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Mary Wollstonecraft Honored with Controversial Statue 200 Years Later

By Olivia Haveron

Image taken from the New York Times

Placed inside Newington Green, North London stands the staure of a silvery naked female figure. The statue shines as bright as the legacy she was made after. That woman whose name is dedciated to on the statue is Mary Wollstonecraft, the “mother of feminism.” The base of the statue says the words: “I do not wish women to have power of men, but over themselves.”

But who is Mary Wollstonecraft to be exact? What impact did she make and why do many call her the “mother of feminism.” Wollstonecraft was a philosopher and educator known for writing A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792 and what many view as the earliest and most important writing advocating for women’s equality. She fought for the idea that women should be given the right to contribute equally to society as their male counterparts stating: “my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue.” She is also the mother of Mary Shelley, whom many consider the mother of modern horror.

Through her efforts in women’s equality also came annihilation through misogyny, says writer Bee Rowlatt. Every aspect of her life was pitted against her, even her most personal problems, smearing her reputation for most of the following century. It was not until a century after her death that suffragist Millicent Fawcett was able to restore her reputation.

Rowlatt felt that the statue was particularly timely because “To have finally a public work of art that celebrates human rights… It is a very public statement at a time of increasing societal division.” Controversial artist Maggi Hambling created the statue, hoping to personify a spirit, creating a clear contrast to countless sculptures of men on high pedestals. The statue took 10 years of fundraising to raise £143,000 or $190,000 in order to create it.

Now embedded close to her home and workplace, Wollstonecraft's figure envisions a feminist for those of all ages to admire and aspire to be. However, in it’s short time unveiled to the public on Tuesday, November 10th, the statue has already received much criticism. The sculpture of a small figure of a naked women on top of a twisting mass of silver, which many people claim does not resemble Wollstonecraft in the slightest.

Hambling says in a campaign video on the Mary on the Green website that the naked woman is meant to represent “an everywoman” that “emerges out of organic matter, almost like a birth.” But honestly, the average viewer of the statue, as am I, would not know or realize this and instead find themselves confused. 

And critics agree, nor did they appreciate the use of the female nudity in a statue that is meant to celebrate Wollstonecraft’s efforts to improve women’s rights. Even those who campaigned for the statue agree that the statue lives far from expectations. Activist and author Caroline Criado Perez, who helped to campaign to put Jane Austen on the £10 found the depiction of Wollstonecraft “a colossal waste” and “so disappointing.”

Personally, I agree that the Wollstonecraft statue falls flat from being a powerful figure of female empowement in the center of London. The small stature of the figure becomes overpowered by the huge silver base. In addition, as aforementioned, the “everywoman” aspect of the statue is confusing to the average viewer. If you were to really honor the mother of feminism, just as you honor so many male figureheads who have contributed less than her, at least make it known who is being illustrated. Plaster her name and define her real-life details; she deserves the praise after being shunned from society.

Bee Rowlatt isn’t too disappointed from the harsh criticism tweeting “if you don’t like this sculpture there are other campaigns for amazing women that deserve support,” she reminded us. And while many find disappointment in this statue, Rowlatt has a point. There are so many other campaigns that are fighting to have these female figures shown off to the world. These women are finally receiving the recognition they deserve, and we should honor them to our best availability. 

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