Mary Wollstonecraft, or should I say the 'mother of feminism', was an academic pioneer for the advocation of women's rights. She wrote The Vindication of Women's Rights in 1792 and was also the mother to one of the greatest female novelists of all time, Mary Shelley. Wollstonecraft was a woman beyond her time and finally there has been a statue to commemorate her success and life achievements. There are a limited number of statues of women in the UK, and out of the 828 statues recorded, only 174 are of women. To further stress this, only 80 of the statues of women are named, in comparison to the 534 statues of men, 422 of them are named. Yes, this can be linked to the societal limitations that women were bound by in history, but even so, with Wollstonecraft being such a key figure in the feminist movement, it wasn't until 2020 that she has been monumentally commemorated.
The statue 'dedicated to' Mary Wollstonecraft stands in Newington Green, London, near where she lived and worked. The statue was made by artists Maggi Hambling, whose work I've been exposed to since I was a child as where I grew up, in Aldeburgh, there is one of her works called 'The Scallop' which is situated on the beach near where I learned to ride a bike and ate my fish and chips with my cousins. Hambling is seen as a somewhat controversial artist, and with this in mind I felt as though her understanding of the sheer importance of this statue would be reflected in her work. I was wrong. The statue has been viewed by some critics as revolutionary for the modern-day women but I think it encapsulates everything wrong with women in sculpture. The statue depicts a naked woman in a kinetic state of metamorphosis. The woman is emerging from an abstracted wave-like form. She stands there, with a toned idealised body. Her face is stern and undistracted. For me, this statue epitomises everything wrong with female sculpture. It is an objectified representation of woman who fought for civil rights, a woman who symbolises the journey to female equality, and yet she stands there representing the very thing which women have always been viewed as; an object.
The 'nude' women in art is a subject which has been around since classical antiquity. There are countless numbers of idealised naked women produced solely to feed the male gaze. The art critic, John Berger, was one of the first to identify this issue in his TV series 'The Ways of Seeing'. Berger comments on the different perceptions of both men and women in art. 'Men act, women appear.' The role of the female nude is for the male viewer, our bodies are owned by them and we are there for men to enjoy. This is something which still exists today through advertisement and the expected beauty standards embedded into a woman's psyche. Even though men also face unfair societal expectations which also apply unnecessary pressure onto them, women have faced these stereotypes for centuries. In the Bible, in the Genesis story of Original Sin, Adam and Eve, after eating the apple from the forbidden tree, become aware of their nakedness. What enrages me the most about this story is the way God punished 'the woman' (who isn't even referred to as Eve in this verse), God says:
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
He shall rule over you... well I think we can see where the idea of the 'second sex' came from then. The statue of Wollstonecraft is in some ways great as it has brought so much attention to such an incredible woman, and you could argue that the controversy, following its unveiling, created debate and therefore recognition. But why is it that women always have to be depicted naked. Why is it that our value seems to lie in our bodies, even when presenting Wollstonecraft who fought for the female right to education. The naked woman is beautiful and nakedness is not something to be ashamed of, but in art its expected. Its tiresome. In order for a woman to gain attention the removal of her clothes seems to be a necessity.
I would really recommend reading some of the reviews of this statue and making up your own mind. Do you think it is revolutionary, or rather an excuse to display yet another naked woman?
As soon as lockdown is over I can't wait to go and see this statue for myself, maybe it'll have a different impression in person, but my worries still stand. Women should be valued for more than what's under their clothes.