With America on the verge of electing its first-ever female president, social media platforms are currently rife with memes about feminism. “This is nothing new,” you might say—and you would be very right. But how old those memes are might surprise you.
In a piece for The Atlantic titled “The Weird Familiarity Of 100-Year-Old Feminist Memes,” writer Adrienne LaFrance compares the ubiquitous internet images of 2016 with the postcards and political cartoons of a century ago. In doing so, she finds some startling parallels. In the early decades of the 20th century, America was struggling with the question of whether women should be given the right to vote. Suffragists argued that voting was a birthright for all Americans; anti-suffragists claimed that it would lead to the emasculation and subjugation of men, an argument you can still see espoused across weightlifting forums throughout the internet.
Even back then, we couldn’t get enough of cats:
That even went for the opposition:
It was even common practice then to combine inspirational quotes with pictures of famous people, as evidenced by this Abraham Lincoln postcard.
LaFrance notes, “You can find this kind of thing all over sites like Pinterest and Reddit today,” though the quotes are often spurious, misattributed platitudes. (In this one instance, anyway, Abe actually did say that.)
The aggrieved tone of online misogyny, too, has a very old precedent. “Outspoken and civically engaged women are still a target for humorists and activists,” LaFrance writes, “routinely cast as either larger-than-life saviors or power-thirsty demons destroying modern society.” For an example of that paranoid thinking, check out this 1909 postcard, in which an aggrieved husband actually has to take care of his own children while his wife is at a suffrage meeting.
Poor fella! You can see many more examples of how far we haven’t come over at The Atlantic.