Is Wall Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ a true feminist symbol?

fearless girl vs charging bull

Fearless Girl vs Charging Bull: Is it possible for men and women to charge fearlessly together?

The controversial ‘Fearless Girl’ statue has stood opposite New York’s famous ‘Charging Bull’ since its installation March 8, 2017 – International Women’s Day. The two sculptures which have faced-off for close to a month now portray a young girl standing with her hands firmly on her hips, as an aggressive bull that has stood alone since 1989 charges toward her with determination.

The sculpture was intended to remain in NYC’s Bowling Green only for a few weeks, though an overwhelming public response almost immediately after it appeared called for ‘Fearless Girl’ to become a permanent fixture. On March 27, it was announced the ‘Fearless Girl’ would remain standing through to February 2018, as New York City public advocate Letitia James said, “empowering women shouldn’t be temporary — she must be a permanent piece of NYC.”

Not everyone has been pleased, however. Cara Marsh Sheffler, writing in The Guardian, denounced the statue as an act of “corporate feminism,” and State Street Global Advisors which manage $2.5 trillion in assets, have labelled it a “marketing coup.” A company whose leadership team of 28 only has five women.

While the ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘Charging Bull’ remain to be viewed as two separate entities with two entirely different messages, what stands risks not creating positive change at all. With two individual statues that together render the idea of  ‘Boys vs Girls’ in the middle of the biggest financial district in the world, what is the real message being promoted?

Kristen Visbal designed the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue to stand for gender diversity in the workplace and encourage women into leadership in business. The artist described the statue as, “…not defiant, she’s brave, proud and strong, not belligerent.” The plaque below the statue reads “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” In Australia, women currently account for just 14.2 per cent of chair positions, and represent only 15.4 per cent of CEOs, a significant difference from men in power.

As for the ‘Charging Bull’?

Well, his message is about as obvious as the bull’s golden testicles. Arturo Di Modica created the bull as a “symbol for America.” He explained to Market Watch “my bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength.” The artist spent $350,000 of his own money to create the bull, and erected it himself without a permit after the 1989 stock market crash. It stood in front of the Stock Exchange in a bid to symbolise financial optimism and determination for prosperity on Wall Street. Modica considers the ‘Fearless Girl’ an “advertising trick” and “a mistake” for feminist activism.

As Market Watch’s Jeremy Olshan puts it, “To Di Modica, the 50-inch girl is almost a form of vandalism of his work, recasting his bull as a villain, an oppressor.”

The Stock Exchange in 1989 was predominantly male dominated, and the bull symbolises the ethos of this masculine American Dream from almost 30 years ago. It’s outdated, and changing the message of the ‘Charging Bull’ is not necessarily a bad thing, but putting in front of it a figure that represents females can be interpreted as dangerous.

The ‘Fearless Girl’ has been misinterpreted. As the artist explains, “I see men and women as the ying and yang of society,” Visbal said. “They bring different things to the table. They solve problems in a different way. But we need to work together.” The ‘Charging Bull’ was put there to empower men in business 30 years ago. The ‘Fearless Girl’ is now facing the bull in 2017 to empower women to speak for equality.

The two iconic figures should be interpreted as one artwork tackling the issues of equality in business. Both strong, both determined and both equally empowered.