of Gabriel talks to me… I could probably wear these same sandals. “
These sandals also became part of a story arc involving school dress code that started on January 27th, 1970. In the strip, Patty is called down to the principal’s office. On her way down, she thinks that maybe the principal wants her to try out for the school ball team, and muses about how high the door knob is and how it is probably intentionally paced that way to make kids feel inferior to the staff. Then in the next day’s strip, she returns to class, and Franklin noticed that she’s crying. She denies his charge, saying it’s just one tear.
In the strip from January 29th, she calls Charlie Brown, saying,
“Hello, Chuck? I need your help…I need someone to talk to. Guess what happened…they won’t let me wear my sandals to school anymore..it’s against the dress code…what am I going to do? I need your advice…”
Charlie Brown says nothing, but just stammers on the phone. None the less, because of his ability to listen to other problems and because he very rarely ever tries to give any one any advice, she thanks him. Then in the strip form January 30th, she confides in Snoopy, and in that moment Schulz begins to reveal some of the more pointing aspects of her back-story. At first glance, she seems like your typical tomboy. However, as the story goes on, we find out she grows up in a single parent home, raised by a doting father. The only hint about her mother comes when she tells Marcie she doesn’t have one, leading to the obvious conclusion that her mother died. After all, if her parents were divorced, she wouldn’t say that’s he didn’t have a mother.
Thus, because she is her father’s only child, he is willing to do anything to make her happy. As she relates n the story of how she got her sandals,
“I saw a pair of sandals in a store one day, and asked my dad if I could have them, he said, ‘You most certainly may have them because you are a rare gem!’ Now, they say I can’t wear them to school anymore because of the dress code…what am I going to do? I love my sandals…snif!”
A few days later in a strip from February 2nd, 1970, she is sitting in school wearing her new shoes, and even shows them to Franklin. She tells him that she learned she can’t’ fight the rule and has to comply with the policy, as hard as it is. She even admits that they are very nice shoes , despite missing her sandals. Due to the emotional significance of the sandals, she can’t help but tear up again, leading Franklin to come to the conclusion, “All I know is any rule that makes a little girl cry has to be a bad rule!”
Apparently someone at the school agreed with Franklin as the shoes disappeared and Patty was back in sandals. In keeping with Schulz policy regarding political commentary, it was better not to drag an issue on least he become too preachy in a bad way. In this case, the hot button topic of school dress codes, while important, the satire about how hard they could be on kids and how they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t wear a favorite item of clothing, it was best just to leave it with a tearful Patty and Franklin telling the audience it was bad rule then go with a full on protest that offered no real world resolutions on how to if the problem when such policies would still exist by the arc’s end.
This would not be the last time Peppermint Patty would be met with a dress code policy. In an arc that began on January 5th 1972, Peppermint Patty told Franklin that she just heard that the school was enacting a new dress code policy. This time, she was informed on no uncertain terms that if she didn’t comply she would be kicked out of school. Franklin admitted that sadly, as kids, there wasn’t much that they could do. The net day, she arrived at school abiding by the new policy, but it still didn’t’ squash her unique personality. When the first kid at school laughed at her, she promptly pounded him.
The whole thing caused her a great deal of anxiety. In a strip from January 10, 1972, readers saw Patty sitting up in bed, unable to sleep because of the policy. As she says to herself,
“It’s seven o’clock, and it’s Monday Morning and I’ doomed!…I can’t go to school wearing a dress…I just can’t! What am I going to do? Why do they have to have a dress code? If you wake up, but don’t open your eyes will the day go away?”
The next day, she decided to “stick it to the man” and disobey authority by wearing what she wanted to wear. This lead to her getting sent to the principal’s office. This time, she was prepared for a fight, and called in her attorney: Snoopy. It was perhaps because of the fact her lawyer was in fact, a dog, that they did not win their case. Naturally as with all comics, status quo rules the day and Patty was soon back in her shorts and sandals, without much fuss.
Apart from her unique style of fashion, unlike the other girls who had little to no interest in sports, Peppermint Patty actually was a good athlete. When girls like Lucy and Sally first debuted they were typically playing jacks and jump rope, the kinds of games most associated with girls. Further, while Lucy may have been on Charlie Brown’s team she was one of the worst players on the team. She would often miss each catches because of silly things like her love for Schroeder being new, or the sun being in her eyes. Sally had no interest what so ever.
Despite her lack of ability, the fact Lucy, along with Violet and Frieda, were on Charlie Brown’s team was something very counter cultural in the 1950s. By the time Peppermint Patty joined the strip, it wasn’t a controversial decision, as much as just part of the natural progression of the ground work Schulz had already began. As Justine Siegal, the first woman coach in Major League Baseball noted in an interview with Sports Illustrated,
“There’s not arrows pointing—see, there’s a feminist!…Charlie Brown never thought twice about having a girl on his baseball team. A lot of it just seemed normal, at least to me. That was my life, being a girl on a baseball team, playing with the neighborhood kids. Looking back on it, Peppermint Patty was before her time for sure
In contrast, Patty was actually the captain of her own baseball team, frequently challenging her cross town rivals, which happened to be Charlie and the gang, and vowing to crush them at every turn. IN her first appearance, she had called up Charlie to offer to help his team. In the strip from August 24, 1966, Roy, a mutual friend of theirs told her about how all Charlie talked about was how awful his team was. That was when Patty got an idea,
“I love baseball! Get on the phone, quick! Tell him your friend, “Peppermint” Patty has volunteered to help! I really love baseball! I’ll take over this kid’s team and show him how to win!!”
So, she called him up and told him of her grand plan to help make his team better .Charlie barley got a word in edgewise as he was to bewildered by talking to this strange girl who insisted on calling him “Chuck”. In fact Not only is she the only person who calls Charlie “Chuck” but calls Lucy “Lucille”. In fact Lucy was just as bewildered as Charlie by this strange girl. Patty’s natural competitive edge would not allow her to be with them. Between Schroder whistling Beethoven, Lucy’s ineptitude in Left Field, and Charlie having the athletic ability of an amoeba, it’s clear to her that no amount of practice can make this sorry, but lovable bunch of losers into a winning team. She even admits that Snoopy is the only good player they got.
Thus, Patty says at the end of her first game on Charlie’s team,
“This is ridiculous! I’ve hit five home runs and pitched a no-hit game, and we’re behind thirty seven to five! Whoever heard of thirty seven unearned runs? This is ridiculous! I thought I could help your team, Chuck, but it’s hopeless! I’m going back where I came from!”
Considering his team would rather engage in heated discussions about theology, philosophy, art, literature, music, and morality, one can hardly blame her. Charlie and the gang aren’t a baseball team, they’re an enlightenment salon. Further, she also refuses to accept easy wins against his team. If she defeats him, it has to be as far and square as possible. This is best seen when Linus and Lucy temporarily move in the special Is This Good-Bye, Charlie Brown. Charlie shares with her a postcard he got from Linus and mentions how much he misses his best friend. Peppermint Patty, who is not always known for her ability to listen to others, tells Charlie Brown,
“I was gonna challenge your team to a game…but I guess it would be too cruel. Beating you ordinarily is pretty easy, Chuck…but with Lucy and Linus gone…it would be a massacre, Chuck…Now, look here. Don’t say another word, Chuck. I know you’re embarrassed for your team, but its okay. I won’t challenge you. I’ll stick to playing in my league. At least they put up a struggle sometimes.”
This is something that made Peanuts so unique .Typically in comic strips and TV the male was always the better athlete while the girl was lackluster. While Peppermint Patty excelled at sports, in contrast Charlie Brown couldn’t pitch his way out of a wet paper back or kick a football. Charlie may have been determined to stay out in the rain and play a game, but even Patty will go inside during inclement weather. Patty will do whatever she can to win, even trading her best friend Marcie, while Charlie would only briefly considered trading Snoopy for five good players, and nearly severed his friendship with Linus over the deal but changed his mind as not as he knew his dog and his best friend was more important than winning. On top of that, no one wanted to play for his lousy team. The only exception came when the two agreed to trade Lucy for Marcie.
Sports were Peppermint Patty’s one passion in life. This was something that made her such a positive role model for young girls as they could see that yes, girls could be athletic too. As Stanley Kay noted in, “How Peanuts’ Peppermint Patty became a fierce advocate for female athletes” for Sports Illustrated,
“Peppermint Patty was a huge sports fan—she once replied to a teacher’s question about the four seasons by listing “baseball, football, basketball and hockey”—and an even more committed athlete. Introduced by Schulz in 1966, she was quickly established as the best athlete in the strip, boy or girl (or dog). She managed a baseball team only a few years after girls in America gained the right to play Little League…For 50 years, Peppermint Patty has been a cultural icon for women and girls trying to find their place in a sports world dominated by men. She’s fictional, of course, but she speaks about the reality of sexism in sports with fervor and eloquence. In popular culture, no other character has been so vocal about gender inequality on the field. “
In fact, Peppermint Patty was not only skilled at baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, but other sports including track, and tennis. This streak also made gave her more of a drive to champion for woman’s equality in sports. She went so far as to recruit Marcie, Lucy and Patty to her cause, even physically knocking over Charlie and Linus if they slightly disagreed. About the only remotely feminine sport she’s interested in is ice skating, as was seen in the special She’s a Great Skate, Charlie Brown. While figure skating is certainly a more “dainty” sport, it is one that requires grace, skill and precision to perform all the moves right, and Patty is just as competitive figure skater as anything else.
