Cartoon As a Political Manifesto
“Let’s Get Them!” Cries French Cartoonist Catherine Beaunez
Politics? Perhaps in another life.
Entrenched gender roles are the main reason women are underrepresented in politics, says Beaunez. Who has time for politics when a woman is expected to work, shop, clean, cook and raise children, all at the same time?
View Larger >
I‘m fed up with thinking about others. Now I'll get involved in politics!
Beaunez critiques traditional, male-dominated politics and its disregard for people. She suggests that her heroine is already doing politics by thinking about others. By following men and entering politics, she would start thinking about herself and, for the first time, start profiting from her hard work.
View Larger >
No women allowed in my kitchen!
In this cartoon, the kitchen is the male-dominated political arena. It is the only kitchen men want to cook in and women are excluded from, Beaunez comments. The labels on the jars are acronyms for French political parties.
View Larger >
Let's get them!
Beaunez's nude heroine is draped in a thin sash bearing the three stripes of the French flag. Her breasts reveal her as a female, but her lower-body anatomy is very much male. In this context, "On les aura!" means both, "We will beat the men" and "We have the right stuff" to do it. This cartoon is Beaunez's call to French women to stand up to sexism and gender inequity.
View Larger >
Every time she went into a publishing house and presented her manuscript of political cartoons, she would hear this soundtrack of rejections followed by a deafening sound of a door slamming shut. Although her resume is impressive--she has drawn cartoons for most major French newspapers including Le Monde
, Le Nouvel Observateur
, and Le Point--
Beaunez could not convince a single publishing house to take her humor seriously. Her feminist political cartoons were simply not funny enough.
"Thirty years ago, few women dared to poke fun at men and machismo in French newspapers. Most artistic directors and editors in chief were men and, understandably, they were interested in protecting their territory and their hold on power," says Beaunez.
Not even Beaunez dared to poke fun at men until the early ‘90s. Her previous books of cartoons were well-received because they explored her private world as well as the quirks and twists of female sexuality. As a matter of fact, men were her most ardent fans. But when she tried to publish On les aura! -- a book of political cartoons that dared to critique men and sexism -- she faced vehement opposition.
On les aura! is bold, daring and blatantly critical of women's inequality in the French society. Seemingly the work of an imaginative prankster, it carries powerful social commentary: It puts the French society under a magnifying glass, it points fingers and it doesn't leave a rock unturned.
Cartoons may seem like child's play to an inexperienced eye. Quite the contrary: Cartoons are both a reflection as well as a critique of the society they represent and, at times, caricature. "Cartoons have the power to condense and explain an entire culture. A cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter and one responds to its message quickly and instinctually," says Beaunez.
On les aura! is a powerful title intentionally chosen for the unmistakable message it relays to the French-speaking audience. It is a complicated play on words that carries many meanings. Originally, it was a call to arms made famous during the First World War that translates loosely as "Let's get them!" During the war, this call was used by the Allied soldiers, Frenchmen, Italians, Englishmen, and Russians, who called on each other to ignore their national differences and join forces against a common enemy.
More important, on les aura can be translated as "We will have them," suggesting a pair of male private parts, traditionally accepted as symbols of male strength and courage, and ultimately, symbols of male power. Beaunez's preference for the later translation is transparent in her bare-bones cartoon.
On les aura! is Beaunez's political manifesto in hundreds of eloquent cartoons. It is her call to French women to unite, join forces and claim their power. Who would have thought cartoons could do all that?
Hasna Ziraoui contributed to this story.