I have heard many people question why statues matter, especially when it comes to calls for more statues of women. Why are these feminists getting so irate, it’s only a statue? Why does it matter? First let me give you some background information on the issue. According to an article in the New Statesman by feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez whose campaigning ensured that the Bank of England would include the image of Jane Austen on the £10 note this year, of the 925 statues in the UK only 158 or 2.7% are women. This rises to a still paltry 253 when women are featured in groups. When ones takes a closer look at who these women are, almost half are allegorical figures such as justice or art. Why so many?
The inVISIBLEwomen website, (linke here: invisiblewomen) which campaigns for civic statues of women, notes that in public spaces: “… female figures are largely semi-clad, often reclining, and typically depict a maternal, saintly or sexualised image of womanhood, rather than worldly achievements.” No surprise there then!
According to Criado-Perez, “If you’re a woman, your best chance at becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude,” she writes. What does this tell our daughters about the role of women in society? Visibility matters because unless we can see and identify a problem, we can’t possibly hope to fix it.
Without women like Millicent Fawcett, making the issue of enfranchisement a visible one, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the polling booth in our recent election and vote.
So I was thrilled when I learned that not only was there a petition to erect a statue of the suffragette Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square but that the statue design had been commissioned and a planning application submitted. Now all that needs to happen is for planning permission to be granted.
Gillian Wearing’s inspirational design will see Millicent Fawcett, aged 50 in 1897, the year the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was formed. The statue also commemorates 52 other suffragist campaigners whose images will be engraved on the plinth.
What better way for the UK to show that we are a nation of tolerance and equality than to have a visible presence of that at the heart of our democracy. It will be an inspiration not only to women and girls but to everyone to show what is possible when you stand up for what you believe in. Hopefully it will also inspire the next generation of female activists because role-models are important as is celebrating women’s achievements.
What’s more, here in Manchester a lack of women statues led Labour Councillor Andrew Simcock to hold a public vote on which famous local woman should be commemorated. Of the 16 choices the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who was born in Manchester, won hands-down with 53%. There’s talk of the statue being errected in 2019 but what a shame that the funds for this will have to come from crowd funding. I’d be interested to know where the funds for all the male statues in the city have come from.
I’m also an avid supporter of another campaign, backed by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Melvyn Bragg and Shami Chakrabati to name but a few. It’s called the Mary on the Green Campaign, in London, which is trying to erect a statue of author and women’s rights campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green, near where she lived.
My interested stemmed from a book I read by Chairwoman of the Mary on the Green campaign Bee Rowlatt called In Search of Mary: The Mother of All Journeys. After consumming the book in days I was eager to see if I could join a society dedicated to this extraordinary woman so I emailed Bee Rowlatt directly. She emailed me straight back saying that whilst there wasn’t one as such, there was a campaign to recognise her work through the commissioning of a statue to her. I’ve lent my support and if you’d like to learn more about the campaign then head over their website: Mary on the Green