"Exhibiting You" - Story

Cartoon As a Political Manifesto

“Let’s Get Them!” Cries French Cartoonist Catherine Beaunez

Submitted: 03/27/2008

Every time she went into a publishing house and presented her manuscript of political cartoons, she would hear this soundtrack of rejections followed by a deafening sound of a door slamming shut. Although her resume is impressive--she has drawn cartoons for most major French newspapers including Le Monde, Le Nouvel Observateur, Charlie-Hebdo, L'Huma, and Le Point--Beaunez could not convince a single publishing house to take her humor seriously. Her feminist political cartoons were simply not funny enough.

Poking Fun at Men is Not Very Funny"Thirty years ago, few women dared to poke fun at men and machismo in French newspapers. Most artistic directors and editors in chief were men and, understandably, they were interested in protecting their territory and their hold on power," says Beaunez.

Not even Beaunez dared to poke fun at men until the early ‘90s. Her previous books of cartoons were well-received because they explored her private world as well as the quirks and twists of female sexuality. As a matter of fact, men were her most ardent fans. But when she tried to publish On les aura! -- a book of political cartoons that dared to critique men and sexism -- she faced vehement opposition.

On les aura! is bold, daring and blatantly critical of women's inequality in the French society. Seemingly the work of an imaginative prankster, it carries powerful social commentary: It puts the French society under a magnifying glass, it points fingers and it doesn't leave a rock unturned.

A Cartoon is Worth a Thousand WordsCartoons may seem like child's play to an inexperienced eye. Quite the contrary: Cartoons are both a reflection as well as a critique of the society they represent and, at times, caricature. "Cartoons have the power to condense and explain an entire culture. A cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter and one responds to its message quickly and instinctually," says Beaunez.

On les aura! is a powerful title intentionally chosen for the unmistakable message it relays to the French-speaking audience. It is a complicated play on words that carries many meanings. Originally, it was a call to arms made famous during the First World War that translates loosely as "Let's get them!" During the war, this call was used by the Allied soldiers, Frenchmen, Italians, Englishmen, and Russians, who called on each other to ignore their national differences and join forces against a common enemy.

More important, on les aura can be translated as "We will have them," suggesting a pair of male private parts, traditionally accepted as symbols of male strength and courage, and ultimately, symbols of male power. Beaunez's preference for the later translation is transparent in her bare-bones cartoon.

On les aura! is Beaunez's political manifesto in hundreds of eloquent cartoons. It is her call to French women to unite, join forces and claim their power. Who would have thought cartoons could do all that?

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