Drawn to the truth: Cartoons chart women's battle for equality

The cartoon dates from 1928. "The Parliament of the future", it says, under a picture of an all-female House. If only, the sisters of the Nineties might reply.

The image is one of 145 in an exhibition drawn together by the Fawcett Society, the equality campaigners, spanning 130 years, which opens today. The aim of Fawcett's Funny Girls - Cartooning for Equality was to show through the cartoons women's battle for equal rights. But when they came up with the idea, the society had no idea whether that would be feasible.

Diane Atkinson, a historian and the show's curator, sifted 5,000 images, from Low, Giles and Mel Calman to Posy Simmonds, to discover it was. Fortunately, though the point of some old jokes was lost in time, others still carried a message. "I think they are quite a good barometer of the issues," Dr Atkinson said. "And I believe I've managed to cover quite a long time span quite economically through these images."

What can be seen is the rise of the Suffragette movement, the changes in attitude after the awarding of the vote to women and the subsequent struggle for equal rights. The subjects are not only politics at Westminster but, in a broader sense, in the workplace and home. A Punch cartoon in 1853 was one of the earliest to feature a woman MP. It was, Dr Atkinson said, "a bizarre, almost surrealistic image to the mid-Victorians".

Then humour turned full circle from the thought of women in Parliament as a joke in itself to the moment when a woman finally came out on top. When Margaret Thatcher beat Edward Heath to lead the Tories, the occasion was marked with a cartoon showing her pointing to Sir Edward chained to the Westminster railings in the manner of a Suffragette. His banners read "Keep Women Out Of The Top Spot" and "A Woman's Place Is In The Home".

Some things never change. Attacks on the appearance of women politicians are shown to have a historical precedent in a cartoon depicting all Suffragettes as so ugly they have never been kissed. "It's one of those cliches they recycle all the time - you must be a sad lesbian with a moustache," Dr Atkinson said. Despite the sexism, she said, the exhibition and accompanying book were not anti-male, nor angry and strident. "I'm not a woman who hates men - I am married to one." Shelagh Diplock, director of the Fawcett Society, said the cartoons reflected how far women have come and how much was still to be won.

But they also showed feminists had a sense of humour. "I wanted to show that we don't take ourselves seriously all the time. The battles of the sexes is often presented as earnest and hostile. But I'm a great believer in using humour to get people to re-think their ideas."

The date for launching the exhibition, at The Pump House People's History Museum, Manchester, was chosen 18 months ago but could not have been more appropriate. The exhibition goes to Glasgow in July and to London in October.

Mrs Diplock said: "I hope everyone will laugh but come away thinking 'This has been a long hard struggle, and where are we now? Yes, things have changed, but how much?' Then, having thought about it, they'll come and join the Fawcett."

Or stand for Parliament.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried