Post-Gazette cartoonist Steve Kelley asks how the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh could call him "misogynistic" when he drew this cartoon for the newspaper two months ago. Submitted by Steve Kelley.

After we contacted Post-Gazette cartoonist Steve Kelley to schedule an interview regarding the controversy around three of his recent cartoons, Kelley opted not to be interviewed but sent the letter below to NEXTpittsburgh on Jan. 28. Columnist Andrew Conte first wrote about this issue on January 24, and has a new column about Kelley’s response here.

Here is that letter:

28 January 2019

Dear Andy:

I read the column you wrote about three of my cartoons and the reactions they engendered. You included in it an interview with cartoonist Liza Donnelly. I’m writing to let you know that I found much of what you wrote — and what Ms. Donnelly said — curious.

The blitz of letters to the newspaper about my work has many of the hallmarks of an organized campaign, with certain words and phrases appearing repeatedly among them. They almost without exception suggest the cartoons are misogynistic, aren’t funny, and their attempts at humor are rooted in the 1950’s or 1960’s.

Of course, no one bothers to make an actual case for what they’re saying, because the case really can’t be made.

Whether something is or isn’t funny is a matter of personal taste. The notion that something published today is redolent of a bygone decade and no longer applicable is similarly an opinion — shared by some, discounted by others.

My suggesting that there is a woman in the world who wants gender equality but likes that men pay for dinner cannot be construed as a display of hatred for half of the population of the planet. The suggestion that there might be a little girl somewhere who would prefer to divorce Jeff Bezos than to marry a prince isn’t all that far-fetched, much less an expression of hate. And a joke about a prominent politician’s well-known use of Botox is hardly out of bounds for political humor — those jokes were common about John Kerry when he ran for the White House (I should know — I drew one of them, and no one accused me of misandry).

It is often the case that someone who would argue an indefensible point resorts to gross exaggeration and ad hominem attacks instead of linear logic and data. When addressing these cartoons, each of which depicts a specific situation, why is it rational to assert that the characters populating them are meant to represent all of the members of their gender? Do people do that with characters in novels, or sitcoms or movies?

The predicate for my cartoon on eliminating traditional gender roles was a report from the American Psychological Association:

It’s a report decrying “toxic masculinity”, released the day I drew the cartoon. After ingesting the story, I elected to challenge the notion that women suffer from men’s “stoicism” and “competitiveness”, both of which the APA recklessly malign in their report.

In the aftermath of the letters we received, which insisted that I was a victim of old-fashioned thinking about dating, I researched who pays at restaurants, especially on dates. What are the protocols now, as opposed to the 1950’s and 1960’s?

Here are a couple of links for reference, each followed by relevant data that I copied and pasted from the story:

Men: Offer to take the lead.

Battista and Mendez both agree that it’s generally best for men to pay on a first date. Yes, even still in 2014—a time in which, as I myself have written, women often outearn men.

But the fact of the matter is that men typically want to pay: In a poll last year conducted by LearnVest and T.D. Ameritrade, 55% of men said they thought the guy should take the check. As Mendez explains, many men feel fulfilled and accomplished when they see an opportunity to provide, even if it’s in simple ways like paying for a drink.

Perhaps more importantly, paying is a way for him to preen. “Even a guy who doesn’t make much money if he really likes you will try to impress you to the utmost that he can,” says Battista

As for women? “In my experience, 90% will be offended if a guy doesn’t offer to pay,” says Battista.

Research by Emmers-Sommer et al. (2010) acknowledged that abundant research indicates that heterosexual dating scripts remain quite traditional, with the man expected to ask a woman out, and to pay for the date.[ii] Their study further revealed that although modern singles believe it is appropriate for either party to initiate a first date, in reality, most men still do so.

Modern Trends Regarding First Date Funding

Taking these findings in context, there are many first date bill-splitting/paying scenarios that will not necessarily trigger false expectations, which some would argue might be for the best. A 2017 Wall Street Journal article by Khadeeja Safdar (“Who Pays on the First Date?: No One Knows Anymore—Online Dating, Evolving Gender Roles Complicate the Fake Wallet Reach”) reported that in an age of evolving gender roles and Internet dating, we are unsure about who should engage in “the reach” for the bill.[iii]

Contrary to the beliefs expressed by Post-Gazette staff and readers, most dates involve a man asking a woman out and then paying the bill. The notion that some women like that is hardly despicable.

My cartoon about the Bezos’ divorce was based on a fusillade of stories about the couple’s high-profile split. Somehow, my critics neglected to notice that nearly all reporting on the subject featured the couple’s net worth prominently in the story – many including it in the headline. One can deny the notion that a girl wants to marry (or divorce) a man of means (or a prince, for that matter), but I think it is reasonable to suggest that some do. Certainly there is ample evidence from cartoonists at least two of whom are contemporary women:

Ms. Donnelly includes Ann Telnaes among her favorite cartoonists. Here’s one of her cartoons that seems relevant:

There are three women depicted, all of whom got the prince they wanted, only to discover that he was a disappointment. An amusing cartoon – at the expense of the prince each time. That’s apparently acceptable because Telnaes is targeting men, not women. Yet these three women all wanted the prince when he represented the fairy tale and all its trappings – castles, carriages, glass slippers. I have no problem whatsoever with the cartoon, and I find it quite funny. I just don’t accept that it’s okay to take men to task when they deserve it, but not women. It seems to do so would be sexism per se.

Ms. Donnelly’s cartoons – in my opinion – do the same thing. Here are two she provided you as examples of how best to deal with subjects who are not in what you both call “privileged groups”:

Copyright Liza Donnelly. Submitted to NEXTpittsburgh by Liza Donnelly.
Copyright Liza Donnelly. Submitted to NEXTpittsburgh by Liza Donnelly.

Both of these are excellent, but they paint the women in them as victims, which I believe you and Ms. Donnelly are suggesting makes them above the same reproach you level at my work. Indeed, Ms. Donnelly’s cartoons play to the notion that allegations made by women against men should be believed in an extrajudicial sense. Why is that okay?

I try to avoid seeing people as members of groups. My job is to produce five amusing and provocative cartoons each week addressing the shortcomings of government or individuals, some of whom are women. In order to treat everyone the same, I look at no one as privileged or underprivileged. To do otherwise would mean that I’m not treating people fairly.

A final subject I’d like to address is the casual use of the word “misogyny”, which means “hatred of women”. Pause and reflect for a moment precisely how unambiguously searing and offensive that word must be when directed at someone to whom it does not apply. It strikes me as remarkable that people so easily offended by the thought of a woman wanting a man to pay a dinner tab would willfully misappropriate such an incendiary label. I wonder how my colleagues in the newsroom could reach for that word when this cartoon of mine appeared in their newspaper only two months ago:

Likewise, would a man who hates women have drawn this cartoon about sexual harassment in the workplace early in his career?

One of the cartoons I drew in 2005 has remained an all-time favorite among my readers. It depicts a rather unappealing man standing beside his bed in boxer shorts reading from a Viagra bottle to his wife. No one condemned the cartoon as sexist, or demeaning to men. And yet, by the logic applied to the three cartoons you wrote to me about, it is inherently offensive to all of them:

Part of the problem may be that as women become more integrated into positions of power, especially in government, some will undoubtedly say and do things – as men have done forever – that are foolish, ill-considered or illegal. Naturally, that will increase, not decrease the amount of criticism directed their way. I would encourage them – and the rest of us – to get used to it.


Steve Kelley

Editorial Cartoonist, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

“One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”

— P.J. O’Rourke

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments.