City of Women is one of the creative cartography pieces in the Queens Museum exhibit Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix curated by Rebecca Solnit with map maker Josh Jelly-Schapiro. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is also the title of the third publication in a series of books that utilize creative mapping to offer a new understanding of history and place. City of Women reimagines the New York City subway system if all the stations were named in honor of New York City’s notable women.
Subtly, through alternative means, Solnit addresses the current media and political storm about Donald Trump’s recently leaked hot mic video and the charges of misogyny and sexual assault that have been leveled against him.
Solnit writes for The New Yorker: “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is a song James Brown recorded in a New York City studio in 1966, and, whether you like it or not, you can make the case that he’s right. Walking down the city streets, young women get harassed in ways that tell them that this is not their world, their city, their street; that their freedom of movement and association is liable to be undermined at any time; and that a lot of strangers expect obedience and attention from them. “Smile,” a man orders you, and that’s a concise way to say that he owns you; he’s the boss; you do as you’re told; your face is there to serve his life, not express your own. He’s someone; you’re no one.”
Like the on-going movement to finally erect a statue in Central Park after an actual living woman (there are none currently, just fictional ones like Alice in Wonderland), Solnit’s work addresses the idea that seemingly innocuous things in our built environment – statues or names – “perpetuate the gendering of New York City.” She brings up readily digestible examples: streets like Astor Place (for John Jacob Astor), Lafayette Street (for the Marquis de Lafayette), Bleecker Street (for Anthony Bleecker) and iconic places like Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center, and Bryant Park.
Solnit points out a stunning fact, raised by Allison Meier of Hyperallergic this past summer: “There are only five statues of named women in New York City: Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman,” and until 1984, there was just one, that of Joan of Arc. The Golda Meir was missing for a while this year for rehabilitation but has returned.
Solnit’s map honors women past and present from Abigail Adams to L’il Kim. There are women across the spectrum of careers. Superme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in South Brooklyn, Serena and Venus Williams in Flushing Meadows. There are moments of sadness and tragedy, like the appearance of Kitty Genovese along the JMZ. But it’s a pleasure to inspect this map in detail because the names bring to mind the incredible accomplishments of New Yorker women. It is like, as Solnit writes about watching films with female superheroines, something that gets you “feeling charged up, superhuman, indomitable. It’s like a drug for potency and confidence.”
In an election campaign of so much negativity, so much being said while leaving out some of the most important, a map like this infuses positivity into the cause for women’s equality.