Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is This NY Daily News Cartoon Sexist?

The National Organization of Women has made a statement calling this editorial cartoon by staff cartoonist Bill Bramhall sexist. It depicts New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with really big mouth and a bunch of people (who I guess we assume are all men?) waiting in line to fill it with a number of items.

NOW-NYS President Marcia Pappas commented,

“It looks like the Daily News has a new target for their misogynistic garbage. So what is the message, “Sit down and shut up girls”?”

Cartoonist Bramhall said in his defense,

“The cartoon is about a politician with diarrhea of the mouth, not about her gender...”

And Tom Spurgeon added in his coverage of the story,

"No matter what the person's intentions are, that could be definitely be seen by a rational person as a cartoon motivated by paternalism and festooned with phallic symbols. At the very least such a result should be accepted as an unintended consequence hopefully not to be repeated, at which point barring a history of this kind of thing we can all move on."

So what do you think? Was the cartoon sexist? Or is sometimes a cork threatening to fill a big round hole just a cork threatening to fill a big round hole?


  1. I think that many times, things are as they appear to be.

    Too many political corretion and righteousness today...

    People is eagerly awaiting to get offended by anything...

  2. Anonymous6:06 PM

    I'm leaning towards non-sexist myself. The idea to me is that the subject has a big mouth; if an apron and rolling pin were being handed to her as well, then I might think differently.
    (Do people still have rolling pins, or are they a relic from episodes of I Love Lucy and the Honeymooners?)

  3. Nope. It lampoons a specific public figure.

    A better cartoon would show the Speaker, Gillibrand, and, off to the right, the Sergeant-At-Arms poised with a cocked (ahem) bow containing a toilet plunger, ALA Looney Tunes.

    This would reference the well-known Looney Tunes sight gag (a character's mug getting silenced with a toilet plunger) as well as reference what spews forth (so to speak) from Ms. Gillibrand's mouth.

  4. not sexist, the hands are ambiguous (can us ladies not wear suits too?)

  5. Anonymous6:33 PM


    So now it's sexist because it can be misinterpreted?

    Dear lord. Leave it to an Activist Group.

  6. Umm ...

    The sock in the dude's hand is what takes it over the line to me.

  7. I normally back up this sort of "context matters!" response to perceived sexism-- but in this case, it looks to me like good old fashions crummy cartooning.

  8. Meh, who cares? Editorial cartoons have very little recommend them either in terms of artistry or political insight. The medium is either incapable of framing a nuanced thought on a complex issue, or the current practitioners are too lazy and/or stupid to even try. Has anyone ever formed an opinion based on an editorial cartoon? Ever even enjoyed one non-ironically (and reading the "Cartoon Violence" column on Wonkette doesn't count).

    Asking if this cartoon is sexist is like asking if a grade school kid's "Yo momma" joke is sexist. It very well may be, but I ask again, who cares?

  9. Anonymous7:40 PM

    People that think corks are phallic symbols may actually want to look in Enzyte.

    Not sexist.

  10. Anonymous7:59 PM

    I think the cartoon is sexist. Looks like a symbolic gang rape to me. Before you all say I'm over-reacting: It's unlikely that the cartoonist is intending the violent, sexist imagery on a conscious level, but it's there.

    In interpreting this, you have to take into account the history of violence against women, the same way you would consider the history of racism when looking at a cartoon that depicts Obama as an ape. (Didn't something like that also appear in the Daily News, or was it the NY Post?)

    By the way, in case anyone cares, I'm male.

  11. Not sexist. Though I will agree the "sock" or whatever looks thoroughly phallic (and pretty generous too, if that's a normal sized hand holding it).

    I also agree to the symbolic gang-rape, though that doesn't make it necessarily sexist. At least, to me.

    Sexist is discriminating (in the sense of taking action based on a judgment, not in the sense of differentiating) based on gender. I see no sign in the cartoon that the junior senator's gender is an issue. Instead, it's a pack of wolves attacking their prey. It's a gang raping their victim. It's a mob descending on their target with torches and pitchforks. Or in this case, with corks and phallic socks.

  12. Not sexist. The joke is directed at a person, not a gender.

  13. Anonymous4:39 AM

    "In interpreting this, you have to take into account the history of violence against women, the same way you would consider the history of racism when looking at a cartoon that depicts Obama as an ape."

    That's because it was racist. It was proven that those were done with racist overtones (and what's really sad is the fact that the guy thought racism was OKAY).

    You can't use the word "interpretation" and then compare it to something that is not up for it.

  14. Anonymous5:45 AM

    Nope. I don't buy people looked at that comic and failed to understand the symbolism of 'put a cork in it', 'put a sock in it', or the hook to drag a bad act offstage. None of the symbols are gender specific. I believe that her supporters didn't like the message of the comic and have imagined a way to accuse the cartoonist of being socially degenerate.

    Bill Clinton claims that politics is a full contact sport, and that a person who wants to play in the venue needs to accept that opponents will attempt anything and everything. It doesn't mean that we should take this sort of cynical conflation as serious. It is not serious. It is an attempt to punish a detractor. Taking such an accusation seriously is like catering to a child throwing a tantrum; it just convinces the perpetrator that the technique works.

  15. The problem I have with NOW's reaction is that not only do I disagree with it, they provide fodder for all the "insidious political correctness" people.

    Like the dead monkey that was supposed to be Obama, this is an overreaction by a group sensitive to certain issues. NOW is sensitive to misogyny, so they perceive it where it does not exist sometimes. Actually, the dead monkey thing was worse because that was more white guilt than anything else.

    I agree that the best solution is for the author to state that he recognizes how there could be this unintended reading of his cartoon and promise to try and consider audience perceptions a little more in the future.

  16. "No matter what the person's intentions are, that could be definitely be seen by a rational person as a cartoon motivated by paternalism and festooned with phallic symbols."


    Corks, Socks and a Shepherds hook - Phalic?!

    Tom Spurgeon appears to be talking apologist nonsence. Marcia Pappas just sounds like a reactionary loon, quite frankly.

    JMY is spot on: misguided proclemations such as this do more harm for their cause than good, (though I couldn't possibly comment on the Obama cartoon one way or the other - I really don't know enough about it.)

    Also, by way of a further disqualifying statement: I'm English and have no Idea who ANY of these people are.

    Seriously though, it would take a MAJOR amount of personal context to turn this cartoon into something sexist.

  17. Chauncey5:27 PM

    There's two ways to interpret this.

    1: Covert Sexism.
    He's not showing any indication of there being a "man" doing anything sexist to a woman. But he didn't go out of his way "not" to show it.

    He did this intentionally. It's like asking a person, "why did you do it", without properly concluding if the action was done by the accused.

    It's a covert way of bypassing judgment; It's a covert way of being sexist.

    2: Accidental.
    He did it unintentionally. The fact that he didn't notice was his own way of being disrespectful.

    It's natural sexism. Rather than acting on one's intention to be sexist, he didn't have an intention to prevent himself from being sexist.

    Whether you believe it is or is not sexist, I think it's fair to say, it could be very easy to interpret that way.

    Personally, I don't think he did it intentionally. But that's still way too easy to misinterpret.

  18. Not sexist. Not being from New York, I have no idea who Gillibrand is, and there are minimal visual clues that she's a she -- long hair is about it. So it requires context to invoke the sexism, at which point you know enough about the situation that the cartoon becomes obviously tagetted at the individual's behavior.

    I'll grant "problematic" due to the honking big dildo in the lower-right, though.

  19. Anonymous6:36 PM

    "Corks, Socks and a Shepherds hook - Phalic?!"

    But you see, the hook represents every single male's violent instincts towards the opposite (oops I mean opposing sry) sex.

  20. I think all these groups and organizations (be they gender or race) like to look for "hidden subtext" in everything to justify their own existence.

  21. I don't know enough about Gillibrand to be able to comment on this. If this had been about Rep. Michelle Bachman, I would have considered it not only non-sexist but right on the money, because Bachman is a textbook example of verbal diarrhrea. (In fairness, I can name male members of Congress with the same problem.)

    And to the person who made the "symbolic gang-rape" comment: Not helping your case there.

  22. if the cartoonist were female, would there still have been an outcry?

  23. The message of the cartoon would be unchanged if Gillibrand were replaced with VP Joe Biden. Therefore it clearly is not sexist.

  24. Anonymous10:18 AM

    Hi - it's "National Organization FOR Women", not "National Organization OF Women" - a common error.