Frank Malerba claimed he was inspired by the,
"contemporary identity of women, emanating the strong, cool, authoritarian characteristics empowering women of today"
And then, inevitably, he argued that provoking the public is what art is really for:
"I wanted something that was different and edgy, something that will make people react. That's exactly what art is supposed to do," Mr Fagan said.
That's not exactly a profound reason for the existence of art: making people react. Communicating the more difficult and higher truths of being would be a deeper and more challenging mission for the high arts.
Anyway, Frank Malerba got his wish and provoked a reaction - a strong enough reaction for his artwork to be shelved. But it's interesting how moderns choose to express their moral opposition. The culture and leisure officer of the local council said that public feedback was opposed to the sculpture for being:
demeaning to women, including policewomen and sex workers
I found that funny - we're supposed to accept that a sculpture of women dressed as prostitutes is objectionable because it is demeaning to prostitutes.
The Chief Police Commissioner also expressed disapproval:
"I believe the proposed sculptures are disrespectful to all women, not just policewomen," he said.
You do still hear liberal moderns talk about the need for respect. And I don't disagree that the statues are disrespectful. But I'd love to hear the Chief Police Commissioner explain exactly why they are disrespectful. Because that then begins to reveal more about the real moral reasoning involved.
And some did try to explain:
Cyber expert Susan McLean said the council should not have got to the stage of asking for opinions.
“As a former policewoman I am offended because it reinforces all the stereotypes of women,” Ms McLean said.
“It’s male fantasy stuff and it’s from the porn shops. It’s not empowering females.
So the dispute then hinges on whether women are empowered by the sculptures: the artist says they are, Susan Mclean says they're not. Why doesn't she see women as being empowered by the sculptures? Because she believes what is being depicted is coming not from women, but from outside forces: from men or from social stereotypes.
But what if some women are happy with more brazen expressions of female sexuality? Ruth Parkinson wrote into the paper to support the sculptures on the grounds that:
Some people will always see forms of nudity as denigrating but there are many of us who see these images as empowering.
And that's what the moral debate seems to have come to. Something is moral if it empowers women; immoral if it doesn't. And empowerment depends on it being something self-chosen or self-asserted rather than imposed from without.
It all seems to me to be a weak basis for holding to moral standards. If we really followed through it would mean that whatever women thought empowered themselves would be morally justified. If that's what women are told, and if women then really do sincerely want to act up, then good luck trying to convince them otherwise.