Media and Diverse Depictions of Women

Women in Political Satire

PROBLEM SATEMENT: -- According to Capdevila (2012), satires and cartoons became entwined during the 18th century, when the latter was first being used for critical purposes. Developing alongside journalism, satire in the form of cartoons has served the function of denouncing social and political issues. Due to there not being an open form of criticism, satirical cartoons were able to avoid censorship (Capdevila, 2012). The importance of the cartoon also lies in the fact that “the phrase is substituted by the line” (Picón, 1877), thus giving anyone the opportunity of interpreting it in an almost immediate fashion.

As to the representation of women in political satire, it is important to note the fact that in some cases, women have recently become more politically active. The presence of feminine characters in political satire is not new in and of itself; however, in the past they were represented as allegories that symbolized concepts such as Justice, Truth, and Freedom (Capdevila, 2012). Nowadays, as women gain notoriousness in the political stage in some parts of the world, they are more often represented as the political leaders they are, and not as mere traditional stereotypes. Nonetheless, it is possible that the matter of gender is misused when creating a satirical message, leading to sexist representations that focus on physical aspects rather than on decisions, tendencies, or ideology of the represented woman. 

Women in these satires, whether they are leaders, prominent political figures, officers or mere public figures in their countries, are often portrayed as shallow, cheap, and easy. With all its different forms or styles , these political satires give the civil society way to frame women in politics situations, actions, and so on. According to Oxford’s Dictionaries Online, a satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” It is specified in this same definition that satires can appear in a variety of formats, such as “a play, novel, film, or other work that uses satire."

This includes written, visual and audiovisual media. It is not specified, though, that satires could express anger, as well as having a moralizing purpose or merely playful burlesque.




A political satire is characterized by its sharp criticism and its underlying ideology. Its presence is a constant in many societies, although some differences as to the platforms and formats can be found in each case. Even though these media messages could be confused with means for entertainment or mere acts of mockery and jest, the fact remains that they are created with an inherent bias. Therefore, it is of considerable importance that they are not taken lightly when consumed, but critically and consciously. 

In the United States of America, political satire is a widely watched and accepted watchdog of the media and government, while in countries like Mexico and Jordan, political satires on TV are not as common. Irony is used in an editorial role to critique and challenge certain people or certain issues. Thus the civil society refers to cartoons, which are mostly published online to critique politics. 

Although satires are usually meant for fun, it is important to remember that its main purpose is beyond humor in itself, and could attack on a reality that the author disapproves of, using for its purpose the weapon of intelligence. 



Political Satire in the United States of America 

In the United States of America, political satire is a popular source for commentary on the media world and politics. By criticizing events and actions made by public figures in a comedic way, and being a watchdog of the media and government, it allows the audience to view the news differently. The shows “Saturday Night Live,” (SNL) “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and “The Colbert Report” are three of the leading television satirical outlets. Some aspects of the afore mentioned shows worth analyzing is whether satire blurs into sarcasm, and whether they have a constructive or destructive role in society. 

These TV shows present the news between the lines, in a way civil society, and especially a certain audience with certain political affiliations, can appreciate. With this said, it is important that people are media literate in order to understand the context of the satire; without an understanding of current events, satire cannot reach its full potential. The Presidential election coverage on “SNL” always stirs attention, but comedian Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin gained more attention than usual, replicating in looks, character actions and vocal intonations. In a skit that earned NBC its “most-watched web viral video” (Huffington Post, 2008) to that date, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler joined forces as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton – two leading female political figures of the time. They mocked the politician’s personal features and beliefs, while also discussing sexism in the media. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin generated some memorable lines. In this video, SNL pokes fun at the female politicians, media and society. At 1:23, Fey famously quotes as Palin, “I can see Russia from my house.” This criticizes the politicians’ global awareness. It was commonly critiqued in the media that Palin lacked a substantial career in politics and a strong background in foreign affairs. 

As a follow-up to the Fey-Poehler representation of Palin-Clinton video, Fey did a press conference as Palin, when the real Sarah Palin made a guest-star appearance. This gained national attention and made analysts think whether the politician made a positive choice in being on the show. In a study published by Public Opinion Quarterly, they found there was a decrease in public opinion of Palin as a result of Fey’s spoofs, calling it “The Fey Effect.” As a result of the six Fey-Palin impersonations, SNL was able to influence public opinion: the majority of viewers walked away with a negative and comical view of the former Alaskan Governor. 

