Acclaimed illustrator Michael Leunig has defended a cartoon that appeared in last Thursday’s The Age that subsequently caused a social media storm after it was labelled “misogynistic” and the work of a “sad old man”.
The cartoon showed a mother pushing a pram but was so glued to her mobile she fails to notice her infant has tumbled out.
In an editorial piece from Friday (read it in full here) that appeared in Nine’s The Age and SMH, the 74-year-old father of four defended the work saying he (and others) had been noticing a “sadness [at] the growing number of parents lost in their phone screens while wheeling babies in prams through busy streets”.
Titled Aiming to stir the possum, I got engulfed in free-floating hate, the cartoonist dismissed the haters who had called the work misogynistic and labelled his detractors as bigots.
“The malice has been astounding and so extreme that it has plunged me into a deep contemplation about the nature of angry hatred,” he wrote.
Leunig argued that he was a victim of “an emerging new form of hatred in society which might be more of a mental illness than a passing emotion. Perhaps I would call it free-floating, obsessive-compulsive hatred.”
He added: “I drew a mother not out of misogyny but because of my lifelong special interest in the mother-infant relationship and all that is at stake in that early connection.
“To paraphrase [paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald] Winnicott: the attentive, loving eye contact made by mother with the baby is crucial in the child’s developmental process.”
However, it appears Leunig’s attempts to offer a more balanced précis of his work has done little to assuage the haters.
As she did when the image was first released, former Age/SMH columnist and feminist, Clementine Ford, again resorted to name-calling, labelling Leunig a “massive banana”.
“It’s just extremely convenient that Leunig’s devotion to enforcing — sorry — ‘supporting’ the mother/child bond has allowed him, a father, to have a full-time career that began 50 years ago and during the birth and raising of his offspring,” she said.
Another writer, Erin Riley, labelled the work as “intellectually lazy”.
“I genuinely don’t think he realises how deeply misogynistic it is to be so reductive in the way he discusses mothers — as mothers only. But it is,” Riley on Twitter.
“[The cartoon] was not about parents being obsessed with their phones. It was not about the role of phones in society.
“It was about how, in his view, mothers aren’t mothering properly.”
However, others defended the work, arguing you only needed to see how many people die in car accidents while looking at their phones to know the obvious dangers. It’s reported that 25 per cent of all accidents on Australian roads relate to phone use.
“A cartoon is not an essay or novel. It is a cartoon. A drawing designed to amuse or make a short point. All in a series of pen strokes. Don’t try to read too much into it. I stand by Leunig, he is and always has been my favorite cartoonist,” wrote one fan on Twitter.
Another penned: “Anxiety generated by phone use compulsion and excessive social media use? Leunig has made a clever observation about society and culture to prompt introspection, as cartoonists do best. Maybe mass Twitter outrage suggests he’s hit a sore point?”