Cartoon: A Woman In The Primary

Help me make more cartoons by supporting my Patreon! A $1 pledge means a lot.

While I was working on this strip, my friend Rachel suggested I read the blogger Echidne’s post “The Hillarization of Female Politicians,” and I can see why.

On top of that criticism female politicians also elicit a different type of scrutiny, one which tries to find the hidden worm in the superficially perfect-looking apple, which tries to find something that is very very wrong in her basic values or her basic competence.

The worm MUST be there, for why otherwise would we find her so unauthentic, her voice so grating, her ambition so calculating?

And once the worm has been found, it is turned into a boa constrictor and then that boa constrictor is turned against the politician herself.

On Twitter, Jennifer Palmieri also put it well:

When did [Elizabeth Warren] become unlikable? Looks like you can pinpoint time of unlikability to moment she showed ambition to be POTUS. As far as women have come, people still find women w/ ambition vexing.  “There’s something about her I just don’t like.”

There are tons of legitimate reasons to dislike any politician, including women who are politicians. But when the politician running is a woman, the reasons often seem suspiciously nebulous, like a rationalization for something else.

Moira Donegan may have said it best:

The claim that a woman candidate is not “likable” is a code for saying she defies our shared cultural understanding that power and authority are implicitly male, and that women who claim them are illegitimate, threatening or breaking the rules. If it were possible for Warren to be “likable”, under this rubric, it would only be if she were able to adhere to prevailing ideas of what is appropriate behavior for her sex – that is, if she were not seeking public office at all.

When I originally wrote this cartoon, almost two months ago, it was going to be just one guy monologing.

But I felt very little enthusiasm about drawing it, even though I liked the strip idea (and it seemed to grow more relevant every day, alas).

I eventually realized that I just didn’t feel like drawing nine panels of the same rather annoying person talking. So I split the monologue among eight speakers, with the panel 1 speaker returning for the final panel (and hopefully providing the strip with a pleasing sense of circularity), and just like that – poof! – I was looking forward to doing the drawing.

This kind of strip is always fun to draw, because I get to design character after character after character, and the only rule is that none of them can look too much like any other. That’s a neat challenge. So is trying to avoid giving any two characters similar clothes or a similar body position.

Add in a checkerboard color scheme and some shading (I’m actually very pleased with how this came out visually), and, as the British might say, much to the bewilderment of me and every other American, Bob’s your uncle.


This cartoon has nine panels, plus an additional tiny “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon. Each panel shows a single speaker, talking directly to the reader.


A youngish white man with square glasses speaks cheerfully to the reader, holding up one forefinger in a “making a point” gesture.

MAN: We’d love to vote for a woman in the primary! As long as she’s the right woman.


A middle-aged man with a long face, sunglasses, and a tiny mustache holds his arms wide as he complains. His t-shirt is mostly cut off by the bottom panel border, but we can make out that it says “Biden.”

MAN: She’s so old. Can’t we have some fresh blood?


A woman with shiny black hair holds a coffee mug and speaks, looking concerned.

WOMAN: She just seems too ambitious. I don’t like that in a President… Plus she’s so inauthentic!


A benign-looking older man, wearing a dark suit and a striped tie, speaks to us, a small smile on his face.

MAN: Her? No. She doesn’t have enough experience…. Yes, I voted Obama over Hillary in 2008. That’s different.


A middle-aged man wearing a sports jersey and a baseball cap is looking at his smartphone, tapping it with one finger as he speaks.

MAN: She SAYS she listened to Tupac in 1989… But Tupac’s first album was in 1991! I won’t vote for a liar!


A young man with pierced ears, tattoos, a shaggy haircut, and a cheerful demeanor waves a hand dismissively, as if he’s laughing at a dismissable concept.

MAN: C’mon, her voice is so shrill! IT’d be like voting for my mom!


A man with neatly combed hair, perfectly round glasses, shrugs. He’s wearing a black shirt, a necktie, and a jacket with a plaid pattern.

MAN: I’d vote for a woman. But think of all the backwards people who won’t. That’s why we have to choose a man.


A young man in a hoodie, wearing large glasses, is partly turned away from us, but looks back at us out of the corner of his eyes, raising a hand for emphasis.

MAN: She’s just not likable, okay?


The youngish man from panel 1 is back. He’s grinning a bit too big, and holding two thumbs up towards the viewer.

MAN: So that’s a “no” for 2020! But if an acceptable woman ever runs, we’ll totally vote for her!


A tiny panel below the bottom of the stirp shows a young man with his hair buzzed on teh sides, looking smugly amused, talking to Barry the cartoonist. Barry has a pained expression and has slapped a palm over one of his eyes.

YOUNG MAN: So you’re saying it’s “sexist” to ever criticize a female politician?

BARRY: OW! Eyeball rolling injury!

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Elections and politics, Feminism, sexism, etc. Bookmark the permalink. 

21 Responses to Cartoon: A Woman In The Primary

  1. 2
    Malparkage says:

    Kind of disturbed about the middle one, TBH. So you shouldn’t pick a candidate based on ideology/platform if that would mean voting against a woman?

    I know that political cartooning is about building straw men and knocking them down, but it seems that “too radical” or “too centrist” are actually very good reasons not to vote for someone.

  2. 3
    Ampersand says:

    My intended point in that panel – which may not have come across – was that the person in the panel wouldn’t find ANY ideology acceptable. It’s like someone saying that they don’t like either creamy or crunchy peanut butter – they’re actually just saying they don’t like peanut butter, because all peanut butter can be described as one of those two traits.

    Maybe I should have said “left” instead of “radical”? Would that have made the cartoon work better for you?

  3. 4
    Mandolin says:

    I think you might have to include something really clearly silly in order to make the point super, SUPER clear. I think you’re going to get some amount of misreading in that space no matter what.

    “too left/ too radical / too left-radical / not too left-radical enough / wrong position on goat-watermelon crossbreeding …”

  4. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Another possibility is to replace it with another panel altogether, like someone complaining “She puts Dijon on her hot dogs! What a snob!”

  5. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Or maybe add a third sentence to that panel, so the person is saying “Too far left… too far right… too centrist.”

  6. 7
    Mandolin says:

    too far sideways…

  7. 8
    Ben David says:

    I am stealing “eyeball roll injury”. Excellent!
    That kind of exagerration-unto-non-sequitir is all too common in modern discourse.

  8. 9
    Malparkage says:

    The Dijon line works, but it undermines your argument. The comic puts ideology in a continuum of dumb reasons to not vote for a woman, up there with her tone of voice. The insinuation is that you should be voting for a woman candidate unless you have a really good excuse not to, and these excuses don’t cut it. The Madeline Albright “special place in hell” line in comic form.

    But it’s a hard time to draw something like this. Harris is challenged from the left on criminal justice issues. Gillibrand is supposedly a lefty-come-lately, Warren is challenged from the right. Klobuchar is very new to the field, but one can assume she’ll soon be attacked as too centrist.

    Now that we have more women running, are we allowed to dislike a woman for unauthorized reasons if it means we instead support a different woman? Can I pick Gillibrand over Warren because Warren is too “shrill”?

    Most importantly, do I need a very good excuse to vote for a white women over a WOC? Because if I do, there’s no need to pay attention to the primaries.

  9. 10
    Ampersand says:

    The Dijon line works, but it undermines your argument.

    How does the Dijon line do that?

  10. 11
    nobody.really says:

    “She puts Dijon on her hot dogs! What a snob!”

    “No man who says, ‘I’m as good as you’ believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce…. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the [person] refuses to accept.

    And therefore resents. …No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners… ‘Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstate, lah di dah affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them no doubt…. If they were the right sort of chaps they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.'”

    Screwtape, Screwtape Proposes a Toast by C.S. Lewis (1959).

    (I thought the cartoon was clear as-is, but “too centrist” is a funny line in itself.)

  11. 12
    Mandolin says:

    Well, the Dijon thing has also been used against men. (Aruuugula!)

    And is one of the stupider arguments against Trump, from the other side. (HE USES KETCHUP EVERYONE FAINT IMMEDIATELY.)

  12. 13
    Ampersand says:

    Well, that it’s a stupid argument makes it fit into the cartoon. :-)

    I don’t think the argument is that these arguments are NEVER used against male candidates, but that they seem to come up more with female candidates.

    But yeah, I guess Obama owns Dijon. I was just thinking of the candidate who was being chortled about last week because she asked if a fried chicken dinner was to be eaten with hands or fork.

  13. 14
    Ampersand says:

    I changed the middle panel to something inspired by today’s monumentally stupid Kamala Harris “controversy.”

  14. 15
    Gracchus says:

    I’m late to this game – what did the middle panel originally say?

  15. 17
    Chris says:

    The new middle panel is gold.

  16. 18
    Patrick Linnen says:

    In all honesty, I am not certain why the prior center panel was less understandable. I mean even Hillary Clinton got slammed for being too radial on some issues while being too centrist for other by the same op-ed writer. And on occasion op-ed writers would say she was both on the same issue, sometimes in the same article.

    No problems with the new panel, though it shifts the criticism to accuse the woman of being a “fake geek girl.”

  17. 19
    Gracchus says:

    Interesting change. The old panel was the only one that talked about voters having policy preferences. I am thinking that the implication is that people are much pickier about a women’s policies when they’re a woman than when they’re a man, but it’s not clearly stated. And even if this is the intention, at least the person who’s excessively picky is talking about policies, as opposed to “she’s old”, “she’s ambitious”, “I don’t like the way she talks”, etc etc.

    So I guess I think this change makes the message much clearer.

  18. 20
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    Note that this cartoon seems quite inconsistent with scientific findings on voting patterns, which tend to either find no gender bias or bias by women in favor of women (while finding no bias by men for male candidates).

    Of course, all candidates get criticized in a biased way by those who oppose them, which looks like bias if you yourself are biased. After all, then the pickiness from the other side seems much more absurd than the pickiness against the other side.

  19. 21
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    That last bit should be ‘looks like societal bias if you yourself are biased.’