The issue of sexism came up several times in the address. Palin addresses the first one 54 seconds into the video, “Tonight we are crossing party lines to address the now very ugly rule that sexism is playing in the campaign,” to which Clinton responds, “An issue, which I am frankly surprised to hear people suddenly care about.” Clinton’s views (as portrayed by Poehler) showed the former Secretary of State as a powerful female in politics that did not want to be categorized because of her gender. She emphasizes this at 3:35 saying, “I didn’t want a woman to be president. I wanted to be president. And I just happened to be a woman.” This highlights that woman should be viewed equally as men in politics and that gender should not influence voting. 



Case from Mexico: 

In Latin America, women have gained increased political exposure in recent times. This change has been partly brought about by legislations oriented to representativeness. For example, between 1991 and 2008 twelve Latin-American countries instituted laws concerning quotas from 20 to 40% in the legislature. In the specific case of México, the presence of female politicians has increased as well (Fernández Poncela, 2011). This can be


seen in the numbers given by the Electoral Federal Institute, which show that 33% of the senators are women. It can be seen that politicians in México are no longer a homogeneous group of men, but that women are also represented.

The increase of women working in Mexican politics has led to a representation in political cartoons, in publications that were once occupied mainly, if not solely, by men. Two examples of prominent female characters in Mexican politics are Elba Esther Gordillo and Josefina Vázquez Mota. The former was the leader of the teacher’s union for almost 20 years; the latter was a presidential candidate in the 2012 elections. The thesis for the specific case of Mexican political satire is that women are not represented in a sexist way. Here are some examples 


Both of them are clearly women, but no physical attributes (breasts or legs, for example) are presented in a sexualized manner. The clothes

are feminine, but not revealing. Their hair is clearly a woman’s, but is not emphasized on. Only accessories are highlighted, especially in the first image. However, the use of heavy jewelry and luxurious articles is a characteristic of the woman being portrayed, so it may not necessarily be considered as sexist.

Both women are placed in a position of power. They are acting as puppeteers and pulling the strings. In these cartoons, women are in control; they have power. While apparently playing with toys, these political figuresare controlling other entities.

In the image depicting Josefina Vázquez Mota (second image), it could be argued that she is objectified when being drawn as a puppet. However, it is important to consider the fact that the person behind her acting the words is herself: Josefina is the puppeteer of Josefina. It may portray her as hypocritical, but that characteristic is not limited to women when it comes to politics. If anything, the image even empowers her more, by showing her as the sole owner of her own actions.

These are only two examples, and surely many more can be found in the Mexican press. But after reviewing some other images of cartoons made of female politicians in México, it is possible to say that political satire, in the form of cartoons, in general, is not as sexist in México as it might be in other countries. 


Case from Jordan:

Jordanian-based Palestinian cartoonist Imad Hajjaj is known for his political satires that tackles situations in the Middle East, culture, Palestinian-Israeli conflict, women conditions, Arab leaders, and so on. Hajjaj portrays women in his cartoons in the most stereotypical way according to the culture/country they belong to. He focuses on their physical aspects as well as shows them as shallow beings.

For example, in the below cartoon he portrays Lebanese women who attend the protests as “sexy girls” as opposed to the uptight women in Jordan who are with the opposition.

He also portrays women in his political satires as shallow women, who only care about themselves and undergo plastic surgery as a result of submission to media standards of “what is beauty.”

Hajjaj always portrays women in his political satire as a stereotypical “Arab Woman” who is worthless in society, which is a stereotypical representation of women in the Middle East. In the second cartoon he drew two men protesting a political situation, half-naked, and a political journalist interviewing them. Although she is barely wearing any clothes, he is mocking how she is shy from men being in their underwear. He is referring to how shallow political journalists in Jordan are obsessed with their looks which contradicts with their duty. 

Hajjaj may be using these cartoons as a critique of the situation of women in the Arab World, but it somehow backfires as his cartoons makes foreign viewers feel that they have to accept the image of women the way the cartoonist portrays them.