Rendezvous with Liza Donnelly
Liza Donnelly is a writer and award-winning cartoonist with The New Yorker Magazine, where she has been drawing cartoons and writing about culture and politics for forty years. She is also a contributor for CBS News and CNN, creating political cartoons as well as live-drawing special cultural and political events. Donnelly writes and draws for The New York Times and CNN Opinion pages. She is a designated top writer and cartoonist for Medium in politics and feminism where she writes and draws a regular column.
Donnelly delivered a very popular TED talk, which was translated into 38 languages and viewed over 1.4 million times. She is a return speaker at SXSW, has delivered talks at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, The New Yorker Festival, five TEDxes (most recently in Charlottesville, Virginia), universities, NGOs and corporate venues in the US and abroad. Donnelly has been a Cultural Envoy for the US State Department, traveling around the world to speak about freedom of speech, cartoons and women’s rights.
Here is her interview with TSSP/IF Team: –
In one of your interviews you had mentioned that in the early stages of your career, there weren’t as many female cartoonists. What made you take the road less travelled by? Was there hostility that you noticed from your colleagues?
I was drawing at a very young age, around seven years old. All I wanted to do was communicate through drawing. It wasn’t until later when I began to submit cartoons to publications like The New Yorker that I realized how few women there were drawing cartoons. I never thought of myself as a woman cartoonist, but rather a cartoonist who is a woman. My gender informs my work but does not define it. I never ran into any hostility, no—I feel lucky. There may have been unconscious bias on the part of the editors, and I suspect there was, but I can’t prove it.
There is a stereotype that women are not as humorous as men. Have you encountered any such situation where this stereotype was enforced?
That is an old stereotype, and in my lifetime that opinion has dwindled a great deal. What I try to do with my cartoons is show that a different type of humor can be funny, that not all humor needs to be defined by the same set of rules. Those rules have been typically created by men and don’t have to be followed.
Would you consider the industry to be strewn with prejudices and stereotypes or does it run purely on merit?
I think there are still a lot of stereotypes out there, some prejudices, but more and more the field of cartooning is run on merit. At least in the United States—it may be quite different and much more of a struggle in other parts of the world. In fact, I know it is, so we have to support women who are seeking a voice in this field.
What does the feminist movement mean to you and what do you think the movement lacks or should focus further on?
To me, the feminist movement means that women are free to be who they want to be, that women of all races should be treated equally and given the same opportunities as men. We feminists need to keep explaining what feminism means, because many people still don’t understand. The uninformed think it is about hating men, or feminists think that women are better than men, which is strongly not the case. Women are just as complicit in the patriarchy as men, it is a system of oppression that we need to change. Imagery such as cartoons can slowly change cultures by showing what’s wrong, visually. We feminists must also realize that there are many feminisms, i.e. the approach to reaching equality in any different culture or group may be different than how we approach it. We have to respect other people’s realities and seek change carefully and thoughtfully.
Social media has taken the world by storm. How has it influenced your work?
Social media has hugely influenced my work. I use it to publish my work and speak to things in drawings that I think are important. It is a communication tool and I think cartoons are well suited to the medium. Cartoons are communication, after all!