My exploration into the world of female political/editorial cartoonists in my last post led to me an organization called Cartooning for Peace. There, I discovered a whole host of cartoonists from all over the world, each with a unique style for his or her art.

The biography page for the website consisted of a self-portrait of each of the cartoonists, as well as their name and the country in which they reside.

Scanning over the quirky self-portraits in search of female cartoonists, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the immense variety of styles represented in the drawings – the faces took shape by means of everything from thick brush strokes, to minimal pen lines, to caricatured curves, to sharp geometric angles.

I was pleased with the number of women represented in the organization and jotted down a list of names to explore further. Of the names I jotted down, the one I took the most interest in as I began to research was Liza Donnelly, an American cartoonist.

Liza is a cartoonist for The New Yorker, and while I have oft enjoyed the cartoons in that publication, I had never taken the time to learn more about the cartoonists themselves.

As it turns out, Liza’s cartoons are often published in Womens ENews (an excellent site, by the way, for staying informed about news from around the world that affects women). Furthermore, she has published several compilations of cartoons which depict dilemmas in the lives of modern women, such as Sex and Sensibility: Ten Women Examine the Lunacy of Modern Love.


Here, Liza speaks on “drawing on humor for change” in a brief presentation structured around discussion of a selection of her cartoons about women.

On her site, lizadonnelly.com and on her blog whendotheyservethewine.com, she posts cartoons and reflections every few days – pieces in response to news headlines, reflections from her meetings with other cartoonists. Recently, she traveled to the Middle East. Here’s an excerpt from her presentation there, quoted from her website:

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.

We need to see and read cartoons from everyone around the world: all races, religions, genders.   Many oppressed groups began using humor as a coping mechanism, and I know this to be true for women.  Their humor, shared only within the confines of the group,  was a way to deal with realities—but usually it was too risky to openly share with the majority.  This dynamic is slowly changing, and what we can see through humor, particularly of the oppressed, can tell us much.

So much in the world is so painful, and cartoonists can speak about this so poignantly.

Because they often reach us on a non-verbal level, cartoons can be quick, insightful and very powerful.  Humor –sometime with a message of hope—can help us see our shared humanity and understand one another. All of us cry and feel the pain of world events. But we all laugh, too.

I look forward to following her more closely as I continue this quest of inquiry on Femme Vitale. What I have learned from both Caitlin Moran and now Liza Donnelly is that humor is an often underestimated, but very important, agent of change, as important as both reason and character in the struggle for equality.

What role do you think humor plays in social change? What other women approach issues of inequality with a sense of humor? Is humor as effective or more effective than other means of social change, in your opinion?

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