One can never truly pinpoint what feminism looks like. Sometimes it’s the faces of celebrities, proudly claiming the “F” word; sometimes it’s a swarm of protestors gathering on the National Mall. And sometimes it’s a crown of broccoli asserting its dancing ability to a bullying stalk of asparagus. In her latest work, “Was That Supposed to be Funny,” Brooklyn based cartoonist/blogger Lauren Barnett uses personal anecdotes as well as personified vegetables to invite the reader into her quirky, droll mind.
While the comic does not serve as the site for feminist criticism, Barnett’s presentation of her own experiences as a woman offer fertile ground for exploring the cultural constructs that pervade the female experience. The title alone, inspired by a 6th grade note between the author and a classmate, conjures memories of bra-snapping boys, sexist teachers, landlords, and doctors plus a lifetime of pop-culture references in which the joke is on us. While hunting for an apartment, she is nearly scammed out of her $500 deposit, and completely scammed out of the apartment. One is left to wonder, would the apartment have been secured if the boyfriend for whom she is going to share it with had been the one handling the shady broker?
The most poignant, and strangely hilarious, moments are Barnett’s inclusion of actual diary entries from her adolescence, written verbatim, and brought to life in black and white illustration. Watching Jaws, a 9 year old Barnett is saddened by the death of “the pretty girl” and later makes history as President of the United States, Niki Taylor, supported by her secretary, and best friend, Cindy Crawford. Barnett’s work is a charming and unique representation of the third wave of feminism and a generation of women no longer succumbing to silence. In a country where women are still outnumbered, and underpaid, by men in a number of fields including publishing, animation and comedy, Barnett bravely inserts her voice into the dialogue. The result is a sublimely feminist, refreshingly entertaining and utterly relevant documentation of one woman’s world.