It also marks the rare time we see her get nervous as everything in her routine needs to be perfect. For once, she is in a sport where things are more beyond her control. Since judges base their criteria not only on ability but appearance and timing to the music, she needs the perfect outfit, perfect hair and her music in order to get the perfect score. Snoopy even joins in the fun and acts as her costume designer and her angry Russian coach that was common in the figure skating competitions in throughout the 60s and well into the 80s.
While Patty may have excelled in sports, one area where she was severely the one area where she was lacking was in academics. Due to her home life, she was often up late, and thus would fall asleep in class. When it came to book reports, she shared Charlie Brown’s tendency to put them off to the last possible second, as was seen in a series of strips that was later adapted into a vignette in It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, were she has to read A Tale of Two Cities for school and keeps finding excuses to not do it, including a grandfather who told her that her head would fall off if she read to many books. At another point, she used a Snowman as an excuse, telling her friend, Marcie,
“It’s too nice a day to stay inside and read, Marcie. Besides, I have to build this snowman. If I don’t do it, no one else will, and he won’t exist. I am his creator, and it is my duty to give him life! This snowman has a right to live, Marcie.”
She even tried to find an easy way out by watching a film version, but it only made the problem rose, as she told Marcie,
“ I’m not going to have to read a book, Marcie. See? A Tale of Two Cities was just on TV. I watched the movie, so now I won’t have to read the book. The only thing I didn’t understand were the parts about the shampoo, the soap, and the coffee.”
Thus her attempts at reports are usually meant with sarcastic jabs from not only Franklin and their friend Marcie, but from their own teacher. While some would consider it harsh and stifling to a child’s creativity for a teacher to displays sarcasm for any reason, no educator would be faulted for giving a such a response when a student, such as Peppermint Patty age a book report like she did in one strip,
“This is my report on ‘The Brothers Karamazov; oh which there were three…it reminded me of a similar story, ‘The Three Little Kittens’ because there were three of them also… really, ma’am? I’m surmised the similarity never occurred to you…”
Thus, her lack of academic achievement was part for the reason why in The Peanuts Movie, the big surprise was that she had been the one to sore the highest on the standardized test by simply filling out a smiley face pattern. This provides the film not only with its comedy, but its classic Schulz satire. Whether or not she is secretly intelligent isn’t certain, but what does matter is that school and reading just don’t hold her attention, which furthers her trend in depicting a none stereotypical girl. Prior to her, girls were expected to enjoy arts and reading and Patty had no interest in any of that. If she could run and play, that was all she wanted, especially if she could beat Charlie Brown in a game.
Despite her competition against him, Peppermint Patty harbored not so secret feelings for Charlie, even though she would try to deny it. This aspect of their relationship first came to light in a strip from March 8, 1971. The two of them were sitting under a tree, and Peppermint Patty told him that her dad called her a “rare gem”. Charlie admitted that he agreed with him, which led Patty to suggest that he kind of liked her and admitted that she liked that he didn’t come right out and say it and she respected him for that fact. Charlie muttered something about how all he needed was respect and when she asked him to repeat that all he could respond with is that she was a rare gem, starting the cycle over again.
The net two strips saw them talking on the pitcher’s mound and then planning their baseball schedules, and both encounters ended with her suggesting that he kind of liked her, and even found a way to get him to touch her hand. In a strip from March 11, 1971, she went to talk to Lucy about her predicaments saying,
“I have a problem, Lucille…I think Chuck Likes me. Why do things like this happen? Chuck’s a nice guy, and all that but golly…I mean how could I ever flip over someone like Chuck. I could strike him out in three straight pitches!”
Patty agonized over her feelings for him, unable to sleep. Finally , under the advice of Linus, she wrote him a letter telling Charlie how she felt, hoping to let him down gently. However when Charlie got it, much to Patty’s dismay, his first thought was that it came from the Little Red Haired Girl. That was when she yelled at Charlie, telling him the letter was from her and, that much to Charlie surprise, it’s Patty he likes.
The arc ended with a strip from March 19, 1971, that saw her venting to Lucy as Charlie walks by,
“That stupid Chuck! He’s too stupid to even know who he likes! Can you imagine? His heart was breaking, and he didn’t even know it!! By golly, if I ever hit a deep drive to center field and I round first base, and I round second base, and I round third base and I go tearing into home like a runaway freight, he’d better not be in my way.”
