Sidney Australia has announced plans to balance the genders in public statuary with more female figures, and it’s no wonder. You don't even get a female figure in a memorial to suffrage in Melbourne called “Great Petition.”

In place of a figure in “Great Petition,” you get a facsimile of a scroll in steel and stone that alludes to women’s right to vote. This memorial is so non-figurative that you find yourself missing the traditional man-on-horseback statue like Australia’s mounted infantrymen from the Second Boer War.

I don’t count the recent unveiling in Melbourne of the bronze statue of Australian celebrity female football star Tayla Harris bronze posing with her famous kick.

So far, the statue has not been given a permanent home. Without a home to call its own, it’s just a display.

In women’s favor

Unlike Australia, the gender imbalance in statuary tilts in women’s favor in the U.S. Think about it. Monuments with female figures run riot when it comes to personifications of an idea rather than a person. Lady Liberty in New York Harbor is an example.

Even when you feature two female figures in public art as in the Peace Monument in Washington, D.C., it’s about an idea without an identity. Only when statuary honors women’s achievements does the balance bend in men’s favor.

That imbalance is so extreme that if you were a Martian seeing the public statues on planet earth USA, you’re liable to conclude that the only historic figures worth commemorating are the heroes of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

Statues that celebrate women’s achievements fall short. The Smithsonian put it this way: “It’s way too hard to find statues of notable women in the U.S. Only a handful of the country’s sculptures honor women.” How much is a “handful”? Out of the more than 5,000 public statues of historic figures, less than 400 memorialize women.

And when it comes to worldwide stats, the New York Times reported in 2021 that only 3 percent of the world’s public statues are of nonroyal women. Monuments to royals form a large part of those statistics. In Australia, replicas of Queen Victoria proliferate. (More about one replica in a moment).

Reducing a woman to her anatomy

Even when women are honored in statues made by their own kind, they seem less honored. Two years ago, British artist Mary Hambling's memorial statue to women’s rights pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft was unveiled in London undressed.

What you saw was a female stripped, complete with pubic hair showing. As art writer for The Guardian Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett railed, “would a man be ‘honored’ with his schloong out?” Wollstonecraft fought for women’s rights, and she’s memorialized as a walk-on in a porn flick.

Mind you, I’m not asking for a statuary that slavishly narrates what a woman is best known for. I don’t need to see a granite likeness of Sylvia Plath with her head in the oven.

But something, anything that commemorates a woman’s achievement would be welcome.

Now about that statue of Queen Victoria in Australia. The one in question, a 19th-century granite full-length portrait, stands in Sidney on a pedestal taller than she is, so her head comes across like a boil on her neck. It’s odd that the sculptor, Joseph Edgar Boehm didn’t learn a trick known for centuries to avoid the look of a shrunken head.

I’m referring to the proportions of Michelangelo’s 16-foot-tall “David.” He purposely ignored the ideal proportions of the human figure and carved the head bigger than the torso so that the head would not be lost when seen on ground level. Clearly, the lessons of history get lost even in the art world where the lessons stare you in the face.