Why the Permanence of ‘Fearless Girl’ Matters
When I first heard about Fearless Girl, I wasn’t sure what to make of her popularity. I’m a feminist, and I’ve written about inequality at the intersections of race and gender for a long time now. I was skeptical about what difference a little statue on Wall Street could make.
Of course, Fearless Girl is a nice, empowering symbol. But what symbols are powerful enough to ensure women make the same money that men do, instead of 83 cents on the dollar or 64, which is one of the figures for women of color?
I was skeptical, in part, because we live in a time that seems to render symbols impotent. Perhaps that’s why Fearless Girl has struck a nerve. When our world is most hungry for inspiration, it seems, we find it in the most unlikely places.
I felt that inspiration only after talking to Change.org petition starter Nira Desai whose petition to make the Fearless Girl statue a permanent presence now has more than 30,000 signatures. Fearless Girl was installed by State Street Global Advisors ahead of International Women’s Day in March and created by the artist Kristen Visbal. The intention was to raise awareness about the presence of women in a male-dominated space like Wall Street.
Fearless Girl was never meant to stay beyond a short time. And yet, thanks to a movement prompted by Nira’s petition, the rest of the world began to understand what her presence in front of the famous Charging Bull would mean if it was there forever. And of course, like most things that center women, there have been a range of reactions — from joy to annoyance, outrage to the persistent, boring emergence of old-fashioned misogyny and sexism.
A celebratory press conference on March 27th on the steps of City Hall was held to give a few powerful women the opportunity to react to Mayor de Blasio’s decision to extend the Fearless Girl’s stay for another 11 months. “Fearless Girl represents the future of business,” said Kristen Visbal, the Fearless Girl sculptor. “People have asked me, ‘Why not a woman?’ A little girl is endearing. And she’s speaking to the future.”
Lynn Blake, Executive Vice President with State Street, said that 25 percent of the largest 3,000 publicly traded companies have no women on their boards. “Gender diversity is not just a matter of right and wrong but it’s about performance. Sometimes a symbol is better than words. Fearless Girl serves as a complement to the bull. She is there to demonstrate her role as a leader in expanding economic diversity around the world.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who has been trying to get a Gender Diversity bill passed for years, said that among other things, Fearless Girl might be what helps her legislation pass. “Fearless Girl inspires all of us to realize the power we have in ourselves, the power that women and girls have everywhere. She reminds us that the right art in the right place for the right reason has the power to change the conversation, change the way people look at things, change the way we perceive the world around us.”
There have been understandable critiques of corporate or, as my friend Andi Zeisler has written about, marketplace feminism. But those critiques only consider one part of a longer narrative, which is that in order to continue fighting for change, symbols of women’s strength can be priceless. I was reminded of what Sojourner Truth said when she sold lithographs of herself to support her activism: “I sell the shadow to support the substance.”
As Nira Desai told the Associated Press, “I think that the actions of State Street — everything they’re doing is a step in the right direction. They’re really genuine in their efforts to increase gender diversity.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said that “Whether it is efforts to defund Planned Parenthood or unequal pay, women feel like they are under siege. Women here in the world’s financial capital we recognize the Fearless Girl as a testament to women’s strength. It is our task now to make sure she is permanent.”
And while a permit to let Fearless Girl stay through February 2018 is a partial victory, women deserve no less than a full victory. Why not ensure this powerful little symbol stays a permanent fixture for this Women’s History Month into the next — and beyond?