Walk through almost any public park, and you’ll find yourself staring up at the hooves of rearing stone or bronze horses, mounted by guys brandishing swords or guns. Sometimes, instead of on horses, the guys sit on thrones, holding scepters, or on chairs, grasping rolled-up parchments. Sometimes they stand looking up at the heavens, with their feet well apart and their chest stuck out, like a rooster about to crow.
Some monuments do feature women, but most often as allegorical figures, blindfolded and holding up scales, winged to celebrate a victory, or lighting the way to freedom. And, whereas the men are dressed in regular clothes, or at least in togas that fall in dignified folds, the female statues usually sport clinging draperies.
There are, of course, some monuments to real women, mostly queens–Isabella, Victoria, Catherine the Great–but they are few and far between. You can also find statues of women in Catholic churches. They are honored for their patience, obedience or, in the case of the virgin martyrs—Lucy, Agnes, Agatha, Eulalia et al.–for having died horrific deaths for their faith.
But back to the guys on monuments. Whether monarchs, generals, writers, or philosophers, how many of them believed that women were full human beings, their equals in every respect? How many observed the same standards of sexual behavior that they expected of their women? How many spared their wives the ordeal of too-frequent childbearing? How many gave their daughters the same education as their sons, and paid their housemaids the same salary as their footmen?
Yes, I know. They were “men of their times,” and it’s unfair to expect a nineteenth-century general to be a feminist. But lately, being “of their times” with regard to people of color has not kept Columbus, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee on their plinths.
So I’m thinking, what would happen to the planet’s parks, plazas, piazzas, agoras, and government buildings if women decided that it was time to take down the statues of men who believed themselves the superior sex? There would be a lot of empty columns and pedestals. And when the rubble was cleared away, what would go in their place?
Perhaps we could put up some statues of actual women–the writers, artists, thinkers, and social reformers that history has ignored. I would keep those heart-breaking monuments to the unknown soldier–the innocent, likely unwilling cannon fodder of past wars. But alongside them I would like to see monuments to the anonymous women who have died in childbirth, the flotsam and jetsam of our species’ drive for survival.
Still, I’m not fond of following in the old pattern of statuary that exalts the one above the many. I would like to see those newly cleared spaces made into gardens, and not just decorative parterres and flower beds, but fruit orchards, berry patches, and vegetable plots. Tended by the citizenry for the citizenry, these would celebrate community and honor humanity far better than a marble statue of a guy on a horse.
But I am not a total iconoclast. The most beautiful or historically relevant of the old statues could be housed in museums to be visited by school children who, in the utopian future I am envisaging, would stare at them wide-eyed, and ask their teachers to explain why they were all statues of men.