Female comedians often have to “prove” their talent and hilarity, in a way that male comedians rarely do. Women are usually expected to be less funny than men are, and those that break the mold are considered the exception.
The Society of Illustrators’ recent exhibit, “Funny Ladies”, makes the case that the same stereotypes have followed women cartoonists. The exhibit highlights nearly one hundred years of women’s contributions to the The New Yorker, often considered the holy grail of magazine cartoons.
For someone fairly unfamiliar with both the art and comedy worlds, the exhibit offered a fascinating look at a wide variety of humor and technique across these “funny ladies”. Many of the current New Yorker contributors were younger than I expected, but I also appreciated seeing artists represented who have been printing cartoons in the magazine for upwards of thirty years.
As an off-and-on reader of The New Yorker myself, it was also extremely thought-provoking to recognize some of my favorite cartoons from over the years, and recognize that when I picture the artists I admire, I tend to imagine white men. Women have been conditioned to internalize their own misogyny, so this did not surprise me, but it did challenge me. For example, I had not realized Roz Chast, one of the magazine’s most prolific cartoonists, was a woman until at least a couple years after I became familiar with her drawing style and sometimes existential sense of humor, and looked forward to seeing her pictures every few weeks.
Roz Chast, one of the cartoonists featured in the “Funny Ladies” exhibit. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Society of Illustrators is a small museum (its primary function is to provide a community for local artists), and the exhibit was small as well — not because there are not plenty of woman cartoonists as there are — but because there was not much space to work with. I left feeling like I wanted to see more, and I wished the exhibit had gone more into depth about why woman cartoonists have often been excluded from the narrative, and what efforts of inclusion The New Yorker might be pursuing going forward.
I was also disappointed to notice that because nearly all of the cartoonists’ bios included photos, I was able to guess that nearly all of the artists were white. Female cartoonists of color exist, and they are not being represented. The exhibit left me feeling uneasy about its failure to address this statistic, particularly because I will argue against white feminism until the sun comes up. Cartoonists of color are out there — and I am convinced that feminism is nonexistent unless it is intersectional.
It is encouraging to see women continue to be represented in the media, particularly for the unique combination of talents that cartoonists have. I look forward to seeing more, and to seeing more diverse representation in the future.
I suggest taking a look at the Women Who Draw directory if you are curious about active female cartoonists working today. I found this collection to be exceptionally more intersectional, highlighting women from an array of marginalized backgrounds.
Celine Aenlle-Rocha is a writer from Miami and Los Angeles, residing in Harlem, New York City. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia University. Her writing addresses the intersectionality of race, womanhood, and other identities, seeking to redefine our history and address the future with open minds. Follow her on Instagram.