Link to a story Maddie’s probably heard before, and we definitely have!
One of my main problems with Donna’s ‘The Eliminator is a Girl!’ story is that Donna states she HAD to dress as a boy to play video games with the boys. This is regressive even within Batiuk’s own work. It’s the worst excuse for the reveal possible, because it’s either insulting to the world he had created or insulting to the intelligence of the characters.
The very first years of Funky Winkerbean are populated with many girl characters with traditionally ‘boy’ interests. And I’m not just talking about tone deaf jokes like Wanda playing fullback. Livina learns chess, enjoys watching golf, happily munches popcorn through violent movies, and is willing to wade through polluted mud to clean up the environment.
Junebug offers specific basketball advice, showing knowledge and interest in the game.
Vicki, who dated Funky for a few months, seems pleased at the prospect of watching performative car maintenance.
During the second and third summer breaks of the strip, Funky gets a job as a neighborhood playground supervisor. A job that also involves coaching the playground’s baseball team, which appears to be co-ed.
And his rival playground’s supervisor is someone I WISH Batiuk had spent more time on. She might just be one of my favorite characters of Act I so far.
Is this a shameless bit of virtue signaling? Yes.
But is Mary Ellen the joke? No.
Or, at least, the idea of a girl coaching baseball isn’t the joke.
The joke is, girl plays to win and GIRL PLAYS DIRTY!
Mary Ellen is AMAZING. Just bask in the glow of this.
Notice how, in all of these, Funky is treating her with respect as equals and coworkers. And never questions her obvious love of baseball, or even calls it unfeminine.
In a world where Mary Ellen exists and Funky doesn’t bat an eye, why would Donna need to disguise herself to play video games? Video games are even less gendered than sports, because in the world of ones and zeros physical limitations or advantages are nullified.
As a woman who is both a baseball fan AND a massive nerd, one of my major frustrations with Act III is Batiuk’s failure to build any of his females with the sort of fun obsessions that have flavored my entire life. Even Donna, from the moment she ripped off her biker helmet in 2002, has just been another bland woman, never allowed to geek out again. The closest we got was Holly’s Starbuck Jones comic book hunt, but she was only doing that for her son. It’s like he’s forgotten that girls are just as capable of salivating over ERA’s and MISB’s and CGC VF/NM’s as their male counterparts.
So. To Mary Ellen. Proof that Batiuk could do it right when he tried.
Proof that he could never sustain it.