Bourree Lam is a former staff writer at The Atlantic. She was previously the editor of Freakonomics.com.
The sculpture is currently set to remain on display until 2018, but critics are calling for its immediate removal.
The “Fearless Girl” statue, a bronze sculpture of a young girl with her hands on her hips, standing defiantly in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull has certainly made an impression. Placed to celebrate International Women’s Day, some proclaimed the installment an “instant icon,” and an online online petition to make the statue permanent gained over 40,000 signatures. In recent weeks, however, the sculpture has garnered a different type of response.
Some have derided the statute as “fake corporate feminism,” suggesting that the statue is less about promoting gender equity than it is a publicity stunt. They see the installment as a successful marketing coup masquerading as a message of female empowerment, or Wall Street pinkwashing. Others lament the use of a young girl’s image to represent the ambitions and goals of grown women.
This week, Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who created the famous Charging Bull statue that has stood in Manhattan’s Financial District since 1989, added his voice to the dissenters. The artist held an emotional press conference during which he said the Fearless Girl was “attacking the bull” he’d created. He also accused the statue’s backers of copyright infringement. (No lawsuit has been filed as of yet.)
Di Modica contends that Fearless Girl is changing the message of his work. The Bull was supposed to be a symbol of a booming economy, he says, but the presence of Fearless Girl brings his sculpture into the protest regarding gender diversity in the finance world. That’s something he’s not okay with. Others have pointed out the potentially problematic narrative of pitting women against a symbol of the American economy, while some women in finance say that they’re conflicted because they’ve always considered the bull inspiring in its own right.
State Street, for its part, doesn’t claim that Fearless Girl is facing off against the bull. “We placed the Fearless Girl there to be a partner to the bull, to represent the power of women,” explained Lynn Blake, an executive vice president of State Street Global Advisor, in a phone interview on Thursday. “We certainly never expected her to be a challenge; it wasn't intended to be confrontational, but to represent that she's there and she can face anything.”
Initially, State Street said that the sculpture was meant to be a message to the companies it invests in, an Instagram-worthy piece of art to encourage companies to increase the number of women on their corporate boards. The firm thought that the image of a girl would be more relatable than one of an adult woman.
“It was not really about the social or political issue, it was absolutely about the investment issue and the benefits of having women in the corporate world,” says Blake. “We’ve heard some of that negative feedback, but it has been overwhelmingly positive.” Blake says she’s not surprised by the criticism, “We, as an organization, absolutely took a risk to do this,” she says.
If anything, Fearless Girl has invited the public scrutiny of State Street’s own gender-diversity numbers. The company has five female executives on its roster of 28, and three women on its board of 11 directors (which is pretty diverse by Wall Street standards.) “We have firm-wide goals to improve our diversity numbers at all levels of the organization, from the board to entry level positions. That’s absolutely something we acknowledge; we want to do better,” said Blake.
Fearless Girl was meant to be up for only one week, and had it remained so, it may not have given rise to so much protest and analysis about what such a sculpture means for feminism, public art, and Wall Street. Those a big topics for one sculpture to take on, but if Fearless Girl ends up staying for good, it will be because she’s raised questions about female empowerment and representation well beyond Wall Street.