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People photographing Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Last night, I spent half an hour with “Fearless Girl,” the bronze sculpture created by artist Kristen Visbal and installed by financial firm State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) on Wall Street for International Women’s Day. I watched people pose for photos with her in nonstop succession — young and old, male and female, literally everyone wanted their picture taken with “Fearless Girl.” I listened to a young man compare “Fearless Girl” to his sister. I got yelled at by a group of photo-takers for blocking the view of “Fearless Girl” confronting the “Charging Bull.” I heard a man who was shooting a long exposure of “Fearless Girl” strike up a conversation with a nearby woman about the sculpture. “It’s complex,” he said. “It IS complex!” she exclaimed. Another man joined the conversation and offered that “Fearless Girl” was “pretty profound.”

Having witnessed all of this firsthand, I do not think it’s a stretch to say “Fearless Girl” represents basically everything that’s wrong with our society.

Here is the narrative being spun about “Fearless Girl”: An advertising firm and a financial services firm got together to drop a “remarkable,” “guerrilla” sculpture of a young girl in front of Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull” in the middle of the night. The girl is part of a campaign to encourage companies to increase the number of women on their boards. The girl “is a remarkable evolution for Wall Street.” The girl might even represent “the turning point of gender equality in corporate America.” The girl “celebrates all the people who resisted by staying in place.” If installed permanently, the girl would be “a constant source of strength” for women who work in the vicinity.

Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl”

That’s fuzzy and inspiring and stuff, but here is the truth about “Fearless Girl”: It features a branded plaque at its base. The companies that installed it had a permit. They are advertising firm McCann New York — whose leadership team has only three women among 11 people, or 27% women — and asset manager SSGA — whose leadership team has five women among 28 people, or 18% women. SSGA is a division of State Street, which has a board of directors that includes only 27% women. SSGA is also, according to Wikipedia, the world’s third-largest asset manager, managing more than $2.4 trillion in assets in 2014. And, like any good capitalist behemoth, it has some shady dealings in its history — like the time the SEC charged State Street with misleading investors during the subprime mortgage crisis. Or the class-action lawsuit brought against it for mismanaging retirement funds. Or the over $64 million that the company agreed to pay in January to settle fraud charges brought by the government, as Nick Pinto pointed out in the Village Voice.

But don’t worry about those cheating Wall Streeters who can’t be bothered to take care with people’s investments and lives — “Fearless Girl” will stop them! She has, as a visitor commented last night, “no doubt” and “no fear”!

A person poses with “Fearless Girl,” with “Charging Bull” in the background

I spent International Women’s Day on strike and not looking very much at the news or my phone. When I heard about the stunt, sometime in the evening, I felt offense begin to bore a hole deep in my core. Could there possibly be anything more patronizing than two massive, male-dominated capitalist companies installing a branded statue of the most conceivably non-threatening version of womankind in supposed honor of a day devoted to women’s equality that was founded by the Socialist Party?

No, alas, I think there could not.

Here’s an idea: You want to actually celebrate women? Hire them and pay them as much as their male peers. Even if you can only bring yourself to symbolically celebrate women, at least commission some decent art about them. Aside from her awkwardly flat ponytail and her cyborg face, “Fearless Girl” is weak because she’s not real. She’s a glib, easy myth. Women have spent all of Western history being turned into myths. We’re kind of over it.

The best explanation that the best part of me can muster for all the enthusiasm for “Fearless Girl” is that we’re so starved for public images of women that aren’t tied to advertising or sex, we’re willing to laud just about anything. That’s sad, but it’s also an opportunity — for the city, for artists, for cultural institutions and nonprofits. You can count the number of public statues of historic women in New York on one hand. How about commissioning some more? What about exhibiting some truly challenging feminist public art? Hell, I wouldn’t even object that much if it were sponsored by a Wall Street corporation. The great thing about art is that it can thrive beyond the circumstances of its creation — but only if it has something substantial to say.

A crowd gathers to photograph Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and...

20 replies on “The Sculpture of a “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street Is Fake Corporate Feminism”

  1. yes Jillian, I agree that the statue seems to be far more about creating something photogenic for Instagram, and raising a corporate profile, than creating something substantial. it is also vexing to me that it was a young girl and not an older woman or a pioneer of the movement. Imagine if it had been Susan B. Anthony or Sojourner Truth or a lesser known women’s right activist like Zelda Kingoff Nordlinger… very problematic…

  2. I went to an event celebration and what I found wanting was any preface remarks calling for the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ditto for anyone from Wall Street or the Political duopoly. I guess its just another reason to go Green party this year.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this piece. I spent a good chunk of IWD policing my friend’s feeds and commenting whenever I saw this shared, and it was exhausting. I felt exactly as you did and so appreciate you taking the time to express it this way. It took me approximately 2 minutes to do the “legwork” and find the leadership teams at both McCann and SSGA, and it boggled my mind that not one major press outlet had executed this same bare minimum of due diligence in covering the stunt. You rock. Fight on. I’m with you.

