“I can’t decide what I’m going to be when I grow up—a good girl or a slut” is a political cartoon by Liza Donnelly, who often deals with political and cultural themes and global women’s rights issues. This cartoon illustrates two young girls sitting on the floor of one of their bedrooms, playing with dolls while discussing their uncertainty of the type of girl they want to be in the future. The cartoon explores the themes of innocence and demonstrates the strong influence society has on forming gender role prejudice in children. Today I’ll be looking at how stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the female gender negatively impact young girls.
Beginning with the illustration, Donnelly uses stereotypically girly and feminine objects to establish the theme of innocence while alluding to the gender role issue. To first create this sense of childhood purity, Donnelly’s style is very minimalistic and two-dimensional. Additionally, the white background, simple lines, and patchy colors almost mimic a children’s drawing. Together, they represent the simplicity of a child’s life and support this theme of innocence by adopting a child’s point of view. The white background creates salience and brings the viewer’s focus to the centered girls who are the focal point. They carry expressions of quiet innocence, which further evokes a sense of purity and naivety. The cartoon only consists of warm tones, which connotes the soft and welcoming nature women are traditionally characterized with and to show how this softness is often seen as a weakness and is what makes them inferior to men. The color yellow is heavily used to create a light and cheerful mood. And the repetition of pink and purple further emphasizes the unwritten rule of pink being a girl’s color. It’s interesting to note that blue, a color associated with boys, is only seen on one object: a clothing article of the doll, which happens to be pants. Again, this reinforces gender stereotypes. The stuffed animal, unicorn painting, dolls, and lacy frills on the bedding, are commonly associated with the female gender; anyone who sees this drawing would immediately recognize it as being a young girl’s room. These components give the audience the idea that the two girls are too young to understand what they are talking about.
Now moving on to the text, the caption juxtaposes the captured image of innocence, demonstrating how society has tainted children’s purity. The choice of diction, “good girl” and “slut” are polar opposites with no in-between; it sheds light on the extreme portrayal of women society has forced upon us. This false portrayal restricts and limits young girls to reach their full potential by creating this mental obstacle, which can be seen as a stereotype threat. Moreover, the word “slut” employs irony, because it’s not something we’d expect a girl her age would say. It starkly contrasts with the physical image Donnelly characterized the girls with, so it shocks the viewers to see them use “slut” so freely and casually. Overall, the caption is conversational, utilizing colloquialism and a blasé tone. The jargon supports the casual setting while highlighting the girls’ disturbing indifference in using this derogatory term. Knowing the prominent role of the media, the audience can see the likelihood of children to casually repeat terms they hear without knowing the meaning. Hence, through the caption, Donnelly addresses the issue of girls being given extreme role models by the media, which limits potential.
Although the caption has a distinct disparity with the illustration, they align and reveal the author’s call for action. Donnelly emphasizes diversity and shows that stigmas surrounding women is a universal issue; this is accomplished by using different skin tones and hair colors for the two girls. The dolls in their hands are a reflection of themselves, which highlights this process of finding and molding their identity. The scattered clothes represent the girls’ uncertainty of what to be in the future given the numerous choices at hand. This is ironic considering society deemed girls can only be either “good” or “sluts” as stated in the caption. Furthermore, this categorization is shown by how the dolls are dressed: one is in a dress, while the other is in undergarments. The contrasting attire is parallel to the caption, where it exemplifies the cliché appearance of a “good girl” and “slut”, while depicting the limited options girls have. Donnelly is a global women’s rights advocate, so the viewers can be assumed she has negative feelings towards the issue. The unicorn, a mystical creature commonly seen in children’s books, is another portrayal of innocence, but is also a symbol for magic and miracles; it supports Donnelly’s negative feelings but also represents Donnelly and the entire female population’s hope for change in eliminating female stigmas.
The debatable issue Donnelly seems to be tackling is how girls are given and presented with extreme role models by the media and popular culture, as well as the dangers their impressionable and naïve nature can bring especially in this digital age. Through the use of color, symbolism, and irony, Donnelly reveals the negative influences these false stereotypes surrounding girls can cause, such as tainting a child’s innocence and creating false perceptions and restrictions.