One False Move

Women and racialized people are no stranger to walking on eggshells, knowing that one false move could spell the end of their career. Meanwhile, there are any number of sins for which people have been historically willing to forgive white men.

I think that one of the best illustrations of this is the discrepancy between the number of monuments to white men versus monuments to women and racialized people. CNN reported this year that, based on Smithsonian Institution records, only 1/10th of public monuments are dedicated to women. When I searched the records most recently, it appeared that only 261 of 3828 sculptures represented a woman. Other subject matter is more difficult to search on the Smithsonian database but, as an example, The Washington Post reports that the National Capitol has at least three times as many monuments to confederate figures as it does to black people. The Washington Post highlights that only 4 black historical figures are represented in the entire Capitol (busts or statutes) while twelve Confederate figures have statues within the Statuary Hall collection alone. And this is the point: the white men represented have a TON of baggage, which is entirely forgiven in their commemoration, while women and racialized people are at constant risk of being quite literally knocked off their pedestals. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a guy on the metro in Washington DC on this issue, and I asked why Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t represented in Statuary Hall, and he told me it’s because he was a philanderer. My chin must have dropped all the way to the floor.

But now there is, what some are calling, a reckoning. Unfortunately, not the kind of reckoning that will get reparations for slavery or even get a monument to Harriet Tubman in the Capitol. But rather a reckoning that is seeing some Confederate statues taken down, some people declining to celebrate “Columbus Day”, some celebrities being fired, and some politicians being rejected. And already men are starting to decry that this reckoning has gone too far; after all, these are “good guys” who they’ve witnessed interact with women without harassing them, and even if the allegations were true they were from a long time ago, and in the words of Geraldo Rivera the allegations are “criminalizing courtship“. Presumably, these men are reflecting on their own actions and are anxiously waiting for the dam to break on the stories about their own bad behaviour, and presumably the extent of the panic on the part of men tells us something about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. This panic despite that a philandering sexual predator was elected to the White House and it took allegations of pedophilia for Roy Moore to lose a Senate seat by 2 points. Meanwhile, I’m over here worried that it might be career limiting to show up to work with a shirt that’s too low-cut or a skirt that’s too high-cut.

White men are starting to understand – if only to the most minimal extent – the experience of woman and racialized people who pursue their goals knowing that when their demographic represents only 1%-10% of the top of their field, any misstep will likely preclude them from such success.

Posted in: Progress

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