‘What they need is a fire hose … women who smash windows need the birch. … They need straitjackets, not the franchise.” —excerpts from Daily Express readers’ letters about suffragettes, circa 1913.
Just four generations ago, then, newspaper-printed comments about women agitating for their right to vote in England sounded little different from the abuse and vitriol streaming at so many females on today’s comment pages, Twitter feeds, and other online sounding-boards.
“Women’s trouble” is a passé euphemism for menstruation, but “The trouble with women is . . .” remains, sad to say, an opening phrase for plenty of enraged, retrograde opinions.
Cartoonist Jacky Fleming’s response? An illustrated, forked-tongue-in-cheek herstory of the XX, or doublecrossed, sex—long characterized (and thus caricatured here) in the West as fairer or weaker or another creature altogether. Mingling great men’s thoughts about Eve’s daughters with cartoony riffs on women’s restrictions (see also: big dresses; corsets; embroidery; getting emotional; hysteria; marriage prospects; swimsuits), The Trouble with Women snakes Pythonesque absurd-sarcasm through a pithy exposé of 19th and early 20th century language about women (still with us, in un-brave new forms).
Even as she sketches out some important women you may not know about (Phillis Wheatley, Emmy Noether, Eliza Grier), Fleming’s running jokes are sly—the many men noted as geniuses here implicitly questions why “genius” tends to be ascribed to the gender which can grow beards they can oh-so-thoughtfully stroke. Historical truth’s stretched or crimped: women were small-headed creatures kept inside on evenings “because of their poor night vision” and predilection for weeping, “sometimes hysterically.
“The first women lived in a Domestic Sphere,” Fleming writes above her drawing of a bustled-up woman trapped in a globe, but soon “[t]here were 6722 Fallen Women.” And, in an exuberant two-page spread, a New Woman rides a bicycle here, there, and everywhere.
This is a delectable little crack-potted history of just how screwed-up we’ve been about 50 percent of the population, thanks to the patriarchy. The Trouble with Women could serve equally as a coffee-table book for an anti-Trumper, a primer for undergrads on why feminism’s no f-word, or an anonymous reply to that person who once spouted off about the scourge of “political correctness.”
The Trouble with Women
By Jacky Fleming
Square Peg, $18.99