Feminism Pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft Given Controversial Nude Statue 200 Years After Fighting For Women's Rights
Mary Wollstonecraft's name is dear to me, because when I was studying Political Science at uni, she was the only woman's mind who was worthy of the syllabus. It discouraged me to study the brilliant minds of old white men, but Wollstonecraft's name reminded me that there were still seats at a table to be fought for. After 200 years of being celebrated as a pioneer of feminism, the 18th century English writer and philosopher was finally honoured with a nude statue outside of a girls' school she founded in Newington Green, North London, on Tuesday, 10 Nov. — and it was immediately met with disappointment.
"Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison," Wollstonecraft wrote in her most groundbreaking work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. This quote explains why a nude statue of the philosopher was a terrible choice. Wollstonecraft dedicated her entire life's work to negotiating intellectual equality between the sexes — and a generic, conventionally attractive nude figure of a woman is reductive and disrespectful to say the least.
The artist, Maggi Hambling, responded to the online backlash, stating that critics are missing the point. "The point is that she has to be naked because clothes define people. We all know that clothes are limiting and she is everywoman. As far as I know, she's more or less the shape we'd all like to be," Hambling said to The Independent. "She's everywoman and clothes would have restricted her. Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. It's crucial that she is 'now'. . . The whole sculpture is called 'for Mary Wollstonecraft' and that's crucially important. It's not an idea 'of' Mary Wollstonecraft naked. . .the sculpture is for now."
Hambling is a celebrated British painter and sculptor, who is best known for other controversial works for Oscar Wilde in London and Benjamin Britten in Aldeburgh Beach, her hometown in Suffolk. The statue for Wollstonecraft is particularly disheartening, as one Twitter user commented, "am I missing something — why is the 'Mother of Feminism' depicted nude in this statue?" Even if it is not Wollstonecraft depicted in the statue, would we be honouring a contemporary male historical figure with a nude icon? Probably not.
Ahead, a close look at the statue for Mary Wollstonecraft installed outside a girls' school founded by the philosopher in Newington Green.