Friday, June 02, 2006

Skimming the newspaper sloppily I became for a while an advocate of statues of women in public places. Statues of specific real women, not qualities, not the state of California in robes and a Greek helmet with a bear--though I do like that image often--but actual women.

When in 1997 a bench in Washington Square Park in North Beach was dedicated to Juana Briones, an important person in early San Francisco, Yerba Buena, I misread the item and though there was a statue of a woman in important and somewhat famous Washington Square Park in the city I lived in.

I walked around the city feeling different because of they're being a statue of a woman of stature in early history. I liked the feeling. It changed my posture a bit and therefore increased my stature.

So it's a bench. Not the same. No one knows what Juana Briones looked like but I'm here to tell you she didn't look like a white guy, a group well-presented in statues. She also didn't probably look like the kind of woman who is portrayed as personfying some quality. Around here such women are usually fiercely Northern European looking--Nordic. Juana Briones didn't look like that, it seems reasonable to assume, and having a statue of a woman with power and money who looked like Juana Briones might have looked would be a good thing.

After I got that Juana Briones was honored with a bench not a statue, I started thinking about statues of women and how few there are. How few of specific flesh and blood women who walked the earth.

When I started thinking about this I said to my friend Ray something like this: "It used to be there weren't statues of specific women because women were not involved in decisions about what would be in public spaces, because women didn't have money or control money, but now that that has changed a lot, still there are very few statues of actual women. Why don't women, now that they can, make statues of women?"

Ray said, "Because they've got better sense."

After thinking and researching, I have, alas, come to agree with him. It's not a cause I want to spend much time on.

** Maybe somebody else? I don't know. It wouldn't take that much to increase the number of statues of women--more are being made now but still very very few, relative to guy statues. But the energy and money used to make statues of women could be used for other things more directly useful.

Juana Briones owned property both in San Francisco, known as Yerba Buena and in what is now called the Peninsula. History interested women from the Peninsula initiated the Juana Briones bench in Washington Square Park, near where she lived.

She ran a business in this tiny town and was obviously very respected. The tiny quotes that remain about her, I shout at the people who said them and say, "Say more. Be more specific. Examples."

Juana Briones wasn't a doctor, but those who knew her said she was as good as a doctor, better than many doctors of the time. The plaque on the Juana Briones bench says she was a healer. One of the small quotes about her says she was "like Clara Barton."

And I say, "No, more, give examples." But they aren't there in the record.

Clara Barton was a Civil War nurse and a founder of professional nursing in the United States. She was thought about in the past more than she is right now, so "like Clara Barton" doesn't say what it used to would have said, like, "very skilled, brave, there when you needed her."

"The Red Badge of Courage" was written by Stephen Crane, about Civil War, which happened before he was born. All and sundry think it's an accurate account of the Civil War battle experience for a soldier. Stephen Crane probably listened well to old veterans in his New York town.

In "The Red Badge of Courage" account of battle, there isn't the least tiniest reference to or expectation of medical help. The wounded went to the rear and helped each other as they could, or didn't, and kept each other company as they died, or didn't.

In that context, Clara Barton being right there after a battle, and being skilled, stood out a lot, like Juana Briones being in this isolated rural town and being able to stop the bleeding and set the bone so you didn't die and could walk.

The way that people who knew her are inarticulate about her makes me think she might have been one of those people who is really good. I mean, lots of people are good, but then you have contact with someone who is really good, and it's hard to express what that quality is.

So would this good and practical woman think making a statue was a good and practical use of energy? I really don't know.

I truly was encouraged when I thought there was a statue of her in Washinton Square Park. One reason for that may have been that she was an essentially encouraging person. Having courage and creating it in others.

Juana Briones came to what was then Northern Mexico with her husband who was a soldier stationed at the Presidio. They had eight kids. She left him because he was mean.

There's a statue reason right there. Another is that after the Mexican War when the United States took a bunch of land including upper California, now known as California, from Mexico, she kept all her property. Some people lost there property in the nasty transition after the nasty war. Not her. Another reason for a statue.