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Outdated Stereotypes Aren't Funny

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has served the greater Pittsburgh area since 1796. The first newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains, it is the largest newspaper serving Pittsburgh. It serves an important role in our community. Yet in recent weeks, the cartoons run by its editorial page have left many angry and wondering who exactly the Post-Gazette is trying to serve.

The cartoons in question were created by cartoonist Steve Kelley. All three play on gender stereotypes, and denigrate women. The first features a woman on a dinner date, who says that she is a big fan of equal rights — until the tab arrives. The second features two girls in a bedroom reading a newspaper (talk about outdated!) with one saying, “Maybe one day, I’ll grow up and divorce a man just like Jeff Bezos!” The third depicts Nancy Pelosi facing off against Donald Trump over the government’s shutdown, and states that Speaker Pelosi cannot “blink” because she has had too much Botox.

These cartoons drew immediate outrage. According to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, “The cartoons display a contempt for women and an obvious deep-seated prejudice against them. The cartoons are not witty, insightful or funny. They are a puerile recycling of ridiculous, outdated and hurtful tropes about women that have rightfully brought scorn upon this newspaper.” Cartoonist Liza Donnelly — who draws for publications such as the New Yorker — agrees. While she believes that cartoonists should have the right to draw anything they want, she stated “I found the three cartoons that we are talking about to be using old stereotypes that are unnecessarily negative towards women as a group. The jokes are based on the notion that women are gold diggers, duplicitous and use botox. The jokes are meant to create a laugh based on old-fashioned ideas about women."

We agree. To the extent that these cartoons are meant to be funny, they simply are not. To the extent that they are meant to provide insightful commentary, they do not. They simply recycle old, outdated stereotypes about women and girls: that women are vain, shallow, unable to provide for themselves , and ready to change their convictions when convenient. They don’t offer fresh takes or a new way of looking at things. They simply regurgitate tired, sexist trope that does little to enlighten anyone.

A tradition in comedy is that jokes should punch up, not punch down. In other words, comedians and those who tell jokes for a living — including those who write political cartoons — should not attack those who are already marginalized or oppressed. Instead, to the extent that their jabs are cutting, they should be directed at those who are in power. Yet the Post-Gazette cartoons do the opposite of this: they go after women, a population that is still marginalized in the United States. For example, although women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population, they represent just 6% of Chief Executive Officers at S&P 500 companies and 19.3% of the House of Representatives. Cartoons that attack half of the country’s population based on untrue stereotypes do not “punch up” — they punch down.

We join the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh in asking that the cartoons featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “treat everyone with dignity, respect and human kindness.” The pages of our local newspaper — let alone one with such a proud tradition — should not be home to such blatant misogyny. We ask that the editorial page not be used as a forum for harmful stereotypes against women.

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