After the news broke that the Supreme Court may soon overturn Roe v. Wade and the abortion access it is supposed to guarantee, an illustration kept being shared on Twitter: a smiling woman next to a man and children with the words “an established and complete woman” written above her placed next to a miserable cat-owning, big-black-dildo-loving “victim of feminism” shackled with student debt.
But that trending picture wasn’t the original — and the illustrator who had her artwork manipulated, presumably by trolls for anti-feminist propaganda, told BuzzFeed News that she found the changes upsetting.
“I honestly find it devastating but it's also just a really big motivation for me to just keep doing what I'm doing,” said artist Lainey Molnar.
The original illustration by Molnar — which featured only one child instead of four and didn’t include a sex toy — depicted two smiling women living very different lives but with both being referred to as “established and complete.”
The Budapest creative drew from her personal experience and likeness for the artwork.
“I was processing what I'm going through in life,” the 33-year-old said. “I was speaking to people who go through the same things as me — I'm in my 30s and my life is entirely different than what society tells us, women, to do, but I would never say that one is better than the other.”
One-half of the illustration featured a woman with a male partner and a child, depicting a traditional cishetero family, while the other half showed a representation of Molnar dressed casually enjoying a slice of pizza and a glass of champagne.
“I think that how we set up our lives is an accomplishment in itself because we're all working through becoming better people, we're all finding ourselves and some women find themselves in a beautiful relationship or a marriage or motherhood and they desire all these things but then some of us don't or are going through a different track and timing,” she said.
Molnar said it’s not the first time her content has been subverted for political reasons.
“I've seen so much worse,” she said. “Sometimes they photoshop suicide vests on my hijabi characters or put posters of Hitler in the background, or they change the character's skin color to white.”
The offensive edit, which she had previously seen and is more than a year old, reimagined the family photo by including additional children and went to the lengths of whitewashing the male figure. She was unsure who had manipulated her work.
“Feminism means freedom of choice, being equal, and having the ability to make those choices, and I feel like that's what everybody who creates these kinds of pictures has it wrong,” she said.
The illustrator said that she has always been “baffled” by the manipulation of the messaging underlying her work, which often features women as central characters and frequently goes viral for its empowering and positive messaging.
Molnar began illustrating in 2020 as a pastime a few months into the pandemic, but the popularity of her work now allows her to do it full-time.
In another twist, a man named Averie Wright has gone viral on Twitter for his account of how his image ended up in the first iteration of Molnar’s illustration and is subsequently the whitewashed man in the remixed version.
“In pure irony, my stolen image was stolen again and was used for anti-feminist propaganda, and for some reason, they had to whitewash me in the process,” said Wright in the 60-second clip.
Over Twitter DM, Wright told BuzzFeed News that he found the use of his image without his consent “surreal,” and although Molnar had been polite to him, he did not believe she had been “honest” regarding her efforts to go viral.
Molnar told BuzzFeed News that at the time of creating the original drawing, she’d had a small following and a limited understanding of copyright, so she had pulled Wright’s photo for reference from Pinterest. She never imagined that her work would go viral and be seen all over the world, but she said that she took full responsibility.
“This was a really big error from my end. I just didn't have the knowledge,” she said. “I get how incredibly stressful and inconvenient this must be. I can’t even imagine and I obviously never intended this to be the situation and I never intended to go viral with this.”
Molnar said she apologized to Wright, created a second version of the image, and regularly flags the original whenever she sees it in an attempt to rectify the situation.
While Wright supported the feminist messaging of her work, his experience with the illustrator and another accusation that she had used the likeness of a Black woman made him doubt the sincerity of her apology.
“Even if Molnar has a good message, she is still among a group of white people who steal pictures of people of color to use for her content,” he said.
And his likeness then being whitewashed was an additional layer of absurdity — as he said in his TikTok about the incident, referring to whoever edited Molnar’s illustration. “I don’t know if this is about racism or fatherhood, but they did some messed-up stuff,” he said.
For Molnar, who presently lives in Amsterdam where she continues to create, telling the diverse stories of women through illustration is a top priority, particularly in this climate and despite repeated attempts to hijack her work.
“All I feel when I see these is just that there's so much need for what I do in this world,” she said.