Fulfilling Stereotypes 2.0
Updated: Jan 26, 2019
Is a Planned Monument to Women’s Rights Racist?, Asks a NYT Headline
by Joanna Hootnick
"You can’t ask one statue to meet all the desires of the people who have waited so long for recognition.”
What is the appropriate and respectful conclusion? Is the only way to avoid conflict or controversy by eschewing the idea altogether, thus maintaining the preexisting status quo (i.e. existing monuments dedicated with near exclusively to men, including King Wladyslaw Jagiello, the 14th-century grand duke of Lithuania) and an infinitesimal selection of fictional women?
The first wave of female suffragists who achieved legendary status were white women of socioeconomic means. Did they benefit from privilege? Perhaps unsurprisingly, yes, they did. However they were also plagued by gender discrimination. Were they the only ones fighting the good fight? Of course not.
We can't change the past, though we can (and should) reassess our historical narrative as it has existed, should exist, and might exist in the future.
In third grade, my class was given an assignment called "Great Americans." A historical figure was designated for each student to research and then perform before our classmates (as well as an old-school shoulder supported VHS video recorder).
I wanted to be Susan B. Anthony: the one name of the one woman I remember learning about in elementary school who was all over equal rights for women; however a classmate had the same request and apparently had already taken the proactive step of borrowing the sole book in our elementary school library on Susan. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was my consolation prize. But only until I started researching and then realized how bad-ass she was. And from there I came to realize how looking beyond the narrow purview of "conventional knowledge" provided the lucky an opportunity to open my eyes.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a well-to-do white woman. She was also a leader in the suffrage movement. I don't recall how she communicated her thoughts on people of color or poverty; whether she was sympathetic and generous or distant and scared. But I know for sure that I hadn't previously heard of her before my bid to "be" Sue Anthony. And I know that I learned about her, respected her a great deal, and came to realize how much more there was to know about the movement of which she was a genuine leader.
Providing a monument to Elizabeth and Susan feels totally appropriate to me. They certainly didn't suffer from the same prejudice as some of my ancestors. Nor did they have to grapple with the misery of destitution or racial discrimination. But as a result of their efforts, I have the right to vote (as do those suffering from poverty and racial hatred). It's saddening to see women taking down other women. Do we need to compare suffering in order to pay homage to those who suffer from a different form of hate?
Their work was not a panacea in advocacy against unfortunate circumstances. But isn't that bar for measuring expectations a little too high?
By Joanna Hootnick