There was a historic inevitability to this story. Remember the news about Mexico City replacing a Christopher Columbus statue with a monument to native women? This was welcome news, except for the city’s choice of sculptor Pedro Reyes. You could make book on the onslaught of objections to his gender for this project.

Hyperallergic reports “hundreds of Mexican artists, writers, and curators” petitioning in protest. Their objection isn’t only about Reyes’ gender. According to Yucatan Magazine, it’s also about his ethnicity. Apparently, he’s not indigenous, and the question the protestors ask is, how can a male artist create a monument to native women when he’s neither a woman nor a native?

Getting a monument wrong

Their question suggests a larger one: do you have to be a female artist to do females justice? The answer stands in a London Park for all to see, the statue of Mary Wollstonecraft, famed ‘mother of feminism” unaccountably made naked. The sculptor was a female, Maggie Hambling. I’d also add Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, which distills femaleness to the shape of her genitalia and to dishes.

As if mocking the significance of gender when it comes to honoring women, consider how Jack Nicholson, playing a writer in the ’97 flick “As Good As It Gets,” answers a fan who asked how he was able to write about women so well. He said: “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” A funny line, but it’s a take-down of both genders.

Real-life writer Josh Brand, who penned the very dimensional female KGB agent in the TV series “The Americans.” He told the Atlantic Magazine "Character to me has nothing to do with gender."

Manet’s homage to women

You could say the same thing about visual artists. It was Edouard Manet who described the end of the passive woman in paint in “Luncheon on the Grass.

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He showed you a nude female staring straight at you, challenging you, asking what you’re gawking at. Unlike all the undressed females in art history, she is not letting you look at her as if she were an object. The model for the painting was not imagined. She was Victorine Meurend, who was an artist herself. Her image marked the end of the passive female nude.

All of which makes the protesting petition from Mexican artists and writers unthinking, particularly when it says, "We find it inadmissible that Pedro Reyes, a male artist who does not identify as Indigenous, was selected to represent the Indigenous woman.” They called the selection a “generalization” that denies the gender and race of native women.

Glittering generality

But aren’t the protestors doing the generalizing? Reyes told Yucatan Magazine that he had the necessary know-how to do a large-scale work, which he envisions as nearly 30 feet tall head carved out of volcanic rock. He said he researched former representations of women in ancient Mexico. His idea for the monument is the head of an Olmec woman – referencing the original culture.

You can fault his idea for the monument, not his gender. A lot of history in art and literature make the case that you don’t have to be a woman to get women right. The must-have is a sensibility, a heart.