The XX Factor

Boopsie: 40, Fabulous, Feminist

When she first appeared in Doonesbury as B.D.’s cheerleader girlfriend, Boopsie barely merited dialogue. “Whee! Tee-hee! Giggle! Hi, there!” she says as B.D. introduces her to Mike. Another panel of giggles, and B.D. beams with pride. “Really something, huh?” Mike’s response: “I”m speechless.”

But Boopsie did turn out to be really something. In her Doonesbury appreciation on Slate today,  Gail Collins celebrates former runaway housewife turned law-school grad and congressional staffer Joanie Caucus, but what Boopsie represents is the way all women, even those who might not identify as feminists, have changed over the last four decades. In the years after she joined the strip, Boopsie defied B.D. by going to work for McGovern. She surfed every definingly goofy moment for women of her era, as a starlet who only did nudity if the picture was in trouble, a Playgirl centerfold, a Jane Fonda acolyte, a new-age past-lives channeler. But she never let her loyalty to B.D. define her. When B.D. left for the war, she took over his football coaching job. When he returned, wounded, she faced the reality of bills and a household to run. “Why don’t you come out of retirement and star in a new movie?” her daughter asked. “Because I don’t really have any talent.” She’s practical, honest and tougher than she looks. Now she teaches a class at Walden (albeit “Starlet Studies 101”) and fights B.D.’s conservative politics (and her daughter’s Sarah Palin action doll) at every turn.

Forty years in, the beauty of Doonesbury has long been that its characters grow and change along with its readers. Baby Boomers have claimed the strip as their own, but as a solid Gen X-er just about the age of Doonesbury itself, I’d say that those of us who grew up with Doonesbury own a piece of it too. I learned my Vietnam and Watergate history hunched over the worn pages of my dad’s anthologies; I figured out that news and opinion come in many guises (hello, Daily Show ); I saw that Trudeau’s art was in giving every character, no matter how reviled, an edge that allowed the reader to see him or herself reflected on the page. Unlike Joanie Caucus, Boopsie never set out to be a feminist. She never talked the talk, but in her own way she’s always walked the walk. Without giving up one fluffy blonde hair, she’s become one of the strongest female characters you’ll find in any narrative. Boopsie as everywoman, mistakes and all.

I’ve no doubt that, if asked, Boopsie would be outraged at being called a “feminist,” in the manner of many women of our age. But sorry, Boopsie. As the  Feminist Rapper says, if you believe in social, political, and economic equality for women, you’re a feminist. You took over the football team, raised your kid solo, hauled your husband into PTSD counseling, supported your family and changed with the times. Boopsie: This is what a feminist looks like.

Example of a Doonesbury cartoon by Wikimedia Commons.