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26 March 2016updated 05 Oct 2023 8:28am

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.

By Caroline Criado-Perez

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?

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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.

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