A new statue in North London’s Newington Green dedicated to celebrating Georgian-era feminist and author Mary Wollstonecraft reads “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.” To illustrate this idea, the effigy features a naked lady with perky breasts, great abs, and a truly magnificent bush, just like A Vindication of the Rights of Women demanded.
Now, one might say the point of A Vindication of the Rights of Women was actually that women shouldn’t be merely decorative, like say, completely naked with a body that conforms to often harmful beauty ideals. But this superficial read is false. A closer look suggests that, nope, the liberty women most enjoy is the right to flash cooter in public. Clearly when Wollstonecraft addressed her confusion with the arguments of fellow author Dr. Gregory, who “advises [women] to cultivate a fondness for dress, because a fondness for dress, he asserts, is natural to them,” by responding, “I am unable to comprehend what either he or Rousseau mean, when they frequently use this indefinite term,” Wollstonecraft actually meant that she never understood why women weren’t allowed to get their tits out, provided they were nice tits with jauntily pert nipples like the ones on the statue.
The statue’s artist, Maggi Hambling, luckily, was able to look past all the words on the page and get to the heart, or at least the body, of the matter:
“The point is that she has to be naked because clothes define people. We all know that clothes are limiting and she is everywoman.” Though when internet women pointed out that the taut body dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft does not accurately represent the corporal forms of most human women, the artist clarified that “everywoman” means every woman’s aspirational form: “As far as I know, she’s more or less the shape we’d all like to be.”
Well, she’s certainly the shape contemporary media has told us men would like us to be, just like the old Vindication advocated. Hambling is also the sculptor behind a bust of Oscar Wilde near Charing Cross station in London that surely would have showcased his dong for men’s rights had it been a full-body likeness.
One quibble with what is otherwise a perfect tribute is the fact that it does completely overlook the right Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley, demanded for women, which was a woman’s privilege and duty to lose her virginity on her mother’s grave and perhaps also to keep her dead husband’s heart wrapped in paper on her writing desk.