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Same Old, Same Old...?

May 19, 2019

The BBC checked the latest figures from the PMSA ( Public Monuments and Sculpture Association) and the percentage of named non-royal civic statues of women in the UK is still only around 3%

"Millicent Fawcett campaigned for women's right to vote, and now she has a statue in Parliament Square memorialising her and her achievements. But the suffragist's sisters in stone are more likely to be nymphs than intellectuals".

The total UK civic statues on the PMSA's records were 828, of which 174 were female, but only 80 of which were named, rather than nameless 'draped nymphs' etc. Of the 80 named statues of women, 38 were royal and 15 allegorical, leaving a mere 27 actual women  honoured for their achievements. That's 27 out of 828 - just about 3% - to represent 50% of the population. One only has to "do the math", as the Americans say, to see the astonishing patriarchal bias.

There have been some very notable new statues of women this year but also new statues of men, so it's hard to say whether this  inequality is actually improving. At least it is an issue that is now publicly recognised, by this BBC article, by the shocking 'Global Citizen' headline "There Are More Statues of Goats Than Real Women in the UK" and in statements such as that of the Plymouth sculptor of "Messenger" who noted the acute imbalance of the portrayal of women and men in civic statues.

Whilst this may all seem not to be the most pressing issue, it does act as a sort of litmus test of the value our society places, or fails to place, on women. This is an issue explored in Caroline Criado Perez's latest book, Invisible Women.

Her thesis is that the pronounced data bias in all the major fields of research leads to a world that is designed for men.  Women are routinely ignored in research which is based on men's bodies, interests and experience so the results do not work for women. Just a couple of examples from the book tell us that "only 10.8 per cent of pages in a political science textbook references women, and that in health research, female bodies are often excluded from clinical trials". This exclusion can result in poorer health outcomes for women whose bodies are not taken into account when drugs and treatments are designed.

It was Caroline Criado Perez who lead the campaign for the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square and it is no coincidence that this book has been her next project, because there is a clear link between who we honour in our civic statues and how we respect one half of the population and fail to respect the other. 

This has real consequences for us all. Listen to the interview on Start The Week, BBC Radio 4, Monday 20th May.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00055m9 ( at 16 mins 16 seconds )