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The Texas university that's home to the sculpture and the artist who made it say the image has been "misconstrued"

Matter of perspective

The story behind the “Mansplaining: The Statue” photo that went viral on Twitter

By Andrew Tavani on May 27, 2015

Over Memorial Day weekend, a photo of a sculpture on a Texas college campus went viral on Twitter. The sculpture seen in the photo depicts a man with his leg propped up on a bench while talking to a woman seated with her legs crossed at the other end of the bench and an open book resting on her lap. It was shared thousands of times and retweeted by numerous influential Twitter users after a woman in New York retroactively applied the “mansplaining” concept to the work of art.

The first person to post it was Cathy de la Cruz from Brooklyn, New York, who uses the handle @SadDiego. De la Cruz, who as of this writing has a modest 749 followers on the social media platform, posted the photo at 5:16 p.m. on Friday with the pithy headline, “A friend spotted this in Texas: #Mansplaining The Statue.” Within minutes, the tweeted photo was a viral sensation.

Ash Hernandez is de la Cruz’s friend who spotted the sculpture while walking on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Hernandez, 34, said she was on campus to take a teacher’s certification test when the sculpture caught her attention.

“The sculpture just screamed mansplaining,” Hernandez said in an email to Women in the World. She had to snap a photo of it, she said, but since she wasn’t allowed to bring electronic devices into the testing facility, she was forced to run back to her car to grab her smartphone.

Hernandez, who eschews social media, “texted it to a few friends, including Cathy, to share the artist’s unintentional joke.”

De la Cruz, 34, works for an arts education nonprofit by day, freelances for a filmmaker, and is an aspiring comedian. She views herself as a feminist and “avid tweeter.” Upon seeing Hernandez’s text message, she told Women in the World she didn’t go right to Twitter with it. Like any good comic, she tested the material first. De la Cruz texted the photo to a friend and fellow feminist and standup comedian who approved and said she wanted to see the photo go viral.

But what about the actual sculpture? What’s the story and the meaning — if any — behind it?

The name of the sculpture is “Classmates” and it was dedicated at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in 2006. Carl E. Myers, a social media and communications specialist for UIW, told Women in the World that the sculpture was unveiled during the school’s heritage week in October 2006 to commemorate the university’s 125th anniversary. “The sculpture honors the past, present and future students of UIW,” Myers said. The work of art was sculpted by Paul Tadlock, an award-winning sculptor who lives in suburban San Antonio.

As to whether the sculpture carries any sexist undertones or symbolism, Myers said school officials had been unaware of the hullaballoo on Twitter. “The statue has long-symbolized the friendship and camaraderie that develops among students as they attend UIW,” he said. “We are deeply saddened that this image of friendship has been misconstrued as a symbol of sexism on social media. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

If the folks at UIW were dismayed to learn about the mansplaining interpretation, Paul Tadlock, the artist who sculpted the bronze piece almost a quarter-century ago, was mildly amused. Tadlock, 79, told Women in the World in a telephone interview, “That [sculpture] was [done] in the early 1990s when my daughter was a student at the University of the Incarnate Word. In fact, that’s her. I sculpted her.”

Tadlock is familiar with Twitter, but “not on it” and, until his conversation with Women in the World, had not been aware of the concept of mansplaining, a word that entered the lexicon sometime between 2008 and 2010. After learning about the concept, Tadlock agreed that the phenomenon is common.

“That’s generally the case. The ladies know more,” he said. “Because guys, young guys particularly, love to tell everything they know to impress the girls, and the truth is most of the girls know it already.”

However, Tadlock said that the mansplaining concept was not an intended meaning behind the sculpture.

“It was two students visiting, talking … implying nothing beyond that,” Tadlock insisted even when asked if he was possibly expressing the idea of mansplaining on a subconscious level.

When De la Cruz posted the photo of it on Twitter, the retweets, favorites and mentions immediately began pouring in, but it had some help with amplification on the social media site.

De la Cruz’s and Hernandez’s photo was picked up by journalist and feminist writer Ann Friedman who tweeted the photo with a slightly modified version of de la Cruz’s headline, “Mansplaining: The Statue (via @SadDiego).” Friedman’s tweet has racked up more than 2,900 retweets. And on Tuesday, Jerry Saltz, the senior art critic for New York magazine tweeted a version of de la Cruz’s original joke.

De la Cruz said it was easily her most successful tweet ever. “By a landslide. A huge feminist landslide.” She’s picked up more than 200 followers since the original tweet and, five days later, the mentions and retweets are still coming in.

Twitter users have also been pointing out other similar sculptures around the country. There are several, including one on the campus of Purdue University located, almost poetically, in a place called Lecture Hall.

Others observed that the man in the sculpture, in addition to mansplaining, was also “manspreading” and one commenter was taken with the male statue’s ability to manspread while standing.

The male figure in the sculpture wasn’t intended to be manspreading, according to Tadlock. “I did that to add a little more character to the scene,” he recalled about the positioning of the male figure’s foot on the bench.

Tadlock said the whole project probably took him about nine months to complete and when he gave the sculpture to the school in the 1990s, it was named “Friends.” His daughter, Courtney, graduated in 1995, he said, and it was news to him that the school had renamed it “Classmates.”

Like Myers at UIW, Tadlock believes the meaning of the sculpture has been misconstrued, but he’s not broken up about it.

And Hernandez, the woman who made this entire conversation possible by running back to her car to grab her phone, agrees with de la Cruz that it’s the dialogue that counts.

“I feel like we’ve all been guilty of it, males and females alike. But it’s just less palatable when a guy’s up to it ’cause, well, he’s still on the right side of oppression,” Hernandez said. “So, I think it can be healthy as a culture to poke fun at that.”

Below is a sampling of some of the reactions to Cathy de la Cruz’s original tweet: