Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, July 20, 2020

Where are the Statutes of Women? Sidelining Women in American Iconography

Melissa Weresh, Gauzy Allegory and the Construction of Gender, 25 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 7 (2018)

In August 2017, violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia when white nationalists arrived to protest the removal of a statue memorializing Confederacy General Robert E. Lee. Commenting on the controversy associated with the removal of Confederate monuments, the American Historical Association noted that the removal of a monument was intended "not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history." In another effort to call attention to a silenced past, in April 20 18, The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration opened in Montgomery, Alabama. Recognizing that "[t]he United States has done very little to acknowledge the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation," the Legacy Museum was a countermemorial effort designed to operate as "an engine for education about the legacy of racial inequality and for the truth and reconciliation that leads to real solutions to contemporary problems." More recently, the New York Times explored the issue of under· representation of women in American iconography in two articles titled, "Honor, at Last, for Ida B. Wells, 'a Sword Among Lions,' " and "These Women Deserve Statues in New York."

 

These changes to the landscape of American iconography underscore the powerful connection between history, commemoration, and public memory. This is true because "[a] monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community's public spaces."

 

Notwithstanding this recent attention, women remain underrepresented in all forms of American iconography, resulting in a deficiency in commemorative memory. When they are represented, they tend to be featured allegorically rather than historically, exacerbating the quantitative under-representation in a qualitative manner. Explanations for and implications of this quantitative and qualitative under-representation are largely unexplored in legal scholarship. This Article is therefore about the twofold erasure of women from the iconography that makes up our national memory: first, women are rarely represented at all, and second, when they are, they are represented as symbols, rather than as actual human beings. This is a troubling form of gender marginalization, or sidelining.

 

This Article begins with an empirical examination of the manner in which women have been commemorated in American iconography. It then turns to a framework of gender that incorporates features of gendered relationships and gendered significations of power, using that framework as a lens for evaluating the lack of female commemoration in American iconography. This lens also provides useful categories for evaluating the impact of allegorical as opposed to historical commemoration.

 

Against this backdrop, the Article explores potential explanations for both the lack of historical representation as well as the tendency to feature women allegorically in iconography, seeking interdisciplinary answers in fields such as classical history, art history, theology, linguistics, and commemoration studies. Noting possible explanations for both the quantitative and qualitative under-representation, the Article explores the implications of allegorical representation, emphasizing that it is important to consider not only the lack of historical representation, both quantitatively and, by virtue of allegorical representation, qualitatively, but also how that absence created and maintained hierarchies and contributed to the sidelining of women in commemorative spaces. Disconcerting consequences of allegorical representation include the objectification of the female form, and the irony of featuring idealized, allegorical images of women in areas of society and culture from which they have been historically excluded. Upon initiating this important conversation, it then turns to potential cultural, societal, and legal strategies to address this inequity.

h/t Ederlina Co

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2020/07/where-are-the-statutes-of-women-sidelining-women-in-american-iconography.html

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