I went on holiday in August with the very clear objective of spending time with my brother — who lives in Spain — and my parents — who live in Venezuela.
From that point of view, I’m happy to report that it was mission accomplished.
I also wanted to rest. So I thought I’d put my women’s rights activism aside during the vacation and have a lighthearted summer break.
That was a total failure.
I had little rest and it couldn’t park my activism. However, I learned a lot about myself, what’s important to me, and how central is my advocacy for women to the way I perceive the world and the legacy I want to leave behind. The fact that these events happened during my holiday allowed me to slow down enough to recognise why they triggered such intense emotions in me and give me time to process them.
Here is the first installment of three articles capturing three intense experiences related to women during my vacation. The first one is about the absence of real women from those symbols of power, remembrance, and cultural identity that we call monuments.
The holiday started when I met with my mother, brother, and sister-in-law in Malta to spend a week on the island.
Before the pandemic, I had been there for a scuba diving vacation. It was a nice holiday but when I discovered that Malta was the only country in the EU where abortion was penalised, I told myself that I wouldn’t go back. Although in June this year the law was amended, it’s still very restrictive. For example, in cases of severe fetal malformation, incest, or rape women are still liable to imprisonment for a term from eighteen months to three years.
Of course, that was until my family thought it was a good place for the holidays and, rather than pushing back, I decided to “park” my activism for a week.
But I couldn’t.
Very quickly, walking through the capital, Valetta, and visiting multiple towns in the islands of Malta and Gozo, I realised what to expect
- Nice streets and houses in yellowish bricks.
- Statues of men, especially politicians.
A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or event, or which has become relevant to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, due to its artistic, historical, political, technical or architectural importance.
Examples of monuments include statues, (war) memorials, historical buildings, archaeological sites, and cultural assets.
The word “monument” comes the Latin “monumentum“, derived from the word moneo, monere (comparable to the Greek mnemosynon) which means ‘to remind’, ‘to advise’ or ‘to warn’.Wikipedia
Of course, with two notable — and expected — exceptions
- Religion — Statues of the Virgin Mary, female saints and mystics…
- Embodiment of an idea — e.g. Statues of women personifying independence.
It hit me especially hard when I saw the monument to Daphne Caruana Galizia in Silema, journalist and anti-corruption activist, assassinated by a car bomb. It’s a bay laurel tree to “remind us of her wisdom, victory and triumph over darkness” (see image illustrating this article).
Again, women as the embodiment of ideas. I wanted so hard to see a statue of her.
Unfortunately, the lack of statues of real women is not only a problem in Malta
- In the UK, we have very few statues of women when compared to men. The same problem when we look at other countries: “In San Francisco, only 2 percent of public art sculptures represent women. In New York City, out of 150 statues available publicly, just five are women. In Australia, as of 2017, only three percent of public statues feature non-fictional women.”
And it’s not only about statues
- Only around 10% of streets and public spaces worldwide are named after women. The project only 8% brings awareness to the fact that in Barcelona (Spain) women-named streets only account for 8% of all public spaces, with most located outside the city center. On their interactive website, they also highlight that streets named after women are typically about 62 meters shorter than streets named after men.
- And what about when we try to redress the imbalance? You either need sponsors to pay for it or you should expect public humiliation and threats to your physical integrity, as happened to Caroline Criado Perez when she dared to campaign to reinstate a woman on an English banknote.
As all the information was sinking in my head, I remembered watching a film as a child about the neutron bomb. Its premise was that those bombs could “kill people and spare buildings”. I can still see the black and white scenes portraying perfectly clean streets and buildings — no life at all.
I thought, if life was erased and only “infrastructure” remained and some aliens visited the planet Earth, what would they make out of our statues, streets, buildings, history books, museums, and banknotes?
Monuments also play an important role in shaping our collective memory. They serve as tangible reminders of historical events and figures, helping to preserve our cultural heritage for future generations.Monuments of Victoria
Here comes my guess: Those aliens would conclude that female human beings never existed. That we were merely an imaginary artifact for men to get inspired, illustrate concepts, and express their ideas about beauty.
The remedy? To strive for being too much – we have so many centuries to catch up on! When in doubt, let’s remember bell hook’s words of wisdom and apply them to all domains
No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.bell hooks
CALL TO ACTION: Let’s inundate the world with our ideas and our work. Because even if they are
- Unfinished – we can decide that they’re finished for today.
- Unpopular – what’s criticised one day can be a success the next.
- Ignored – if we hide them, we’ll never know.
Let’s ensure we leave proof that we existed.
This is the first time I’m delivering an article in three installments. It was not planned but today feels like the right thing to do. Thank you for your kindness, patience, and support as I make this experiment. The next one is on harassment.
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