Maggi Hambling’s controversial nude Mary Wollstonecraft statue has become part of the debate over trans rights and radical feminists.
Acitivists who covered the statue with a black t-shirt yesterday are part of Object!, an anti-trans radical feminist group, Eastlondonlines can reveal.
Who was Mary Wollstonecraft?
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Her most famous piece ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ – published in 1792 – was the first English book arguing challenging gender norms and arguing for gender equality.
Wollstonecraft opened a school for girls in Newington Green, where the statue is located. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft’s life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships at the time, received more attention than her writing.
Since it was unveiled in Newington Green on Tuesday, the statue of feminist pioneer Wollstonecraft has provoked a national row. People took to Twitter to debate the nudity of the silver sculpture. Historian Simon Schama said: “I always wanted a fine monument to Wollstonecraft. This isn’t it.”
Hambling responded to the criticism by saying that her statue aims to be timeless and she used nudity as a way to avoid constraining Wollstonecraft to the past. But Object! criticised the statue, complaining that “she is being celebrated as a naked ‘barbie size’ figurine”.
Dr Julia Long of Object! placed a t-shirt reading ‘Woman: adult female human’ on the statue. The slogan is associated with trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Object! expresses anti-transgender sentiments on its website including a section called ‘Transgender: We Object’ and claims “if a ‘woman’ can have a penis, then the world is meaningless”.
However, transgender writer and comedian Shon Faye said she had been criticised for having a point of view on the statue. She said: “Some cranks are turning up in my quote tweets on the picture of the Wollestonecraft statue to tell me I have no right to comment on feminism because I was assigned male at birth.”
Academics have also disagreed with the idea that Wollstonecraft would have been opposed to nudity. Kings College London historian Dr Hannah Dawson noted that Wollstonecraft thought the female body should be celebrated: