Cartoon As a Political Manifesto

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

Women don't have a sense of humor. Women don't care about politics. Women don't want to be politicians. For eight years, these false truisms formed a haunting soundtrack to French cartoonist Catherine Beaunez's life.
Catherine Beaunez
Politics? Perhaps in another life.
Entrenched gender roles are the main reason women are underrepresented in politics, says Beaunez. Who has time for politics when a woman is expected to work, shop, clean, cook and raise children, all at the same time? View Larger >
Catherine Beaunez
I‘m fed up with thinking about others. Now I'll get involved in politics! Beaunez critiques traditional, male-dominated politics and its disregard for people. She suggests that her heroine is already doing politics by thinking about others. By following men and entering politics, she would start thinking about herself and, for the first time, start profiting from her hard work. View Larger >
Catherine Beaunez
No women allowed in my kitchen!
In this cartoon, the kitchen is the male-dominated political arena. It is the only kitchen men want to cook in and women are excluded from, Beaunez comments. The labels on the jars are acronyms for French political parties. View Larger >
Catherine Beaunez
Let's get them!
Beaunez's nude heroine is draped in a thin sash bearing the three stripes of the French flag. Her breasts reveal her as a female, but her lower-body anatomy is very much male. In this context, "On les aura!" means both, "We will beat the men" and "We have the right stuff" to do it. This cartoon is Beaunez's call to French women to stand up to sexism and gender inequity. View Larger >
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?

Hasna Ziraoui contributed to this story.


I too use cartoons (occasionally) for teachers to use in classrooms because of their high student interest. The two most appropriate here would be the "kitchen" access and "politics -perhaps another life." I have some from other countries that match these two from France!

Also see some on my website's lesson on women's suffrage: Lyn Reese

What an incredibly wonderful story! I can seriously appreciate someone who takes a matter of injustice and gives it a light-hearted spin. Sometimes it is too much to take to be constantly dismayed by the world's inequalities. To take a moment to poke fun at them is reinvigorating for the serious work that needs to be done. Thank you to Catherine for your inspirational work.

Deleted User

Catherine Beaunez is an inspiration. Just a couple of black lines, some bolder than others, and a dash of red here and there, and here you have it: a political statement. I think we should all become dilettante cartoonists and learn this indispensable skill that will not only entertain us but also make us critics of the world we live in. As a result it will make the world we live in a better democracy. Create your own cartoons. Become an engaged citizen! Go here and have a blast!

Deleted User

Cartoon as a political manifesto: I like how one of the cartoons suggests that women are already doing politics by worrying about others and that if she were to actually enter the field of politics she would start worry about herself and profiting from her work.

Meghan Johnson
United States

Catherine Beaunez: On les aura!! -- I loved reading about the french cartoonist that straight up attacked every social and political issue revolved around gender and the sometimes subtle and sometimes blatent sexism still present in French culture. Some of her cartoons playing off of irony and some were daring and new, I understand why the writer mentioned that she didn't get as much publicity or press as one may have desired because the gender issues in France are either ignored by decision makers or there are simply not enough women in power to be taken seriously or not enough women passionate enough about the topic to make a difference in gender roles and society in France.

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Do Catherine Beaunez's cartoons make you stop and think? Do they make you laugh? Then you must get her book of cartoons "On les aura!" and share it with your friends --French