Syreeta McFadden

It seemed appropriate to wrap this blog up on a classical note. In "The Lack of Female Genitals on Statues Seems Thoughtless until You See It Repeated," Guardian US Contributing Opinion Writer Syreeta McFadden notices a trend in the Greek and Roman statues in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. While the male and female forms are both represented in the exhibits, they are not represented equally.

Just as Adrienne Rich found that the women written by men were written as objects, from the male point of view, full of mystery, so too does McFadden find the female statues to be lacking in essential detail. "The [female] forms are all Barbie-doll blank down there, like female bodies just sprung out the head of Zeus, fully formed, sometimes clothed and vulvaless." The externals of the female statues make clear their gender, but when it comes to what many would call the essential determinant of womanhood, they remain utterly mysterious.

This is in stark contrast to the male statues that, "rock out with their cocks out." Penises are always included - no Ken dolls to match the Barbies. They are included in excruciating detail, in a range of states and sizes. Their visibility and number normalize them. Once again, the male is normal, perfunctory, ubiquitous while the female is concealed, hidden, othered.

"Patriarchy has tried to erase imagery of the feminine since time immemorial. Destroy the image and you can control the narrative." Not only the words of women, but the forms of women were hidden and concealed to a purpose. Or, as one commenter suggested, perhaps the (all male) sculptors simply had no familiarity with the female form so as to create an accurate model thereof. I have issues with that idea, in part because it assumes that there were no female sculptors. And because it insults the sculptors who are male by implying that they can't work off a model that is not their own - wouldn't that imply that a sculptor could only sculpt his own penis?
These marbled statues represented a value – an idealized value – of male and female roles in society that codified a power dynamic and a social order that persists in so many ways today. It’s such a gesture that seems thoughtless until you see it repeated over and over; it becomes clear that it is intentional and deliberate, and the lasting effect, erases feminine humanity. Even the most enlightened of us still have to unlearn cultural definitions of our sex that cast our vaginas as profane, obscene, ugly.
Viewed from a distant perspective, it is easy to imagine that there were once sculptures depicting women in as exacting detail as the male forms that survive. It is easy to imagine a culture destroying that which they wished to suppress.

We have no writings from Aspasia. No words truly hers survived from antiquity. She is remarkable for being cited as the writer of Pericles' funeral oration. Remarkable for being written by Plato through the words of Socrates. She even merits an entry in Plutarch's Lives. But the form of her thoughts, words she might have written to express herself or record her works, Like the statues, she has been - not erased - but smudged, smoothed over into a hearsay, an other, a woman lacking some essence.

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