It’s always been important to me when writing stories that include women in sexual situations or transformations that the reason for which they have found themselves in those situations was not only because they are women. In other words, given the scope of the story and characters, could a male character have also ended up in a similar situation? Story plot and building a strong character is something I hope keeps my tales entertaining and not exploitative.

The same goes for humor. If the butt of the joke is a woman, is it because of who she is or just because she’s a woman? The difference between sexist and personal is an important thing to keep in mind, and it was to keep my perspective on just that topic that I purchased Glamor Girls.

The cover to my copy of Glamor Girls.

While flipping through Don Flowers’ book (originally published in 1946, I have the 1951 edition) I could think of no better – or more literal – illustration of how to cross the line between making a joke that happens to involve a woman, and making a joke because someone is a woman.

I’m not here to discuss how these single-panel funnies reflect the social paradigms of the 1940s, or how the art style was appraised at the time. And these cartoons have been reprinted many times, with all sorts of praise I’m sure. But I’m here to assess the enjoyability of these comics as if read by a fresh eye. Just because it was a different time doesn’t mean we, as a modern audience, have to adjust our level of taste when reading Glamor Girls now. If you want a pretty raw example of the portrayal of women in the era just go ahead and pick it up. If you want to know whether you’ll be actually entertained as a casual reader, read on.

First let us discuss the art. I’m no foreigner to sexualizing the feminine form in illustration – just go find a copy of Bar Belles to prove that. Sometimes the term “idealized” is thrown around when describing an exaggerated female body-type, but these women are far from ideal. Barbie, Lady Gaga, and Madonna’s cone bra would have a hard time recreating these caricatures off the page. To quote the inside panel of the book, the ladies within are;

“Lovely models – delectable, ultra-feminine, winning…”

Not sure what they’re winning at other than eating disorders. Literal hourglass waists, big pointy breasts, and feet smaller than any woman’s hands abound in every gag. I’ve seen similar curves and forms drawn before but somehow these lack physical substance. Perhaps, had Flowers used a thicker line when inking, there’d feel like more strength to these women. Instead they literally seem fragile in the scene; every female character looks as though they’d snap in the wind.

On occasion the panels feature larger more Rubenesque ladies – usually cast as antagonists and undesirable counter-points. But it is these women whom look to have their life most in order and are the ones I felt were better off.

Art is easy to critique, but in a book which is literally no more than a gag-a-page it was hard for me to determine how I would approach Substance. Everyone’s sense of humor is different, and many might not be as sensitive to the sexual dichotomy of the period. So I decided to approach things as so; of the 188 panels in the book I would decide as broadly and as loosely as possible whether I found each one Still Funny or Not Funny. I would then independently decide if I found a joke Sexist Towards Women or not. And, as I went along, I even found a few panels which were Strangely Progressive. So here’s how things broke down:

Out of 188 panels:

Still Funny : 81 panels : 43%
Not Funny : 106 panels : 56%

Sexist Towards Women: 72 panels : 38%
Gender Neutral: 116 panels : 62%
Strangely Progressive: 10 panels : 5%

When deciding if something was Sexist or not, I considered two things. The first was; is this comic only funny if you assume the worst stereotype about a woman? As I explained, there’s a difference between joking about a person who is a woman, and joking about a person because she’s a woman. Artists of single-panels rely on some stereotypes, but you’d be surprised how much can be legitimately infered about a character by what is drawn around them. So I asked myself, if I swap out a male character and gender-adjust the context clues in the scene did the same joke work? Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t.

My other parameter for Sexist was anything which treated a woman as property or having no say in a situation she SHOULD have – choosing to leave with a man, or thinking about her future, for example. Once again, I’m not here to assess the time period these were drawn in, but whether modern sensitivities would find the material acceptable.

Honestly, when all was said and done, I was shocked that only 38% of the book turned out denoted as Sexist. If one was to casually flip through the pages the impression is not as flattering.

In addition, as I made my way along, I was surprised to find that there were even a few funnies I felt were very PROGRESSIVE towards women’s rolls and the equality of their opinion amongst men. I am not surprised that those examples only make up 5% of the total, but it was nice to see some cracks in the Veneer of Sexism.

THE FINAL VERDICT: Not Generally Recommended

If you’re willing to accept that about 40-50% of the book (at best) is still – or was ever – funny, and that a large portion of the comics within are sexist against women, it could be worth a purchase if you stumble across it. That’s assuming you’re picking it up as an academic example of the time period.

But, honestly, given the almost-unappealingly hyper-sexualized art (although the one dressed as a mermaid is fairly fetching) plus the majority of comics which are either not that funny or not funny enough to overlook the possible insult to be had by the subject matter, I would not recommend Glamor Girls by Don Flowers to today’s casual reader.

Or 1940’s casual reader, either, honestly.