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This Nude Mary Wollstonecraft Statue Sure Is … Something

Was the Fleabag statue not available?


Today, a sculpture in honor of famed English writer Mary Wollstonecraft was unveiled in North London. Wollstonecraft, long considered “the mother of feminism,” was a women’s rights advocate best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which she wrote in 1792. The treatise argued for women’s equality, especially in education, and became a landmark feminist text.

A tribute to Wollstonecraft is long overdue, but many were perplexed by the statue made by famed British artist Maggi Hambling. The silvered bronze sculpture features a nude woman standing atop an amorphous blob described as a “swirling mingle of female forms.” It’s a strange memorial to a feminist icon that raised more than a few eyebrows:

In response to the criticism, Hambling clarified that the statue was “for” Wollstonecraft, not “of” her, representing instead an “everywoman” impacted by Wollstonecraft’s work. “This sculpture encourages a visual conversation with the obstacles Ms. Wollstonecraft overcame, the ideals she strived for, and what she made happen,” said Hambling. As for the nudity, she added, “Clothes define people and restrict people, they restrict people’s reaction. She’s naked and she’s every woman.”

butterfly meme

As for the size of the nude woman in relation to the rest of the statue, she said, “Most male historic statues are way over life-size. My point was that the female figure doesn’t need to dominate to be powerful.” Okay but counterpoint: Why not make her bigger than a Barbie? Many are upset that the supposed “everywoman” still fits into the Western model of thin white conventional beauty.

Bee Rowlatt, chair of the Mary on the Green campaign, which spent the last decade raising funds for the statue, said, “Mary Wollstonecraft was a rebel and a pioneer, and she deserves a pioneering work of art. This work is an attempt to celebrate her contribution to society with something that goes beyond the Victorian traditions of putting people on pedestals.”

I get the sentiment, sure. An unconventional woman ahead of her time deserves a fittingly modern tribute. But there are plenty of examples of this that don’t rely on full frontal nudity. I mean, honestly, this feels like the Fleabag award for feminism. Are we sure Phoebe Waller-Bridge didn’t accidentally drop the original?

fleabag statue

If we’re looking for positives, at least this “everywoman” statue has a full bush. (Pubic hair representation for the win?) But I think we all expected more from a Wollstonecraft tribute, especially considering the fact that more than 90% of public sculptures in London are dedicated to men. What’s frustrating is that the statue doesn’t especially feel like a tribute to Wollstonecraft, which is the reason for its existence.

Despite its detractors, there are many who love the statue and what it represents.

Of course, art is subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Still, I can’t help but feel like this was an opportunity missed. In the meantime, if you want to see stunning and clothed statues of extraordinary women, Caitlin Moran has a terrific thread on her Twitter.

(via BBC, featured image: screencap)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.