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I sorted the UK’s statues by gender – a mere 2.7 per cent are of historical, non-royal women

If you’re a woman, your best chance at becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.

The first thing I learned is that sorting all the statues in the UK national database of the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association by gender is not a fun way to spent your weekend. You will start dreaming in statues. Behind every corner you will see a statue. You will accost strangers and start manically regaling them with statue facts – did you know that of all the statues of fictional characters, only one is from a work by a woman?

The second thing I learned is that there are a lot of statues of men. I sorted through 826 entries filed under “statue”, which includes a total of 925 statues. Only 158 of those were of women who merit a statue that stands on its own.

If you include the women who make it into the group shots, that figure rises to 253. But that still leaves 632 statues of men (508 of whom merit a solitary placement), with the remaining 40 being either of animals, or of ambiguous gender.

And OK, so that’s not great, but really, two and half statues of men for every statue of a woman isn’t that bad when you consider women make up less than 30 per cent of speaking roles in Hollywood films and only 24 per cent of subjects of global news stories. Women also make up a higher proportion of statues in the UK than they do MPs in Parliament. Go statues.

But who are these women? How do you go about getting a statue erected of you as a woman?

Your best bet is to be an allegorical or mythical figure. Almost half (110) of the female statues listed in the database are of allegorical figures like Justice (12), or Art (nine). Meanwhile, there are only 45 statues of male allegorical figures.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to look at the gender breakdown of the allegories themselves: in the statues I counted, women tend to dominate in the arts, while science and commerce are universally male.

If you’re not an allegory, you could do worse than to give birth to the son of God (there are 14 statues of the Virgin Mary), but of course that requires an immaculate conception. Rather a tall order for most of us.

So failing that, there is the ever popular figurative female: that is, an unnamed woman who is there simply for the sake of possessing a female body. Often nude, statues of figurative women number 83, including a rather fetching one erected at Birmingham University – which has a facade displaying nine historical men – of a coquettishly posing woman, naked except for a hat.

By far the least likely route to having a statue erected of you, however, is to have been a woman who actually existed and achieved something in the past. Only 71 statues (that’s 28 per cent of the total female figure) of historical women are listed in the database. Forty-six of those are of royalty – over 50 per cent. Twenty-nine alone are of Queen Victoria.

That leaves us with 25 statues of historical, non-royal women (one of whom is a ghost and only there because she’s looking for the spirit of her murdered husband). Meanwhile, there are 43 statues of men called John.

In fact, historical men do really rather well out of statues: 517 of the 925 statues I counted are of historical men. Only 19 of these are of royalty, leaving us with 498 statues of historical, non-royal men, which represents 82 per cent of the total male figure, and 54 per cent of UK statues overall.

So it turns out that the statue world rather accurately reflects the rest of the world: women can be there to look pretty, or to inspire Great Men (there is quite a vogue for grouping famous historical men together with allegorical females like “Peace” and muses like Euterpe and Melpomene), or to be virginal. But that’s about it.

If an allegorical female is erected, but turns out to have been a dreadful real-life woman, she is swiftly removed, as happened to the statue of “History”, who was revealed to have been modelled on a bluestocking – the horror!

Women are barely doing better than statues of animals, which number 18 (more if you count all the ones alongside humans, but I leave that task for a sturdier heart than mine).

Still, you might ask. Why the obsession with statues?

Well, it all started on International Women’s Day, when I was running through Parliament Square. For the first time, I noticed that of the 11 statues in this historically significant location, not a single one was of a woman.

If we lived in a fair world, historical, non-royal women would not make up a paltry 2.7 per cent of all the statues in the UK. But we do not live in a fair world. And I’m realistic about the pace of change.

So I’m not asking for a mass female statue-building project. But in 2018, it will have been 100 years since women finally won the argument that there is nothing peculiar about the female body that renders us incapable of voting.

I think it’s time we got a statue of a suffragette in Parliament Square to commemorate that fact. I hope you’ll sign my petition asking the Mayor of London to put one up.

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.