See All Topics

Home / Section: Editorial cartooning

Why aren’t there more women cartoonists?

Alt-cartoonist Jen Sorensen asks and then answers why she believes there are so few women cartoonists.

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: 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, 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.

Community Comments

#1 Rachel Keslensky
August/11/2008
@ 4:07 pm

There seem to be plenty of women drawing comics online.

Maybe the media-at-large hasn’t tried to reach out to them yet?

#2 Rod McKie
August/11/2008
@ 4:41 pm

My own personal theory is that most male ‘political’ cartoonists sleep with the editor to get the job – it’s the only reason I can come up with for some of them being in the papers. So I suppose the obvious answer is that women have too much dignity to take that route, or that maybe they don’t, well, they don’t appeal to most editors.

#3 John Cole
August/11/2008
@ 4:54 pm

And then there’s that pesky upper-body strength requirement.

A pen gets *heavy* during eight hours of scribbling.

#4 Alex Hallatt
August/11/2008
@ 6:06 pm

King Features are incredibly supportive of women cartoonists (they have the Six Chix feature), but though that is the case, I have never thought that gender has anything to do with my cartooning. I actually like the fact that most people assume I’m a bloke and that my cartoons can be judged on their content and not on their creator.

Women tend to tell less jokes in social settings too. Perhaps they are less attention-seeking.

#5 Stacy Curtis
August/11/2008
@ 6:27 pm

” … and that my cartoons can be judged on their content and not on their creator.”

Me too, Alex. :-)

#6 Rod McKie
August/11/2008
@ 6:40 pm

There’s no shortage of women in general cartooning and in comic stripping and in mini-comics and online. I think Jen is talking here about political or editorial cartoonists in particular.

Trust you ladies to get the wrong end of the stick.

#7 Garey Mckee
August/11/2008
@ 8:40 pm

“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.”

How about Signe Wilkinson? Her editorial cartoons are great.

#8 Justin Bilicki
August/11/2008
@ 9:18 pm

There are also not as many women politicians. I think this is sad.

Maybe women are too smart to enter the fray of crap circulating around Washington. It could be that men love conflict and therefore love retaliating against and satirizing the same fray of crap that women are too smart to avoid.

#9 Alex Hallatt
August/12/2008
@ 12:34 am

I don’t think it is the wrong end of the stick when women do not make up 50% of the syndicated cartoonists. It is an interesting question to ask why, though I don’t think we can ever categorically answer it.

#10 Brian Fairrington
August/12/2008
@ 2:24 am

The problem with this question is that it makes the profession seem sexist, or in the case of minorities, racist. Of course the realities are quite the opposite. The profession is neither sexist or racist. We do not vote on who can become a cartoonist, the readers vote on the content or the product they create. This is determined largely by the free market.

When people read cartoons they generally have no clue on what sex or race the creator is. Nerdy white guys dominate the industry, but nerdy white guys do not run the industry because it is not a political party or private social club and there is nothing to legislate. It is a profession made up a singular individuals competing against one another for market share.

May the best man win…so to speak.

#11 Jamie Smith
August/12/2008
@ 3:00 am

Sexism, both institutional and personal.
Kinda hard to garner any sympathy for the drumbeat of despair over the loss of a genre if women only comprise 4%. An interesting perspective to take and, even taking into account other factors â?? worth looking at.
Brings to mind the first ever major exhibition of cartoons in an American museum of art (2006 â??Masters of American Comicsâ?) which had a grand total of zero women represented.
The Womenâ??s Cartoon Index (http://www.happychaos.com/wci/) lists only thirteen syndicated strips (vs around a couple hundred by men) along with some other related categories and links of note.
As was already commented on, that imbalanced ratio is reflected in politics in general, with the gap widening even more in professional journalism, of which it could be argued that editorial cartooning is a subset.
Stand-up comedy is another changing arena thatâ??s similarly interesting to look at.
One thing Iâ??ve noticed personally is the number of women taking a cartooning class I teach has averaged out to about a 50/50 ratio over the past four years, and women are the overwhelming majority at our local cartoon jams too.

#12 Alex Hallatt
August/12/2008
@ 4:34 am

I’ve never encountered sexism in my cartooning career, I just think less women wanted to be newspaper cartoonists. It is true that they appear to be better represented on the web. Perhaps because it lends itself better to the longer form cartoons which women often do (I am loving Kate Beaton’s work right now, but you couldn’t fit that in a standard newspaper strip format).

#13 Rick Stromoski
August/12/2008
@ 5:23 am

My favorite cartoonists in no particular order are Lynda Barry, Carol Lay, Allison Bechtel, Hilary Price, and for sheer beauty of her line work as well as her political perspective, Ann Telnaes.

