I lived in Washington DC for over thirty years and I’ve taken countless visitors on the monument circuit visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Memorial, all of which honor men. One of my favorite stops was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a poignant black wall with the names of over 58,000 service men and women who gave their lives during the war. Near the wall is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, honoring the 265,000 women who served during the war. It is the only memorial in our nation’s capital honoring women.
I routinely drove by dozens of sculptures that honor men. Most of the limited number of statues of women that do exist are conceptual figures, “Freedom,” “Serenity” or “Peace.” As I shuttle a friend and her young daughters around the capital, I wonder what impact viewing statues that highlight the achievement of one man after another has on their psyches since young girls are especially vulnerable to images that disempower them since their self-esteems are more fluid.
Bias in monuments and statues is hardly restricted to Washington D.C. It’s a similar story in cities all over the country. New York City has 159 historical statues on display, only five are of women. In Central Park there are 23 statues of men and no statues of women. Things are slowly starting to change as awareness grows. New York City just announced that Central Park’s first-ever monument in honor of real women, a bronze statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, both of whom led the fight for women’s right to vote. The monument will be installed in 2020, on the one-hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage.
It’s important to look for opportunities to install statues of women in cities around the country. I am currently working with the City of Key West Florida to install a statue of Diana Nyad at Smathers Beach where she stepped ashore after her 110 mile swim from Havana, Cuba. I have also secured permission from the City of Anchorage, Alaska to place a statue of four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher with her dog team near the start of the race.