Monday, October 26, 2009

An email discussion about a cartoon in today's Prince

Two of our bloggers, Brenda Jin and Ayse Gursoy, got into an email discussion about the fact that today's cartoon in the Daily Princetonian might be sexist. It started with a link sent to the list (this is why listservs are amazing!) but ended up being a thoughtful conversation about how to read the cartoon. Feel free to join in the discussion in our comment section!

Brenda Jin (in an email with the subject: “Sexist Prince”):

What is this?

Ayse Gursoy:

I think it's more a personal reflection of the artist talking to her roommate. Presumably. Unless I misunderstood what part you identified as sexist; feel free to clarify. (As in, I don't think it's saying that women have no grasp of current affairs, but rather that students don't.)

Brenda Jin:

Thanks for emailing me. I guess I didn't make it clear.

I guess I had no idea it was her and her roommate. I don't know the artist personally and just thought it was a general depiction of two Princeton women having a conversation with each other. In that case, the cartoon is making fun of the fact - and assuming the fact to be true - that women on this campus are clueless about current events, politics, and world issues.

What really strikes me is that the two Princeton characters are not as gender-neutral as they could be and definitely not male. i guess to a lay student like me, the cartoon had a pretty general message about Princeton women.

Plus, following the conversation at the women's center last week regarding the lack of women's leadership on campus, esp. in the USG, I see this as symptomatic of the additional social hurdles and stereotypes that women on this campus work hard to overcome that men do not encounter as often or as thoroughly.

Ayse Gursoy:

I don't actually know the artist personally, but that was my assumption. Perhaps I should rethink it. And maybe it's easy for me (as a woman) to identify with an image of a woman as a generic student, but it may not be the case for a male student. Also, I feel like most of the cartoons in the prince are drawn by women, or at least feature female characters pretty often. So that might be why I'm used to seeing a female character as the face of a Princeton Student. Not sure. That was a bit of a digression.

My initial reaction was that it was nice to see a female student depicted as playing video games, without going into any detail about the game itself (no barbie pet rescue or whatever).

I'm starting to see your point, however. I think even the fact that you reacted that way means that the problem is more involved than I thought. And what about the non-students who read the paper? The comic could have made it more clear that the cluelessness is attached to the student, not the female, experience.

Brenda Jin:

I guess I was just personally deeply offended. I am also particularly sensitive to the fact that one of the females with the video games seems to be asian. I am an Asian female on this campus and I read the news every day.

Cartoon from the Daily Princetonian's website.


At October 27, 2009 at 1:55 AM , Blogger xockcin said...

I'm pretty sure the one playing video games is actually a guy with long hair.

At October 27, 2009 at 10:56 AM , Blogger Sam said...

I'd have to agree with Ayse - my initial impression on reading the cartoon was that it was about student ignorance inside the orange bubble - a theme which people make jokes about all the time. On the other hand I've never heard anyone joking or talking about female students in particular being ignorant of current events.

To me the fact that the two characters are women was a positive - that when thinking of a typical student the artist settled on women rather than (as is much more often the case) defaulting to men.

At October 27, 2009 at 8:27 PM , Blogger Alex said...

This sort of concern treads on very risky ground. When feminists try to read sexism into everything, they ensure that no one will take them seriously when they find actual, harmful instances of women being oppressed. In most circumstances, a cartoonist is going to have to choose a gender for her characters. It so happens these characters are women.

At October 28, 2009 at 8:52 PM , Anonymous Brenda said...

Perhaps we should consider the overall cartoon in bad taste, and perhaps the ambiguity leaves the message open to interpretation. But does it matter whether I am a feminist when I say that as an asian woman who reads the news every day that I am personally offended by the assumptions made by this cartoon? Would more people be offended if instead of the characters being ambiguously female, if they were ambiguously from a specific eating club, from a specific state, or from a specific class?

Furthermore, in light of the decline in women's leadership on this campus, I question what social structures are in place that discourage women or disempower them on a campus where they comprise about half the student body, and this cartoon is symptomatic of an attitude that women are clueless on world issues, a fact which is not true either for men or women.

"Risky" or not, one cannot be too careful about the representation of women in popular media, and while some would argue that popular media is informed by social structures, I believe that it's never such a simplistic one-way street, and that popular media can inform readers as well. Therefore the normalization of women's cluelessness when it comes to world affairs is in my opinion very, very risky.


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