In a post with a much better URL—Pepe the Anti-Suffrage Frog—than actual headline, The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance last week looked at the great, great grandparents of today’s dank memes: Victorian-era postcards. Chief among topics in these popular turn-of-the-20th Century political messages was the highly divisive and hot-button issue of whether women should get the right to vote. Some focused directly on the perils or promises of women’s suffrage, while others cast more general doubt on female fitness to handle non-household affairs.
As LaFrance points out, the old political postcards serve some of the same functions, and feature some of the same imagery (so many cats!), as today’s internet memes. But what makes them particularly relevant right now is how, with sex- and gender-issues occupying so much space in the 2016 election, the rhetorical content of the suffragette-era postcards also feels familiar today. On the anti-suffragette side, feminists were portrayed as masculine and overbearing, traditionally feminine but slutty (a popular trope was that suffragettes were putting out to get men to support their cause), or as whiny babies (literally), while men who supported women’s suffrage were portrayed as emasculated and foolish, left to care for babies at home while their wives ran off to vote. It was also popular to suggest that if women had more political rights, they would use them to subjugate and punish men. On the suffragette side, those opposed to women’s suffrage were portrayed as backward-thinking, brutes, or otherwise unsavory individuals, while appeals to the undecided were made with flowery female-positive language; imagery of female goddeses, angels, and deities; and emphasis on women’s roles as mothers, shapers of future generations, and moral compasses for a male-dominated society.
Heck, replace suffragettes with social justice warriors and women’s suffrage with female president and the vintage fights over feminism, fears about women’s place in society, and ideas about gender roles could be clogging up a Twitter timeline near you. So—with tongue firmly in cheek—let’s see if we can’t match suffragette-era political postcards with the major figures, forces, and tropes that have been driving today’s battles of the sexes and 2016 election memes…
Random Cats With Political Opinions
Neera Tandem/Meghan Kelly
The GOP Establishment
Men’s Rights Activists Scottie Nell Hughes/Kayleigh McEnany
Women Against Feminism
“Fight Song” Jeb Bush/Gary Johnson/Jill Stein/Rand Paul…. etc. The Alt-Right “SJWs”
Billy Bush Pepe the Anti-Suffrage Goose