Today, anyone with a Twitter account can experience the gendered terms used to denigrate Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy ― like those related to her emotions, family life, physical appearance, and more.
Well, three decades ago, it wasn’t much different.
Signe Wilkinson has been drawing cartoons of Clinton for 30 years. And during that span of time, she’s observed a whole lot of sexist commentary.
In a video with The Huffington Post, Wilkinson explained that, over the years, most of her cartoonist colleagues ― at the The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, and beyond ― have been men. “In the ‘90s,” she said, “[Clinton] started out as a witch, as a really negative caricature.”
Anne Telnaes, editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post, experienced similar sentiments early in her career. “People talked about, ‘Oh, she’s too loud, she yells, oh, she’s not personable,’” she said. “Well, you know, that’s not really what we should be criticizing.”
Wilkinson, Telnaes, and Jen Sorensen (political cartoonist and comics editor at Fusion) are just three women cartoonists who’ve watched Clinton transform from a first lady to a senator to secretary of state to a presidential candidate. They’ve also watched Clinton critics habitually lob gender-based criticisms at the politician, from references to her “shrill” mannerisms to claims that she’s playing a nonexistent “woman’s card.”
As cartoonists, these distractions from the issues and policies at hand ― the ones they’re tasked with challenging in clever, visual ways ― can be frustrating. And as women, the blatant sexism can be plain intolerable.
For Sorensen, her role as a woman cartoonist covering Clinton has involved a lot of back and forth. “When I’m criticizing her for her war vote, say, I’ve drawn her as Napoleon,” she said. “But, at other times, I feel myself feeling sympathetic. So I go back and forth between, honestly, criticizing her on the issues, and then also feeling like I have to defend her against sexism.”
At the end of the day, Wilkinson says it’s thrilling to see another woman rise to the level of presidential candidate. “I can be happy about that and then also unhappy with the individual actions she takes later,” she reiterated.
Like her female colleagues, she’d like to be able to do her job without the constant shadow of the gender imbalance in politics. “We’re women cartoonists but we’re cartoonists,” Telnaes added. “We go after people, this is our job.”
Hear more of what these three cartoonists had to say about Clinton, sexism and the art of political cartoons in the video above. For more of the work Wilkinson, Telnaes and Sorensen have created, see a selection of their art below: