Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Bristol’s absence of female statues

Statue of Sabrina - 
History Workshop wrote about the lack of female statues recently. The author of the post, Bee Rowlatt, explained how every time she visits a new city she asks one question: is there a statue of a clothed woman who is not a queen? Similar to the Bechdell test for films, Bee is dubbing hers the Rowlatt test.

Bristol would fail the Rowlatt test miserably. Despite being the seventh largest city in the UK.

I have just finished writing The Women Who Built Bristol (published on 26 February 2018 by Tangent Books), which is a compendium of more than 250 women who helped to shape the city of Bristol. They encompass everyone from teachers to spies and factory workers to temperance campaigners. And one of them is a goddess.

I included Sabrina, Goddess of the Severn, in the book because - apart from the statue of Queen Victoria at the bottom of Park Street (Queen Victoria visited Bristol once, very briefly, so I’m not sure why she warrants a statue) - Sabrina is the only statue of a female form in the city. Unless you count the wooden monument to Wendy the elephant at Bristol Zoo. It’s all rather embarrassing. Especially since Sabrina is naked in her Bristol statue (created by Gerald Laing).

But here's a fun fact about Queen Victoria’s statue, which was unveiled in 1988 by her grandson Prince Albert Victor:  in January 2016 it experienced a feminist makeover by Fishponds-based street artist Vaj, who added legs and pubic hair. Unimpressed, Bristol City Council removed the additions within 24 hours. Spoilsports.

There are more than 250 Bristolian women featured in The Women Who Built Bristol. You would think some of them would warrant a statue in the city they helped to shape. Perhaps more so than some of the many men who are immortalised in bronze etc around the city.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad people have noticed problems like this. This really stood out to me a few years back when my school did a trip around London, and part of it was focusing on historic landmarks (including most statues). At one point in the day, there were 3 female statues in a row that were just of topless women with fairly exaggerated breasts in some cases, and of course when you have a group of teenagers with you, this can be quite disruptive. Dozens of the boys filled in their work with things like "the statue had nice tits" and just started laughing. The girls just felt awkward. It felt really culturally toxic that history would have that effect on a group of kids, in such a sexist way that entertained the boys and shamed the girls.

    It really stood out to me how toxic an effect it had when even one of the male student teachers made a sexist comment in order to make the boys laugh about the breasts on one of the statues. Luckily he was the only male teacher though so I think the fact that he was immediately surrounded by furious female teachers made him understand that he'd really messed up. If he'd made a comment like that around 6 ardent feminists outside of school hours, he'd frankly have been kicked in the nuts.