Saturday, March 8, 2014

Gardner Rea: Is Wife-Beating Funny?

Well, it's International Women's Day, and perhaps it's a good time to reflect on how bad things have been. This cartoon was drawn by Gardner Rea and was published in my beloved New Yorker in 1936. Sexist cartoons were commonly published at the time in many mainstream media including the New Yorker, and many of them were to my mind quite funny. Yet I do not recall very many cartoons that tried to make a joke about violence against women.

Here we have a single panel gag cartoon about a victim of wife-beating--domestic violence or spousal abuse in today's parlance--being consoled ineptly by a supposed friend. I see nothing humorous about this situation. The victim has a black eye and the plaster on the wall is broken, presumably by the force of her impact. What on earth were the editors thinking?

Gardner Rea, "Don't you worry, Mrs. McGovern--he'll be back."
The New Yorker,
September 5, 1936, page 22

Gardner Rea, "Don't you worry, Mrs. McGovern--he'll be back."
The New Yorker,
 September 5, 1936, page 22

Gardner Rea, "Don't you worry, Mrs. McGovern--he'll be back."
The New Yorker,
 September 5, 1936, page 22

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2 comments:

  1. A blogger [http://attemptedbloggery.blogspot.com/2014/03/gardner-rea-is-wife-beating-funny.html] commented on this 1936 New Yorker cartoon:
    "Sexist cartoons were commonly published at the time in many mainstream media including the New Yorker, and many of them were to my mind quite funny. Yet I do not recall very many cartoons that tried to make a joke about violence against women.

    "Here we have a single panel gag cartoon about a victim of wife-beating--domestic violence or spousal abuse in today's parlance--being consoled ineptly by a supposed friend. I see nothing humorous about this situation. The victim has a black eye and the plaster on the wall is broken, presumably by the force of her impact. What on earth were the editors thinking?"

    I think the blogger entirely missed Rea's point. While the conventional wisdom of the time was that a woman should suffer the abuse of one's husband willingly -- better to be beaten than abandoned. Rea was pointing to the foolishness of this view. It was a strong anti-sexist statement.

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    1. I don't see much of a social agenda here. I think Rea's primary intention in this cartoon was to be humorous rather than feminist or "anti-sexist." I'm sure he means to mock the consoling friend's unhelpful attitude, but again I find nothing funny in this ugly scenario.

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