Memorials promote 'white heterosexual male supremacy,' profs claim

Public museums and memorials serve our nation’s “foundational commitments to white heterosexual male supremacy,” according to two Texas A&M University professors.

Tasha N. Dubriwny and Kristan Poirot, both of whom teach Women’s Studies at TAMU, advanced the claim in a July 12 article in the Southern Communications Journal, further alleging that U.S commemorative practices serve an inherently conservative agenda.

“Scholars consistently argue that U.S. commemorative practices and traditions promote historical narratives that are inherently conservative in nature,” they write. “This is particularly true of ‘official’ sites of public memory like memorials and museums.”

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Museums and memorials, they explain, “are likely to support, not challenge, mainstream democratic values and figures,” reinforcing “key aspects of American mythology, including a national dedication to equality, liberty, work, sacrifice, ingenuity, and heroism.”

The authors quickly make clear their distaste for such values, saying they “mask foundational commitments to white heterosexual male supremacy, class hierarchies, and the systemic violence used to secure them.

“In short, the embodiment of the American identity in commemorative sites is, more often than not, a white heterosexual cisgendered male, reaffirming the ‘great man’ perspective that dominated American historiography for too long,” they add.

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Professor Tasha Dubriwny told Campus Reform that her interest in the subject started with the idea to conduct a research project on the relation between second wave feminism and public memory, asserting that “there is a striking lack of official commemorative sites (statues, parks, etc.) recognizing feminist activists generally, and spaces that remember women from the 1960s and 1970s are basically nonexistent.”

War memorials are an excellent example of how public commemorative sites exclude women, Dubriwny said, observing that “because women have historically been excluded from [the public and political sphere], they are not as frequently subjects of public commemoration.”

Dubriwny also worries that war memorials in particular could perpetuate a problematic ethos of masculinity within the broader culture, saying they highlight “an aggressive, heroic, combat-centric masculinity [and] take part in a larger heteronormative cultural script that is often unquestioned.”

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Since many of the war memorials and museums are here to stay, Dubriwny does not advocate for their removal. Rather, she says that going forward, people should take steps to “encourage our community leaders, our politicians, our heads-of-state, etc. to remember more inclusively.”  

She also believes it is important to try to remember parts of the past that tend to go unnoticed, especially because they have implications for our understanding of the society around us.

“Memorials…would go a long way toward reconfiguring conversations about race in the present,” she predicted. “Public memories matter because they fuel our contemporary understandings of race and gender.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen