“There are 50 statues in New York’s Central Park, one of the world’s most visited spots. Not one of them is of a woman who exists outside of fiction.
There are marble monuments to dozens of men, most of them real, but not a single statue commemorating the life or contributions of a real-life woman. Even the fictional female characters – Alice in Wonderland, Juliet Capulet and Mother Goose – were created by men. Among the marble and bronze population of Central Park, you’ll find Shakespeare and Beethoven, Simón Bolívar and Alexander Hamilton. You’ll even find Balto, the hero sled dog who delivered diphtheria medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1925.
To be clear: you can find a statue of a real-life dog, but no statues of real-life women.
This is not simply a Central Park problem, nor is it a New York City problem. Across the United States, women are staggeringly underrepresented in our tangible and visible efforts to mark significant moments and people in American history. Nationwide, fewer than 8 percent of the public outdoor statues commemorating individuals are of women. Of the 100 outstanding citizens memorialized in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, only nine are women.
Lynette Long is the founder of Equal Visibility Everywhere, an organization dedicated to solving the statue problem. She sees it more than a matter of how we tell our history but also how we shape generations of future leaders. The invisibility of women – the overrepresentation of men – Long argues, ‘inflates male entitlement and diminishes the confidence of women. When girls and women don’t see themselves on our currency or our stamps, or memorialized in our statuary, the message is clear: You are invisible. You don’t matter.'”
Even as women and minorities are advancing in society, they need to be able to see how they relate to the past. We tell our children they can be anything they want when they grow up, but they need to see themselves reflected in their idols. It’s not just about statues; it’s about what students are learning (or not learning) in their history classes. White men were not the only heroes.