The controversy surrounding the Fearless Girl refuses to die down. After the statue managed to piss off the creator of the Charging Bull, it has been joined by a Pissing Dog. Literally. To give some perspective: the Fearless Girl statue is a bronze sculpture of a girl with hands on her hips which stands in a posture of defiance in front of the Wall Street’s Charging Bull statue. It was made by Kristen Visbal and commissioned by State Street Global Advisors via McCann New York. It was placed to celebrate International Women’s Day to recognise and celebrate gender diversity and women in finance. The plaque below the statue reads, ‘Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference’. She is part of a campaign to encourage companies to increase the number of women on their boards.
The statue became an instant hit and Instagram-worthy with tourists stopping for selfies especially young girls. It was hailed as an instant icon of women’s persistence and courage. Visbal has confirmed the intentions, ‘This is a piece of work all women of any age, shape, color or creed can relate to. A work which reminds us today’s working woman is here to stay and has taken her place in the nation’s financial district’. The statue has been called a ‘remarkable evolution of wall street’ and an effort to address inequity and gender pay gap. It has been hailed as a reminder of women solidarity and standing one’s ground. The bid to make it permanent has gained 40,000 signatures. In fact, the West Coast now has its own Fearless Girl inspired statue in Sacramento.
However, the Fearless Girl has not been without its critics. Some have argued that representing women’s aspirations through a little girl has led to infantilizing a grown woman’s ambition and this is dangerous. Other have criticised her for representingcorporate feminism and argued that it ends up betraying women’s struggle for justice. It has been noted that the companies that installed it have only 27% and 18% women in their leadership team. And that Fearless Girl statue, at the end of the day isn’t real, and women cannot be turned into myths anymore or a poor substitute of real public images of women.
However soon after installation the statue has been embroiled in another controversy, this time on the art and its interpretation. The creator of the Charging Bull statue, Arturo Di Modica, has attacked the Fearless Girl statue for distorting and changing the message of his work. He has contended that the Charging Bull represents economic resilience and a booming economy but the Fearless Girl makes his statue as a villain. It must be noted that the Charging Bull statue was placed in secrecy at night but the public loved it so much that it was allowed to stay. Modica’s lawyers have argued that the statue’s intention was not to suggest aggressive trampling but project optimism and strength amidst adversity.
Modica’s outcry has been criticised by many. It has been seen as the classic case of men not giving space to women and making every narrative ultimately about them. The New York mayor tweeted that the statue will stay put and pointed out, “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl”. Critics of Modica have also noted that he has no locus to criticise the placement of the girl given his own statue was placed without any permission. Yet he has found supporters, most recently in another artist Alex Gardega who installed the Pissing Pug or the Sketchy Dog next to the Fearless Girl in solidarity with the Charging Bull. This act was largely seen as misogynistic and met with severe reactions ranging from “disgusting”, “an act of male fragility” and the artist was labelled as “misogynistic pathetic bastard”. The Pissing Pug has been kicked several times.
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Statue of the Fearless Girl has opened up an interesting and wide ranging array of debates. Firstly, with regard to art, its interpretation, and its evolving meanings over time. Issues change and so does the lens through which people view art. World has evolved from viewing economic resilience not as an end in itself but aspiring for growth with inclusivity. Thus the discourse on women in finance or even STEM, in any traditionally male dominated field may sometimes take precedence over economic strength of nation. And this is the reason that the young girl’s statue has resonated with many. Moreover, changing interpretations of art invites the viewer, or the audience, or the reader to become a participant. How much control does the artist have on his/her work when it is out in the public domain? Can the artist really control the meaning and understanding of his art within the changing context? Should the artist be separated from his art? These are some questions that can be explored within these debates.
Second debate is the timeless gender debate. Are men threatened by women staking their claim to any ‘spaces’? Are the symbols of economy and finance always masculine (the Charging Bull) and symbols of inclusivity and equity necessarily feminine (the Fearless Girl)? And when women do find spaces and symbols they identify with and which inspires them to speak about equal rights issues, why do men have to retaliate by lawsuits or pure childishness? Fearless Girl has demonstrated her own worth. Her being there and the reaction she evokes in all is exactly why we need greater representation of women not just on Wall Street but in every sphere of life. Could another symbol other than a little girl have been chosen instead? Sure. Do we need to go beyond symbolism and have real concrete strides in feminism? Of course! Hopefully soon, for fearless women have arrived and are here to stay.
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