Today Millicent Fawcett made history as her statue joined the 11 others already at Parliament Square and she became the first woman to feature there.
That it has taken 100 years since some women got the vote for her to be included perhaps, speaks volumes about the contempt women’s roles in history are viewed with.
Millicent Fawcett was a British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.
She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote, having led the nonviolent suffrage organisation, the NUWSS from 1890-1919, and therefore played a key role in gaining women the vote.
She also engaged in other political activities such as supporting worker rights and overcoming laws which were based on a dual morality for men and women.
Parliament Square is not the only place where women have been overlooked for commemoration.
Research by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez revealed; of the 925 statues listed in the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association database, only 158 are of a woman as a lone standing statue.
Included in this figure are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and numerous nameless sculptures, typically rendered as naked, curvaceous and reclining.
Criado-Perez commented that if you are a woman “ your best chance of becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.”
The need for female representation was recognised as long ago as 1952 when a correspondent wrote to the Times about women being neglected in statues and memorials. The piece was entitled : “A Man’s World Even in Stone”.
Sadly there does not seem to have been a great deal of progress in the intervening years.
It is not that women’s roles in history were minor, it is that they have not been celebrated enough to become common knowledge.
Many key women have not been recognised in stone… here are just a few;
Matchgirl strike leaders Mary Driscoll and Sarah Chapman (who’s pauper’s grave is at risk being moulded over),
Suffragettes including; Jessie Kenney, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (there is a plaque for the latter on the statue of their mother),
Family planning pioneer Marie Stopes,
Social reformer Octavia Hill,
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – the first woman to train to be a Doctor (the rules at the time designed to keep woman from doing so),
Rosalind Franklin – whose x-ray work eventually led to the discovery of the DNA double helix and
The first British astronaut Helen Sharman.
Hard to believe that none of these women have a statue to commemorate them isn’t it?
A campaign for a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft to be put on Newington Green has been started.
Wollstonecraft was the author of the 1792 text “Vindication of the Rights of Women” which was the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men.
She is also notable as an early human rights advocate, educational pioneer, icon of social mobility, key Enlightenment philosopher, first female war correspondent and mother of Mary Shelley – let us hope this campaign proves successful.
You may ask why this matters, well in my view it matters because history matters.
Much of our cultural identity comes from the people and events we choose to celebrate.
Could a reason why women make up only 32% of the MPs in the House of Commons and local authority councillors be because we are socialised from birth into expecting those in such roles to be men?
I think one reason I have always been so drawn to the stories of the suffragettes is that learning about them is the only time at school I that I can recall learning about females in history who were not Queens!
Another question is does the nature of many of the male statues being war related lead to a culture where we celebrate achievements in battle high above those in say medicine, or education?
I would say the evidence that we do this is all around us.
So let us celebrate our new statue of Millicent Fawcett, but let the real celebration be when the number of statues of women matches that of men and the number of women inside Parliament does the same.
Donate to the Mary Wollstonecraft statue here https://www.maryonthegreen.org/project.shtml
Petition to save Sarah Chapman’s grave is here https://www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine?recruiter=109957635&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition
Petition for 50:50 parlaiment here: https://www.change.org/p/50-50-want-to-build-an-inclusive-modern-and-gender-balanced-parliament-it-would-lead-to-more-responsive-and-informed-decision-making-so-everyone-would-benefit-50-50-are-asking-those-in-power-for-solutions-and-taking-action-join-us-5050parliament
Information of some statues that are of women in London http://www.secret-london.co.uk/Women_2.html