To the extent that there are jobs left in the political cartooning field, the majority still belong to men.

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Thirty years ago, when Susan Dewar began shopping around her editorial cartoons to Canadian publications, she suffered from one overriding disadvantage. While the Toronto Star deemed her “too liberal,” an editor at The Globe and Mail flat-out said: “we don’t want a female cartoonist.” The Toronto Sun initially published her work only on the condition that she use a pseudonym.

“The Sun wouldn’t print my cartoon if it had a woman’s name on it,” Dewar said, recalling how her first major cartoon would only be approved by editorial staff if Andy Donato submitted it with a different name. Once it was approved, Donato would switch it back to Dewar’s name for print. Most people who call to comment on her cartoons, however, still ask for a Mr. Dewar. It wasn’t until a few years later, in 1984, that Dewar secured a full time position at the Calgary Sun; the paper was desperate for a political cartoonist after losing their lead man. Back then, Dewar was the only female editorial cartoonist employed by a major news publication in Canada. Today, as national editorial cartoonist for the Sun chain of newspapers, Dewar remains the lone female in a lineup of household names such as the Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s Bruce Mackinnon or the Montreal Gazette’s Terry Mosher, who draws under the name “Aislin.”  

“It’s not that there (haven’t) been female cartoonists. We’ve always been here,” explains 

Dewar. Newsrooms eventually showed signs of opening up to women, with Lynn Johnston becoming well-known in Canada for her strip For Better or For Worse, and numerous women had won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons in the 1990s. But this came to a stop when the newspaper industry’s financial woes began. “We’ve just lost a lot of jobs, and that kind of put a stop to whatever advances we’ve made at this point,” said Dewar.   

To the extent that there are jobs left in the political cartooning field, they still belong to men. Indeed, there are fewer employed female political cartoonists than heavy equipment operators, a field where Statistics Canada says just three out of every 100 employees are female.

“Even now, I’d have to win a Pulitzer or something for some of the guys to take me seriously,” Dewar said. “For a female to be a political cartoonist, there needs to be a whole cultural shift.” 

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Dewar grew up in an era when Duncan Macpherson, Roy Peterson and Ed McNally were household names. National Newspaper Awards juries have repeatedly recognized them all for their artistry. Yet since 1949, no woman has ever won the NNA award in the political cartooning category.

Dewar, as the former president of Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists, managed to carve a path through the political cartooning landscape in newspapers. But other talented women, like freelance cartoonist Sheree Bradford-Lea, who has drawn for publications like Cahoots magazine and the Winchester Press, never even tried for a full-time position. “I realized pretty fast that I could not compete for the newspaper jobs,” she said. “And if you set up a situation where you say, ‘It’s men who do this well,’ you’ve pretty well cut out the competition.”

Bradford-Lea says women fill half of the seats in the cartooning classes she teaches at the Canterbury Community Centre in Ottawa. But even today, there are still women who sign with a male pseudonym. “As much as things have changed, we’re still invisible in many ways.” 

“There’s a sense of who does it, and who does it well,” Bradford-Lea said of cartooning. “Honestly they [editors] are thinking of readerships…if the public believes that women can’t get this right, editors won’t want to choose that cartoon.”  

The Invisible Class: Why there are so few female editorial cartoonists in Canada from Lindsay Fitzgerald on Vimeo.

The perception that political cartooning is something men do better was largely unspoken until 2006, when Vanity Fair published the article, “Why Women Aren’t Funny”  by late journalist Christopher Hitchens. As Hitchens wrote: “The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men….Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way.” 

The article, based on a Stanford University study on differences between what men and women find funny, was propagated as a kind of “truth” when comedian Adam Carolla moulded the material into a series of comedic performances on YouTube, sparking competitions for female comedians to “prove themselves” to be funny.  

Bradford-Lea, however, says the dearth of women editorial cartoonists has nothing to do with “funniness.”  

“We’ve always been the exception, not the rule, and that’s the problem.”

Research appears to back her up. In the late 1990s, The International Journal of Humor Research published a study investigating style differences between male and female cartoonists. The study found that female cartoonists used more “verbal elements” while males preferred more “nonsense jokes.” The authors suggested the lack of female cartoonists could be because, “most cartoon editors are male and, unintentionally or intentionally—prefer the cartoons of male cartoonists.” 

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McLeod says being female has clearly been a problem in her dealings with editors at major publications. She says Broomie Law, the successful cartoon series she used to comment on  political controversies in Britain from the perspective of a 12-year-old female street merchant, was cut from the British papers after they forced her to choose between adding a male character or losing the job, so she left the job and came to Canada in hopes of finding better. 

In 2002, McLeod accepted a position with the Globe and Mail and worked there as an illustrator until leaving in 2013. Over the years, she worked designing and occasionally doing editorial cartoons but she was never granted the full-time title of  “editorial cartoonist,” despite aspiring to the position. She took a buyout from the Globe because after 11 years. McLeod was unable to give any other reasons for her leaving; one of the conditions of the buyout is not to publicly criticize the editorial decision making. 

Now, for the first time in her career as a cartoonist, McLeod says she faces financial repercussions because of her lack of employment. She has sought jobs in the industry, but for now she continues to freelance cartoon with an agent and is working to finish a historical novel. Despite working on her own terms now, she is still incensed about the lack of female perspectives in newspaper cartooning and the way it ignores the perspective of half of the population. 

“Men’s cartoons come from their struggles in their world, but those may be different from women,” said McLeod. “And no one see that as a huge gap.” 

 

[[{“fid”:”3813″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””},”type”:”media”,”link_text”:null,”attributes”:{“height”:”3119″,”width”:”4709″,”style”:”width: 100px; height: 66px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]Lindsay Fitzgerald is a final-year bachelor of journalism student at Toronto’s Ryerson University, where she is currently research assistant to Ivor Shaprio, Chair of the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Image one courtesy of Susan Dewar, via Artizens. Image two courtesy of Cinders McLeod.

Note: This article has been updated to clarify the conditions under which Susan Dewar first published her editorial cartoons.