Fearless Girl Stands Up For Gender Balance

She looks like a tiny dancer - defiantly standing with her arms resting on her hips, a steely look playing in her eyes. “ Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”…that’s the vibe. How could such a young girl be so calm standing a mere 20 feet away from a charging bull?

You know what’ I’m on about, don’t you? It’s the bronze statue in New York’s financial district that’s causing a commotion. Fearless Girl is inspiring women to take control, to be more confident in the face of life’s challenges. The image has been plastered all over social media over the past week few weeks and although the girl’s appearance is provoking lots of positive comments ( “ women have balls too!”) , the bull is facing a backlash. That’s just not fair, says the man who created it back in 1989. Arturo di Modica cast his bronze at a time when the financial markets were suffering- the Dow Jones had crashed by a staggering 22 % and he wanted his bullish creation to epitomise optimism and resilience as an antidote to hard times.

Credit Mark Lennihan/Associated Press.

So he has a point.. the statue’s meaning has been altered by the presence of another piece of public art that he could never have foreseen. Now the bull is open to interpretation as an embodiment of male dominance or suppression of women’s rights because a slight little figure is standing in its path. Women feel empowered and emboldened by this but di Modica is bemused. He never saw his bull as aggressive. I know.. sounds odd to use a bull as a symbol of peace and optimism but that’s what he claims he did and now, well, his art is being placed quite literally in an invidious position near Wall Street.

Whatever the artist’s original intentions, the bull has a new partner on the block and her arrival has prompted many women to come to look at the bronze and marvel at her chutzpah. A good thing for women to have a positive role model to admire in a public place, perhaps more so because of the location, an avowedly macho area of the financial district?

Good public art is in short supply so when you see a woman being portrayed in a positive and commanding way then you tend to take notice. Fearless Girl was made by a female artist ( Kristen Visbal) but sponsored by a financial company- State Street Global Advisors- who stuck a plaque on the thing to spell out the intended message - “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes the difference.” Before you start to swoon in admiration, take note. The SHE being referred to isn’t quite the straight forward feminist declaration it appears to be. SHE is in fact a trading symbol for an index fund.

The plaque was subsequently removed on the night of Sunday, April 2, the same date the Fearless Girl statue's permit was set to expire, after the Fearless Girl was inducted into the New York City Department of Transportation's public art project. She's now allowed to stay with the bull until 2018.

A new plaque was installed April 12 on a signpost off to the side of the statue, which makes no mention of the ETF, saying:"Fearless Girl was placed in New York City's Financial District, in honor of International Women's Day 2017, to celebrate the importance of having greater gender diversity in corporate boards and in company leadership positions. She also stands as an inspiration for the next generation of women leaders"—presented by the New York City Department of Transportation Art Program and State Street Global Advisors."

I wonder how much that actually matters when the the message is so empowering in a world where we are still arguing about how best to deal with gender imbalance. The bottom line is that we are now talking about the power of an image of a young woman who’s given lots of people cause for celebration- men included . Some call this artistic statement “quiet power”, arguing that that it’s not always necessary to be shouty and confrontational to achieve changes in attitudes. Certainly the power of ONE woman was flagged up last week in a series of images the Guardian printed of women the world over, confronting power, whether it be riot police abroad or an English Defence League supporter who was left looking frustrated and bemused by the smile of a solitary young woman called Saffiya Khan. She stood close to his face and instead of remonstrating with the man, chose to smile - a strategy that stopped the demonstrator in his tracks.

We rarely see images of strong women standing up for themselves so the past few days have reminded us that there is a quiet strength that resides in us all ( men and women). For women looking at Saffiyah Khan’s smiling countenance in the face of hostility or the slight bronze figure of the Fearless Girl, there’s inspiration because both women are not intimidated by a threat. A simple smile can have weapons grade power, disarming the most ferocious verbal attacks . A small girl, standing defiantly and staring down fear in the form of a charging bull, reminds us that we don’t always have to resort to turning up the volume or getting physical to resist. We can simply choose to stand our ground. Wouldn’t that be a great message for our daughters and for the next generation of working women who are leaving University or college? You might choose to resist oppression by being gobby ( most definitely my own M.O!) or adopt a quieter but still resolute stance like the Fearless Girl. She may not be around on the streets of NYC for too long but for now, she’s a beacon of strength and empowerment.

What do you think of the Fearless Girl statue? She’s being interpreted as a symbol of confident womanhood but she’s only a girl.. is that a plus or a negative for you? And while we’re thinking about that, let us know at WES if you’re being “fearless” and how? Send in your thoughts and suggestions as to how we can all catch that wave by contacting the WES team here https://www.wescotland.co.uk/contact or via our social media platforms. Let’s get the debate started!

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