Statues are often erected to commemorate and celebrate public figures who have made an important impact or influence on the local society in which the statue is often placed, and many have huge importance or landmark status – such as the Statue of Liberty in New York, Nelson’s Column in London, and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Edinburgh is no different to many other cities – full of statues and monuments dedicated to prestigious figures in Edinburgh’s history. But it is far too clear to see how little diversity appears between these stone figures. In the entirety of Edinburgh only two statues are of named women – Helen Crummy who was a local fundraiser and social activist in Craigmillar, and Queen Victoria. In fact the number of statues of animals in Edinburgh beats the number of female statues – including Greyfriar’s Bobby, Bum – a vagabond dog who dies in 1898 in Edinburgh’s twin city San Diego, and Wotjek – a beer-drinking and smoking Polish bear who died in Edinburgh Zoo after being involved in the Second World War.
And when we widen our vision to the whole of Scotland, unfortunately this situation doesn’t seem to improve – throughout the country only 20 statues of women exist. Five of these are of Queen Victoria, one of which is Jean Armour – the wife of Robert Burns, another is Linda McCartney whose statue was funded by her famous husband Paul, and many that are symbolic rather than life-like.
What do these figures suggest for how women in Scotland are represented and appreciated by history? The only famous achievements of women we see are those born or married in to importance, and very rarely women who have made names for themselves. This wouldn’t be quite so astonishing were Scotland lacking the female candidates for these statues – nowhere in Scotland can you find a statue of JK Rowling or Katherine Grainger, and only one exists of Mary Queen of Scots- to name a few of the hugely famous and successful female residents of Scotland. Moreover it seems an alcoholic bear and persistent lost dog rank higher in Edinburgh city’s historical appreciations.
Yes – these examples could be argued to be too contemporary to already be established in stone, and the Victorian era being when statue creation was most prevalent explains the celebration of so many Victorian figures – particularly from the infamous Scottish Enlightenment. But Scottish history features many famous women too – the medical pioneer and suffragette Elsie Inglis, the founder of the first birth control centre in Britain Maggie Stopes, and Muriel Spark – one of Britain’s greatest 20th century writers, so how can it be said that these men were the only ones suitable for statue-hood?
This inaccurate domination of Scottish history provides a warped image for the new generation – as nowhere in Edinburgh can young girls look up and see a true role model, and where they do find a woman – the faces preserve the all too common aim for all girls to “find a husband” – and ideally a successful one. Soon enough these incredible female Scottish role models who are not immortalised in stone will soon leave the mind of history forever.
Without the necessary role models- we continue to disadvantage the ambitions of young girls and women who unlike men cannot search the streets in hope of aspiration. A huge range of factors already affect the careers and working lives of young women – lower wages, lower participation rates, societally determined household duties, occupational segregation, and it seems to top all of this discrimination off, Edinburgh’s streets lack incentives for women to aim higher and attempt to break these boundaries.
This idea that statues can have an effect on women’s aspirations for many seems bizarre – with the vast access to the internet and other sources of ambition why should these statues matter – but we cannot ignore these historic wrongs and how they remain unrectified. In previous years many campaigns have been attempted to get statues of Scottish female figures including Mary Barbour- the crusader who led the Glasgow rent strikes of 1915, and the Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland project, but with little success.
This blog post discusses a historical aspect of equality for women in Edinburgh, and although it is not at the forefront of gender issues in Edinburgh today, I hoped this would provide an intriguing and thought-provoking introductory piece of writing that I hope to develop on in further blog posts about gender in Edinburgh.
EaRN Equalities Ambassador