Can Feminists Have it All?

by Miriam Ronzoni on October 11, 2021

Both stories are properly Palaeolithic news by now, but two incidents really struck me, in similar yet complementary ways, about a year ago. I hope CT readers will cut me some COVID-related slack (I know, always the same excuse…) if I go back to them now. One was the controversy around the statue dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London; the other was a set of reactions to the striking lack of sexism in The Queen’s Gambit –  the Netflix miniseries, based on Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name, about the career arch of fictional orphan chess prodigy Beth Harmon.

The piece of artwork “A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft,” by Maggi Hambling, was unveiled just short of a year ago. Money to commission the statue had been raised through the crowdfunding initiative “Mary on the Green.” Although Hambling’s design for the commemorative monument was unanimously chosen by a panel of curators and members of the public, against an alternative (much more conventional) design by Martin Jennings, the wider public was largely surprised when exposed to the final result, and predominantly in a  negative way. The sculpture portrays a small female nude emerging from an indistinct mass, and staring boldly in front of her. The general public was surprised both to find out that the statue was not a realistic portrait of Wollstonecraft herself, and to see a feminist icon celebrated via a naked, stereotypically beautiful young woman. This struck many commentators as a missed opportunity, or even as an insult to Wollstonecraft and to what she represents for feminism. Hambling, as well as some of her defenders, have argued that these criticisms rest on a misunderstanding. The point was never to portray Wollstonecraft herself but to make a tribute to her, and the artist found that a suitable way to do so would be via subverting the genre of the “heroic nude,” with a woman rather than a man as the hero. Heroic nudes, fans of the statue remarked, are intended as a display of honour and admiration (indeed, you could argue that they are deifications of sorts)  – there is nothing objectifying in the classical iconographic tradition to which they belong. Several feminist commentators replied that a defence of this kind is question-begging and disingenuous: given how often the female body is objectified, simply saying “oh, but this is actually not like that, this is inspired by a different tradition,” just misses the point. Nearly anybody strolling in Newington Green in 2021, they pointed out, would completely miss the classical reference and just see a sexy naked lady. A campaign to raise funds for the execution of the losing design, by male artist Martin Jennings (a much more conventional portray on Wollstonecraft, fully clothed,  chronologically appropriate frock and all) was kick-started shortly after.

Now, I didn’t particularly like the statue – I quite liked the idea, but not the execution, for some reason. However, the thought of subverting the iconography of the heroic nude resonated with me. For what it’s worth, I also saw another, typically gendered, iconographic trope subverted in the artwork: that of the archetypical human form emerging from the chaos of nature to give order to it. Hambling’s sculpture toys with that reference – but it’s an Eve, not an Adam, who emerges from the shapeless mess of creation. Ultimately I think the jury is out on whether this was a good or a bad idea. The same is true for the legitimacy of the process; true, the design was knowingly selected by the appointed committee, but the donors of the fundraising campaign that paid for the project were led to believe they were donating for a statue of, and not just in honour of, Mary Wollstonecraft (“Mary on the Green”). Yet, a female artist (if a famously controversial one, for sure) was trying to make an argument, and in my view an interesting one (if perhaps not one which she managed to fully accomplish with the finished product). And the reaction was largely a gate-keeping one: there should be no nudes, no classically beautiful bodily shapes, involved in a work celebrating a feminist hero, end of story. Now, this reaction might well have a point; yet the fact that a female artist tries to subvert certain gendered tropes, and is basically told that those tropes cannot possibly be re-signified, just left me with a bitter aftertaste.

I had a strangely similar reaction, around the same time, whilst reading some of the reviews of the Queen’s Gambit (SPOILERS alert!). Beth Harmon, the show’s main character, is taken to an orphanage at some point in the mid 50s, after having lost her mother in a car crash. She there learns chess from the orphanage’s custodian, and it quickly becomes apparent that she is a prodigy. The show then follows her career arch. Despite certain clear, and understandable, self-destructive personality traits, Beth is destined for greatness. She meets several talented male chess players-cum-lovers along the way, who are all mesmerised by her and semi-abandon their own ambitions in order to support her training, as they recognise the will never be remotely as good and are deeply committed to nurturing excellence when they see it. In other words: it’s a show set in 50s and 60s, portraying a woman in the testosterone-drenched world of chess…and yet the show is basically devoid of sexism. It is on these very grounds that some critics did not fall in love with it, claiming that the story is too unrealistic for watchers to be invested in it.

I had liked the series, although it hadn’t been one of my favourites from 2020. Yet, I had found this very lack of sexism liberating, exhilarating even – like a phantasy deliberately intends to be. It was actually a bit more than mere “absence of sexism;” it was another case of subversion of tropes. If you think about it, Beth has all the features which troubled, genius-like romantic male heroes so often exhibit in works of fiction. She is brilliant, but with self-destructive tendencies which are rooted in a sad childhood story. She has romantic partners who want to both save her and support her genius, even if the two things are often mutually incompatible. They are all much more in love with her than the other way round, and all willing to recognise her greatness and make her and her brilliance the centre of their own universe. Finally, she has one true love, which keeps making a brief appearance throughout the story arch, and he’s the only fella she never actually sleeps with (until the very end, when it is presumed that they finally get together). Oh, and all of this happens in the 50s and 60s, and everybody drinks and smokes a lot (especially Beth). I don’t know you, but I found this refreshing as hell, and for once didn’t care that there was nothing remotely realistic about it. I kept waiting for the moment where everything would go pear shaped and someone would betray her, and it never arrived. Indeed, I thought this was exactly the point: a sort of “imagine there’s no sexism” kind of reverie – imagine a woman who can actually spread her wings.

As I said, I did not particularly fall in love with either the Queen’s Gambit or Hambling’s sculpture. although I found both interesting. But the controversies around both struck me as similar, in a slightly saddening way: they were two attempts to subvert sexist tropes, however flawed, and they got taken apart by those who most fervently want to destroy those very tropes. And indeed, in one of those cases, a woman was actually the creative mind behind the project. Maybe it is true that, until we have successfully smashed the patriarchy, the women we portray must remain fully clothed and our portraits of female struggles must be realistic in their harshness – but this also means that creativity by and about women is severely constrained till then, and I can’t help finding that regrettable.

Compare, for instance, the decision to portray queer love in a world completely devoid of homophobia in the series Schitt’s Creek. Incidentally, even in this case the creative mind behind the idea is someone who knows all too well how much of a phantasy that is (openly out writer/actor/produce Dan Levy). This portrayal, however, was critically acclaimed, and largely on those very grounds: critics commented on how liberating it is to see how beautiful, and amazing, a depiction of same-sex love can be if we just normalise it. I felt the same way about Beth.



Dave Maier 10.11.21 at 5:01 pm

No COVID slack necessary. You can always talk about stuff that happened a year ago — no excuse required. Thanks for the post! (Though I did skip the part about QG b/c I haven’t watched it yet.)


MisterMr 10.11.21 at 5:53 pm

I don’t understand the idea that a female nude is intrinsecally an objectification of women: it seems to me that objectification implies a more active attempt to make the statue sexually arousing.

There are tons of male nudes in art and nobody would say that this is anti-man, regardless of the concept of heroic nude. The question begging IMHO is on the other side: the idea that a male nude is ok but a female nude is not is based on an asymmetrical concept of gender roles.

It seems to me that this is more a form of sexuophobia than feminism.


Dr. Hilarius 10.11.21 at 7:51 pm

When the Wollstonecraft statue was unveiled my reaction was negative. Nudity wasn’t the problem, it was the lack of any visual connection with the author. That and I really disliked the bright silver finish, it looked as if it had been spray painted.

A nude Wollstonecraft stabbing to death a literary critic would have been more interesting (John Wilson Croker wrote a scathing first review of Frankenstein in the 1818 issue of The Quarterly Review).


Chetan Murthy 10.11.21 at 8:11 pm

I can’t claim to know what’s correct regarding this Mary Wollstonecraft kerfuffle. I’m a man, and that automatically disqualifies me. But long, long ago I read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and it seems obvious that a female nude created/curated/conceived in a male-dominated society will necessarily involve heaping truckloads of “the male gaze.” Berger wrote a lot about that.

It’s going to be controversial, and women need to figure it out for themselves. And then revise that decision, fifty years from now, certainly. We men need to siddown and shaddup.


politicalfootball 10.11.21 at 8:46 pm

I entirely agree on Queen’s Gambit. It ignored the ignoble aspects of our history in exactly the way that stories of men’s heroic journeys do, and placed a woman in a role typically occupied by a man. The pushback for lack of realism — particularly for ignoring pervasive sexism — was inevitable and reasonable, but there was another feminist point being made: Women can be heroes of these stories, too.

I likewise agree that the same kind of reversal was attempted by the Wollstonecraft statue. But that statue struck me as a complete failure. Wollstonecraft was a modern historical figure, not David or Hermes or whatever. The statue could just as easily been dedicated to JK Rowling or Queen Elizabeth or Hillary Clinton — and would have been foolish in those contexts, too. The statue was about the sculptor, not the subject. Of course people were disappointed.

Admittedly, there are nude statues of George Washington, for instance, that attempt to portray him in the same heroic light, but (for good reason) Hambling chose not to make a nude statue of Wollstonecraft.

Googling around, I find that there is a sort of Rule 34 of naked male statuary: If you can imagine it, it exists. There’s apparently a nude statue of Thoreau. But again: Its subject is Thoreau. Hambling’s subject is her view of the history of sculpture.


engels 10.11.21 at 8:47 pm

I didn’t follow the statue thing closely but a lot of these”progressive” online shitstorms seem to depend on people putting the meanest possible interpretation on some artistic/verbal/political statement in order to condemn by appealing to conventional, often reactionary, moral standards.


politicalfootball 10.11.21 at 8:51 pm

Correction: I misunderstood the Thoreau statue, which is not a nude. A cursory Google is not turning up statues of nude male authors.


EB 10.11.21 at 11:06 pm

What we don’t see, as far as I know, is any modern statues of male literary (or other) figures that are nude. Male nudes are typically of mythic or classical or fictional figures, not people whose great-grandchildren might still be alive. Plus, that statue reminds me of Venus on the half shell, or even the Little Mermaid. Not a real woman.


EB 10.11.21 at 11:09 pm

And may I add — the Queen’s Gambit demonstrates lack of sexism over an extended story, and in a very clear way. The Wollestonecraft statue is an outdoor exhibit that people will pass by quickly, and without any of the qualifying information that you present. So, yes for QG, no for statue.


Adam Hammond 10.11.21 at 11:14 pm

Commissioning art, especially public art, is a frought endeavor. You feel, somehow, that you should have control ’cause, you know, money, but everything about the very definition of art suggests that it will be better if you, the patron, do not have control. Then the criticism starts, and a hairy horde of people think that you, as patron, should have caused some other art, or should never have tried, and some yelling happens (always with the yelling). I yell, “YAY ART!” Some people like it; some people hate it. Some people are thoughtful, other people have emotional reactions, and many people miss the whole point (and don’t understand what the male gaze is). BINGO! et voila! perfect! I drink a toast to artists. I hope you all get paid!


Alan White 10.11.21 at 11:48 pm

Miriam (if I may), I totally agree with you on Gambit. Yes, fictional distortion of a time when Beth would realistically have had a hard time even getting into significant competitions, but given that real-life jerks like John Wayne were thus transformed into larger-than-life myths, the fact that Anya Taylor-Joy is similarly transformed into one has a kind of metalevel rebuke to the Duke–she’s an actual multicultural/multilingual talent whereas he was a relatively self-absorbed replicant of his own vision of himself on-screen. Gambit is one of my favorite miniseries of all time–not like there’s a lot of competition there.

And to me that very fact that Wollstonecraft is being celebrated by tradition-bending sculpture is itself a metaphor for her own accomplishments, literally set in stone (or metal). One could very easily ignore the second-place monument in passing by it, which in its own way subverts the change Wollstonecraft wrought; one cannot do so for the winner.


derrida derider 10.12.21 at 1:04 am

From my memory of the book (a long time ago) the Queen’s Gambit series follows it pretty closely. IIRC it was written in the early 1970s to cash in on the (short lived) boom in US chess in the wake of Bobby Fischer. Which makes the lack of sexism doubly interesting. Of course Beth Harmon is not like Bobby Fischer, except perhaps in being socially awkward and “difficult”.

As for the Wollstonecraft fuss, I agree a lot of it is just the New Puritanism.


JakeB 10.12.21 at 1:43 am

As I think a world without hot takes would probably be a better world . . . for what it’s worth, I certainly welcome your post whatever the timing.

I am allergic to nearly all TV but I do remember devouring Tevis’s book in no more than hours, just as had happened with The Hustler — my god, that bastard could write — and I have a faint memory of Beth’s interest at the sense that the Russian against whom she played saw her as his equal — as a kind of contrast to some of her other encounters. But that was a very long time ago, so I could be misremembering.


J. Bogart 10.12.21 at 8:07 am

Nude statue of male author: Balzac by Rodin. Don’t see why the category matters as the Hamblin statue is not of Wollstonecraft. I think the base of the statue should be included in consideration of the piece.


Gorgonzola Petrovna 10.12.21 at 8:11 am

I was curious what the title is in Russian, because ‘queen’s gambit’ would translate as ‘ферзевый гамбит’, ‘ferz’s gambit’, and, alas, ‘ferz’ is not a female. Something like the Farsi word for ‘vizier’, I guess. Sure enough, the title is Queen’s Move. Too bad, ‘gambit’ is a good word, and with a different meaning.


J-D 10.12.21 at 8:12 am

I read The Queen’s Gambit years ago and remember it as (for me, as I was at that time) a good read but not a great one; I haven’t seen the television show. So I can’t comment on the accuracy of the following article by somebody who loved the book but couldn’t take the show, but to anybody who’s interested in them it seems to me worth reading:


Hugh Mann 10.12.21 at 9:36 am

This is a bit reminiscent of the Italian statue controversy, where the deaths of 300 revolutionary soldiers led by the Duke of San Giovanni, slaughtered by local peasant victims of false consciousness, is memorialised by a statue of a pretty girl in an almost non-existent dress.

“the fact that a female artist tries to subvert certain gendered tropes, and is basically told that those tropes cannot possibly be re-signified, just left me with a bitter aftertaste”

“My taste was bitter, my taste was me”


Matt 10.12.21 at 11:50 am

“What we don’t see, as far as I know, is any modern statues of male literary (or other) figures that are nude.”

I had long thought that Rodin’s “Thinker” was modeled by, or on, George Bernard Shaw. A quick search doesn’t completely confirm (or disprove) that, and he did pose like that, including being nude, in pictures. So, perhaps like Balzac, noted above, we can add Shaw. I don’t suppose this makes much difference in relation to the questions of the post, though.

I didn’t watch QG, so can’t say anything about it in particular. But, the discussion made me think about another recent film I just watched, “Promising Young Woman”, which is also pretty unrealistic in some ways. One way – how does this woman who is working at a coffee shop have all these designer clothes and such things? But – I think one way of understanding this stuff is as helping to show that it’s a fantasy – in this case, a revenge fantasy, or in the case of the QG, a bit like watching The Natural. Fantasy stories can be good fun, and even more than that in some cases. While they shouldn’t deviate from “realism” in too many ways, it seems like a mistake to pick at ways they are not realistic when that’s part of the story.


tm 10.12.21 at 12:16 pm

I’m not aware of any monuments depicting a recognizable historical person nude, whether male or female, but if anybody can name examples to the contrary, I’m very much interested! There are of course very few monuments depicting a recognizable historical woman, probably 99% of femalue statuary is mythological.

And excuse me, Rodin’s Balzac is not nude!


tm 10.12.21 at 12:16 pm

I’m not aware of any monuments depicting a recognizable historical person nude, whether male or female, but if anybody can name examples to the contrary, I’m very much interested! There are of course very few monuments depicting a recognizable historical woman, probably 99% of femalue statuary is mythological, and most of that is nude, yeah, so surely this is not related to sexism or such.

And excuse me, Rodin’s Balzac is not nude!


J, not that one 10.12.21 at 12:48 pm

The first thing I thought re. the sculpture was that Wollstonecraft was being shown as initiating the ability for women to emerge from their unformed femaleness into a clear state like that of the male hero. The idea that two works of art could look identical but mean different things because the artists were thinking different things is one I think is wrong. Ditto the idea that a person can be honored by portraying a future that has nothing in common with them except their gender. Would anyone honor Greta Thunberg with a statue of a teenage boy, to represent “youth”?

I’m interested by the idea that it’s novel to portray a woman in the way the OP describes wrt “Queen’s Gambit” (which I’ve read a bit about but haven’t seen). I could name several stories along those lines, beginning with “Middlemarch” and “The Portrait of a Lady.” It might not even be too hard to find talented women in the 20th century with men in their lives who supported them. I confess I feel rather uncomfortable in a group that does overwhelmingly find it novel, much less disqualifying.


Tm 10.12.21 at 12:50 pm

(ETA…) I realize that the Wollstonecraft monument is not a depiction of the historical person but a symbolic hommage of her accomplishments, which is in line with traditional symbolic sculpture.


Lynne 10.12.21 at 2:22 pm

The American tv show, Mad Men, apparently shows the sixties workplace in all its sexist realism. I’ve never seen the show since I lived through that era as a teen-ager, and have no desire to watch a show about it. I did get a kick out of one scene I saw where two mothers are sitting in a kitchen, smoking and dissing their own kids. So familiar from seeing mothers as I was growing up, and so different from how it was when I raised my own children.

One of the valuable things about fiction is showing how the world could be, if only (fill in the blank). I wouldn’t describe the male chess players’ reactions in The Queen’s Gambit quite the way you do, but I enjoyed the story more because sexism didn’t get in the way. Yes, that is how a story could go if you rinsed the sexism from it. Refreshing!

I wasn’t aware of the Mary Woolstonecraft statue, or the controversy around it, but from the picture EB’s comment above seems about right. Whole different context from The Queen’s Gambit.

Interesting topic. Thanks for posting.


Lynne 10.12.21 at 3:27 pm

“Fantasy stories can be good fun, and even more than that in some cases. While they shouldn’t deviate from “realism” in too many ways, it seems like a mistake to pick at ways they are not realistic when that’s part of the story.”

Exactly! And btw, I loved Promising Young Woman.


Trader Joe 10.12.21 at 5:42 pm

With respect to the statue – doesn’t it depend on what you want your art to do?

If for example I’m building a Lincoln Memorial and I’m gonna put in a statue of Lincoln, pretty much the expectation is that the statue look like Lincoln. The goal being primarily to commemorate the honoree as they appeared. Those who had that expectation about the Wollstonecraft will almost surely have preferred the tamer more conservative image almost no matter how it was rendered.

On the other hand, if the purpose of the art is to provoke and in so doing cast a particular light on the honorees accomplishments – then the statue selected is ideally suited to that task and indeed makes no effort whatsoever to perform the former one of depicting the honoree in any form.

Seems to me that the committee effectively voted to take the latter route – the question shouldn’t be whether this statue accomplishes the task at hand but rather why did the committee think this venue and that sort of commemoration was most appropriate to Wollstonecraft? I’m not a student of her work or her story by any means, but from what I know I’d suspect she might well have approved.


Matt 10.12.21 at 8:53 pm

TM – you’re thinking of the wrong work by Rodin. As is often the case, he did more than one piece, and the one that J. Bogart has in mind, I assume, is this one:

It is, perhaps, not as famous as the one you link to, but it’s on display at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, and fairly well known.


J-D 10.12.21 at 11:59 pm

I hope CT readers will cut me some COVID-related slack (I know, always the same excuse…)

Doesn’t that count as ‘an oldie, but a goodie’?


Petter Sjölund 10.13.21 at 12:31 am

Some people in this thread don’t seem to be aware of the August Strindberg statue in Stockholm:


SeanP 10.13.21 at 9:08 am

Tm at 21 identifies a key point for me: the distinction between a sculpture and a statue. It seems much of the criticism stems from treating the piece as a literal representation of a specific person, rather than a work of art that more obliquely speaks to that person’s meaning.

The fact that it sits on a plinth with Wollstencraft’s name and dates on it does suggest “statue”, although that’s undercut by the prefacing “for” which tells me not to take it too literally.

Also, I hadn’t realised – until this post made me look – that the contentious nude bit is only about one tenth of the height of the whole work, and probably less than 3% by volume. I know it’s the figurative part at the top that draws the eye, but ignoring the huge mass of abstract stuff strikes me as a vary narrow (mis-)reading.


David J. Littleboy 10.13.21 at 12:27 pm

FWIW, it seems that Nona Gaprindashvili (who earned the Grandmaster title in MEN’S TOURNAMENTS, thank you) is livid, and quite rightly so, with the folks who made Queens’ Gambit. As wiki reports:

“Gaprindashvili was very briefly mentioned in the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, in which it was incorrectly stated that she is Russian, and that she never played competitive chess against men. Gaprindashvili characterized this departure from reality as “dishonouring … misinformation.”[17] She filed a lawsuit against Netflix for false light invasion of privacy and defamation on 16 September 2021.”


DCA 10.13.21 at 1:36 pm

If you want to produce a message in public art, and that message involves “subverting the genre”, I’d say you are bound to fail. How many of the viewers would know what that phrase even means?


Ray Vinmad 10.14.21 at 6:30 am

This is a very fascinating post. Mister Mr. raises an issue that seems easy to answer–but I fear the answer that pops up in my mind is too easy.

A nude statue of a man does not seem to objectify men in general because men are not essentially defined by the gaze of women. So if a woman is depicted as nude–particularly an intellectual woman–it reminds us that women exist for men because nudity is a depiction of a woman amenable to men.

Maybe the problem is partly that? Women are constrained from being fully and independently human. We get a few slots in the panoply of what a human is and we are always required to fill one of those slots. This, among other things, ensures ‘who a woman is’ will be defined in reference to what she is for men. A woman can have her hobbies of writing that gets her remembered in the form of a statue but in addition to this her essence must be evaluated in terms of what she is for men. Is she a sexpot or is she connected in some way to motherhood? (Or is she both…somehow this is always fraught). Her central existence must be understood as adjacent to men’s desires. Lifting the historic sexual control of women is not going to be enough to break that pattern–though it is a start.


nastywoman 10.14.21 at 7:48 am

what a… a… funny? and very ‘transformative’? – discussion? –
as I loved the Queens Gambit too but NOT as much as ‘THE FAVOURITE’

as I’m a HUUUUGE Fan of Queen Anne and ALL the Artists who used to ‘transformed’ her into beautiful pieces of furniture and wasn’t that far more… more ‘transformative’ than just coming up with some boring naked girl?


oldster 10.14.21 at 10:40 am

I dislike the Wollstonecraft statue, and agree with EB:
“So, yes for QG, no for statue.”

However, I have to take issue with EB’s statement here:
“What we don’t see, as far as I know, is any modern statues of male literary (or other) figures that are nude.”

The nude in the statue dedicated to Wollstonecraft is not intended to depict Wollstonecraft herself, but rather some sort of heroic female type. And there are certainly parallels for the use of male nudes to celebrate male figures, even if they are not direct representations of the person celebrated.
In 1806, Canova carved a nude sculpture of “Napoleon as Mars”, which in 1816 came to London as part of the spoils to be lodged in Wellington’s digs in Apsley House. Then in 1822, an even larger nude of Achilles, a tribute to Wellington (though perhaps not Wellington-as-Achilles) was put into a corner of Hyde Park, where it stands to this day. Both sculptures are horrendous, hilarious, and silly. The gents have their dangly bits covered with leaves.,_London

So, the use of stylized male nude as a tribute to actual male dude is not uncommon, and provides a parallel for what Hambling seems to have intended. (They’re all ghastly to my mind.)


Harry 10.14.21 at 1:32 pm

I think I’m naive about statues, because I basically hate symbolism, and just want a statue of a person, which looks vaguely like them, and a plaque explaining who they were and what they did. I kind of want that for Mary Wollstonecraft.

I really shared Lynne’s (22) and your reaction to The Queen’s Gambit. Maybe I’d have been more critical if I’d watched it alone. But I watched it with a 14 year old boy, who is fed a steady diet of sexist propaganda by American sitcoms, which I can’t stand to watch with him (or without him). Seeing it through his eyes made it charming, and I thought about how I wished I’d seen something like that in my teens.


Harry 10.14.21 at 1:36 pm

Talking of which, does nobody else find the International Brigade memorial in South Park in Oxford a bit off-putting? When you get up close you can see that the large weird dark shape is a scorpion, but, even if you know what it is, from any distance it looks like a nice monument has been desecrated with graffiti.


