London’s new Mary Wollstonecraft statue is not a great look. The monument, designed by British artist Maggi Hambling, doesn’t actually depict Wollstonecraft. Rather, it offers a nude, seemingly cisgender woman that “personifies a spirit” left in Wollstonecraft’s wake, as the Guardian paraphrases Hambling. It’s been widely panned by feminists online and generally considered an objectification of women rather than a celebration of them.
And who better to ride in to that conversation than transphobes and whorephobes? U.K.-based SWERF and TERF organization Object Now, which is both sex worker exclusionary and transgender exclusionary, claims it is "against the sexual objectification of women and the oppression of women as a sex class," but largely focuses its efforts on complaining about trans women and sex workers on the internet.
After anonymous protesters defaced the Wollstonecraft statue with black tape and a surgical mask, Object Now showed up and placed a t-shirt over the shirt reading "woman, noun, adult human female." The phrase is a common dog-whistle for TERFs who use it to claim trans women cannot be women.
"We OBJECT to this nasty naked stereotypical statue," Object Now tweeted, among several others as part of a campaign photo op. "An Adult Human Female was chilly this morning among the cool wokebro luvvies of Newington Green who urged us to love our bodies."
TERFs are notorious for bold attempts to put themselves front and center of events that have nothing to do with them, shouting claims that they're the true vanguard for radical feminism. In this case, Object Now tried to get in front of feminist backlash against the Wollstonecraft statue by depicting itself as the physical incarnation of that rage, claiming it with a transphobic T-shirt like a flag on a mountain. Reuters later reported on Object Now's vandalism without identifying the group or its politics. As of Wednesday morning, only the Daily Mail has correctly identified Object Now and one of its members, Dr. Julia Long, for promoting TERF politics.
Object Now's self-righteous crusade may seem silly, but it shouldn't be taken lightly. In an interview for the New Statesman on J.K. Rowling's transphobia, prominent gender theorist and writer Judith Butler said TERFs falsely position themselves as the vanguard for mainstream feminism. Identifying and criticizing this is vital, Butler said, as TERFs' end goal is to appropriate feminist struggles and push them toward a transphobic direction.
"My wager is that most feminists support trans rights and oppose all forms of transphobia. So I find it worrisome that suddenly the trans-exclusionary radical feminist position is understood as commonly accepted or even mainstream," Butler said. "I think it is actually a fringe movement that is seeking to speak in the name of the mainstream, and that our responsibility is to refuse to let that happen."
There's good reason to be wary of TERFs' constant attempts at co-opting feminist anger. As Jezebel's Emily Alford wrote earlier this week, white women's anger has been turned into a product, "Women's Anger." Alford writes that white women across the political spectrum are "simultaneous manufacturers and target audiences" constantly made to "buy back their own rage with no real purpose beyond having made the transaction." This endless buy-back loop can be easily weaponized by privileged white women into white supremacy, bolstered only by white women's own self-righteousness (which also fueled white women's support for President Donald Trump in 2020).
"The idea that white women’s anger is, has been, and continues to be a source of terror for a lot of marginalized people is simply not something white women, even 'good' white women who marched for [George] Floyd and [Breonna] Taylor, are particularly interested in buying," Alford writes.
"Women's Anger" can also be used to cultivate and unleash bigotry against other kinds of marginalized women, particularly transmisogyny against trans women and whorephobia against sex-working women. Object Now knows this and sells its brand of outrage in droves, promising to solve the Wollstonecraft statue's misogyny while inviting clueless newcomers to take out their rage on some of the most marginalized women in society.
So sure. It starts with a cringe-worthy photo-op in front of a critically panned statue. But when TERFs like Object Now run in front of mainstream discourse and attempt to plant their flag on the conversation, they're trying to build a pipeline between mainstream feminist outrage and more sinister ideals. Don't let TERFs get the chance to keep doing it. They want to be legitimized, and they'll do it in any manipulative and underhanded way they can—even if it involves a pretty mediocre statue.