I found this extraordinary. "How can Cathy be anti-feminist? Cathy IS feminist!"
I saw Cathy as being a struggle by one woman growing up within the heart of the feminist movement of America (the seventies and eighties and early nineties). The main character, Cathy, is a sort of ego who fights between her superego (the superwoman "I can have it all!" feminist who makes 5 million dollars founding her own business while raising four bilingual, privately-educated children and knitting for charities in her spare time) and her id (the timid, "traditional" woman who just wants to curl up with a rich husband and have babies without thinking of the more complicated aspects of life) while trying to live on a day-to-day basis.
The fact that Cathy Guisewite did not illustrate the modern feminist lifestyle as a type of new, dynamic, "Murphy Brown" existence may have irritated feminists, but Guisewite didn't see her heroine as just needing a man and a kid to be happy either. The innumerable strips where Cathy struggles with her boyfriend and various bad dates shows the fallacy of how a good husband will solve everything. Very few men make good husbands.... and when a potentially good husband does come along chances are he doesn't want you. Thus women like Cathy need jobs and careers to support themselves instead of simply waiting year after year.
The 1979 comic I have reprinted above (copyright Cathy Guisewite) shows that Guisewite very clearly knew how deeply ingrained (and unwholesome) the pre-feminist role of women was for Cathy's mother's generation. Even when enlightened about how unfulfilling her life has been, Cathy's mother and her friends have a great deal of trouble snapping out of their "housewife" mindset long enough to fight for their rights.
Men, after all, were merely expected to succeed in their careers. Their work ended at 6:30 pm when they came home and put their feet up, their labor done. When women were expected to succeed business-wise in the early days of feminism, their responsibility for raising the children was NOT lifted from them as well! Thus women's work load did not shift, it merely tripled. Women had to succeed career-wise AND raise amazing children AND look beautiful doing it all.
What Cathy Guisewite was arguing (and later most feminists agreed with her) was that this work load was too much. Men needed to shoulder the responsibility of raising children too as their wives shouldered the responsibility of adding to the family income. Plus women needed a break from constantly maintaining a good physique on top of all of that.... the point of Guisewite's many infamous "AAACK!" cartoons of Cathy trying on bathing suits.
Cathy and Charlene know that "helpless giggles and demure little blushes" are undignified for women of their intelligence... but society has not evolved enough to find their success attractive. Thus they are again caught in the double standard trap- the trap that Guisewite has spent her entire comic-strip writing career protesting. Being successful, being romantic, being maternal, and being beautiful all at the same time is too much work.... FAR more than the average male is expected to do. Women need to be cut a break.
In a later collection, Guisewite discussed writing and publishing the comics where Andrea is suddenly faced with the hardship of begging for work. "In the past decade, we had quickly moved from the concept of women "choosing" to work to the concept of women having to work just to make ends meet. The "typical American family" of one breadwinner, one homemaker and two children was a luxury almost no one could afford anymore. Ironically, at a time when there were supposedly more options for all women, most women found themselves having to make excruciating choices or- like Andrea- having the choices made for them."
Explain to me again how Cathy is an "anti-feminist" strip?
The Andrea series begins below.
To be fair, one statistic has moved in a positive direction since 1988: the amount of money women earn compared to men. In 1988 Andrea states that women make 64% of the salary men make. In 2013 that has risen to 81%... still not fair but definitely improving.
Nevertheless readers in 1988 were not thrilled to see feminist politics in Cathy and Guisewite was pressured to get off the soapbox and stick to strips about Cathy squishing herself into bikinis. Guisewite described the public reaction in a 1991 collection of Cathy comic strips.
Between Andrea's history of being vocal on women's issues and her own experience of having been fired for taking a maternity leave, I felt it was natural for her to actively campaign for Dukakis, the candidate who supported the same national day-care and parental leave legislation she did, in the 1988 election
Since none of the many strips I'd done in the past two years on the same subjects had gotten even one negative response, I was a little surprised at the fury that resulted from nine election-related strips. Cathy was dropped for a time from some papers and moved to the editorial page in others. Many papers kept the strip in the comic section but ran stories about the controversy, and published some of the thousands of letters sent by readers who were either thrilled or horrified that Cathy, which was "supposed to just be about women's stuff" had been used to voice a political opinion about women's stuff.
Guisewite relented and went back to the normal Cathy fare of bad dates, bad jobs, too much ice cream and tiny bathing suits, etc. The feminism was still there but much more soft-pedaled. Even intelligent feminist commentators condemned Cathy for its less than idealized (even if generally positive) views of modern feminism. I myself was disheartened when one of my favorite comic strip commentators, the hilarious Josh Fruhlinger of www.comicscurmudgeon.com, described Cathy as a comic strip whose main character "is a nightmare bundle of neurosis. The fact that the character always seemed to take every negative stereotype about women and extend them to cringe-inducing extremes made it hard to celebrate it as a feminist achievement."
Clearly Fruhlinger has not read enough Cathy.... something that he is not at all eager to remedy. Still, Fruhlinger does give Cathy modest praise. "It is important to remember that when Cathy launched in 1976, it was actively new and exciting and, in the grand scheme of things, good for a newspaper comic to focus on a lady who was unmarried and had a job."
Nevertheless it is ridiculous that Fruhlinger considers Sally of Sally Forth to be a better feminist role model when Sally is comfortably ensconced in a ridiculously secure marriage and frankly doesn't really address the same everyday issues of a woman's life the way Cathy did. Also it is important to remember that Sally Forth has recently become more about Sally's husband Ted than Sally herself. Also.... Sally Forth has never been as funny as Cathy.
We are talking about comic strips, after all.