MisterMr 10.14.21 at 4:36 pm

@Ray Vinmad 32
“A nude statue of a man does not seem to objectify men in general because men are not essentially defined by the gaze of women.”

Men are not “essentially” defined by the gaze of women, but are “partially” defined by the gaze of women; in the same logic, in a non sexist society, women are not essentially defined by the gaze of men, but will still be partially defined by the gaze of men.
This is because we humans define each other.

So for example in a less sexist society we will see an increase of porn for girls (which at least in part is happening, see the popularity of “BL” webcomics), not a disappearence of porn for boys.

So it seems to me that in the case of this statue, that I don’t see as very erotic, viewing it as specifically composed for the male gaze (presumably as sexual interest) is an exaggeration, and therefore the idea that this statue is offensive because is a nude sounds quite victorian to me.

Maybe a statue that actually represents (dressed) Wollstonecraft would have been better, but this is a different argument.


Kiwanda 10.14.21 at 4:45 pm

There’s a discussion of Queen’s Gambit from an increasingly interesting source of commentary on history and culture, the house organ of the International Committee of the Fourth International. As they note, the subversion of expectations in Queen’s Gambit goes well beyond that described in the OP. For example, in the series, there is a lonely old white male janitor who teaches chess to Beth, when she is a withdrawn and traumatized nine-year-old girl. Contrary to the stated expectations of the NYT and WaPo reviewers, he does not do what would be obviously expected in that situation: molest her. (Indeed, she is eventually moved to learn of and fully appreciate his early support and continuing affection from a distance.) More generally, there are sexist assumptions and pressures shown in the series, and Beth does face great personal and social difficulties, but the subversion of expectations is that a fair number of men behave decently, and not all women always do.


Scott P. 10.14.21 at 5:17 pm

I’m not aware of any monuments depicting a recognizable historical person nude, whether male or female, but if anybody can name examples to the contrary, I’m very much interested!

Are you limiting it to modern sculpture? Because there are lots of ancient examples, such as Trebonianus Gallus.


J-D 10.14.21 at 11:06 pm

I really shared Lynne’s (22) and your reaction to The Queen’s Gambit. Maybe I’d have been more critical if I’d watched it alone. But I watched it with a 14 year old boy, who is fed a steady diet of sexist propaganda by American sitcoms, which I can’t stand to watch with him (or without him). Seeing it through his eyes made it charming, and I thought about how I wished I’d seen something like that in my teens.

Having read the New Yorker review which I linked above, I can’t help wondering to what extent a fourteen-year-old boy’s reaction is affected by Anya Taylor-Joy’s presenting (if the reviewer is correct) as the model she actually is or has been, and how much different it might have been to Beth Harmon’s different presentation in the novel (again, assuming the reviewer is correct; again, I haven’t actually seen the show, and my recollection of the book is hazy).


TheSophist 10.15.21 at 11:57 pm

I’m not quite old enough to remember the competitive chess scene of the 50s and 60s, but can comment about the 70s on (and coached a young woman who represented the US at the World Youth Championships). So, some thoughts:

Nona G: It is fascinating how many of the great Soviet players were, in fact, not Russian (Gaprindashvili is Georgian). Interestingly, I was discussing this with Garry Kasparov a couple of years ago, and when I said “Tal was Latvian” his response was “No, Tal was Jewish”, which can be unpacked in oh so many ways. She earned her GM title in male tournaments and that should be recognized. (Yes, there is a WGM (Woman Grandmaster) title, and, yes, the criteria are lower. Whether that is sexist BS or a legit way of encouraging female competitors is hotly disputed in the community.) More recently, Judit Polgar (the highest rated woman ever) refused to play in all-female tournaments.
Even today, there is some blatant sexism among chess players (looking at you, Nigel Short) but most folks recognize that a 2400 rating is a 2400 rating, regardless of who holds it.
Many chess players are socially clueless (many, of course aren’t.) This leads to a lot of subtle sexism. My female student mentioned earlier was always being invited to analyze after the game by opponents. The same offers were not extended to male students who were of a similar strength and would have gained equally from the analysis. (This isn’t some kind of weird euphemism – “wanna go take a look at the game” means exactly that.)

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