It seems almost farcical that the 2016 presidential campaign has become a referendum on misogyny at a moment when the United States is poised to elect its first woman president.
Not that this is surprising, exactly.
There’s a long tradition of politics clashing spectacularly with perceived gender norms around election time, and the stakes often seem highest when women are about to make history.
Today’s political dialogue—which often merely consists of opposing sides shouting over one another—echoes another contentious era in American politics, when women fought for the right to vote. Then and now, a mix of political tension and new-fangled publishing technology produced an environment ripe for creating and distributing political imagery. The meme-ification of women’s roles in society—in civic life and at home—has been central to an advocacy tradition that far precedes slogans like, “Life’s a bitch, don’t elect one,” or “A woman’s place is in the White House.”
Today’s memes can be found on T-shirts and bumper stickers, yes, but they’re mostly online—published and shared on platforms like Tumblr and Imgur and Twitter. A century ago, political memes were distributed primarily on postcards, via pamphlets, and in newspapers—with suffragettes as a favorite subject of either mockery or admiration, depending on the illustrator’s beliefs.
Much of the imagery that circulated in the early 20th century made fun of suffragists, even in illustrations that weren’t explicitly anti-suffrage. Mainstream humor at the time relied heavily on gender-based tropes and stereotypes, and political humor was no exception.“It made no difference that the bulk of this material was not intentionally anti-suffrage,” wrote Lisa Tickner in her 1988 book, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-14, “It represented an enormous mass of material, and some very deep-seated prejudice.”
One common theme was the subversion of male and female roles in society—with men often depicted holding crying babies or doing housework, and women portrayed as ultra masculine and detached from home life.
Artists who created works with the intention of promoting suffrage were organized and devoted to the cause, Tickner wrote, “but [their efforts] were very small against the accumulated weight of individual and institutional misogyny.”
Sounds familiar, no?
On top of all that, in a sub-genre of suffrage-era propaganda that’s downright internetty, there was even an obsession with cats. (This was likely because of the 1913 Cat-and-Mouse Act, a government strategy to discourage hunger strikes by imprisoned suffragettes in the United Kingdom, according to the historian of social movements Catherine Helen Palczewski.)
As Palczewski points out in an essay accompanying her web collection of suffrage postcards, it was common for people to display albums filled with postcards in their homes in the early 20th century. So it made sense that postcards both supporting and opposing the women’s vote were ubiquitous, especially between 1890 and 1915 in the United States. About 4,500 different suffrage-themed postcards were designed during that time, she wrote.
Congress ultimately ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920. But many women, particularly women of color, remained disenfranchised long after that. Early 20th-century suffrage memes were nearly exclusively concerned with white people. In reviewing hundreds of postcards, prints, and illustrations, the only portrayal I saw of a black woman was in a cartoon strip about a white husband struggling to manage housework after his wife had gone off to a suffrage meeting. The woman in the strip is a mammy caricature, only there to help the man with the laundry.
And though the aesthetic of early comics and other memes isn’t exactly contemporary, many of the formats used back in the day—like inspirational quotes overlaying imagery of revered figures—have lived on. You can find this kind of thing all over sites like Pinterest and Reddit today:
In 1941, George Orwell wrote an essay about the endurance of this art form, focusing in particular on the work of Donald McGill, a British illustrator known for his raunchy postcards. His observations remain salient today, and could easily apply to modern collections of political “shitposts.” (The epithet he uses is jarring to read in 2016, but such racist imagery is still being produced.)
They have an utter lowness of mental atmosphere which comes out not only in the nature of the jokes but, even more, in the grotesque, staring, blatant quality of the drawings. The designs, like those of a child, are full of heavy lines and empty spaces, and all the figures in them, every gesture and attitude, are deliberately ugly, the faces grinning and vacuous, the women monstrously parodied, with bottoms like Hottentots. Your second impression, however, is of indefinable familiarity. What do these things remind you of? What are they so like?
Comic postcards, Orwell concluded, were so familiar because they exploited tensions and ideas rooted deeply in Western European consciousness. Finding humor in punching down at women, the depictions of them as grotesque, sexual innuendo at their expense—all this stuff has deep cultural roots. “What you are really looking at,” he wrote, “is something as traditional as Greek tragedy.” Which, of course, brings us back to the 2016 election.
Outspoken and civically engaged women are still a target for humorists and activists, routinely cast as either larger-than-life saviors or power-thirsty demons destroying modern society. “To her critics, the modern woman was a symptom of the social decline she helped to precipitate,” Tickner wrote of the way suffragettes were perceived during the presidential campaign of 1908, “To her champions, she was not unwomanly, but womanly in a new and developing way.”
The only consensus, it seems, is that a woman’s political ambitions cannot be ignored.
As the Trump presidency approaches a troubling tipping point, it’s time to find the right term for what’s happening to democracy.
Here is something that, even on its own, is astonishing: The president of the United States demanded the firing of the former FBI deputy director, a career civil servant, after tormenting him both publicly and privately—and it worked.
The American public still doesn’t know in any detail what Andrew McCabe, who was dismissed late Friday night, is supposed to have done. But citizens can see exactly what Donald Trump did to McCabe. And the president’s actions are corroding the independence that a healthy constitutional democracy needs in its law enforcement and intelligence apparatus.
