A New Yorker comic recently posted to Instagram has sparked a heated debate and it isn’t over whether it’s funny.
No one has a problem with the cartoonist poking fun at people who waste time at the gym staring at their phones.
The big debate raging on Instagram is whether the cartoon is sexist.
It depicts a male walking in to a gym labeled “Actual exercise,” and a female staring at her phone, walking into a gym labeled “Sit on equipment and stare at your phone.”
First let’s take a look at what sexism means, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:
Definition of sexism1 : prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women2 : behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
At first glance, the cartoon appears to say women are the ones guilty of texting instead of doing squats. So, that would make it sexist.
But, when one looks deeper into the cartoon, men and women are both depicted as either working out or staring into the iPhone abyss. So, that seems to make it not sexist.
Here’s what the commenters had to say:
The “it’s sexist” argument:
Just like racism exists in a white supremacist power structure, sexism exists with men as the dominant gender in the that power structure. So that’s the lens through which this image can be viewed as sexist. — @no__regrets
“Look in the background” is similar to saying people of color have the same representation in history books as white people because “”hey are in the background” — @hopecross
Those images are hidden in the background and not everyone will even see those. And it doesn’t hide the foreground misogyny. — @christinebass27
The “it’s not sexist” argument:
Fact: there are more women working out in this cartoon & more men on their phone. & all these women on their phones are upset that there’s a women in the foreground on her phone y’all are ridiculous — @mountain.heather
People really don’t understand this? The whole point is the stereotype: it seems like men “actually” work out in the gym while women use their phones, but the reality is that everyone does both of those things. You just have to look past the foreground…. I’m glad they reposted this so everyone’s heads could explode instead of trying to see the actual message. Art is hard though, I get it hehe. — @broverlin
I also think the artist chose to do it on purpose because people only look at things quickly (including at the gym) before making judgements. The exact point of this comic is internalized judgements and feeling emotions. First time I saw this comic i also immediately got angry – especially as a woman who lifts heavy in the gym (and had seen endless men just sit on machines with their phone). When I looked at the background and saw what the artist did), I laughed at myself. Comics, especially satire, and often a lot of art (music, writing included) often are meant to be looked at for longer than two seconds. And that parallel speaks to gym judgements but societal judgements as a whole. That’s what I felt after seeing this comic (and I am a loud feminist who lifts heavy at the gym). The background is just as important as the foreground – it is ACTUALLY the context to the signs on the door. What is inside the space depicts what happens, more-so than those walking in. @run_for_funner
This article originally appeared on GOOD.