S.F. Statues Latest Focus of Gender Equity Battle

Supervisors may require 30 percent of commemorations on city-owned property to honor nonfictional women, starting with a statue of Maya Angelou.

As racist statues fall down, the number of women commemorated on city property may get a significant boost.

San Francisco supervisors will weigh an ordinance that requires 30 percent of commemorations on city property, including building or street names, to be of nonfictional women by 2020. If passed, the Arts Commission would start with a statue of Maya Angelou — the city’s first female streetcar conductor who went onto become an award-winning poet and author — at the San Francisco Main Library.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani revived the legislation spearheaded by Margaux Kelly and Kanishka Karunaratne Cheng, former aides to Supervisor Mark Farrell, at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Service Committee’s regular Wednesday meeting. The ordinance creates a fund that allows gifts to pay for costs associated with memorialization.

“It will recognize the accomplishments of incredible women in artwork and public spaces and is one step forward in correcting the underrepresentation of women in our society,” Stefani said in a statement. “I’m actually hoping we can get to 50 percent.”

Though an even 50 percent marks equality, research cited by the ordinance shows that critical mass of representation happens at 30 percent. It fits in with a national movement to hit that threshold by 2020, which marks the 100th anniversary of women’s constitutional right to vote in the country.

Women would be better represented by statues, monuments, memorials, plaques, public art, street names, city-owned buildings and rooms within those buildings. San Francisco Department on the Status of Women would monitor the progress with an annual report to the board and mayor. 

“This is really important because art that recognizes historical people very often is recognizing white men,” says Elizabeth Newman, workplace policy and legislative director for the department.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the item at its next regular meeting on Oct. 2.

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