Political cartoon: Marriage Fixes Everything!


Description of cartoon:

The cartoon depicts a young mother and her toddler, in a small and crappy-looking room. The woman is bent double under a load of boxes, trunks and bags, each of which is labeled: Unemployment, Lack of Education, Illness, Bigotry, Exhaustion, Low Wages, Childcare, Looking Poor, and Crime.

Also in the room is a young white guy, wearing a necktie and suspenders, who is grinning happily and telling the woman “I know what’s holding you down! You should be married!”

In a little “epilog” panel at the bottom of the cartoon, the guy continues “…Unless you’re gay.”

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Families structures, divorce, etc. Bookmark the permalink. 

24 Responses to Political cartoon: Marriage Fixes Everything!

  1. 1
    Sebastian says:

    Ampersand, I want to know one something.

    In all of your cartoons, and I do mean all, it is easy to see who is wrong and who is right by running the Oppression Olympics.

    Man and woman? Man’s wrong.
    Black man and white woman? White woman is wrong.
    Blond straight haired man and dark haired curly man? Blond man’s wrong.
    Overweight woman and slim woman? Slim woman’s wrong.
    Trans woman and non-trans woman? Non-trans woman’s wrong.

    I cannot come up with a single cartoon of yours that breaks that rule. I also have the gut feeling that the degree of evilness depends on the delta oppression, but I can’t be bothered to check. It is true for the set that includes the four of your cartoons on my sticky wall, and the present one.

    I thought that it was something that you did subconsciously, but in your description of the cartoon, you point out the the race of the villain. Clearly, the negative portrayal of privileged people does matter to you. Would you be so kind to you explain to me why this is so?

    Do you think that there are more bigots amongst privileged people? Almost all studies point to the opposite. Kindness, fairness, honesty are luxuries, and luxuries are found, on average, more amongst those who live far from the edge. Just check how lenient (and towards whom) Boston patrolmen are to the people they pull over, broken down by the officer’s race and rank.

    Do you think the oppressed are better off if they are made to feel like victims, if they feel that they cannot get a fair deal, if they are dissuaded from believing in the social contract? Research shows totally unambiguously that the best predictor for poverty amongst Black immigrants to the US is how strongly they believe American society is a racist one. Yes, more than education, fluency in English, or health.

    Do you think that privileged people’s behavior is improved when characters that resemble them are depicted committing evil acts? Once again, this has been studied. By now, I do not have to tell you how the results go, do I?

    Do you think that your readers are too dumb to tell who is wrong and who is right unless you color-code the characters? Actually, don’t answer this one.

    Now, I am no artist. I’m an Engineer with too much time on his hands. But I usually know what outcome I am looking for, and when I put any effort into a task, it’s usually to make that outcome more likely, not less.

    I understand that you want diversity amongst your characters. I also understand that if you are making cartoon about racism, you can’t have everyone of the same race. So, would this particular cartoon have been so much worse if the characters were not dark-skinned vs. white, heavy vs. slim, female vs. male? (The undefined sexuality vs homophobe divide definitely belongs, though.)

    Now one could argue, but I damn sure hope that you would not, that the single parents on whom everyone should focus are minority mothers who have no time to spend on working towards a magazine cover figure. But it is hard to argue that the ‘Defenders of Marriage’ are mostly members of that most privileged category, the rich protestant white straight male. A few years ago, when Prop8 was voted on, five people tried to get me to vote for it: one of my friends and four relative strangers. They were, as far as I remember, a Mideastern female, two black guys and two Mormons. They did not even shut up after I told them I could not vote, which only reinforces my belief that they hubris was not to save souls (or whatever) but to make themselves feel all better.

  2. 2
    Charles S says:


    Not to derail from your jeremiad, but could you point me towards any of the research that shows that the best predictor for poverty amongst Black immigrants to the US is how strongly they believe American society is a racist one. I’m curious if those are longitudinal studies and if not how they determine the direction of causation. I tried various searches both in google and in Scopus and failed to find anything related to this line of research.

  3. I wonder how often poor people in abusive non-marital relationships are told “marriage will solve your problems!”

  4. 4
    Sebastian says:


    Years ago, I posted a jeremiad about why I will stop providing links. I just tried to find the post, and could not, but it was after someone had deplored the US police habit of letting crimes against Muslims after 9/11 go unpunished. After I posted more than ten links to all the crimes against even perceived Muslims I could find, together with the results of the very real investigations, and challenged the other person to post one link to a crime that was not investigated, or where the perpetrators were known and unpunished, she shifted the conversation to crimes outside the US. After I posted another set of links, she took refuge in not speaking anything but English.

    Yes, I have broken my rule for gin-and-whiskey, and Professor Newman… and I would break it for Amp, but he usually makes me concede before I can pull out my search engine.

    I won’t break it just yet for you though. I’ll just say that you can get seven hits to the study on the first page with three keywords, or with two keywords and one exclusion (to weed out the studies in the Journal of Black Psychology and the one by Combs et al.) Check these as well, though, they are relevant. And no, there are no hints about the direction of causation, and I never claimed there was one. There are at least two possible explanations, one that is made clear in the Combs study, and another which I favor. No, I’m not going to outright tell you what it is, I will just say that it is strongly supported by a follow up to the Stanford marshmallow experiment by the fine folks at CUB.

    Please understand, I am not blaming black immigrants for their problems (it would not be very self-serving for me to do so) nor am I saying that racism is only, or even mostly, perceived. I am talking about what decreases the chance of a person, ANY person of succeeding. And I believe that it is relevant to what I said about Amp cartoons. I maybe wrong about the last one, though.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Sebastian, that’s ridiculous. Charles’ request was reasonable, and your response is incredibly obnoxious. It’s not Charles’ job to produce the evidence that you claimed you know of; it’s yours.

  6. 6
    Denise says:

    there are no hints about the direction of causation, and I never claimed there was one…. I am talking about what decreases the chance of a person, ANY person of succeeding.

    You are claiming that perceiving racism is a cause of poverty. Replacing the “what” in the second sentence quoted there, you are saying that perceiving racism decreases the chance of a person succeeding.

    Personally, I think it’s a lot more likely that racism itself decreases the chance of the target person succeeding, and people who are subject to racism perceive more racism because there is in fact more racism for them to perceive. People who aren’t subject to racism, or are subject to less of it, don’t perceive it because they aren’t being subjected to it.

    I find it very suspicious that the preferred method of combating racial inequality in the United States is for black people to completely ignore racism, overt and covert, intentional and not, and for white people to not change a thing, or worry at all. It sounds an awful lot like another way of saying “I’ve got mine, now screw you”.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    (Cross-posted with Denise).

    And by the way, you very much DID claim that there are “hints about the direction of causality.” That’s what the phrase “totally unambiguously” in the sentence “Research shows totally unambiguously that the best predictor for poverty amongst Black immigrants to the US is how strongly they believe American society is a racist one” means. If the direction of causality is not established by the research, then the research is not totally unambiguous, by any reasonable understanding.

    So you claimed “Research shows totally unambiguously that the best predictor for poverty amongst Black immigrants to the US is how strongly they believe American society is a racist one.” Can you give examples of the research that supports that claim, please?

  8. 8
    Sebastian says:

    No Ampersand & Denise, that is not what “the best predictor for poverty amongst Black immigrants to the US is how strongly they believe American society is a racist one” means. A predictor is not a cause, and if I meant cause, I would have said so. Note that it is perfectly possible that a predictor is the cause.

    Let me give you a few simple examples.

    Being driven to kindergarten in a limousine is a good predictor that one will graduate from an Ivy league school. But if you were to spend some money on driving ten kids to kindergarten in a limousine, you probably would not increase their chances to graduate from an Ivy league. In this particular case, the predictor and the effect share a common cause, so they correlate.

    Having high body temperature is a good predictor of having an kidney infection. In this particular case, the predictor is a consequence. But if it is called a predictor, you can infer that it must have been easier to check the body temperature, rather that perform a biopsy and examine a piece of the kidney itself. Note that having high temperature does not mean that it is probable that you have a kidney infection, just that it is more likely that you have one if you have elevated body temperature than if you do not.

    As you should understand by now, your accusation that I believe that perceiving racism will make you poor is a bit over the top. Not only because it is STUPID to believe something like this, not only because it doesn’t make sense for me of all people to believe it, but also because what I said was pretty damn unambiguous: Perceiving racism is a sign that you will do less well in in a society you believe is racist.

    Now, I have of course a favorite explanation of the above observation. I’m not saying that it is true, but I do believe it.

    (1) We know that the ability to delay gratification is a predictor for success. When the effect was first discovered, people were astonished how good a predictor it was. (Standford’s marshmallows) A good explanation for the effect is that it predicts your ability to stick, in the face of adversity, to long term plans in the name of future gains.

    (2) We know that ability to delay gratification strongly correlates with the trust the subject has in the experimenter’ reliability. (UC Boulder’s crayons) This makes sense too: it is irrational to believe than an unreliable source will deliver the promised delayed gratification.

    (3) We can safely assume that being black and believing that a society is racist against black people means that you lack trust in this society.

    So, as far as I am concerned, the causal chain is quite clear. You’re black, you suffer from racism, you lose your trust in the societal contract, your ability to stick with long term plans plummets, you will do less well in life than your black peers who see less racism around themselves (probably because they were lucky not to encounter as much of it)

    Now, back to my original point.

    Racism exists, and will harm me, whether I see it or not. When something is racist, it is in my best interest to treat it so, in order to reduce the effects, if at all possible. When something is not racist, it is against my best interests to think that it is, because this erodes my beliefs that I have a good chance in this society. Of course, the trick is to tell the difference. Good luck with that.

    The equation changes when other people interests are involved. Maybe there is a chance that something was racism, and if you make a big deal of it, maybe you will make the next guy’s life easier. So I can’t say I am a fan of people who look for things that may be racism, and publicize them, but I can certainly see how they honestly think that what they do is useful, and for all I know, they are damn right.

    The equation changes again when it comes to fiction. Is there a need for fiction that paints whites as irrational monsters Hell bent on hurting us (black people) for the lulz? Is there need for fiction that paint us (males) as beasts that live to hurt women? Is there need for fiction that has no positive cis-gendered characters? Fuck if I know. I know that I believe that it does me no good to be exposed to it.

    The thing is, I mostly like Ampersand’s politics. I definitely like his cartoons – a friend of mine exposed me to them, but now I am the official bearer of Amp’s printouts.

    I wondered why his cartoons always have this undercurrent of “members of the privileged class are always in the wrong, and the more privileged, the more evil”. And in this cartoon, I realized that the undercurrent is there deliberately, that it was important to Ampersand that the guy is white. I guess I will not learn why…

  9. 9
    Charles S says:

    I’m still curious for the cite for the study. Continuing to search, I’m finding a ton of stuff on the health effects of perceived racism, and some on the relationship between academic success for Asian-American immigrants and native born Asian Americans (perceived racism correlates positively with academic success for US born Asian Americans and negatively for immigrants, which is interesting), some stuff on interactions between cultural cohesion and perceived racism, but I am still coming up empty for perceived racism, African immigrants, and economic success.

    Sebastian, related to your most recent comment, I ran across a really interesting/depressing study a while back that used a police training simulator and found a correlation between awareness of racist stereotypes and increased rate of accidentally shooting black civilians (as opposed to accidentally shooting white civilians) in the simulator. http://defiant.ssc.uwo.ca/undergraduate/psych2720/the%20police%20officer%27s%20dilemma.pdf. Racist beliefs were not correlated, just awareness of the existence of the stereotypes.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Sebastian, I am flattered that you have four of my cartoons stuck up on your bulletin board (or some other surface). Which ones, if you don’t mind my asking?

    I think you’re being hyperbolic – there are cartoons I do featuring two black women, or two racially-ambiguous women, or two white men (and again), in which it’s not true that you can look at factors like “which one is chubby?” (in my drawings, frequently the answer is “both”) or whatever to determine which character I agree with.

    So to say that “I cannot come up with a single cartoon of yours that breaks that rule” is an exaggeration.

    Nonetheless, you’re right in what you observe – I do have a general pattern that’s much like what you describe.

    Let me explain my thoughts when I’m “casting” the parts in my cartoons.

    1) My typical reader is not reading a whole bunch of my cartoons. Rather, they’re reading a single cartoon, isolated from all my other cartoons, usually in a textbook or a newsletter or something like that, or on Facebook. So when I think of the message my political cartoons send, I’m usually thinking in terms of the one individual cartoon I’m drawing, not the whole bunch of them. If I think of them in a larger context, I think of them as part of American political cartooning as a whole (since if by chance someone sees one of my cartoons published next to another political cartoon, chances are the other political cartoon is not one of mine).

    2) I unapologetically do make it a point to include as many women, people of color, and fat people in my cartoons as I can. I don’t think there’s any large problem with over-representation of black fat women in positive roles in American culture.

    3) At the same time, I often feel weird about representing the conservative or Republican position with anyone but a white man. This is because the large majority of conservatives in the US, and ESPECIALLY of conservatives who are elected officials in national-level office, are white men, and that’s not a coincidence; it reflects the fact that Republican policies go against the interests of most women and most non-white men.

    Similarly, conservative business leaders in the US are overwhelmingly (although not 100%) white men.

    So when I draw a mouthpiece for the conservative or GOP position on some issue, I feel as if that mouthpiece should be a white man.

    4) So how does this work in practice? Well, with this cartoon, I could have easily made the woman white or black, fat or thin, male or female. But I felt the man had to be clearly representing the GOP / conservative views – I haven’t heard anyone who isn’t in that ballpark make the “lack of marriage causes poverty” argument – and that meant making him a well-off looking white guy, in my view. I could have opted for the older model – which would have been chubbier, balder, and more of a political player – but I thought the cartoon would be funnier if I made the GOP character sincere and clueless rather than mean and cynical, which meant making him young and wide-eyed.

    5) Why is the poor person a bit chubby while the GOP dude is thin? Because most political cartoonists systematically have wealthy characters represented by fat people, and I don’t want to do that. (I will sometimes show a wealthy person as thick, mostly to convey power, but I don’t default to showing rich people as fat.)

    6) Why is she a black woman? Because the other character is white and male, and I generally avoid doing cartoons in which all of the characters are white men (although there are exceptions). Also because the light-colored box on her back means that she stands out better if I draw her with darker skin.

    Now that I’ve read your comments, if I were to do this particular comic over, I might make her light-skinned, just to avoid the “black mothers are the face of poverty” stereotype. From that perspective, making her a black mom was a mistake. But hindsight is always 20-20. Hopefully the next time these theme comes up in one of my cartoons I’ll remember this and do it differently.

    7) I don’t really buy the “we can’t talk about oppression because admitting it exists makes oppressed people worse off because victimhood” argument. Taken to its logical extreme, that would mean that I should never do any cartoon that points out any form of oppression.

  11. 11
    kate says:

    I think this comic would be really weird with the genders and races reversed. Well off women of color with political power and/or media platforms simply are not exhorting poor white men to get married to lift themselves out of poverty; whereas powerful white men exhorting poor women of color to marry to lift themselves out of poverty are extremely common right now.

  12. 12
    delurking says:

    Ampersand’s points at 1:11 a.m. are really good; but also, what Katy said.

    The political argument which Ampersand addresses with this cartoon is exactly what is being displayed. That is to say, we have rich white Conservative guys conservosplaining to poor women (whom they all seem to be visualizing as poor black women) that all their problems will be solved if they just get married.

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    If one is being crushed by all of childcare, a low paying job, exhaustion, looking poor, unemployment and a lack of education, it’s most likely that you are a woman who has had a child out of wedlock when quite young. At that point marriage will help, but it will not alleviate all those conditions.

    But if you go to school, study, don’t get married until you’ve gotten an education and don’t have kids until after you’ve gotten married (especially to someone who’s taken the same path), then you’re a lot less likely to be crushed by all those factors. Yep, not so easy when you’re poor and your own mother did not travel that path – but that’s the way to go and people do it. That may not be an easy concept to communicate in a one-panel cartoon, but it’s a lot closer to the position of the kind of people that I speculate you’re attempting to depict by the character on the right-hand side of that panel.

  14. 14
    RonF says:


    Now that I’ve read your comments, if I were to do this particular comic over, I might make her light-skinned, just to avoid the “black mothers are the face of poverty” stereotype. From that perspective, making her a black mom was a mistake.

    If you did that, would you also have to remove the “bigotry” box?

  15. 15
    Hugh says:

    Amp: Didn’t you do a post a while ago saying that it was legitimate for government to help poor people into marriage?

    It seems a pretty fine argument that on the one hand, government should materially assist marriage, but on the other hand it shouldn’t promote it symbolically.

  16. 16
    RonF says:


    we have rich white Conservative guys

    Really? Is it only rich white Conservatives who hold the view that having kids before you’ve got an education and before you’ve gotten married is likely to condemn you to poverty? Is it mostly such people who hold that view?

    I’m betting a whole lot of people who aren’t “rich” have this viewpoint. I bet a whole lot of people who aren’t white have this viewpoint. In fact, I bet that the majority of people who have this viewpoint aren’t “rich”.

    I’m putting “rich” in quotes because I have another question for you – what’s the cutoff for regarding someone as rich?

  17. 17
    Hugh says:

    @RonF: I’d be willing to bet that quite a lot of rich white conservative women hold this view, too.

  18. 18
    RonF says:

    Hugh, do you think that the groups of women holding this opinion would be limited to “rich”, “white” and “conservative”? I’d guess that a lot of women who aren’t rich, or white, or even conservative would share this opinion.

  19. 19
    Hugh says:

    @RonF: Possibly, but I went for the low hanging fruit.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    Now that I’ve read your comments, if I were to do this particular comic over, I might make her light-skinned, just to avoid the “black mothers are the face of poverty” stereotype. From that perspective, making her a black mom was a mistake.

    If you did that, would you also have to remove the “bigotry” box?

    Nah. For me, “bigotry” includes not only racism but also sexism and many other -isms as well. We can’t tell from this if she’s straight or gay, or trans or cis, etc., but she’s certainly female. So I might change “bigotry” to “sexism,” but I wouldn’t feel I have to.

    Also, I could make her pale without making her Caucasian, in theory (in practice, there’s the issue of how good my drawing ability is).

  21. 21
    RonF says:

    So say you did portray her as Caucasian. Would the “bigotry” burden still apply?

    Is everyone who’s poor a victim of bigotry regardless of ethnicity or race?

    I used to work at a pizza/Italian restaurant run by an Italian family. Dad ran one restaurant, his wife and her daughters ran the one I worked at. In the summer they would turn (what I hope is not stereotypical to say) a shade of olive. They were as Caucasian as you can be, but it would be interesting to see how you would portray that in a cartoon.

  22. 22
    closetpuritan says:

    I think the cartoon would also work with a white woman holding the boxes. At least one prominent figure (prominent judging by how much his book was covered in the mainstream media, anyway), Charles Murray, has specifically criticized poor whites for not getting married. I suspect that in whiter areas, or areas where more poor people are white, the image that springs to mind when people talk about unwed mothers is often “trailer trash”/”white trash”.

    There’s also been some criticism of black people by black people, but IIRC it’s mostly been directed toward black fathers rather than mothers and I’m not sure how much of it is about marriage per se vs taking responsibility for one’s children. (With a quick glance at the coverage of Obama’s speech on the subject, it doesn’t look like he mentions marriage specifically. Bill Cosby seems to be advocating for marriage as well as taking responsibility in general.)

  23. 23
    brian says:

    Hmm…. Now Barry you know I’m one of your longest running fans. But I am suddenly feeling a desire to copy/paste in Snidely Whiplash for all your “villains” in your political cartoons, just to see if Sebastian laughs until he passes out. ;)

    Or Professor Bellows. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DastardlyWhiplash

  24. 24
    Sebastian says:

    Ampersand, you list three cartoons, and here is how I see them.

    In the first two, the Oppression Olympics definitely work.

    (1) One of the women had straight hair and lighter skin, and at least to me, looks in better shape. She is, of course, the one in the wrong. Honestly, I would read her as Hispanic or Asian before I see her as Black.

    (2) One of the women has lighter, straight hair, the other one has darker, curlier hair. And once again, she looks more shapely, to me, but I am starting to think that I just see a skirt and blouse as a clue to a better body type, as opposed to a T-shirt over a bulging belly.

    (3) In this one, one character is clearly more privileged than the other… and of course, he is in the wrong. Well, this is kind of the point of the cartoon, so I would not have bothered commenting on it, but it is hardly an example in which the less privileged person is in the wrong.

    By the way, it is funny that you advanced one of the four cartoons on my sticky board as an example (the one about robbing grandma). The one about perspective is going up there as well.

    The other ones already there are the one about the War on drugs (or on whatever), the one about the government rescuing the financier, and the one about street harassment (which recently replaced one about the Palestinian conflict).

    My wife put the last one there, and I left it as a reproach to myself. I was actually guilty (a long time ago!) of a reaction similar to that of the husband in the cartoon.

    And by the way, I have read your very elaborate answer, and I have to say that I find most of your points good… it’s just that I am not 100% sure that they invalidate mine. I’ll probably explain why, at some point, although after trying right now, I really need to think a bit more about it.