A Funny Sea Change

One step forward in the field of humor

There appears to be a small victory for women this week.

It’s true that some of the reason why we’re talking about women’s rights a lot right now is because of the horrible abuse, harassment and assault of women in various professions. The issue of parity, equality, creative and corporeal freedom for women are intimately connected.

When women gained the right to vote in 1920, the country was divided on whether this was a good thing or not. The fairer sex was supposed to stay home, care for the children, be the moral center of the family; politics, even voting, was deemed dirty and unladylike. But many women (and men) believed voting was a good thing; some saw this as a time emerge and pursue careers. This included the arts.

The New Yorker magazine was founded in 1925 amidst this ethos, and immediately sought cartoonists. The editors brought women cartoonists on board in the first issue ( I have to mention that one of the founders of The New Yorker was Jane Grant, a reporter for The New York Times and married to co-founder Harold Ross). During the 1920's, 30's, and 40's there were roughly eight to ten women drawing cartoons for The New Yorker. Over the years since 1925, this number has shifted lower, never higher.

Now in 2017, the number of cartoonist who are women contributing cartoons to The New Yorker print magazine is around twenty.

The reason why I’m revisiting this today (I’ve written about the topic before many times here on Medium, in Forbes, in The New Yorker, and in my book Funny Ladies and in My TED talk and many other talks) is because this week’s issue of The New Yorker is perhaps an historic one in this regard. For the first time in the magazine’s history, the number of cartoons in the issue that are drawn by women outnumber those drawn by men. My colleague, cartoonist Michael Maslin (full disclosure, also my husband) reported on this yesterday in his publication InkSpill.

“Back in February of 1996, the New Yorker celebrated its 71st anniversary with a ‘Special Women’s Issue.’ Of the 23 cartoonists in the issue, 20 were men. The three women cartoonists were Victoria Roberts, Roz Chast, and Liza Donnelly. The cover, a take-off on Eustace Tilley, dubbed “Eustacia Tilley” was handled by a man, R.O. Blechman.

Now, just 21 years later, we have what I believe to be a first: this is the first issue of the New Yorkerwhere the number of women artists outnumber the men (if anyone can provide an earlier issue where this was the case, please let me know). Of the 14 cartoonists contributing to this latest issue, 8 are women. The cover is by a woman as well.”

I’ve always said the world needs more non-divisive humor, and I’ve wondered — publicly and privately — why we as a culture (and as a global culture) don’t fully tap into the great humor created by women. We are currently in a period of time that many say is a sea change in terms of the way women are treated in our society. It appears we are creating more humor as well; from standup, to film and cartoons, more women are being published, produced and admired as humorists.

It may be too soon to create humor about the recent assault and harassment cases. Certainly we have read that women in comedy have been personally dealing with this issue for decades; I don’t know about cartoonists, but I suspect they have, too.

But when women decide to do so, you can be sure that what we create as humorists will only add much-needed additional insight.

And change.


Visual journalist/writer for New Yorker, New York Times, CBS News, CNN. TED, SXSW speaker. Looking to change world w humor. lizadonnelly.com

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