Friday, July 15, 2011

Discouraging juxtaposition

This week, I read two stories.  Well, I read a lot of stories, but these two stood out.  The first centered on the winners of the first Google Science Fair: three outstanding young women.  To quote the article, "Our judges said the unifying elements of all three young women were their intellectual curiosity, their tenaciousness, and their ambition to use science to find solutions to big problems.  They examined complex problems and found both simple solutions that can be implemented by the general public -- like changing your cooking habits or removing toxins from your home -- as well as more complex solutions that can be addressed in labs by doctors and researchers, such as Shree's groundbreaking discovery, which could have wider implications for cancer research." [Source]  We're talking about three girls in categories for people age 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18 who did professional-level research projects that have great potential for the world.  They earned scholarships, internships, and more.  And LEGO trophies, which are awesome too.  Hooray for young women making big names for themselves in science already, for doing brilliant research, for winning all over.

Then I read this other story.  Chicago is (apparently -- I haven't been) chock full of statues.  Which is fine.  Lots of cities are.  And lots of these statues are of men.  This is to be expected in a patriarchal society.  So when the city gets a new statue of a woman, you'd think this would be great, and that it would mean that finally a woman is getting at least *somewhere* in there among the men.  A statue!  Great!  A little smidge of a step in the right direction...until I saw a picture of the statue over on Shakesville.  

Well, crap.

So the city finally gets a big statue of a woman, and it's of a woman who was a sex icon, and the statue itself is sexual objectification all over.  It's HUGE (26 feet tall), and you can walk and pose under her legs and peer up and do other lewd things as people are wont to do.  Or, as Mary Schmich put it here, it's "as tawdry as a peep show" and of course people are "shooting photos of her crotch while one [person] stuck out his tongue to  mime a lick."  Ew.  

And if that's new ew enough, um, did I mention they had a BAG OVER HER HEAD beforehand?  Because that's IN NO WAY symbolic of a woman being sexually objectified while being abused without consent, right?!  Schmich describes this as frankly "pornographic" -- and seriously, there was even a white cord at her throat.  I mean come on.  Ew.  ew ew ew ew.  EW.  A huge sexual statue that's got it's head covered with a good old red-white-and-blue bag and a rope around its neck definitely is the picture of consent, right?  It's practically a picture that can sum up all of the patriarchy in our current system.  

To quote more from the article, "What's most disturbing about the sculpture, though, is not that it's mediocre. It's the fact that Marilyn Monroe was real. She wasn't a sci-fi amazon. She was more than an image. She was a real woman who died at the age of 36 of a drug overdose, perhaps by suicide. Inviting people to leer at her giant underpants is just icky. [...]  How about a statue of a woman that focuses on something besides her underwear?" (Emphasis mine)  Shakesville says it well too when they write that the statue is a "gargantuan mockery of Marilyn Monroe, a real woman whose untimely death froze her as an icon of perpetual youth and sexuality in spite of, because of, her documented struggles with being objectified and exploited."  

This is so disheartening.  

Maybe next time the Google Science Fair winners could win statues of them in lab coats to grace cities in need of more female statues.  Yeah, in my dreams.  The sad reality is that of course there's a sexually objectifying horrible statue being made -- while I haven't done a lick of research on it, I would venture to guess that the odds are in favor of a statue of a woman being all about her looks and/or fame than about her intellectual accomplishments.  

Seriously, that statue is all sorts of awful.  

Although...hmm, which would I prefer, a Google internship or a statue?  I mean I'd take the Google internship, but my main point still stands.  A little less horrible sexism and objectification sure would be nice.  Can you imagine a statue of a female scientist being 26 feet tall?  Yeah, me neither.

I know I have a tiny audience here, but hey, if anyone's out there who wants to idly wish...which women would you want to see in statue-form in your area?


  1. Well said! I love your intelligent comments and your graceful style of writing. Keep at it.
    Your take on the Marilyn Monroe statue is not only pertinent, but nicely crafted--and right on target. One has to wonder who endorsed this piece of stupidity, and its cost--there goes the taxpayer's money again for some male fantasy. If it wasn't a municipal decision, then some fat-cat indulged his fantasy at the expense of the city's image as a metropolis of thinking citizens who might have more meaningful idols.
    --glo d.

  2. That photograph really gets me, the one with the tiny man standing on Monroe's skirt, tying (untying?) the cord around the red, white & blue bag on her head. You put it quite well, "practically a picture that can sum up all of the patriarchy in our current system." It's almost an image that I could see belonging in an art gallery, as a comment upon the social system, with the intention of pointing it out and undermining it. The difference here being context - that it's out in the street, and that people aren't necessarily going to notice or question it, or see it in such a way that is immediately, obviously disturbing to you or me.

    As to your question of what female figure I'd like to see a statue of - there are quite a few. One of my favourite historical American ladies is Abigail Adams.