By day, Stephanie Rudig is a designer for National Geographic Kids magazine. By night, she takes on a different role: feminist vigilante artist.
Over the past two years, Rudig has created portraits of every female member of the 113th Congress. Rudig then posted the images throughout Washington D.C., each on the street named after its representative's respective state. She calls this project She-Span, and it is encouraging residents to remember and celebrate the women who represent them, one inspiring street portrait at a time.
She-Span serves as a vital reminder of our need for more female representatives in government, and the project comes at an opportune time: While many celebrated the fact that the 113th Congress included a record number of women, it was hardly near gender parity. Women composed 20% of senators and 18.2% of representatives, totaling just 18.5% of Congress overall. While the 114th Congress is technically one of the most diverse in this nation's history, it is still 80% male, not to mention 80% white and 92% Christian, according to the Washington Post.
She-Span was born in part from frustration with the debates about women's rights that erupted during the 2012 election. Rudig cites the Obamacare birth control debate, during which an all-male panel notoriously argued the fate of American women's health, as one particularly infuriating example.
Despite the tenor of any of these conversations, Rudig was inspired that such conversations were happening at all. Emboldened by the fact that women were better represented in Congress than ever before, the artist decided to put "a positive spin on the issue" of women's representation and to focus her work "on the women in Congress who have worked so hard to get to where they are," she told Mic.
The portraits thus both celebrate women's accomplishments and urge the public to remember that the struggle for parity in government is far from over.
"I hope that by coming across these portraits, people might see a more personal, human side to the issue," Rudig said. "I also hope that it serves as a sort of time capsule for a very tumultuous election season and congressional session, which I see as a touchstone in the ongoing struggle for women's equality."
"She-Span was always intended as a public art project, because I wanted to make women in Congress more visible and give them a prominent space in the D.C. landscape," Rudig said. She also documented the project on Twitter using the hashtag #SHESPAN, as well as on Tumblr.
Rudig's project is a creative addition to the growing chorus of voices calling for political gender equality. The organization the White House Project, for example, worked tirelessly for over a decade to encourage more women to run for office, until disbanding in 2013. This past year, political leaders such as Olympia Snowe, Nancy Pelosi, Kirsten Gillibrand and Donna Brazile also spoke publicly about the struggles they've faced as female politicians in the anthology What Will It Take To Make A Female President.
As Marie C. Wilson, founder of the White House Project, once said about the detrimental effect of a lack of visible leaders, "You can't be what you can't see." This sentiment is at the heart of Rudig's mission. One of the biggest obstacles to increasing women's representation in leadership, Rudig told Mic, is that, "A lot of people don't think it's a problem. Many aren't aware of just how few women are in Congress, and many just don't think it's a big deal. Ultimately, I hope that this project calls attention to the issue of gender parity and puts individual faces to that problem."