People were less than thrilled when the long-awaited Mary Wollstonecraft statue turned out to be a tiny, anonymous woman “with her tits out”.
The world’s first memorial to the “mother of feminism” has been erected in Newington Green, Islington, close to where the 18th-century writer lived and worked.
It portrays a small, silvery, naked “everywoman” figure emerging from a swirling grey mass, inscribed with the Wollstonecraft quote: “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.”
It was created by the artist Maggi Hambling, who said the sculpture “combines female forms which commingle and rise together as if one, culminating in the figure of a woman standing free.”
“She is Everywoman, her own person, ready to confront the world. As opposed to traditional male heroic statuary, the free-standing woman has evolved organically from, is supported by, and does not forget, all her predecessors who advocated, campaigned and sacrificed themselves for women’s emancipation.”
But critics have described the memorial as being “disrespectful” and “patronising” to both Wollstonecraft and to feminism as a whole.
Many asked why the world’s first memorial to a woman hailed as the “mother of feminism” had to include a naked woman instead of Wollstonecraft herself.
The memorial follows a decade-long campaign by the group, Mary on the Green, to raise £143,000 to create the statue.
“Her presence in a physical form will be an inspiration to local young people in Islington, Haringey and Hackney,” the campaign’s website states. (Newington Green is on the border of Islington and Hackney, but Haringey is several miles away so it is unclear why it has been singled out in this manner.)
“Just as the image of Churchill’s memorial statue is used in debates on his legacy, the same is needed for Mary Wollstonecraft.”
In response to the criticism, Hambling said: “A traditional figurative sculpture of Mary Wollstonecraft would relegate her to history, whereas this sculpture, for Mary Wollstonecraft, embodies her spirit of rebellion and the ongoing battle for women’s rights.”
Bee Rowlatt, head of Mary on the Green, added: “There’s no question that Maggi Hambling is a challenging artist, and this work is certainly not your average statue. Of course we want to start a conversation, the more people that find out about Mary Wollstonecraft, the better.
“The sculpture does not depict Mary naked, as some people are saying, because it doesn’t depict Mary at all. It’s called A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft. The figure is representative of the birth of a movement. She was the foremother of feminism.
“This work is an attempt to celebrate her contribution to society with something that goes beyond the Victorian traditions of putting people on pedestals.”
Wollstonecraft is best remembered for her 1792 work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, which imagines a social order where women are equal to their husbands.
Despite having received little formal education herself, she went on to open a girls’ boarding school in Newington Green.
She later died while giving birth to her daughter Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.