The Two Faces of the Statue of Liberty in the Feminist Movement by Emily Grimaldi

The moment I thought to write about the Statue of Liberty as a strong female icon, I immediately found some depiction of her deep in the abyss of my television knowledge. The animated Netflix show, Big Mouth, follows the exploits of young teens trying to navigate the art of becoming an adult. In the second episode of the series, the kids take a field trip to the Statue of Liberty, where Jessi gets her first period. The Statue of Liberty takes Jessi into her hands and gives her the harsh facts about being a women in today’s society.

Portrayed as a French-speaking, cigarette smoking, doesn’t-take-crap-from-anyone kind of woman, the Statue of Liberty asserts herself as the strong, independent figure we believe she is. However, she is a hopeless pessimist who does not find any inspiration in herself. Even when Jessi accuses the Statue of being a bit cynical, the Statue sarcastically apologizes for not being “more America, sunny Mickey Mouse”. Here, not only does the Statue of Liberty represent women, but she depicts the age old struggle of women by saying that life is hard and there aren’t very many good things about being a woman in a male driven society. Liberty has stood in the New York Harbor for decades and has yet to see a woman rise to power in America.

This is quite contrary to how we as Americans view the Statue of Liberty. As Bodnar points out, women during the suffrage movement used the statue as a symbol of their cause.[1] These women addressed the contradiction that a woman had become the symbol of a land where women had no rights. Because this movement succeeded, we regard the Statue of Liberty as an inspiration and representation of a confident, powerful woman. She is optimistic and hopeful. She is a positive and figure. She is a strong, independent woman. We believe she is here to inspire us, which is where the Big Mouth portrayal comes in. Some believe she is antiquated while some believe she is still relevant. Some believe there is still some inspiration to be found while some believe the torch has gone out. Some have hope that a woman’s place in society will change while some are resigned to the current state of affairs. These various understandings and interpretations truly make the Statue of Liberty an American icon.

1. Bodnar, JohnLaura BurtJennifer Stinson, and Barbara Truesdell2005The Changing Face of the Statue of LibertyBloomington: Center for the Study of History and Memory, Indiana University.

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