Loretta Lockhorn, Secret Feminist Hero
Not too long ago I wrote a surprisingly well-read Big Whoop piece on how joining a Facebook group devoted to the domestic misery-themed comic strip The Lockhorns reignited my love-hate relationship with the Bill and then Bunny Hoest written staple of the funny pages, which is currently in its fiftieth blockbuster year. Fiftieth year! As in, five decades. A half-century! Can you believe it?
In the article I depicted boozy, leering, rage-monster husband Leroy, who does some manner of office job where he has a secretary to leer at but no apparent power or respect and housewife Loretta as being equally dispiriting representations of the battle of the sexes, at least as it exists in the mind of someone whose conception of the universe is, for the most part, stuck forever in a moderately swinging cocktail party in 1964.
Leroy and Loretta are the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf of the funny pages, a perpetually squabbling pair of archaic gender stereotypes. She’s a shopaholic who loves to talk on the phone and spend time with her man-hating battle axe of a mother. He’s a boozer, ogles boobs and wants nothing more than to be left alone to binge-drink and watch the big game.
The Lockhorns is rooted in the smirking gender dynamics of an increasingly distant past where wives stayed at home and shopped no matter how modest their husband’s income and white men all wore suits to work, leered at their busty secretaries and dreamed of escaping their nagging wives and angry mother in laws.
I see things a little differently these days. The more I read The Lockhorns, something I am proud to say I do religiously, thanks to the aforementioned Facebook group, the more respect I have for Loretta as a secret feminist hero.
Life does not give Loretta much. Her husband’s default mood lurches between violent rage and tipsy verbal abuse. He is not a kind, loving or affectionate man. He showers his wife with insults and derision rather than gifts and compliments.
Loretta does not have the release and escape of a rewarding profession or even a part-time outside job, nor does she have the creative release of a hobby like painting or writing novels where cats solve mysteries.
Life has given Loretta crumbs yet in strip after strip she manages to steal happiness and joy from it anyway. And that is a supremely admirable quality to possess, one that goes a long way towards explaining why The Lockhorns remains surprisingly palatable despite its regressive gender stereotypes and overall mean-spiritedness.
Yes, Leroy is a lousy husband who openly lusts for younger, more buxom women, is clearly an angry alcoholic and treats his wife his visceral disdain but she gives as good as she gets. Leroy may be the breadwinner in the family and have more social capital, but they’re equals when it comes to verbal sparring. Loretta knows exactly what to say to get her husband to glare at her with a look of pure murderous rage that silently but powerfully illustrate the extent to which her wisecracks, comebacks and insults get under his thin skin.
As part of his campaign of casual and not so casual cruelty against his long-suffering wife, Leroy expresses very little interest in his wife sexually. He has obviously ceased to think of her as a sexual creature. But I’d like to think that Loretta is getting sexually satisfied having an affair with some fucc boi on the side or having a sexually and emotionally fulfilling same-sex fling with one of the many unnamed women she’s seen talking excitedly to, much to her glowering husband’s chagrin.
Now I am going to concede upfront that Loretta is far from perfect. It has been established, to an almost comic extreme, that she is not gifted in the culinary arts. Making an exquisite souffle does not appear to be in her skill set. Nor is she a particularly accomplished homemaker. Her driving record appears to contain an endless succession of accidents of various degrees of severity, many of which, confusingly, seem to leave her holding a smoldering steering wheel unattached to a car.
Yet despite this Loretta goes through life with her chin up and her wit strong and perpetually perched to strike in Leroy’s direction. She refuses to be defeated by her shitty life or horrible husband. If that isn’t enough to make her worth rooting for, I don’t know what is.
So here’s to you, Loretta Lockhorn. Keep on doing you and fuck what that Leroy asshole has to say.
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