Monday, June 18, 2018

Column: A woman may finally get a monumental tribute on the Washington Mall, and she's naked? Really?

It figures.

Finally, a woman might be celebrated in a grand, monumental way in the nation's capital.

And she's naked.

Tall, strong, towering and steel, defiant in her stance, yes. But stripped of clothing, as though she were an offering to the former Miss Universe beauty pageant aficionado who now occupies the White House.

Organizers of the November "Catharsis Festival" are asking for permission to have the powerful, 45-foot-tall sculpture that presided over Burning Man moved to the Mall — staring down the White House — next month. For four months.

Seriously, why does she have to be naked?

Why can't she be like Freedom, the beautiful bronze statue atop the Capitol Dome, with her sword and a challenging gaze toward 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, daring anyone to grab anything?

It's already clear that our nation has a hard time celebrating or memorializing real women in our culture.

We're 51 percent of the population, but a futuristic archaeologist unearthing the rubble in a post-apocalyptic Mall would find little evidence we even existed.

Among 44 memorials in the Mall space, only two besides Freedom include women. One is the tucked-away likeness of Eleanor Roosevelt (who rates a less prominent place on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument than his dog) and the powerful statue of Vietnam War nurses.

This blind spot isn't just a Washington thing.

Of the more than 5,000 public outdoor sculptures across America that are entered in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Art Inventories Catalog, fewer than 400 include women. That's 8 percent.

It's even more absurd in New York's Central Park, where women are only honored as fictional characters: Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland and Juliet, alongside her Romeo, of course.

They've got men all the way back to King Wladyslaw II Jagiello of Poland covered. Animals from eagles to the famous sled dog Balto are honored in bronze. And no, the one of a cougar doesn't count. Don't even try that.

But women? MIA.

Wait, wait, wait. There was an attempt in the 1960s to get a woman in Central Park. Oh, wait. It was Mary Poppins. Never mind.

So when America does get a chance to pay tribute to the majority of its population and the ones who gave birth to every single one of the United States' 324 million people, we're mostly remembered as literary characters or naked?

It's not that women haven't noticed and haven't been trying for years to change this in Washington.

On May 12, 1929, Daisy Calhoun held a groundbreaking ceremony for her big project — the Mothers' Memorial in Washington.

"The world has memorialized fighters, thinkers, monarchs and prophets, sea kings and generals," Calhoun said. "But as yet no monument to the mother genius had been raised in imperishable stone, beautified by art and sculpture, to proclaim the debt each mortal owes to the woman who risked her own life to give life."

Yup, you guessed it. It was never built.

They rarely are. Lynette Long can tell you. Her group, Equal Visibility Everywhere, been fighting for years to get Harriet Tubman and Amelia Earhart among the 100 statues in the Capitol's statuary hall. Ninety-one of the 100 are men.

She's still fighting.

Even after what seemed like a huge victory for women and African-Americans last year, when the U.S. Treasury Department announced Harriet Tubman would replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would not commit to following through on that plan.

For years, folks have been trying to get Tubman properly memorialized and have been fighting unsuccessfully for a smidgen of memorial recognition for women like Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, or Prudence Wright, Revolutionary War militia commander and mother of 11. It's a little sting that the woman finally landing in a prominent place — temporarily — won't have any clothes on.

I know, it's a little delicious and naughty, in a totally nonsexual way, and maybe even empowering to imagine the statue that presided over Burning Man in the Nevada desert coming all the way to Washington to stare down the White House. Especially right next to the decidedly unfeminine Washington Monument.

It's like a giant version of that little girl statue that appeared on Wall Street one day, eye-to-eye with the bull.

Women can be that powerful, even with their clothes on.

© 2107 Washington Post

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