McCabe’s firing is part of a pattern. It follows the summary removal of the previous FBI director and comes amid Trump’s repeated threats to fire the attorney general, the deputy attorney, and the special counsel who is investigating him and his associates. McCabe’s ouster unfolded against a chaotic political backdrop which includes Trump’s repeated calls for investigations of his political opponents, demands of loyalty from senior law enforcement officials, and declarations that the job of those officials is to protect him from investigation.
How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory
One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.
Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.
Among the more practical advice that can be offered to international travelers is wisdom of the bathroom. So let me say, as someone who recently returned from China, that you should be prepared to one, carry your own toilet paper and two, practice your squat.
I do not mean those goofy chairless sits you see at the gym. No, toned glutes will not save you here. I mean the deep squat, where you plop your butt down as far as it can go while staying aloft and balanced on the heels. This position—in contrast to deep squatting on your toes as most Americans naturally attempt instead—is so stable that people in China can hold it for minutes and perhaps even hours ...
A new six-part Netflix documentary is a stunning dive into a utopian religious community in Oregon that descended into darkness.
To describe Wild Wild Country as jaw-dropping is to understate the number of times my mouth gaped while watching the series, a six-part Netflix documentary about a religious community in Oregon in the 1980s. It’s ostensibly the story of how a group led by the dynamic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased 64,000 acres of land in central Oregon in a bid to build its own utopian city. But, as the series immediately reveals, the narrative becomes darker and stranger than you might ever imagine. It’s a tale that mines the weirdness of the counterculture in the ’70s and ’80s, the age-old conflict between rural Americans and free love–preaching cityfolk, and the emotional vacuum that compels people to interpret a bearded mystic as something akin to a god.
The first female speaker of the House has become the most effective congressional leader of modern times—and, not coincidentally, the most vilified.
Last May, TheWashington Post’s James Hohmann noted “an uncovered dynamic” that helped explain the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare. Three current Democratic House members had opposed the Affordable Care Act when it first passed. Twelve Democratic House members represent districts that Donald Trump won. Yet none voted for repeal. The “uncovered dynamic,” Hohmann suggested, was Nancy Pelosi’s skill at keeping her party in line.
She’s been keeping it in line for more than a decade. In 2005, George W. Bush launched his second presidential term with an aggressive push to partially privatize Social Security. For nine months, Republicans demanded that Democrats admit the retirement system was in crisis and offer their own program to change it. Pelosi refused. Democratic members of Congress hosted more than 1,000 town-hall meetings to rally opposition to privatization. That fall, Republicans backed down, and Bush’s second term never recovered.
In his new book, Steven Pinker is curiously blind to the power and benefits of small-town values.
I’m a scientist at UC Berkeley—a card-carrying true believer in liberal Enlightenment values. Imagine that I meet a bright young woman in a small town in Wisconsin or Alabama, and that I want to persuade her to become a scientist like me. “Listen, science is really great!,” I say. “We scientists care about truth and reason and human flourishing. We include people from every country and culture. And our values have transformed the world. For thousands of years before the Enlightenment, the speed limit was the pace of a fast horse, and children died all the time. Now ideas move at the speed of light, and a child’s death is an unthinkable tragedy. Democracy has eclipsed tyranny, prosperity has outpaced poverty, medicine has routed illness, individual liberation has uprooted social convention. Come join us!”
Shortly after he was dismissed Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the former FBI deputy director pinned the blame directly on President Trump.
Updated at 10:50 a.m. ET on March 17
Andrew McCabe, a former acting and deputy FBI director who had drawn the ire of President Trump, was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday evening, a decision that raises troubling questions about the independence of both the Justice Department and the FBI.
Trump and his associates are a focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and McCabe’s firing could send the message to federal law-enforcement officials that they risk their jobs and reputations if they displease the president.
In his first public comments on the matter, just after midnight, Trump effusively praised McCabe’s dismissal:
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
Corporate executives haven't always believed that transactions must have winners and losers. But that’s not Donald J. Trump’s view.
The stories we tell ourselves, far more than the evidence of scientific analysis, determine how we interpret the world around us. Accordingly, the fate of capitalism rests in no small measure on the real and imagined characters whose ethics and efforts, at any given time, seem to embody the system. Whether the system is identified with Bill Gates or Bernie Madoff, Horatio Alger or Gordon Gekko, opinions about how exactly capitalism works, no less than its moral fitness, reflect the heroes and villains who drive these tales.
Whichever of these two designations best describes Donald J. Trump, he is clearly a chief protagonist, the world over, in the contemporary tale of capitalism. This has been clear enough since at least the spring of this year, when the man known to millions around the world for the lurid catchphrase “You’re fired!” became the first political novice from the business world to become a major party nominee for president since Wendell Willkie in 1940.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
Apps like Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps may make traffic conditions worse in some areas, new research suggests.
What is the price of anarchy?
Technically, in transportation engineering, the price of anarchy describes the difference between what happens when every driver selfishly picks the fastest route and what the socially optimal traffic outcome would be.
In the pre-mobile-app days, drivers’ selfishness was limited by their knowledge of the road network. In those conditions, both simulation and real-world experience showed that most people stuck to the freeways and arterial roads. Sure, there were always people who knew the crazy, back-road route, but the bulk of people just stuck to the routes that transportation planners had designated as the preferred way to get from A to B.
Now, however, a new information layer is destroying the nudging infrastructure that traffic planners built into cities. Commuters armed with mobile mapping apps, route-following Lyft and Uber drivers, and software-optimized truckers can all act with a more perfect selfishness.