I have loved 9 Chickweed Lane for years. Ever since it crept into the comics pages here in Seattle, I’ve been reading it avidly. But something is starting to bug me, and it took today’s (4-8-08) strip to really get across what it was:
For those of you who don’t follow the comic. The blonde, Edda, is one of the main characters. She is a ballet dancer with a metropolitan ballet company. Her boyfriend Amos is a cellist with the orchestra (presumably) that accompanies the ballet, and they have been friends since childhood. The dark haired woman is Isabel. She is a pianist, who specializes in accompanying solo-ists. She is also sexually predatory, and very in control of her sexuality.
Isabel was introduced when her male counterpart attempted to seduce Edda. Isabel, herself, has since attempted to seduce Amos, unsuccessfully I might add, partly due to Amos’ affection for Edda and partially out of Amos’ complete clueness. Since then, Isabel and Edda have settled into a feud, regardless of Isabel having given up on Amos. The two are frequently featured spitting epithets like “trollop” and “prude” at each other. This makes me uncomfortable.
Edda is portrayed as an ideal character. She’s smart, graceful, and sexy, yet pure. She has kissed Amos, but only that. Isabel is equally smart, graceful and sexy, yet because Isabel does not hold to the patriarchal notion of female sexuality (virgin/whore dichotomy) she is what passes for a villian in this strip. She’s predatory, a man-stealer, “easy,” everything your mother ever told you about bad girls. She’s also, in the rare moments when she is allowed to express something other than predatory seduction, lonely and bitter, jaded and cynical.
And what the hell makes Amos so desireable? You know me, I’ve got the mad love for the geek boys out there. But what is it about Amos that makes Isabel want him? He’s nothing like the other men in her life. Is she merely on a seek and destroy mission for innocence? Is it the fact that he is ostensibly taken by Edda that makes him attractive? Neither of these two possibilities is flattering for Isabel. And why would she keep beating her head against a wall trying to seduce him when it keeps not working?
It makes me sad that the author/artist of 9 Chickweed Lane feels the need to resort to these tired and outdated views of female sexuality for his storylines. I don’t want to not read the strip, but the slut-shaming attitudes inherent in the Isabel storylines really, really bother me. Why is it that the woman who does not fear her sexuality, but who instead embraces it and controls it, is the lonley, bitter, jaded, strumpet who is out to ruin other people’s relationships? It’s a tired cliche that just needs to go. Granted, in Mr. McEldowney’s defense, I will say that Isabel’s male counterpart, while he lasted, was depicted far more unflatteringly.
But why is this even necessary? Surely a writer of Mr. McEldowney’s caliber need not resort to so formulaic and outdated a storyline.
And this is while Edda’s mother, Professor Juliette Berber, is depicted as enjoying sex, and being in control of her own sexuality. However, you will note that Juliette has, it is implied, only been intimate with two men: Edda’s father, her ex-husband, and Elliot, whom she married in 2006 after a long, long courtship. So, it is all right for a woman to control her own sexual agency, so long as it is in the bounds of a monogamous relationship.
Edited to fix gender of comic creator.