Saturday marked the 113th anniversary of the birth of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering female pilot who blew the world’s assumptions of women’s abilities out of the sky by becoming the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.
Saturday also marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Alphonse Mucha, a Czech Art Nouveau painter known for his images of delicate white women with long flowing hair that you’re most likely to have seen on greeting cards.
Which one Google did decide to honor with one of it’s homepage Google Doodle designs? If you guessed the man who drew women instead of the woman, you’re cynical – but rightfully.
Yes, 150 is a much rounder and bigger number than 113 – and that number seems a little sinister to the superstitious considering how Earhart died – but 110 is also a much, much bigger number than 8, which is now the ratio of male to female historical figures Google Doodle has featured since it’s inception in 1999.
When I first wrote about the almost complete invisibility of women in Google Doodles, I explained why parity in internet graphics should concern feminists:
…we’ve lived with the myth that men created the world and everything good in it for long enough. As long as men get to designate who and what in history is important, young women will continue to learn that all their sex has contributed throughout all of history is their wombs. If we can’t see ourselves as the inventors, artists, revolutionaries and creators that came before, how the hell are we supposed to fashion ourselves into the modern versions?
Since writing that, I’ve become hyper-aware of the almost complete absence of women, especially women of color, in every venue and form in which we as a society honor our political, artistic, and cultural forebears. A sampling:
- Of almost 150 historical statues in New York City, only 5 are women and only 1, Harriet Tubman, is a woman of color. Of 29 sculptures in Central Park, 4 are female: Alice in Wonderland, Juliet of Romeo and Juliet, Mother Goose, and Mary from The Secret Garden.
- Of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, DC, only 9 are women.
- There is no national American holiday named for a woman. We’ve got MLK day, Columbus Day, and Presidents Day (formerly Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays) – but not a single day for a woman who shaped America.
- Despite being half the population, stamps memorializing men outnumber stamps memorializing women 3 to 1. Of the 55 stamps to be issues this summer, 16 will depict real people and 4 of those will be women. Puerto Rican poet Julia de Borgos will be the only woman of color honored, right alongside Kate Smith, infamous for singing the racist, pro-slavery song, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.”
- The last time a woman’s portrait appeared on a U.S. currency note was in the 19th century, before the establishment of our modern monetary system. Martha Washington’s portrait appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896. There hasn’t been a single woman’s face on our paper currency since then. Women don’t fare much better on metal money – the U.S. Mint issued 50 new state-themed quarters between 1999 and 2008 and not a single one included an image or tribute to a woman.
Thanks to the work of feminists, most American young women go through life without ever being told they can’t grow up to be doctors or scientists, politicians or aviators. Yet by refusing to equally honor the women who’ve made significant contributions to the country as we do the men, we show them that women don’t and haven’t ever done the things that are worthy of respect and replication. This is as damaging as it is untrue.
Which is why the work of a new non-profit called Equal Visibility Everywhere is so, so cool – and so very important. Formed in March of this year, the organization is “dedicated to achieving gender parity in the symbols and icons of the United States.” Included in their 8 target projects are efforts to get more women into National Statuary Hall and on stamps and coins, encouraging municipalities to name more streets and schools after women, and monitoring how women are portrayed and represented in museum exhibits.
EVE’s biggest project – literally – is raising money for a 40-foot balloon replica of Amelia Earhart’s red Lockheed Vega 5B, with Amelia in her aviator’s cap waving from the cockpit, to appear in parades across the country. (Women are definitely disproportionately represented in the balloon line-up – of 108 characters depicted in the 86 year history of the famed Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, only 10 have been women.) If EVE reaches their $9,801 goal by the end of this month, the balloon will debut in the Philadelphia Labor Day parade, with TV announcers reading text about the organization and the near invisibility of women in cultural celebrations.
EVE is also looking for volunteers to help them complete their other projects – I, for one, am excited about pushing New York to represent our state with a statue of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for President, in the National Statuary Hall. How will you show your mother, sisters, and daughters women made and are making history?