  4. They should replace that girl statue with a statue of a heroic Woman, Rachel Carson, she stood up to and told the truth about the Corporations that are poisoning our planet.

  5. Heavy sigh. I am so tired of EveryThing being vehemently opposed by some angry liberal. I’m beginning to appreciate the advice of mothers from prehistory to at least the 1950s, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” You’re just adding to the rancorous cacophony that passes as communication these days, and that is not helping to solve anything. By the way, politically, I stand with Bernie Sanders.

  6. Thank you, Jilian! Excellent article!!! I am so happy there are people like you all over the world, trying to help unmask what these corporations keep doing. This is not fake news: this is fake art!!! It’s bad and it is insulting. Pure disgusting marketing. Motherfakers! (Here, this one I give you for free. Now go make some more of your fluffy fake art with it!)

  7. what bothers me about the statue…using a “girl” to represent the strength, courage, etc. of WOMEN!

  8. There is not a single sculpture of a real woman in and around Central Park and 22 of men. My friend and colleague Coline Jenkins petitioned Mitchell Silver during his first week on the job at NYC Parks after 10 years of no movement on this issue with prior Administrations, and finally Central Park is getting two women – Coline’s ancestor Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

  9. Thank you Jillian for saying what I thought all along, and I hope others like me. I see this ‘sculpture’ as just another disneyfied take on womanhood, and that’s probably (and scarily) why it’s been greeted with such enthusiasm. This is a nation that can only (mostly, if I decide to be optimistic) think in Disney stereotypes…

  10. Of course only an entity with Wall Street connections would have been permitted to place a sculpture there. It’s still a positive thing – as Ted Kennedy said, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

  11. I agree with everything you say. We use symbols to express what we think will excuse ourselves of the crappy, sexist, sadistic, racist things and ideas that we foist upon our friends, family and fellow citizens (Hi, Mitch! Hi, Paul!): this stunt is made to promote a sick group of corporate toadies, and the sooner we use our energy to truly connect with each other and break out of the bubbles that we live in, the better off and more stable we will be.

  12. The restrictive vulnerability of that damn skirt is an insult. Take it down!

  13. Yes, it’s an advertising stunt. It’ll win advertising awards. It will burnish the reputation of the investing company that paid for it and the advertising company that thought of it. It’s self serving. But it’s also a statue of a brave young girl standing up to a big angry bull. Advertising does manipulate, but in this case it’s a positive message for young women. And if you want to wait for an investing firm with true gender equality credentials to spread the word, you’ll be waiting a long time. I think the statue should stay, but I also think the plaque should be removed. The attribution diminishes the impact.

  14. I’ve not finished the article, and I’ve not read the other 75 (and growing) comments, but my response when I first saw this in the news was: Is she facing down corporate America (i.e. Wall Street), or is she simply facing down an angry bull?

    Or . . . (in an after thought) : If she’s simply facing down an angry bull (the Wall Street bull), why is the bull so angry?

  15. The fact that the sculpture has created interest, passion, and discourse validates it. The other things that you are calling for are good and right, but there is no reason that this sculpture should not exist. It is symbolic, and it is powerful, and it is drawing attention to the role of women in the world. There is nothing wrong with an image of a girl. It is a powerful image. It is meaningful to GIRLS and women. And your critique of the sculpture itself is just ludicrous (cyborg? really?)

  16. Take this quiz.
    1) Name a female analyst on Wall Street considered “the Axe” covering a sector. How many women cover industries like semiconductors or oil and gas?
    2) Go to any financial website, look at pix of the New York Stock Exchange with stories about the day’s market action. Do any women live on this planet? Look at TV pix of trading floors at major brokerages and it’s a sea of white shirts (and back in the 1990s, white shirts with suspenders).
    3) Name the female equivalent of bond king Bill Gross or Fidelity’s Will Danoff.

    When I graduated post-secondary in the mid-1970s, women were being admitted to virtually every male-dominated profession. Some 40 years on, women are at the top of their game in law, medicine, academia; women can be found running Fortune 500 companies.
    If Martians landed on Wall Street, (or anywhere big money is run), they’d wonder where the women are.
    I have no idea what the point of this statue is.

  17. “Fearless Girl,” not woman–yah, blah; presumably she’ll grow up and learn discipline; via the word choice “girl,” one could argue fearless becomes inherently linked to immaturity/why Wall Street gender politics should not be fiercely challenged. The bull is darn cute, though: like a spry Ferdinand.

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