Speaking of Women's Rights: Nothing Funny About It

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nothing Funny About It

Like many people, I enjoy taking my time reading the paper(s) on Sunday mornings.  Last Sunday, I had the privilege of spending the day with a bunch of people planning how to make sure marriage equality remains the law in Washington (Go, Washington United for Marriage!), so I didn’t have much time to read.  Naturally, I focused on the truly important thing: the funnies.  (Is calling them “funnies” versus “comics” a geographic indicator, like “soda” versus “pop” versus “soft drinks”?)   Anyway, I was so rushed that I skipped to the page that normally displays Doonesbury only to find it replaced by Beetle Bailey.

What?  Had Doonesbury been dropped? Surely not.  

It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed Doonesbury appeared on the bottom corner of page A2.  And learned that our local paper, along with many others around the country, had decided that the current story line about the Texas law requiring transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion was “too mature” for the comics page.   Some aren’t running it at all, others have moved it to another page.  The local rationale: "because we are concerned about these strips reaching the right audience, and in particular about giving parents a good option to keep them from their children if they wish, we are moving Doonesbury to Page A2 for this week." 

I guess it passes the straight face test.  Then again, NO.  It does not.  It’s yet another example of women’s reproductive health being marginalized, treated as abnormal, and generally shoved under the table/out the door/into the closet.  

Yes, abortion is controversial in this country.  That’s about the only non-controversial thing you can say about abortion these days.  But it’s specious to claim that this series of strips is somehow more than usually shocking for the funnies.  It took me less than 5 minutes to follow up on my vague memories and find examples of other comics that dealt with controversial topics but stayed on the comics page.  Including topics related to women, and to their body parts. Between Friends dealt with domestic violence  a few years ago.   I guess spousal abuse and stalking are not so controversial.  Or maybe they provide a good “teachable moment” for parents, who undoubtedly read through all the funnies every day before handing them over to their kids.  More benign, but arguably still too “mature” for the comics is a reference to (ssshhhhh) women’s underwear ; specifically, their bras.  Hey there, parent of little mister 5-year old: are you ready to talk with your kids about breasts, and sagging breasts at that?  Guess you’ll have to, because it’s right there in living color.  On the comics page.

Others have pointed this out as well: Publicola noted that the same week Doonesbury was moved, Pearls Before Swine had a strip – on the comics page – about shooting and inebriation.  Another suitable subject for the toddler, youth and tween demographics.

On the allegedly other side of the scale, we have the full-on celebration of various Christian holidays: Christmas, Easter (B.C. is especially notable for this, which is pretty funny when you think about what B.C. stands for).   Funny, see – it’s the comics!  Only that could perhaps best be deemed funny-peculiar, not funny ha-ha.  

And yes, these cartoonists have the right to say what they like via their art.  Just as the newspapers have the right to choose where to place said comics.  

But the inconsistencies -- and the blatant hypocrisy -- scream to be called out.  Proselytize in the guise of comics: check.  Poke fun at guns, drinking and death in the guise of comics: check.  Depict spousal abuse and the cycle of domestic violence in the guise of comics: check.   Satirize the insanity of a Texas law that furthers the marginalization of women’s health and rights: not so fast, buster.  That’s not amusing, that’s political commentary, and it’s just too mature for the funnies.  

Guess I’d better stick to The Family Circus.  Except when it proselytizes.