Reading The Telegraph today (yes, I do read it, I’m afraid. Mostly because it’s the newspaper my dad buys.) I came across this cartoon. It portrays a man evidently intended to be Dominique Strauss-Kahn, pursuing an overtly sexualised woman in a French-maid’s outfit (stocking tops visible), who is clearly fleeing, and with a cartoonishly frightened expression on her face. Strauss-Kahn has an open leer on his face. The woman is labelled “Presidency”.
This is offensive on several levels. Firstly, there is the obvious; it’s finding humour in rape. Yes, it’s meant to be a metaphor, but the primary humour seems to spring from the intended sexual assault in the picture. Some have pointed out to me on twitter that Dominique Strauss-Kahn must be presumed innocent, but this is irrelevant to the cartoon itself. Whatever my views on the DSK case, the cartoonist is still using the accusation of rape leveled at Strauss-Kahn to make a joke. The intention of the character in the cartoon does not seem to be a consensual sexual relationship.
Secondly, the portrayal of the woman – or “Presidency”. She is turned into a fetish; humanity is reduced to an often-sexualised profession, and the image seems drawn to titillate as much as make a political point. I believe this takes away from the serious discussion and debate currently occurring concerning the possible nature of offences against an actual woman.
Thirdly, there’s the comparison between sexual domination of a woman and the seeking of or exercise of political power. This is a comparison which might not necessarily be offensive in itself; there are valid points to be made about the exercise of male power in political and personal spheres – the personal is the political, etc. But for The Telegraph to make this point (if that is indeed the primary political point they’re making) by using a highly sensitive rape case seems at the very least inappropriate to me. Furthermore, is it not minimising of the possible sexual assault which occurred to imply that the “taking” or “conquering” of the Presidency would be an equal or fair comparison? As Laurie Penny
tweeted earlier, the cartoon “says more than words ever could about how some men understand power.”
I understand that not everyone reading this will agree with me and my interpretation of the cartoon; Andy Bolton
has made some fair points about other possible interpretations of it as being a negative assessment of Strauss-Kahn. But the fact remains that all meaning to some extent rests on the interpretation of the reader, and the fact that so many people have found it offensive (I’ve been endeavouring to spread it round twitter as much as possible) speaks volumes.
Another tweet on the matter which seemed to me to sum up the cartoon and its offensive nature quite well was by Allan Cavanagh
, who said: “It’s funny because DSK is going to rape the Presidency, but not really! She’s ASKING FOR IT!” The aspect of victim-blaming is something else which strikes me about the cartoon; DSK is portrayed as drooling, unable to control himself in the presence of a woman with a prominent cleavage and suspenders.
What I’ve been trying to do today on twitter is spread the cartoon around as much as I can to gauge reaction to it. Also, I’ve been encouraging people who do find it as repulsive as I do to email or write to The Telegraph and complain; I emailed them earlier, as have several other people on twitter. It’s my hope that the more people who complain about this cartoon, the more likely a response or apology is.
To complain about the cartoon, email firstname.lastname@example.org
. Even if it’s just a brief email, I’d implore you to do this, just to draw the newspaper’s attention to the fact people object. My email mentioned the date of the cartoon, its subject, and in a sentence or two my reason for complaining. Please do this, and please spread the word and get others to do so too; I’d appreciate it greatly.