There’s a vast male dominated conspiracy to keep women out of our cartooning club. The fewer numbers the better since it’s well documented that we like to belch, pass wind, drink beer, eat pork rinds and watch pornos together and generally women tend to frown on that sort of behavior.

#14 Wiley Miller
August/12/2008
@ 8:37 am

The way the question is posed suggests some sort of conspiracy and/or discrimination by newspapers and syndicates guarding the cartooning gates against women entering the profession, or making it more difficult for women. For those of you who choose to believe this, ask yourself this… how many female web cartoonists can you name? What is the ratio of females to males doing web cartoons?

On the web, there is no vetting process, so nothing to prevent women from doing cartoons here on the internet. Think about it.

I have given talks in the past, both when I was an editorial cartoonist and as a comic strip cartoonist. The audience is always comprised almost entirely of males. I’ve found the same to be true at the tri-annual Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University, where they go out of their way to have women cartoonists as speakers, yet the audiences throughout the weekend is at least 80-85% males.

We have more women in the profession today than ever, but is still disproportionate to white males. I hope that the trend will continue to grow as more young women see cartooning as a viable alternative. The same goes for minorities, male or female.

#15 Mike Lester
August/12/2008
@ 8:46 am

“I actually like the fact that most people assume Iâ??m a bloke and that my cartoons can be judged on their content and not on their creator.”

-Holy broadside to the affirmative action schpeel, CartoonPerson(s)!

I’m not for sure on this but, aren’t there more men in the workforce in general? I do know that right outside my window, the male birds on my Yankee Droll birdfeeder get their asses handed to them everyday.

Some of the best French food I’ve ever eaten was cooked by a Mexican chef proving, it doesn’t matter who you are: funny is funny.

#16 Bill Hinds
August/12/2008
@ 10:55 am

One of my favorite cartoonists, who I don’t hear about very often, is Claire Bretécher.

#17 Jen Sorensen
August/12/2008
@ 12:12 pm

I would urge people here to read the entire article before commenting, as it is obvious that I am not accusing the cartooning industry of some kind of conspiracy to keep women down. Many male cartoonists have been extremely supportive of my work.

Merely raising the question “Why are there so few female political cartoonists?” — one I’ve been asked many times myself, often by guys — hardly means I’m suggesting an organized cabal against women. I find the defensiveness of some people here intriguing.

In the piece, I point to several historical and cultural factors at work that have contributed to the skewed demographics of my chosen profession (and yes, I am aware of Signe Wilkinson and several other talented cartoonists mentioned). The patient reader will find that the article ends on a note of optimism.

And Rick, I’ll have you know I can belch with the best of ’em.

#18 JD Crowe
August/12/2008
@ 3:56 pm

I believe the tool sets required to be a cartoonist are equally distributed among the sexes at birth. As we develop, the one thing that the brothers lack and the sisters gather early on, and continue to store in abundance, is the one thing that keeps most from entering this locker room. Maturity. By the time talented women make career choices they have long outgrown such behavior. Doodling and bashing political pinatas is a little too boorish for ladies with decent breeding.

I’m thankful for the lady cartoonists who, regardless of their breeding, have refused to grow up and let us snot-nosed boys have all the fun. The one fiery female I’m most thankful for is Etta Hulme. She practically raised me from a pup when I hired on at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram back in the 80’s. She’s an angel in wolf’s clothing. Mean as a snake, sweet as pie.

Fist bumps and purple hermans to the good wimmen who never grew up.

#19 Rod McKie
August/12/2008
@ 6:14 pm

Alex, that was a joke.

Bill I think Claire has all but retired. She is however some kind of royal personage of the Arts thanks to the enlightened French attitude toward cartoonists; so she is still involved.

I think Jen’s question is very relevent, and I suspect that in the UK at least the problem lies in the history of art and the fact that women were dicouraged from attending art college not so very long ago because the life classes would have turned them into sex-crazed fiends.

Some newspapers in the UK have had only 3 or 4 editorial cartoonists in the last 200 years and over that period when women might have caught up, more and more papers have stopped using editoral cartoonists.

#20 Malc McGookin
August/12/2008
@ 7:16 pm

I think that the psychotic condition that prompts people to become cartoonists is less prevalent in women.

Being female is certainly no impediment at all, and I have no patience with women, or those pantywaist male fellow travellers who insist that it is.

#21 Stacy Curtis
August/12/2008
@ 10:27 pm

Why aren’t there more men synchronized swimmers?

#22 Rick Stromoski
August/13/2008
@ 4:55 am

Real men do synchronized diving.

#23 Rod McKie
August/13/2008
@ 8:39 am

That’s just a horrible image Stacy, a bunch of feet, knees, thighs, and then all their boys rising slowly and settling on the water…yeugh.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.