Perched in the epicenter of a busy cobblestoned street, Kristen Visbal’s bronze statue “Fearless Girl” stares down the iconic Wall Street Bull. For decades, the Bull has been a visual stand-in for distinctly American values: vigor, strength, ferocity, and virility – all of which are traditionally masculine attributes, and which over the years has increasingly come to symbolize a resistance to female leadership and female opportunity. The Bull came to represent and demarcate a decidedly masculine space of finance, innovation and leadership. That all changed on March 7, 2017 (the eve of International Women’s Day) when State Street Global Advisors installed the statue strategically in opposition to the Bull to send a message about workplace gender diversity and to encourage and recruit women into leadership positions.
This is a deeply polemical and political statue. Not everyone welcomed Fearless Girl, and cited her presence as a a representation of false feminism: “It is a high moment for gestural feminism, from the vapid Sheryl Sandburg-isms of Ivanka Trump (‘Never settle,’ she says – who has to with a staff?) to the proliferation of pink hats from the West side of Manhattan to the Los Angeles Westside”, writes journalist Gina Bellafante of the New York Times. While her point is certainly valid (i.e. Feminism shouldn’t be just a market ploy to promote a form of female empowerment that is all-show and no action), the statue, I believe, is an important meaning-shifting fixture in the visual landscape of New York City. And therein lies its power: just as how the Bull has become an emblem of American financial wealth and strength, Fearless Girl functions as a clarion for female leadership. It is also historically-poised at a moment in the US where funds and policies supporting female access to reproductive health is freqently debated. So…in my opinion, I’m all for Fearless Girl.