Something about Mary
"The beginning is always today." - Mary Wollstonecraft
And in some cases - they wear nothing at all!
The unveiling of ‘A sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft’ - the culmination of a decade long campaign to bring Mary back to Newington Green – was meant to be a joyous, powerful occasion to celebrate the ‘mother of (western) feminism’. Over 200 years after her death, this hommage was also an opportunity to add a monument dedicated to a woman and a feminist to London’s shockingly short list. In the UK, less than 3% of statues show women who aren’t either mythical or royalty! But when the tiny, shiny, naked figurine on top of what looks like a silver blob was revealed on Tuesday 10 November, it led to instantaneous backlash, not least from feminist quarters.
It is important to keep an open mind – especially in art - and whether you like her or not, Maggi Hambling is a remarkable / remarkably controversial (take your pick) artist. However, her depiction of Mary Wollstonecraft as ‘Every Woman’ - with rock hard abs and a massive bush! – sadly misses the point. It falls back on lazy stereotypes about women that decades of feminist debate about the mis-representation of women in the public domain, the male gaze and the objectification of the female body have worked hard to challenge.
Mary Wollstonecraft deserves a statue that epitomises the incredible woman – and mind - that she was: the educational pioneer, the early champion of human rights, the philosopher who is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1972) - the ground-breaking treatise which sets out the case for equal rights for women, based on their equal power of reason, and widely regarded as one of the first feminist texts in the Western world. Instead of the 'birth of feminism', it seems we got conventional, perfectly formed, unclad woman. To quote the Guerrilla Girls: ‘Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female’. Looks like we have our work cut out for a few more years yet, Feministas!
You can find more info about Mary Wollstonecraft on the campaign website.