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.
Emma Perrier was deceived by an older man on the internet—a hoax that turned into an unbelievable love story.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love.
DeepMind’s new self-taught Go-playing program is making moves that other players describe as “alien” and “from an alternate dimension.”
It was a tense summer day in 1835 Japan. The country’s reigning Go player, Honinbo Jowa, took his seat across a board from a 25-year-old prodigy by the name of Akaboshi Intetsu. Both men had spent their lives mastering the two-player strategy game that’s long been popular in East Asia. Their face-off, that day, was high-stakes: Honinbo and Akaboshi represented two Go houses fighting for power, and the rivalry between the two camps had lately exploded into accusations of foul play.
Little did they know that the match—now remembered by Go historians as the “blood-vomiting game”—would last for several grueling days. Or that it would lead to a grisly end.
Early on, the young Akaboshi took a lead. But then, according to lore, “ghosts” appeared and showed Honinbo three crucial moves. His comeback was so overwhelming that, as the story goes, his junior opponent keeled over and began coughing up blood. Weeks later, Akaboshi was found dead. Historians have speculated that he might have had an undiagnosed respiratory disease.
On Monday, Trump set out to emphasize honor and integrity—and then he made a series of unsubstantiated claims.
The week of October 15 was supposed to be set aside to reflect on character.
“We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people,” President Trump said in declaring it. “The grit and integrity of our people, visible throughout our history, defines the soul of our Nation. This week, we reflect on the character of determination, resolve, and honor that makes us proud to be American.”
There hasn’t been much time to talk about character. Instead, politics this week has been dominated by a peculiar scandal, beginning with one off-base remark from the president on Monday, that has managed to somehow leave everyone it touches worse off than they were at the start of the week—including the president, his chief of staff and spokeswoman, a member of Congress, and the family of a Special Forces soldier killed in Niger earlier this month.
The president relishes bellicose language and performative violence, but seldom acknowledges its human toll.
When White House Chief of Staff—and Gold Star parent—John Kelly, on Thursday defended Donald Trump’s call to the newly widowed Myeshia Johnson, he was somber and sincere, which is refreshing. But he was wrong.
Context matters. From another person, at another time, observing that Sergeant La David Johnson “knew what he signed up for” by joining the Army wouldn’t have sparked outrage. But consider what else Representative Frederica Wilson—with the backing of Johnson’s mother—has alleged: that Trump didn’t know Johnson’s name; he repeatedly called him “your guy.” And that Trump’s tone was oddly jovial: “He was almost, like, joking.”
Above all, consider what we know about the way Trump discusses pain and death. This is the man who congratulated Puerto Ricans—whose island had been utterly devastated—for losing only “16” and not “thousands of people.” The man who told a crowd in Corpus Christi on August 29, while 30,000 Texans were displaced, “It’s going well.” And who said after touring the convention center where thousands of Houstonians were taking refuge that, “We saw a lot of happiness.”
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The former president reprised his favorite themes of hope and unity in his return to the campaign trail on Thursday.
RICHMOND, Va.— The event had all the trappings of a vintage Obama rally. There was the bouncy Motown soundtrack; the chants of “yes we can”; the call-and-response with a crowd of die-hards—Fired up, and ready to go!—for whom seeing Barack Obama in the flesh seemed to stir emotions akin to a religious experience.
And, of course, there was that hallmark of Obama’s rhetoric—audacious, unavoidable, dripping from every syllable of the former president’s speech: Hope.
“Look, I’ve been in this arena for a while,” Obama told a crowd of thousands at a campaign rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam Thursday night. American politics might be “depressing” now, “but what I also know is that as frustrated as you get … there are people all across this country who want to do things better.” After all, he reminded them, “I’ve seen the possibilities of our democracy.”
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
Her bubbly new Reputation track confirms that she’s trying on an edgier persona with a familiar musical swerve.
The drum beat that opened Taylor Swift’s 1989 made a slow, simple, statement: “1 … 2 … 3 … and 4!” at a pace roughly appropriate for lurching along in a grocery line, with a regularity that even the most drunken campfire-side clapper couldn’t mess up. The song, “Welcome to New York,” kicked off her supposed first “official pop album” with a portrait of glorious naivety. Swift was the country girl just arrived in the big city, amazed by all she saw: the lights, the sounds, the homosexuals. Her gait was accordingly untroubled, steady, optimistic: “It’s a new soundtrack / I could dance to this beat forevermore.”
The album that followed largely stayed in that shiny, straightforward mode. She was open-hearted yet unflappable, whether brushing off criticism (“Shake It Off”), lightly dressing the wounds of breakups (“All You Had to Do Was Stay”), or memorializing the thrill of a new relationship (“Out of the Woods”). Slabs of synth and driving, steady beats cast a movie-trailer glow of enchantment. Reviewers noted that this mode actually broke from recent pop trends, spurning the influence of hip-hop and R&B, as well as some of the grim moodiness creeping onto the charts. The video for “Shake It Off” even poked fun at the idea that Swift might start imitating Nicki Minaj like some of her contemporaries.
Rumors are swirling over what took place in the final hours before four U.S. servicemen died—but a clear picture of what actually took place is only beginning to emerge.
On October 4, a small group of U.S. troops were preparing to leave a meeting with community leaders near the small town of Tongo Tongo in Niger. They were close to the Malian border, traveling in unarmored pick-up trucks with limited weaponry and a few dozen of their Nigerien counterparts. Then they were ambushed.
By the time the more than 30-minute assault was over, three U.S. troops were confirmed dead and two more were gravely injured. Another, Sergeant La David Johnson, was missing and his body would not be recovered for another two days. French aircraft, called in for back-up, circled overhead as fire was exchanged below. They later helped to evacuate survivors.
This is the official account of what happened, as CNN, the Washington Post, and others have reported it. Yet there are deep questions as to what exactly what went wrong, including why U.S. troops were traveling in unarmored vehicles and how Johnson was separated from the group, how he died, and why it took so long to find him. As public scrutiny of the incident intensifies, so too do the many stories about what may have taken place. On social platforms like Twitter, people are sharing graphic details about the troops’ final, brutal hours.But there’s little clarity, and certainly sparse information from public officials about what actually happened.
The Senate’s passage of a budget resolution on Thursday night was a victory for party unity, but a defeat for the GOP’s remaining fiscal hawks.
Republican senators have found the secret to recovering the unity that’s eluded them on major legislation this year. All they had to do was sacrifice the deficit.
In narrowly approving a $4 trillion budget resolution on a 51-49 vote Thursday night, the GOP majority moved an important step closer to the major tax-cut plan that the party wants to enact by the end of the year. After this summer’s defeat on health care, Republicans momentarily eased doubts that they could ever get all of their members—everyone except Senator Rand Paul, at least—to agree to a complicated policy document.
But the unity, and the lure of tax cuts that drove it, come at a cost, both politically for Republicans and potentially for the nation’s debt. The Senate budget would allow Congress to reduce taxes by up to $1.5 trillion over the next decade without offsetting the cost. That had been in the Senate plan all along, but over the course of several hours on Thursday, Republicans had opportunities to shift course. Democrats offered amendments that would have forced Congress to work on a deficit-neutral tax plan, while Paul, the Kentucky spending hawk, tried to get his colleagues to reduce spending as well as taxes. The Senate rejected them all, choosing to forgo, for the moment, the more difficult decisions involved in picking what additional spending to cut or which taxes to raise.