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New Statue Honoring “Mother of Feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft Is, You Guessed It, Naked

by Lauren Williams

“Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels; but to sink them below women… Yet they are told, at the same time, that they are only like angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently, it is their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this homage,” Mary Wollstonecraft says in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft is regarded as the mother of Western feminist thought, and her texts are widely acknowledged as the major foundational philosophy for the women’s suffrage movement. Today in North London, her legacy has been realized through sculpture. Rising out of a swirling silver mass is a naked woman standing tall with a gaze staring straight ahead. On the base of the statue reads a quote by Wollstonecraft: “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.”

This is the first sculpture dedicated to the work and life of Wollstonecraft, and one of only 10 percent of statues in London commemorating women. Sculpted by Maggi Hambling, its unveiling comes after a decade of campaigning by the collective Mary on the Green to raise the £143,000 needed for its creation. Mary on the Green’s campaign website reads, “The memorial will be a tangible way to share Wollstonecraft’s vision and ideas. Her presence in a physical form will be an inspiration to local young people in Islington, Haringey, and Hackney… Just as the image of Churchill’s memorial statue is used in debates on his legacy, the same is needed for Mary Wollstonecraft.”

While the idea is honorable, the execution seems to be amiss. To have a foremother of feminist thought commemorated in a nude “every-woman” form is a bit confusing. If not wholly unexampled, it’s rare to see a male thought leader honored for his ideas through a naked statue. Unsurprisingly, the internet feels similarly. Here a few clever takes:

Top Image vis Flickr/ Amaro Studios

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