Daryl Cagle Daryl Cagle, 9/9/2008 [Archive]

Why are there so few women who are political cartoonists?

I'm constantly being asked why there are

so few women that are editorial cartoonists. I don't have a good

answer for that. One of the few female cartoonists on our site,

altie cartoonist
TARGET="_blank">Jen Sorensen
, wrote an excellent column on

the topic for Campus

and has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.

ALIGN="RIGHT" BORDER="0">Wanted: Female Cartoonist

TARGET="_blank">Jen Sorensen

Why are there so few female political cartoonists? I've been

asked that question many times over the years. It's OK, I don't

mind. We're something of a rare breed. Exact statistics are difficult

to find-even the national group Association of American Editorial

Cartoonists can only estimate the national number of political

cartoonists, let alone break them down by gender, ethnicity,

or class. But to give you a rough idea, of the association's

185 current regular members, only 15 are women. I'm one of them.

My short (and admittedly Zen-like) explanation is that there

are so few female political cartoonists largely because there

are so few female political cartoonists. Drawing cartoons and

comics has traditionally been a guy thing-a somewhat nerdy guy

thing, but a guy thing nonetheless. Without role models who look

like you, or friends with similar interests, any activity becomes

less inviting. It might not even cross your mind as a possibility.

But when did political cartooning first become the province of

dudes? Patriot dude Ben Franklin is widely credited with the

first American political cartoon:
TARGET="_blank">The famous "Join or Die" drawing of

the chopped-up snake representing the 13 original colonies

In the 1870s, a dude named Thomas Nast became the first major

editorial page cartoonist, followed by 20th-century dudely doodlers

such as Bill Mauldin and Herbert "Herblock" Block.

In 1915,
TARGET="_blank">Edwina Dumm became the first American non-dude

to work full-time as an editorial cartoonist
, a remarkable

feat considering women didn't win the right to vote until 1920.

Given that women were deemed irrational, not expected to hold

intellectual jobs, and certainly not supposed to have political

opinions, the skewed demographics of the profession don't seem

all that mysterious.


A more contemporary problem comes in the form of profitable and

supposedly progressive web publications like The Huffington Post

that make it a policy not to pay for content. This business model

presumes contributors have other sources of income; paying in

"exposure" instead. If this setup becomes the industry

standard, those without ample resources, especially women and

minorities, will simply not be able to afford to survive as political


The challenges faced by female cartoonists parallel those of

female op-ed writers.
TARGET="_blank">Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus recently

that the dearth of female op-ed writers in newspapers

is largely due to the imposition of "our own glass ceiling"

as opposed to editors' sexism. Women need to show more chutzpah,

she argues. We must close the "cockiness gap" between

ourselves and the great hordes of brashly bloviating males.


Katha Pollitt has rightly noted
, however, there's an abundance

of highly qualified and willing female writers whose numbers

are not reflected on the commentary pages of major newspapers.

The op-ed pages of the Post feature two women and 23 men, despite

the fact that plenty of women write about politics and current


Clearly, forces beyond "our own glass ceilings" are

at work. In the case of political cartoonists, however, there

aren't quite so many women waiting in the wings.

This is not to cut Marcus any slack. Her argument fails to address

the often subtle ways in which gender inequality works. If there

is a cockiness gap, it might have something to do with ye olde

double standard that ambitious women are perceived as you-know-whats.

To be fair, Marcus does facetiously refer to "a certain

unbecoming arrogance" required of outspoken women, but she

paradoxically blames women for not displaying it.

Media coverage of cartoonists works the same way.
TARGET="_blank">The Columbia Journalism Review recently interviewed

political cartoonists and editors
about their opinion of

the controversial New Yorker cover; they spoke with nine men

and zero women.

So how did I buck the trend? It's hard to say. I do know I recognized

the unfairness of gender roles from a very early age, even though

nobody slipped a copy of The Feminine Mystique into my playpen.

My parents did indulge my tomboyish tendencies, though, buying

me reams of comics and copies of MAD Magazine. As teachers, they

also valued education and creativity, and were fully supportive

of my round-the-clock cartooning habit. There wasn't much else

to do where we lived; as far as I was concerned, drawing comics

was how I entertained myself.

While in college in the mid-1990s, I was invited to submit to

an all-female comic anthology called Action Girl. This was my

professional debut. Thanks in part to Action Girl, I was motivated

to publish my own comic book after graduating. The result: Slowpoke

Comix #1, a collection of short stories that were precursors

to my weekly strip. One marked the debut of my character Drooly

Julie, a randy femme with a penchant for stubbly metalheads.

It was only after the 2000 election that my work took a sharp

political turn, as did that of many other cartoonists. As I crossed

this threshold, I wasn't thinking much about breaking gender

barriers. I was just freaked out by the country's sudden takeover

by wackadoos.

Over the years, my work appeared in more and more places, often

alternative newsweeklies. These papers tended to be more progressive-minded

than mainstream media, and I never got the sense that I was going

up against a wall of chauvinism. I do get the sense, however,

that some progressive publications don't try as hard as they

could to diversify their mastheads.
TARGET="_blank">As Women In Media and News founder Jennifer Pozner

puts it, one of the biggest obstacles appears to be time

It can take longer and require more effort to look beyond the

familiar or entrenched stables of male cartoonists and editorial


Despite these occasional frustrations, the past decade suggests

that the situation is improving. If my favorite comic convention,

the Small Press Expo in Maryland, is any indication, there are

more women than ever on both sides of the exhibitor tables. To

invoke the flip side of my Zen koan: The more female cartoonists

there are, the more there will be.

TARGET="_blank">Jen Sorensen
draws Slowpoke Comics. She recently

TARGET="_blank">One Nation, Oh My God! It is great! Click here

to buy it. C'mon.

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