The Invisible Barriers For Female Cartoonists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On BBC2 Daily Politics on 3rd November 2017, it was claimed by Tim Benson, editor of Britain’s Best Political Cartoons, that:

‘If a woman is good enough, she will rise to the top’

Benson, in last year’s book, didn’t feature a single woman, whilst this year, has improved on this to include one female, Nicola Jennings. He argues that it is because female political cartoonists are mainly published online (for free I might add), and not in national newspapers: so he didn’t have many to choose from. Whilst there is truth in this matter, and I am in no way arguing he is at fault in his selection, it was his ignorance of the issue behind this that most frustrated me and brought on a lot of TV tutting, and honestly, a feeling of general hopelessness.

When female cartoonist Martha Richler, who sat beside him, tried to ask the question as to why women aren’t being published, he took this as a personal attack. Stating: ‘if a woman is good enough, she will rise to the top’, claiming that the lack of women political cartoonists being hired by newspapers is down to women merely not being good enough to compete with the men.

This really grated on me because when Rachel Shabli challenged this statement, stating: ‘that’s a ridiculous thing to say about anything to do with gender’, he dismissively asserted: ‘you’re entitled to your opinion’. After this, when she was given a chance to speak, and explained that holding these opinions ignores that there are invisible barriers facing women; he still held strong that it is very much the case in the political cartoonist industry, and didn’t seem to be listening at all.

Whilst he is entitled to his opinion on what he thinks goes on in the industry, it really upset me to realise that some men in power are so out of touch with the invisible privilege that they have. To the extent that they feel comfortable in making such ignorant comments. Whilst I know ignorant is a strong word to use, it is not used to offend. In this case, it seems he does truly think women are not as good as men – that kind of comment needs to be followed up with the question as to why he thinks this is the case. Some interesting ideas about women in the male game of political cartooning are expressed in the article attached below.

As is always the case when speaking about an issue facing oppressed groups, it is the voice of the underrepresented that needs be listened to: not shouted down by those whose voices are already on a platform to be heard. We will never be able to challenge the invisible barriers in place if we continue to dismiss the fact they exist as being merely ‘opinions’.

Although, this article may seem trivial and nit-picky in the midst of the rape allegations and sexual harassment charges that are flooding our news feeds at the moment, it speaks of the underlying issue that women’s voices are not being heard, and allows us to see how this continues to go on.

To finish this slightly sad article about the position of women in the British political sphere, I will insert a clip of the brilliant power woman Jo Brand recently on Have I Got News For You. Whilst the issue of sexual harassment is very different to the one of gender inequality in the work-place, I wanted to use this clip to highlight the non-accusatory, but educational manner in which she speaks to the rest of the all-male panel, and how they are actually listening to what is being said. It made me so happy to see that she stood up for us all, in responding to a comment that could easily have just been allowed to slip by unchallenged.

Positive changes are happening!

Annabelle Toon

For the full feature on political cartoonists, see 48:25 in the episode:
See this article for further information on the debate concerning women political cartoonists:

(Images courtesy of The New Yorker and Amazon)[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”″ title=”Jo Brand On Harassment “][/vc_column][/vc_row]