Feminists have denounced proposals to honour war heroes who won the Victoria Cross and George Cross with hometown statues because not enough of them are women.
Awarded, often posthumously, for the “most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”, each Victoria Cross is struck from bronze taken from captured enemy guns, and it is regarded as the highest military honour in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. So rarely is the medal given, there are just nine living recipients of them worldwide.
The George Cross is considered the VC’s equal in merit, and is awarded for similarly outstanding gallantry not in the face of the enemy, often to civilians. Famously the Queen’s father, George VI, collectively bestowed the honour upon the island of Malta for the heroism of its population while besieged by the Axis powers during the Second World War, and the island nation’s flag bears that cross to this day.
The proposal for every VC and GC winner to be honoured with a statue to create a new generation of public sculpture came at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement and its sympathisers are pressing to tear down statues to historic figures, including war heroes, or “recontextualise” them. In practice, this typically means new plaques or information boards disparaging the subject for alleged offence against modern left-wing sensibilities — but BLM has not been cited in initial efforts to squash the proposal.
Instead, the feminist group InVisiblewomen, described by the Guardian as “a virtual museum and national campaign for gender equality in UK civic statues”, has complained the move would be “wholly retrograde” because not enough VC and GC heroes are women.
It's wrong to criticise statues of VC winners because of identity politics. Statues should reflect merit, not quotas. It's great that we're recognising lots of women right now, but it would be wrong to stop honouring brave men. @OliverDowden @RobertJenrickhttps://t.co/PvcHWoDNOr
— Save Our Statues (@_SaveOurStatues) February 17, 2021
“Given [the] astonishing existing imbalance [in public statuery], I was shocked by the proposal of the Common Sense Group concerning the erection of statues to all holders of both the Victoria and George Cross,” complained InVisiblewomen founder Terri Bell-Halliwell in a letter to Cuture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
Reeling off a list of feminist activists, feminist author Virginia Woolf, and fossil hunter Mary Anning — who is already, in fact, getting a statue — Bell-Halliwell insisted that “If the public purse is really to be used for new statues surely it is these women who should have first call on such funding”.
The feminist was clear that even if given her way it would not be enough, of course, “Even if every one of them had a statue, we would still not have come close to gender equality in who we look up to on civic plinths, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.”
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“Tragically, too many who have given and achieved so much have been all but forgotten. In many places, locals may be unaware that they tread in the footsteps of heroes,” said Sir John Hayes MP when he launched the campaign to honour Victoria Cross and George Cross heroes — and some heroines — with statues for their service to the country.
“[This] is why the Common Sense Group [of MPs] has launched a campaign to honour every recipient of the VC and GC through the erection of a statue, immortalising them in their place of birth,” he added.
Commenting on the feminist opposition to the plan, the Save Our Statues campaign said it was “wrong to criticise statues of VC winners because of identity politics. Statues should reflect merit, not quotas.”
“It’s great that we’re recognising lots of women right now, but it would be wrong to stop honouring brave men,” the patriotic campaign added.
Since the award was instituted in 1856, 1,358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded — all so far to men. George Crosses are much rarer. Just 408 have been given since they were instituted in 1940, 12 of them to women.
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