New feature: Women’s erasure from women’s memorials

// 16 June 2011

The only memorial to women’s contributions in World War II depicts empty clothing. Carolyn Dougherty considers what this says about the erasure of women from public spaces. With contributions from Alex Wardrop

Where are the public memorials to commemorate women’s contributions to our past? World War II looms large in the UK’s history, but you will struggle to find many sculptures representing women’s role.

The Paperwomen collective, founded in Bristol in 2010, aims to draw attention to, and in some small ways reverse, the erasure of women from history, specifically their absence from memorials in public places. While doing so it aims to celebrate the women who have contributed to our cities and our pasts.

The monument to the women of World War II commemorates ‘women’, but carefully avoids portraying any actual, physical women – only their empty suits of clothes

Since meeting Paperwomen at the Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism in York, I’ve become more aware of how images of real women are absent from public spaces.

A striking example of this absence came to my attention recently, on the 500,000-strong March for the Alternative in London on 26 March. As we proceeded down Whitehall, the seat of political power in this country, past larger-than-life-sized bronze portraits of men who led and fought in World War II, I noticed this monument:


Photo of Women of World War II monument by Rupert Ganzer

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Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 18 June 2011 at 1:59 pm

I saw this loathesome memorial a few years ago and was horrified at how women continue to be erased. However this is an excellent example of how our male supremacist system views women. We do not exist until such time as female labour is needed to support men’s wars and when such wars cease women become once again invisible.

What we do have is a proliferation of statues all glorifying men’s militaristic accomplisments and this reinforces misogynistic notion that the world is indeed a male only one.

Male myopia at its worst is this depiction of coats and bags – because apparently it was items of clothing which aided the war effort not women!

Troon // Posted 19 June 2011 at 2:12 pm

The women’s monument has a longish and highly contested history, involving many oppositions and negotiations, all necessarily gendered in different ways. Drs Emma Vickers (currently at Reading) and Corinna Pensiton-Bird (currently at Lancaster) could tell you much more and those who are interested may like to contact them.

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