E&P Study: Even Fewer Female Editorial Cartoonists Than Op-Ed Writers

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By: Dave Astor

If you think the percentage of female Op-Ed columnists is low, you’ll find the percentage of female editorial cartoonists pathetic.

As E&P reported last week, only 24.4% of opinion writers at the biggest syndicates are women (33 out of 135). Meanwhile, the ratio of female editorial cartoonists at the biggest syndicates is a measly 3.9% (3 of 77), according to E&P’s tally, based on a survey of seven feature distributors’ Web sites.

The three are Ann Telnaes of Tribune Media Services, Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News and Washington Post Writers Group, and Etta Hulme of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram and Newspaper Enterprise Association.

We also looked at the numbers from 10 years ago in E&P’s 1995 Syndicate Directory. Back then, the number of women editorial cartoonists at major syndicates was also three — the same Telnaes, Wilkinson, and Hulme.

Actually, the number is going down if “Where I’m Coming From” is factored in. On March 8, Barbara Brandon-Croft drew the last installment of that comic/editorial cartoon hybrid, which came to Universal Press Syndicate in 1991. (Though not an editorial cartoonist per se, caricaturist Julia Suits has been distributed by Creators Syndicate for many years.)

Interestingly, the percentage of women in the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is somewhat higher than the percentage in syndication (albeit still not all that high). AAEC General Manager Wanda Nicholson said 21 of 329 members (6.4%) are women, and that a number of them are younger creators who joined the organization during the past few years.

“There are more women showing up at cartoonists’ conventions than there were 20 years ago — there just aren’t many jobs for them after the conventions are over,” Signe Wilkinson told E&P.

Why are there so few female editorial cartoonists at newspapers and in syndication?

“While I agree that we want to be recognized for the quality of our work, rather than being seen as ‘female journalists,’ to ignore the issue of sexism in all its subtle forms is being disingenuous,” Telnaes said this morning. “Look at the numbers.”

Wilkinson added: “Perhaps it’s just because women consider that going into a shrinking field in which depressed men get up every day to make fun of people and then see whether their creations have made it into ‘Newsweek’ isn’t the most productive way to use their few precious moments on the planet. Smart women and minorities with a satirical bent are probably going directly to television, where they might get paid, their work will get seen, and the viewers don’t know who to send their hate mail to.”

Both Wilkinson and Telnaes — the only two women to receive the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning — have also discussed the issue in the past.

Telnaes, after winning the Pulitzer in 2001, told E&P that one reason fewer women go into editorial cartooning may be socialization. “Editorial cartooning is a forceful medium, kind of in your face,” she said back then. “Many women, when they are little girls, are taught to be more demure — though that’s changing.”

And she’s glad it is. Speaking at an AAEC convention in 1999, Telnaes said one reason why it’s important for newspapers to have female editorial cartoonists is that they offer a different perspective on various issues than their male counterparts.

At that same meeting, New Yorker magazine contributor Liza Donnelly mentioned that another reason few girls grow up to become cartoonists is because the scarcity of female cartoonists makes for a lack of role models.

Wilkinson wrote about this scarcity in a special “Nieman Reports” issue about editorial cartooning published this winter. Her article — titled “Where the Girls Aren’t: Why Editorial Cartooning is Still a Boy’s Sport” — cited the lack of jobs for cartoonists in general and also observed that some editors “look at the prospective applicant and see a woman rather than a cartoonist.”

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