Project Section: Stamps

Stamp Out Stamp Bias!


Our stamps project is dedicated to eliminating the pervasive gender bias in our nation’s postage stamps. Men depicted on stamps outnumber women overall by three to one, and the ratio isn’t improving. From 2000 to 2009 the U.S. Postal Service honored 206 individuals on commemorative stamps; only 43 were women. That’s 21%.

Stamps send a message from the government to the citizenry about who and what is valued, serving as a sort of “Who’s Who” of American history. The implicit message of the current gender ratio in stamps is that either women have not made significant contributions in the past 250 years to the founding and growth of this nation, or the contributions they have made are not valued. This subtle and continuous bias is insidious and extremely destructive. It sends a message to our mothers, our sisters, and most significantly our daughters that women don’t matter.

What is particularly disturbing is that when the USPS issues a souvenir sheet which could easily feature men and women equally, the bias remains. (The 20-stamp Masters of Photography sheet of 2002, for example, featured 17 men and only three women.) It is even more disturbing that many of the topics the USPS selects for stamp blocks fundamentally exclude women, such as the “Legends of Baseball” (20 stamps), “Baseball Sluggers” (four stamps), “Distinguished Marines” (four stamps), “Classic Movie Monsters” (20 stamps), or “Early Football Heroes” (four stamps).

The postal service is aware of this skewed portrayal of Americans and American culture on stamps. In fact, the bias is intentional, since the vast majority of stamp collectors are male and the postal service believes that male collectors prefer to buy stamps featuring men. Yet in catering to the collector market, the USPS is marginalizing half the population and negating women’s achievements.

It is time for the USPS to honor men and women equally.

Our stamps project is just now getting underway. If you’d like to help us stamp out stamp bias, please email us at stamps@equalvisibilityeverywhere.org. We need volunteer coordinators, researchers, letter writers, interns, and helpers of every description (see our How You Can Help page for more).

Watch this space for updates as the project takes shape.

Stamp Project Updates

Funny Ladies

The other day I noted the lack of females in the new Sunday Funnies stamps from the Post Office.

One of our volunteers, Nancy Foye-Cox, was inspired to compile a list of comic strips either featuring females or created by females—just to show what the Post Office is missing. I’ve plugged in her data below.

It’s not like these are obscure comic strips running in alternative feminist weeklies. Blondie, for example, is the most widely distributed comic of all time (yes, really—ahead of Peanuts, Garfield, and all the others). Cathy Guisewite (Cathy) and Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse) are both Reuben winners. The iconic Little Orphan Annie became a Broadway show and a movie. Luann is a contemporary favorite.

COMIC STRIPS NAMED FOR FEMALE CHARACTERS

Blondie

  • APPLE MARY by Martha Orr (1930s) (became MARY WORTH)
  • BLONDIE by Chic Young (1930)
  • BRENDA STARR by Dale Messick: first cartoon strip written by a woman (1940). NOTE: After Messick left, strip continued by other female artists.
  • CATHY by Cathy Guisewite
  • DASHING DOT by Marjorie Henderson Buell
  • FRITZI RITZ by Larry Whittington (1922) (became NANCY strip)
  • GAY AND HER GANG by Gladys Parker
  • GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and BABS IN SOCIETY by Virginia Huget
  • LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE by Harold Gray (1924)
  • LITTLE LULU by Marjorie “Marje” Henderson Buell (1935)
  • LUANN by Greg Evans (1985)
  • MARIANNE by Ethel Hays
  • MARY WORTH by Dale Conner (who left the strip)
  • MAXINE or LAUGHING GAS by Marian Henley
  • MISS FURY by Tarpe Mills (1941)
  • NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller (1938)
  • SUSIE Q. SMITH by Linda and Jerry Walter
  • TEENA by Hilda Terry (1941). NOTE: first female cartoonist to be accepted to the National Cartoonists Society.
  • THE KEWPIES by Rose O’Neill (1909)
  • TORCHY BROWN by Jackie Ormes, first Black female comic strip cartoonist (1937)
  • TOODLES, DIMPLES, DOLLIE DINGLE, and DOTTIE DARLING and the CAMPBELL (SOUP) KIDS by Grace Wiederseim AKA Drayton AKA Gebbie
  • WAY LAY or STORY MINUTE by Carol Lay

Luann

SYNDICATED COMIC STRIPS BY FEMALE CARTOONISTS

Cathy

  • APPLE MARY by Martha Orr (1930s) (became MARY WORTH)
  • BOBBY SOX by Marty Links (1944)
  • BRENDA STARR by Dale Messick: first cartoon strip written by a woman (1940). NOTE: After Messick left, strip continued by other female artists.
  • CAP STUBBS AND TIPPIE by Edwina Dumm (1918)
  • CATHY by Cathy Guisewite
  • DASHING DOT by Marjorie Henderson Buell
  • FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE by Lynn Johnston
  • GAY AND HER GANG by Gladys Parker
  • GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and BABS IN SOCIETY by Virginia Huget
  • LITTLE LULU by Marjorie “Marje” Henderson Buell (1935)
  • MARIANNE by Ethel Hays
  • MARY WORTH by Dale Conner (who left the strip)
  • MAXINE or LAUGHING GAS by Marian Henley
  • MISS FURY by Tarpe Mills (1941)
  • SUSIE Q. SMITH by Linda and Jerry Walter
  • TEENA by Hilda Terry (1941). NOTE: first female cartoonist to be accepted to the National Cartoonists Society.
  • THE KEWPIES by Rose O’Neill (1909)
  • TORCHY BROWN by Jackie Ormes, first Black female comic strip cartoonist (1937)
  • TOODLES, DIMPLES, DOLLIE DINGLE, and DOTTIE DARLING and the CAMPBELL (SOUP) KIDS by Grace Wiederseim AKA Drayton AKA Gebbie
  • WAY LAY or STORY MINUTE by Carol Lay

For Better or For Worse

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Even cartoon stamps ignore women

usps_sc_sundayfunnies_bg

“Will Beetle Bailey ever run out of hideouts where he can catch a nap?” asks the AP, reporting on the U.S. Postal Service’s new series of stamps commemorating the Sunday funnies. “Will Sarge ever tire of tracking him down and putting him to work?”

Here’s another question: Will the folks at the post office ever miss an opportunity to ignore females?

I’m thinking the answer is no.

…continue reading

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USPS: They Did It Again

Charged with “portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps,” the United States Postal Service has yet again provided the world with a partial view of American history and a biased view of the accomplishments of our citizenry.

The USPS will issue 55 different commemorative stamps this year, 16 of which will honor individuals. Only 4 women were selected for this year’s stamp issues: humanitarian Mother Teresa, actor Katherine Hepburn, vocalist Kate Smith, and poet Julia de Burgos. Even though women are over 50% of the population, they got only 25% of the stamps. This is the exact same percentage as last year.

Winslow Homer, American.  <em>Mending the Nets</em> 1882. Watercolor and gouache over graphite.

Mending the Nets. Winslow Homer, American, 1882. Watercolor and gouache over graphite.

An analysis of this year’s stamp issues raises some other problems as well. The USPS decided to issue a series of five cartoon character stamps, called “Sunday Funnies.” This series—which includes Archie, Beetle Bailey, Dennis the Menace, Garfield, and Calvin and Hobbes—ignores cartoon strips led by female characters. The USPS also issued a pane of stamps called “Abstract Impressionists,” honoring the “artistic innovations and achievements of 10 abstract expressionists, a group of artists who revolutionized art during the 1940s and 1950s and moved the U.S. to the forefront of the international art scene for the first time.” Only one of the 10 artists, Joan Mitchell, was a woman.

The stamp issues this year exhibited male bias in other ways. There was a stamp honoring the Boy Scouts with a picture of a boy scout. And the stamp honoring Winslow Homer featured his painting Boys in a Pasture. Many of Homer’s paintings featured women, one of my favorites being Mending the Nets, in which two young women are sitting on a bench mending fishing nets. If the USPS had selected this painting the stamp could have been a tribute both to the man who painted it and women who contribute so much work to the world.

If you are unhappy about the bias in this year’s stamp selections, please send a letter to: Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 North Lynn St., Suite 5013, Arlington, VA 22209-6432.

Let’s hope there are more stamps of women next year.

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