Despite her anger, she liked to find ways to spend time with him, usually best seen in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Much to Charlie’s frustration she invites herself, Marcie and Franklin over to Charlie’s for Thanksgiving dinner and chews Charlie out for how lousy the meal is. Charlie leaves, feeling depressed because he left every one down, but thankfully unlike Lucy, who would let Charlie stew, when Marcie calls Patty out for her behavior, Patty actually goes into apologize to Charlie. Later in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown, she goes to great lengths to invite Charlie to the New Year’s festivities, even sneaking out after him when he tried to find space to study.
Often times he would frustrate her with his pinning for the Little Red-haired Girl, usually ending in her saying “So long forever, Chuck”. Yet, with Patty, that “forever” lasted only a few minutes as deep down she really did like Charlie. In fact it was in her feelings for that we began to see some of Patty’s softer side. This especially became true when she actually saw Charlie’s crush, the Little Red Haired girl. Seeing the one that Charlie loved while ignoring her, Patty confided in Linus,
“I stood in front of that little red-haired girl and I saw how pretty she was…suddenly I realized why Chuck always loved her, and I realized that no one could ever love me that way…I started to cry, and I couldn’t stop…I made a fool out of myself, but I didn’t care. I just looked at her and cried, and cried and cried…I have a big nose and my split ends have split ends , and I think I’ll always be funny looking. And I think I’m growing to cry again…”
This jealousy frequently leads to her having discussions with Charlie about her appearance, something she never thought she’d care about. However, unlike Linus or Schroder who will do anything to avoid Sally and Lucy and try and shut down their feelings, Charlie actually does care about Patty and at the very least in his own wishy-washy Charlie Browniest way, considers her one of his friends. This is best demonstrated in the simple fact that while he may pine over the Little Red-Haired girl endlessly, he is often seen talking with Peppermint Patty underneath the shade of a tree about life, love, the universe and everything. He was even willing to give her one of the rocks he got after another disappointing night of trick-or-treating when she wasted her evening waiting with Linus for the Great Pumpkin.
Further, unlike other girls who wouldn’t send him anything for special occasions, or if they did it was usually late and out of pity, Patty actually sent him notes and cards, though sometimes there was no follow-through. As was seen in a strip from December 2, 1968 when she called him up saying,
“Hello, Chuck? This is Peppermint Patty…I’m making out my Christmas card list, Chuck, and I wanted o know your address so I could surprise you with a card…but now the surprise is gone isn’t it? I Well, I’ll just send your card to someone else so I guess I won’t need your address..forget I called, Chuck.”
In many ways, Patty was not only an excellent reflection on the changing views of women in society, but with her love of sports, natural athleticism, and her bash attitude, she was sure to through Charlie for a loop and become a perfect counterpart to his wishy-washy uncertainty. More importantly, unlike other girls in his life, she is one of the two who actually does like him, and will do what she can to make amends with him. This is best scene in a strip dated, that culminated a brief arc in which Patty and Marcie came to play a game of “Ha, Ha, Herman” with Charlie and Snoopy. Charlie overheard heard Patty saying to Marcie when her friend asked if she was in love with him that she thought he was dull and wishy-washy and that no one could love him and ended up leaving early with Snoopy faithfully walking beside him. After Charlie was so depressed he was bed-ridden she apologized to him, in her own rough around the edges kind of way, in a strip from October of 1971,
“So, you see, Chuck, I apologize for saying that you’re stupid and wishy-washy and everything. It’s not easy for a girl to talk like this to a boy, you know…”
Fask,Jesse “A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz, the Feminist” The Baltimore Chronicle. March 1, 2000. Archived. Last Accessed, March 18, 2017.
Kay, Stanley “How Peanuts’ Peppermint Patty became a fierce advocate for female atheletes.” Sports Illustrated. August 19, 2016. Archived. Last Accessed March 18, 2016.
TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill and Phil Roman. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Starring Todd Barbee, Stephen Shea, Hilary Momberger, Robin Kohn, Christopher DeFaria, Jimmy Ahrens, Robin Reed, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.)Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate. 1973
TV SHOW: James, Sam and Bill Melendez (Dir.) Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. Starring Chad Allen, Kristie Baker, Melissa Guzzi, Aron Mandelbaum, Jeremy Miller, Jason Mendelson, Elizabeth Lyn Fraser, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer). Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate. 1986.
TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill (Dir.) It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. Starring Jamie E. Smith, Mindy Ann Martin, John Christian Graas, Marnette Patterson, Jodie Sweetin, Phillip Lucier, Lindsay Bennish, Sean Mendelson, Deanna Tello, Matthew Slowik, Brittany M. Thornton, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (writer.) Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Bill Melendez Productions, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates / United Media Productions. 1992.
TV SPECIAL: Roman, Phil ( Dir.) She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown. Starring Arrin Skelley, Patricia Patts, Casey Carlson, Debbie Muller, Tim Hall, Jason Victor Serins, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (writer). Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Bill Melendez Productions, and United Features Syndicate. 1980.
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