On 3 May 2012, I was honored to be present at the awards ceremony for the first International Prize of Cartooning for Peace. Kofi Annan, Honorary President of Cartooning for Peace and Pierre Maudet, Mayor of the City of Geneva, Jean Plantu, cartoonist for Le Monde, and Patrick Chappatte, cartoonist for the International Herald Tribune presented the prize to four Iranian artists, representing a new generation of brave and talented artists. Their names are Firoozeh Mozafarri, Kianoush Ramenzani, Hassan Karimzadeh and Mana Neyewstani.
I was invited to be on the jury, and it was difficult to decide what cartoonist(s) should receive the prize. There are many artists around the world working to help speak to freedom of the press. But in the end we chose these four artists for the beauty and strength of their work and their bravery in speaking out in the face of difficulties. I also believe that Firoozeh Mozafarri is representative of a voice of women journalists/cartoonists around the globe. I believe it to be a voice very much in need of being heard
Meanwhile, from May 3 to June 3, 2012, the public can see drawings of the award-winning Iranian artists along Lake Geneva. The exhibition Drawings for Peace 2012 will also feature a hundred cartoons from cartoonists around the world on the themes of freedom of expression, the Arab spring and the situation of women today.
While in Geneva, I was invited to give a talk to an organization called “Giving Women,” a philanthropic group whose main concerns are to help women around the globe. I chose to speak about cartoonists who are women, and below is a transcript of my talk as well as a slide show of some of the women I know of who draw cartoons around the globe.
‘Over the past ten years, the subject of women who are cartoonists has sort of fascinated me. I wrote a few books about the subject, including a history of the women cartoonists at The New Yorker. I would like to share some of what I learned from my research, my observations and personal experience. One runs a risk when separating groups of people out of the general population, and I see this when I publish a book or curate an exhibit on women. But I believe that the risk of “ghettoizing women” is one worth taking if it gives us the opportunity to discuss women’s rights, freedom and why there are so few women in this field of cartooning. I believe that showcasing women’s ideas is good: it illustrates that we women are not all the same, and that we are talented and worth listening to.
The number of women professionally practicing the art of political cartooning is dismal. In the US, there are only two women drawing for newspapers, that I know of. At The New Yorker, the ratio is low as well: perhaps eight women out of more than 50 cartoonists are women. When I began publishing cartoons in the late 1970’s, there were very few women making a living at this, let alone drawing cartoons. I was aware of the disparity, but as a twenty-year-old, it didn’t bother me because I knew what I wanted to do– I was benefiting from the feminist movement of the time. And I believed that what is important is quality. I thought: since most of us sign our last names, how do the editors know our gender? How can there be discrimination? This was a somewhat naive attitude. But actually, somewhat true, as well. The work has to be good, but there is discrimination.
Around the world, there are great restrictions on women, we all know the difficulties women face in different countries. Many cultures still treat women as property, rape is a tactic of war. Women’s ability to move in their cultures are restricted and they are often told what they can and can’t be, what they should and shouldn’t do. On a political and cultural level to differing degrees, this is true of every country around the world. And it’s true for creative freedom as well. Writer Virgina Woolf famously wrote a hundred years ago that women need income and a room of their own in order to be truly creative. What she was referring to was a freedom from the roles we are required to play, freedom to think how we want, create how we want. Obviously or a majority of the world’s women, this is not possible. The deck is stacked against women in so many ways, that it takes a great support system and tremendous will to break free and truly express oneself.
But things are changing. Despite the religious right’s attempt to take us back to the 1950’s in the United States, women’s rights are understood and fought for. Around the world, many heads of state know now that in order to further the economic well-being of their countries, the dialogue must include the status of women. And while it might take a long time, it will continue to improve. Hillary Clinton famously challenged us in her speech at the United Nations conference on women in China in 2001, stating “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights, once and for all.” The rights of women affect us all: culturally, economically, humanistically, creatively.
So where does this leave cartoonists? What is the role of cartoonists who are women? Are they different? How many are there? Of course I do not claim to know all the cartoonists who are women, but I have curated a number of exhibits with women from around the world and have met some of them. In a list generated by FECO, I counted fifty-one women out of hundreds of men. I believe that women have not become political cartoonists in the past for a number of reasons: lack of role models, lack of freedom politically, culturally (women are not supposed to be funny), and economically. And most editors are male.
I believe that some cartoonists who are women offer a new perspective, one we perhaps have not heard before. Women do not all speak with one voice. In fact, we are all different and the feminist movement now speaks of the world as having “many femninisms,” that what is true for one woman in her culture is not necessarily true for another in her culture.
There is no one truth—women around the globe have different perspectives. Our obvious commonality is the fact that we have the same bodies; plus, to one degree or another, women live very close to their cultures. We usually are the caregivers and teachers in most countries, we are the ones who intimately understand the rules of the culture. We have to know the rules, in order to navigate them for survival. Consequently, as cartoonists we may bring a new way of looking at global politics. In our art, we may provide a way that is not about rulers and wars and diplomats; rather an approach to issues that comes from the ground. An approach that comes from the people and families within a given community. Of course I am generalizing. Both men and women cartoonists do this type of cartoon, although not as often as we should. But I do believe that there is a way to approach world issues in cartoons that, because women are under-represented in this field, is waiting to be heard.
Cartoonists who are women have not had the opportunity or freedom in the past to draw cartoons, but there is hope. The field is changing rapidly, as newspapers disappear and the Internet takes over. This may provide a place for more women to publish their work, although sadly there is little money in it right now. Social media is allowing women’s art to be seen even from places like Iran and China. What we need to be sure of, so that the numbers of women entering this field continues to increase, is that the standards for what is considered “good” include different perspectives and approaches. This is where the Internet may be helpful for new voices. If we can continue to remove the physical and cultural barriers that women face in becoming cartoonists, then this—a rigid definition of what cartoon commentary is—is the final barrier that I see for women who are and who want to become, cartoonists.’
Liza Donnelly, New Yorker Cartoonist USA