“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I saw something that greatly distressed me today but I unsure what to do or say in response. What distressed me? A sculpture that is still outside, a few houses away. The sculpture? A prostrated woman over a barrel. Her legs spread. Anus exposed. Probably more. And her face in the ground. I walked past it a couple of times while it was being sculpted. The “artist” was a male college student. And this is what he devoted several hours of this beautiful day to — while his buddy was making a snow beer pong table (some sort of platform), and dorks like me were exploring the streets with grinning and admiring snow. I felt uncomfortable the first time I passed it, before it was finished. I suspected it was either sexual, prayer (unlikely), or a person being guillotined. It is the former. The woman was over a barrel. When my friend and I passed it together, she asked what it was. The guy smirked and replied, “you know what it is.” By this time, it was complete. We said nothing and crossed the street.
Many people may read this and be amused. It will be a joke. A sexual snowman? What fun! How creative. That trite cliché “boys will be boys.” Wow, what detail! And I have to say, the guy is a talented sculptor. He captured the human form well. But what he sculpted is distressing. I viewed it and experienced it as a threat. I felt uncomfortable the first time I passed it today, I was upset the second time I passed it (and it was complete), and I was angry, distressed, and weary the third and fourth times. The third time when my friends and I passed it the guy came outside as we neared, laughed and said “don’t forget to enjoy the snow woman….it’s art, I swear.” Then he slipped “accidentally” and landed with his hands on her hips. When we were a block away and glanced behind us, he was in that position and humped it. This is not funny. Maybe he doesn’t realize how violent that image is. The message it sends. The woman is faceless. She is exposed. Anyone can do anything to her. She might have been thrown over that barrel. It’s not a joke. This person may view himself as a smartass but there is a difference between sculpting a snowman jerking off and sculpting what he did. I don’t want to get into a gender debate or some war of the sexes (genders). That is not what this is about. It is about this person so loudly and publicly disregarding a person’s humanity. A female-bodied person’s humanity. She doesn’t have a voice in his depiction. I am distressed. I feel threatened. I feel unsafe. I hate knowing that I may go to bed tonight with that sculpture down the block. My friend, her friends (whom I met tonight), and I talked about it a lot. Discussed what to do. A and I initially wanted to destroy it. Well, she definitely did and I wanted it gone but didn’t know if destruction was the route. I’ve never vandalized anything. What if it truly is art? What if we are interpreting it entirely wrong? I don’t think we are. Our experiences of it/our perceptions are valid. Because it was a depiction of something we has women/female-bodied persons live with a fear of.
What if he were to say, “It’s just a body and it doesn’t matter. It’s just sex. She wanted it.” Well, actually, if it were a consensual sort of thing, she might have a partner. There might be intimacy. She might not be over a barrel. She might have a face. Why do you feel you can just sculpt a woman’s body like this? What makes it okay?
I hate that what would be even more shocking to me was if this person (or really most males his age) had sculpted a woman in a position that was not demeaning at all. If he had sculpted her as just another human being. Snow being. Not some sort of object.
Our distress does not stem from her being positioned for anal sex. It is not about anal sex. It is the snow woman’s utter defenselessness. It is the casual manner in which a woman’s anus and vagina is exposed to the street but not her face.
We want to do something. We discussed destroying it. Putting flowers around her. Covering her up. In the end, one of us got out a cloth banner and paint and painted “not ok”. We haven’t done anything with it yet. It’s too early still. And I don’t even think that it is the best solution. What will it accomplish? Will the guys change their thinking or behavior? Probably not. They won’t take a banner seriously. But doing nothing kills me. I am not willing to let this lie. I cannot be silent. So what do I/we do?
As one might read in the comments, I ended up placing the “Not OK” banner with a “What if this was your mother/sister/girlfriend/friend” note pinned to it over the snow woman’s derriere. In retrospect, I wish the question had been: “What if this was you?”. When I left my house an hour later and glanced down the block, the banner was gone. After a couple hours on campus I texted my roommate to ask if the sculpture was still there. Upon receiving confirmation it was, I called Corvallis police’s non-emergency line to report hate speech. When the dispatcher asked for my name I asked if I could withhold it for safety — just in case the guys got angry and tried to find out who reported it and retaliated. He ended up letting me withhold it because of how public the sculpture is [I realize how funny this concern might seem, given how I am blogging about the incident in my name]. When I saw my friend Annie later she said the derriere had already been detached and was on the sidewalk. She smashed the remains of the derriere. Thank you, everyone, for your support. I will feel way more at peace when I go to sleep tonight.