From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
who believes she has
power. Leave your tiny Icelandic fishing village to
study gymnastics, the first in your country to do so, the first woman, the first time
I saw you I almost didn’t see you. In my country the statues are: The Male Conqueror. The Male Punisher. The Male Slaveowner. Some of our most popular national monuments are nothing
but men’s penises pointing straight at God while our female statues are bare-breasted goddesses and alabaster-winged muses and saints and wives and abstractions of ideas like Liberty and Chastity and Being Quiet. Maybe this is why I know nothing about statues. I am loud flesh and blood. I don’t amble around world capitals taking selfies with granite-faced men frozen on horses mid-gallop, but when
I saw you (I almost didn’t see you) I stopped. You were high above me, on a concrete block, wearing a dress flared out like a cape. I was in Iceland for two weeks and I came to see you every single day. Even when it was cold and raining I’d circle Reykjavik, passing the crumb-stuffed ducks on the lake and the lagoon-bound tourists until I came to your pedestal in front of the Parliament building, where you served as Iceland’s first elected female politician in 1922. I stood at your feet like a pilgrim not knowing why I was there, exactly, but on the fifth day I realized what you were trying to tell me: I had never seen a statue of an elected female politician before.
But surely this could not be true. I must have seen a statue of a female politician during school field trips to Washington, D.C. or in New York City, where I lived for many years. That night in the Airbnb apartment, its windowsills decorated with trinkets from previous American tourists — the Empire State Building, an Arizona cactus, Lady Liberty — I began to research American statues. In the entire city of Washington, D.C. there is not a single outdoor statue of an elected female politician. Within the United States Capitol building, the National Statuary Hall collection of one hundred statues (two for each state) contains nine figures of women, only one of them an elected politician. In New York City, there are one hundred fifty historical statues of men and only five of women and none of these five women were elected politicians. That is the extent of my research because I soon became very tired and wondered if research itself was the problem, re-searching and re-searching and never finding exactly what I need to see until one day it’s standing right in front of me, tall and proud, in a country that is not my own, and I feel an envy so sharp in my ribs it takes my breath. So I stopped the re-search and returned to what I had already found: I returned to you. In June, the light in Reykjavik is ever-present and ever-changing from orgasm pink to dead-lipped blue and your dark bronze figure is stark against it and have I mentioned
my trip to Iceland happened in 2017 and it had only been a few months since my own country had shown exactly how it feels about women in power, and when I look up at your figure, your dress that looks like a cape slicing the sky, I wonder how we can ever know what is possible if we don’t even know what it looks like. But a moment later, it occurs to me that you have shown me exactly what it looks like and wow there is something to be said about the power of imagery and the power of art and the power of women to become exponents of another future. You began your life as a student of gymnastics — the art of harnessing and unleashing the body’s power — and went on to be a teacher—spreading knowledge which is power. You were only one woman I am only one woman but here’s the big secret: That makes two of us. And even if we are working under the constraints of the powers that be, we still have the space to imagine statues of democratically elected women prominently displayed in our nation’s malls and parks and plazas, we still have the room to name those whose figures could be carved in bronze like yours, Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, we still have the numbers and the knowledge and the art and the power to multiply ourselves into many, many more: Stacey Abrams, Kate Brown, Molly Kelly, Laura Kelly, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Janet Mills, Gina Raimondo, Gretchen Whitmer, Tammy Baldwin, Maria Cantwell, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mazie Hirono, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, Jacky Rosen, Kyrsten Sinema, Tina Smith, Debbie Stabenow, Elizabeth Warren, Cindy Axne, Lauren Baer, Dana Balter, Nanette Barragán, Mary Barzee Flores, Carolyn Bourdeaux, Lisa Brown, Julia Brownley, Cheri Bustos, Kristen Carlson, Leslie Cockburn, Linda Coleman, Angie Craig, Sharice Davids, Madeleine Dean, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, Gretchen Driskell, Kara Eastman, Veronica Escobar, Abby Finkenauer, Sylvia Garcia, Theresa Gasper, Liuba Grechen Shirley, Deb Haaland, Jahana Hayes, MJ Hegar, Katie Hill, Chrissy Houlahan, Ann Kirkpatrick, Annie Kuster, Susie Lee, Carolyn Long, Elaine Luria, Carolyn Maloney, Kathy Manning, Lucy McBath, Diane Mitsch Bush, Jessica Morse, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Ilhan Omar, Gina Ortiz Jones, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, Katie Porter, Betsy Rader, Mary Gay Scanlon, Kim Schrier, Donna Shalala, Mikie Sherrill, Elissa Slotkin, Nancy Soderberg, Abigail Spanberger, Haley Stevens, Maura Sullivan, Hiral Tipirneni, Rashida Tlaib, Norma Torres, Xochitl Torres Small, Lauren Underwood, Liz Watson, Jennifer Wexton, Susan Wild, Kathleen Williams, January Contreras, Katie Hobbs, Eleni Kounalakis, Fiona Ma, Betty Yee, Jena Griswold, Denise Merrill, Lindy Miller, Juliana Stratton, Susana Mendoza, Rita Hart, Deidre DeJear, Jocelyn Benson, Julie Blaha, Nicole Galloway, Kate Marshall, Sheila Oliver, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Stephanie Garcia Richard, Kathy Hochul, Tish James, Kathleen Clyde, Val Hoyle, Nellie Gorbea, Sarah Godlewski, and many more. Euclid coined the term “power” to represent a number multiplying by itself—how a line can become a square, then a cube. May the lines in which we wait to vote today become the pedestals upon which our future female leaders stand.
Take action today:
Regardless of the results of the 2018 midterm election, our fight for equal representation will be far from finished. Support female candidates who promote intersectional feminism and espouse pro-women, pro-choice policies. Encourage and empower women from diverse backgrounds to become politically active.
Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the author of the memoir Sounds Like Titanic, to be published next February.