EXCLUSIVE: Internal university emails shine new light on decision to remove statue that ‘reinforces’ gender ‘stereotypes’
Email threads from members of the Provost Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues address further reasons behind removal of popular statue “The Gossips”
Despite the concern that women find the statue offensive, many women came to the statue's defense.
An email thread among University of Oklahoma advisory committee members shines new light on the school's decision to remove an artistic campus statue titled “The Gossips" that some
The motion to remove the statue was spearheaded by the OU Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues, which exists in order to “promote the interests of women at University of Oklahoma (OU), particularly women engaged in research, teaching, and administration.”
Advice to the Provost to revoke the piece was solicited through a formal memo, obtained by Campus Reform, that underlines more details about the supposed grievances of the women of campus.
The first concern highlighted by the committee is that the statue, regardless of the artists’ merit, “reinforces negative stereotypes of women and stands in a place where a large segment of the campus community passes it daily.”
OU removed “The Gossips” statue outside the student union and plans to replace it with a piece that “celebrates women” following requests from its Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues alongside past and present community members: https://t.co/5YXNT6fS4R
— OU Daily (@OUDaily) July 8, 2021
The memo expresses concern for the wellbeing of the women who walk past the statue and are faced with a depiction of their gender that is portrayed as “not full and equal members of the campus community." Furthermore, it addresses concern that male students may walk past the same statue and receive confirmation that talk of the opposing gender should “not be taken seriously.”
It also accuses the statue’s name of trivializing women’s communication, and thus suggesting that women’s talk is merely “unkind or hurtful." The authors proceed to criticize the size of the statue, equating its small stature to an assumption that women are “small people who talk about unimportant things.”
The authors of the memo express an interest in testing the gender stereotyping depicted by the art, and ponder whether or not replacing the women with male figures would maintain the same title.
“PACWI believes ‘The Gossips’ does not represent the values of diversity and inclusiveness that are so important to our campus community. Thus, we recommend its removal,” the group wrote in a call to action.
Former PACWI chair Keri Kornselson credited the removal of the statue to “many women on the OU campus hav[ing] expressed concerns about ‘The Gossips’ because it depicts adult women having a conversation and labels it ‘gossip’.”
She injected her own opinion, claiming, “That seems inappropriate on a university campus, particularly one where women are underrepresented in many disciplines.” She then addressed alternatives to removal, such as renaming the statue.
“The Collaborators”, “The Friends”, “The Coauthors”, “Mentoring”, and “The Lunch Break” were all suggested titles.
Concerns about the statues removal generated after the extraction, with members of the community banding together to raise questions about why the decision was made, and if they truly are representative of women’s interests.
A female employee of the university expressed concern for the statue after noticing its disappearance, writing to facility management asking for clarification if it was moved or stolen and where she could locate it.
Campus Reform reported on the controversy as it occured. In the article, instances are shown of other instances of female members of the OU community publicly declaring their disappointment in the statues removal, with one professor admitting it was their favorite statue on campus.
University of Oklahoma provided Campus Reform with the following statement regarding the statue:
“After many inquiries from OU community members and alumni, and at the request of and in consultation with the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues, it was determined to rotate the Gossips statue from its location next to the student union with a piece that celebrates women’s leadership at the University of Oklahoma, which has not yet been selected. Currently, the Gossips statue is being housed at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.”
“The Gossips” stood on the campus beginning in 2007, and was removed from the grounds in June 2021. The piece was designed by Harry Marinsky in 1996, and was gifted to the school by former OU president David Boren and his wife.
Campus Reform has reached out to PACWI for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.