There, I said it. This is a bit different to my usual posts, but I’m SO frustrated and angry at the unveiling of this new statue to celebrate and honour Mary Wollstonecraft “the mother of feminism”.
Some quick caveats. 1) I think the aims of the group that have campaigned for the statue (Mary on the Green) were fantastic, and very justified.
2) They have done an incredible job on the campaign and the fundraising, and that should be massively congratulated – fundraising is HARD, I know, I do it for a living.
3. This is not the most well-thought out post, but a splurge of my feelings because I am so disappointed. Go and check out Caitlin Moran’s Twitter feed for some excellent examples of other female statues across the world.
4) I’m actually not opposed to this statue in isolation, but am frustrated at it within the context of being a celebration of what Mary Wollstonecraft contributed to our history and society. Especially when SO MUCH ART depicts naked, passive women.
5) I am also not a prude, and not opposed to naked statues at all.
But this. I first saw about it at about half 1 this afternoon and I can’t stop thinking about it, and I’m so upset by it, for several reasons.
First, the naked body. The most obvious reason.
It feels as though it was done purely for the shock factor. It feels cheap. It’s reduced the conversation – which should be around Mary’s life, her achievements, her words, her impact – to her naked body. As many other people have pointed out, men get their statues fully clothed because the conversation is about their work and impact.
The artist says “Clothes define people and restrict people” – isn’t that the point? That this woman in particular, and women more generally, pushed past those restrictions that were placed on them through being female, including the clothes that often physically restricted them from leading “active” (read: masculine) lives.
It feels disrespectful to Mary herself – the claim on the plaque that it’s not “of her, but for her” – is it? Do you not think that she might feel violated that her body has been reimagined and made public property hundreds of years after her death? Do you not think that she might be enraged that now her public legacy is of her boobs? Do you not think she might hope that hundreds of years later, we were past thinking of women as bodies first?
Also, the body itself is a) passively standing there, waiting for us to gaze at her b) physically perfect form – perky little breasts, toned abs. It’s unrealistic and generic. It doesn’t show us a real woman, or the “every woman” that it’s being claimed to represent. Which leads me to my next point…
The “every woman” argument: “She’s naked and she’s every woman”.
Well, what? I thought the whole point of this campaign was to put a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft up? Mary Wollstonecraft, who was an extraordinary woman?
The word “extraordinary” doesn’t denigrate the millions of other “ordinary” woman, but it does show us how different she was. She had to – how else would she have challenged society in the way that she did?
“Woman” in history is already often faceless and nameless. When your aim to celebrate one woman – when the aim is to fill one of the many gaps with a story and a name – why would you then gloss over that aspect?
And if you do want it to be more of an every woman, why such an idealistically beautiful figure? Women’s bodies don’t look like that now, and they didn’t look like it then. Life is hard and it takes it’s toll. I think I’d even be slightly happy if it was a body that showed that. If it felt like a reclaiming of the female body, or showing an active body, but it doesn’t.
This was an interesting thought from Caitlin Moran
And finally, the wave she’s stood on. The wave of formless body parts. Just more anonymity. Women in history have been defined by their bodies in order to control and restrain. The struggles of feminism have worked to overturn these restraints and change thought.
Here, we just anonymous women, once again reduced to their body parts.
I hate also that she’s stood on top of this wave. It looks like she’s the victor over all of them which I am 100% sure is not the
Equally, why is she so small? She’s barely visible at first glance. This is a woman who has been neglected by history – so why has she been made so easy to overlook again? In this statue, that is meant to celebrate her, and her work – and how does it do that, sorry?
Also, the shape – which is what the eye is drawn too, not the barbie sized figure on top – is phallic as fuck.