Maggie Smith gets politely vulgar – Poland 2021

Posters supporting Polish women strike

Themes: Gender National politics Social movements

Humour form/genre: Poster

Humour mechanisms: Allusion Exaggeration Opposition Parody

Country: Poland

Author: Dorota Brzozowska

Affiliation: University of Opole

A: Author: Jarosław Kubicki, source,accessed 13.11.2021

B. Author: Jarosław Kubicki, source, accessed 13.11.2021

C: Author: Tomasz Sarnecki „W samo południe” [High noon 4 June 1989], Solidarity Poster, source,  accessed November 12 2021.

What do we see here?

A: On poster A we can see an elegant English lady, well-dressed in an old-fashioned way, smiling lightly and confidently (the image of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham played by Dame Maggie Smith from the famous series Downton Abbey has been used extensively in online posters with different captions). She is attributed the words:  “Would you be so kind and fu….” (wyp…as first letters of the word: wypierdalać – get the fuck out), placed above her head in an elegant script. The reference is to the famous slogan of protesting Polish women, who used vulgarisms and strong offensive language as the way of contradicting gender stereotypes and showing power, fury at not being listened to by the patriarchal government.

Underneath, on the right, the phrase “to jest wojna” [this is war] is placed, with the letter “j” in the shape of the lightning and under that, in the smaller print, the question and response: “You need abortion? You are not alone”. The lightning symbol is repeated on the left-hand side of the poster against the female silhouette with the words “strajk kobiet” (women strike)- the recognised emblem of the protesters.

The poster A was created by the Polish graphic artist Jarosław Kubicki in October 2020, and posted in social media as a more polite and censored version of his other posters, which were criticised for their vulgar language (e.g. B).

B: The poster B features Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a lead female actor from “Terminator”, who used the vulgar and powerful language of rage. She shows her muscular arms, and carries a huge machine gun, which no one doubts she will use when angry.  The poster was created in support of the women protesting in reaction to a tightening of the Polish abortion law in 2020 by the same artist.  This is one of the remakes of the famous “High noon 4 of July 1989” Solidarity poster (example C). In the other remakes, the cowboy from the original poster was replaced by other strong female characters from blockbusters movies, who say the F…. word: Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie) from “Tomb Raider”, the Bride (played by Uma Thurman) in “Kill Bill”, or Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from the “Alien”.

C:  One of the most famous images of the Solidarity campaign of 1989 showed the iconic American figure (Gary Cooper as sheriff Will Kane in the western movie, “High Noon”) with the characteristic Solidarity script above his head. The figure of the American brought strong connotations of power and freedom. The cowboy is wearing the Solidarity badge on his chest and carrying the ballot card  [wybory – election] in his hand. This poster, by Tomasz Sarnecki, emphasising the date of the elections, underlined the importance (the matter of life or death) of votes that decides the country’s future.

Which public issue is being addressed here?

The public issue is the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal verdict to tighten the abortion law in Poland, making almost all cases of abortion illegal, including those in which the fetus is threatened with severe and permanent disability or an incurable and life-threatening disease. The anti-government demonstrations, organised by the 2020–2021 Women Strike, began on 22 October 2020. Protesters opposed the interference of the Roman Catholic Church, very strong in Poland, in public matters, and opposed the domination of all three branches of government by the ruling coalition.

The major actors are protesting women and their supporters. The addressee of the protests is the ruling conservative government (represented by the Law and Justice Party (PIS)). There is a strong and emotional disagreement between pro life and pro abortion movements, as well between government supporters and opposition, left and right, Christians and non-Christians.

What does the humour do?

The poster is a  parody, which uses the mechanism of exaggeration and contrast. The poster could be interpreted in terms of the categories laid down by the General Theory of Verbal Humour. Two opposing scripts overlap to form two separate scripts, which are in this case: polite/rude; weak/ strong, elegant/ vulgar, male/female.

Humour communicates that the language form (seemingly polite) does not change the impact of the straightforward and blunt message. The stereotype of women as gentle and soft-hearted needs to be abandoned. The posters (the Polish school of posters has been well recognised) give the insight into the political struggle against the patriarchal culture, which involves females breaking the taboos and using openly hostile, male associated, offensive but powerful language.

Humour emphasises the need to change the way women and their rights are perceived in the society.

The previous posters (the original – powerful, historically relevant election Solidarity poster, and a series of remakes featuring pop culture icons who quote the language of angry protesters) are used to strengthen the message.


Attardo, Salvatore &  Victor Raskin. 1991. Script theory revis(it)ed: Joke similarity and joke representation model. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 4(3-4), 293–347.

Brzozowska, Dorota & Władysław Chłopicki (eds.) 2012. Polish Humour, Humor and culture 2, Kraków: Tertium.

Libura, Agnieszka & Amelia Kiełbawska. 2012. Humour in posters. In Dorota Brzozowska &. Władysław Chłopicki (eds.),  Polish Humor, Humor and culture 2: Kraków: Tertium: 311-352.rzozowska