12 February 2016
Jacky Fleming is a feminist cartoonist, whose work first became known
through her series of pre-internet postcards, which reached women around
the world by snail mail. Following a Foundation Year at Chelsea School of Art,
she went on to study Fine Art at Leeds University, where her contemporaries
formed bands like the Mekons, and the Gang of Four.
Her first published cartoon, which appeared in Spare Rib, was a university essay for feminist art historian Griselda Pollock, which she handed in as a cartoon strip. Since then her work has featured in many publications including The Guardian, The Independent, New Statesman, New Internationalist, Red Pepper, Observer, Diva, You, Big Issue. She has published six books of cartoons, five with Penguin, one with Bloomsbury. The Trouble with Women is her seventh.
I have known Jacky for a few years now, we lived in the same street and shared an interest in cats. Unlike me she does not have men’s legs…
James: The Trouble with Women is your latest book. It’s a bit of departure; where did the idea come from?
Jacky: I'd watched yet another documentary about male genius with no women in it - this one was about New York in the 50s so I KNEW women had been invented by then. I googled 'can women be geniuses?' just to see what came up. It was a Pandora's Box of the most unbelievable pseudo-scientific nonsense, written by the men we learn about in school. The one which really amazed me was written by Charles Darwin, who said men were better at absolutely everything apart from imitation. His evidence was that if you made two lists, one of eminent men, and one of eminent women, the list of men was longer. Which I thought was pretty flakey evidence from the man who challenged the origins of our species. In fact it was so wrong in so many different ways, that I had to write a book about it.
James: The title’s ironic, right? Should it not be called The Trouble with Men?
Jacky: The Woman Question, or Querelles des Femmes as it was referred to in the Middle Ages, has a tradition going back centuries. It's a type of bloodsport which goes like this: a man writes (with wit) about why an education is wasted on women, who are fickle, lascivious, money-grabbing lightweights incapable of thinking rationally. Then a woman reads it, gets angry, writes something in response (also with wit), then she gets showered with abuse and ridicule.
The Trouble with Women also refers to the endless scrutiny of women’s bodies, and all the things which men said would happen to them if they persisted in studying - their breasts would atrophy, they'd grow beards, they'd be sickly and ailing for the rest of their lives....All true.
James: Your cartoons have always been political. Are there things that cartoons can do that an essay/article can’t?
Jacky: No, I think there are things that I can do, and things that I can't. I do it best in that form, which is fortunate because I certainly can't do radio!
James: Do you have men’s legs?
Jacky: I have got men's legs, and a beard, but luckily I've got a forward thinking partner who isn't frightened by either.
James: Still angry after all these years? What needs to change? Can things change?
Jacky: Still angry after a a a l l . . . these years ... w h o o a a h still angry after a a a l l...these years - to Paul Simon tune.
Yes, things can change if the school syllabus includes all the women languishing in the Dustin of History, if documentaries about genius include the women - of whom there are MANY, so that the Exceptional Woman myth which keeps gender inequality looking normal, cannot be sustained. Depriving women of our history is very effective, as it naturalises inequality, and makes it seem as if there's no alternative. That's why Darwin's theory is so shocking - giving the full weight of scientific backing to female inferiority. His fairly major contribution to making inequality look normal.
James : Name a book[s] that changed you!
Jacky: 1066 And All That. I love the way it plays with what we already know. Eddie Izzard does that too. I've tried to use the same idea in this book - a spoof of the history we learn at school with 3 women in it - Marie Curie, Jane Austen, and Florence Nightingale.
James: What makes you happy?
Jacky Fleming: Drawing makes me happy, laughing makes me happy.