Marie's Crafty Gender Deviation in Loud Era

Creator/s: Michelle Mau
Run: 9/09-current
Schedule: Totally random

When considering the characters of Loud Era, one who stands out as being particularly complex is Marie Thayer, whose unusual appearance and behavior separate her from the rest of the cast. Her refusal to assume a conventional role in the comic's main events, which are the play and the prom, places her in a subversive position on the boundary of the central narrative. Through her aptitude in projecting a false persona and manipulating others, Marie's able to deviate from heteronormative behavior while also fulfilling her need for social acceptance.

Central to Marie's deceitful presentation is Eddie, who serves as just enough of a fleeting romantic interest for her to avoid too much suspicion. While both Aggie and Cecilia assume Marie's interested in Eddie, she rebuts them as prom approaches, saying here, "I gave up on Eddie," and here, "I don't like him anymore." This strategy of dropping the relationship on a moment's notice allows Marie to maintain the illusion of heteronormativity without obligating her to actually change her behavior. And why Eddie? As the shyest and least appealing male in her social circle, displaying a preference for Eddie's the safest way to avoid conflict and jealousy amongst the other women. In loosely maintaining this fickle pseudo-relationship, Marie has the flexibility to acknowledge an interest in Eddie when convenient, while discarding it whenever it becomes a problem.

Another way that men affect Marie's social life is that they threaten to direct the women's attention away from her. Marie responds to this concern by discouraging both Aggie and Clarabelle from pursuing their relationships, and she clearly demonstrates an understanding of Clarabelle's availability when she says, "You are a beautiful girl, and thousands of men would love to date you." With Aggie, she rubs in her poor judgment of character and how Aggie won't be with her boyfriend on prom night, and she persuades Clarabelle not to bake a cake for her ex-boyfriend, saying "it's a terrible plan" and that Clarabelle "should move on." Marie's fears manifest in Chapter 3, where Aggie, Cecilia, and Clarabelle each have a prom date, leaving Marie to wait for them afterwards at her house. But as they decline Marie's party and go elsewhere, Maria's concerns appear as being justified, and the women are clearly more interested in their men than they are in Marie's situation. While the comic's women lament their relationship problems, these problems prolong Marie's social relevancy, giving her good reason to feel relieved by them.

The main reason Marie's able to be so socially flexible is, as she explains here, that she's a "natural born actor," and this has several meanings. For one, her gender situation forces her to emulate heteronormative behavior in order to avoid being ostracized, which means she's grown up performing a certain role and is accustomed to presenting a false version of herself. Another aspect of this acting's that Marie presents herself as goofy and oblivious, at one point noting her own "hopelessness," and this helps make Marie seem less deliberate and subversive than she actually is. She also emphasizes these negative characteristics as a distraction from her gender issues, so that it appears that her inability to fit in is merely a result of a silly, flighty personality. In doing so, she successfully projects an air of immaturity, which averts hostility towards her gender abnormalities through the implication that it's something she'll naturally grow out of as she comes into adulthood. Marie expresses a desire to "preserve one's dignity," and while her clownish personality isn't glamorous, she considers it to be a superior alternative to revealing the full extent of her social deviance.

When Marie shows up on stage during the play, it's treated as a clumsy accident; however, Marie has some motivation to cause a disturbance. She's consistently portrayed as being an attention seeker, yet she's at the bottom of the social ladder; she's the complete opposite of the ultra-feminine Pearl, who's the star of the play and adored by everyone at the school. It's understandable that Marie would be envious of Pearl's popularity and attractiveness, and appearing on stage serves several objectives: It sabotages Pearl's entrance, puts Marie in the only center-stage role she has available to her, and sticks up for Cecilia getting stuck with such a measly role. It also works as a protest against Mr. Butler's patriarchal authority and the social system in general; considered too feminine to be an usher like her father, but not feminine enough to act on stage, Marie's unusual gender prevents her from easily fitting into a conventional role, which prompts her to determine her role for herself. Marie's actions in this scenario demonstrate an effective form of subversion, while at the same time not being overly suspicious or abrasive.

Part of the necessity for Marie's manipulation is the overbearing pressure to conform that she's faced with. This is expressed in Clarabelle's situation with her parents, where she anticipates them having a severe overreaction to her getting her hair cut in a shorter, more "modern" manner. Marie's hair's much shorter than Clarabelle's, and while the comic doesn't convey a clear sense of Marie's family life, it can be assumed that her parents possess some of the conservative perspective Clarabelle's parents have, and would, to some extent, object to their daughter deviating from society's gender norms. Marie's younger brother criticizes her for not going to the prom, at least, saying it's because "no boys asked you," already at this early age ascribing an element of social inferiority to rejecting gender norms. Clearly, Loud Era's 1918 society considers having long hair and a date to the prom to be requirements for a young woman to fit in properly, and this presents an obstacle for Marie to overcome in order to maintain her social status amongst her family and peers.

Despite the offensive nature of Marie's behavior, her overwhelming stubbornness prevents her from making any changes to her appearance and personality in order to conform to society's expectations. As evidenced by her insistence on being involved in the play, she's fixated on having things go the way she wants them to. This is seen when Marie gets hostile when confronted by Aggie for looking "like a little man in a dress," resisting and discouraging any criticism her gender. She's also shown as being stubborn when her party doesn't go as planned; instead of adjusting to the news and going out with her friends anyways, Marie declines to attend an event she doesn't have control over. These instances help explain why Marie continually refuses to change her ways, even though her gender's an obvious detriment to her social acceptance.

As it would be socially unacceptable for Marie to be open about her gender deviance, it's justifiable that she would resort to disingenuity and manipulation in order to not be treated as an outcast. Gender is still a very sensitive subject today, and there's obviously an even stricter sense of gender definition in Loud Era's historical setting, which is set in a time when women still weren't allowed to vote. Clarabelle may view herself as "a modern lady" for trimming her hair, but Marie's certainly more modern by today's standards, which places her as a somewhat of a stranger to her own time.

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