Some Feminists Missed the Point of Wall Street’s “Fearless Girl” Statue
My fellow feminists are at their most self-defeating when, in the frenzy to analyze layers of meaning, they mistake mountains for anthills; failing to see the context as it relates to the big picture. “The ‘Fearless Girl’ statue sums up what’s wrong with feminism today” writes Cara Marsh Sheffler for The Guardian. Its accompanying fretpiece is a parody of feminists who have microscopes permanently glued to their eyeballs and haven’t looked at the proverbial forest in years. Its thesis doesn’t even have much to do with the statue at all, but is an excellent treatise on how badly people can misread into art when they want to.
Sheffler’s interpretations include ridiculous statue-personifications such as “Fearless Girl doesn’t have to worry about affording college — she’s owned by an investment firm!” and “economic empowerment is not taking a helicopter to East Hampton every weekend during the summer season.” None of which bothers to explain where she is getting her incredible presumption that the statue is somehow supposed to represent Sheryl Sandberg feminism in particular, other than her leap that because the statue is owned by an investment firm, it must represent “corporate feminism”. Never mind how many pieces of important public art are owned by corporations. Indeed, art has a long and complex history with its benefactors having quite a bit more money than either the artists themselves, or the subjects they depict. It’s quite a leap to suggest that, ergo, art must reflect corporate values.
When I lived in New York I probably went down to lower Manhattan less than a dozen times. Of these, I probably caught sight of the bull two or three times. It always felt unwelcoming and hyper-aggressive; a too-obvious symbol of masculinized, corporate power. It felt like it lacked ideological balance — more like a mascot for a specific team instead of art — a bouncer guarding a club I was neither welcome, nor had any desire, to join. Ironically it was created following the 1987 stock market crash to depict the “strength and power of the American people” and if it’s hard to imagine artists responding to a wound of Wall Street with such charming levels of patriotic sympathy now, it’s probably because Wall Street has long since lost its connection with the American public, at least on a PR level. So whatever its intention once was, the bull has become a visual representation of the bullies of Wall Street, charging in opposition to the humanity it must learn to serve, else it will destroy itself. This is why Occupy Wall Street used the image of the bull so often, as a symbol of everything it marched against. “Fearless Girl” stands in opposition, and provides balance to that ferocity. She tells us that if we forget why we are here in the fervor to dominate markets, we will lose what we value most.
Sheffler may have had a point somewhere in there, had it been a completely different statue; had it depicted a white woman in heels and a power suit standing next to the bull, commanding it. But it didn’t. It featured an improbable challenger, a little girl, and a theme as old in art history as depictions of David vs Goliath in marble. I will personally never be able to look at the bull again, without mentally completing it with its beautifully unmatched counterweight of defiance, offered not in muscle or power but in the gravity of equal spirit and a humanized ferocity that mocks that bully’s mere brawn. Those who loved the statue immediately recognized it as the better half the bull has long seemed to need.
“Feminism is about human decency, not moulding young girls in the image of a banking industry that bets against us, shorts us, and then receives government bailout money.” Sheffler writes. This is true, if read out of context of her piece. But the statue is about that very human decency that stands in opposition to Wall Street’s bull, if you bother to notice the obvious symbolism here. The statue is not about moulding young girls in the image of a banking industry. And having zero evidence that it is — except who is paying for it — is a thesis on extremely thin ice.