As an adult woman, I am always looking for or tracking whether women are represented in different settings. I look at photos of national and world leaders and count the few faces of women in these groups. I go to art galleries and look for the works by women artists, often searching in vain. I notice lots of statues of military men on horses in public places and rarely see statues of women.
Children also notice the lack of female leaders and role models in public life. Elizabeth Renzetti of the Globe and Mail of Canada writes that after recent losses in national elections, for the first time in many years, Canada currently has no female premiers for any of its provinces. Renzetti cites research by Kate Graham, a political scientist at Western University, involving groups of five-year-old girls. When the girls were shown a group picture of Canada’s current premiers and asked if they noticed anything, they all did. “There’s only one girl,” the children responded. Only one of the premiers was a woman when this research was conducted before the recent election. Now there are none. The children noticed.
Renzetti notes that adults should also be concerned about the absence of women in Canada’s leadership for the following reasons:
- Diversity promotes better decision-making when developing public policy.
- Young women need to see themselves represented if they are to believe they can go into political life.
- Women bring particular knowledge and life experience to policymaking that has implications for half of the population. Their perspective will be missing if they are not at the decision-making table.
On another note, Gail Collins of the New York Times writes that, at last, some statues that honor the accomplishments of women are being created by the City of New York, a city she describes as having a “wildly man-centric population of public monuments.” New York City has commissioned five new statues, one for each borough:
- A statue will be placed in Manhattan to honor Elizabeth Jennings, a fearless twenty-four-year-old black woman who started the integration of the New York City transit system in 1854. Long before Rosa Parks, Jennings refused to leave a trolley car when told it was for whites only. Collins reports that Jennings clung to an open window frame crying “murder” when the conductor tried to pull her from the trolley. A police officer shoved her off the trolley onto the street, ruining her dress and bonnet. Her family filed suit against the street car company for discrimination and won. Several follow-up lawsuits later, segregation in the New York City transit system came to an end. A statue to Jennings will be placed next to Grand Central Station. It’s about time.
- A statue to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress, will be placed in Brooklyn at the entrance to Prospect Park. It’s about time.
- Billie Holiday, the great blues singer, will have a statue in Queens. It’s about time.
- A statue of Helen Rodríguez Trías, a pioneer in treating families affected by HIV, will be placed in the Bronx. It’s about time.
- Katherine Walker will be honored with a statue on Staten Island. A tiny widow, Walker ran a lighthouse alone outside of New York Harbor in the early 1900s until she was seventy-three. When boats would start to sink in rough waters, she would row to the rescue and is credited with saving at least fifty lives. It’s about time.
The absence of women in public roles and public spaces sends a strong message to girls that they do not belong. It’s time for us to send a different message.
Photo by Dean Hinnant on Unsplash