Commentary

Women, Bulls And Gendered Expectations

Humans might continue to argue about the need for 51% of the population to celebrate A Day Without a Woman, as part of International Women’s Day, or even to require a Women’s History Month.

But one timeless piece of advertising created to honor the strength and power of women, individually and collectively, has overridden any possible division to garner universal praise.

Indeed, attention must be paid to that instantly powerful public icon now known as “Fearless Girl.”  An art installation created by McCann NY for client State Street Global Advisors, it was also a call-to-action to have more corporations put women on their boards — and to mark the one-year anniversary of the company’s SPDR®SSGA Gender Diversity Index Fund.

But that kind of press-release blah-blah tends to make people’s eyeballs glaze over.

Whereas, I’ve never seen a piece of advertising, (or a “brand experience,” if you will) with the energy, vitality and sheer stickiness of “Fearless Girl.”  

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Like a Banksy project, she was stealthily dropped by crane (all 350 bronzed pounds of her) by permit with the city, onto the median in the Financial District (Bowling Green, to be exact) in the middle of the night. The plan: holding her ground for one week.

An instant hit and Internet sensation, “Fearless” attracted fans from all over the world who have already petitioned to have her made permanent. (So far, it looks as if her reign will continue at least through April.)

Shoulders back, head up, the sculpture captures the soul and humanity of a contemporary girl — and also all the possibility inherent in that pint-sized figure. The determination of her stance is like a beacon to all girls to feel similarly fearless. Girls of similar age have already flocked around her to get their pictures taken.

But an additional secret of her dynamism is the physical genius of her placement.

With her hightop-sneakered feet planted wide, her hands on her hips, ponytail and dress flying, she was created as a counterweight to Wall Street’s other famous Bowling Green inhabitant, “Charging Bull.”

So she’s having a determined, eye-to eye stare-down with Wall Street’s famous beast. The bull, of course, is the symbol of Wall Street, standing for a high-flying market, and also a more rudimentary symbol of testosterone and male virility.

As such, the two bronze sculptures could not be more different, though they also share some harmony.

The "Bull," a guerilla art project, was also placed in the middle of the night, but later moved and made permanent. It was created by artist Arturo Di Modica in the aftermath of the financial crash of 1986, to cheer up and reinvigorate the Street. With its brute force seemingly in motion, the body of the bull twists to one side, its head lowered, tail flaring, horns protruding like a lash.

I spoke with "Fearless Girl" sculptor, the American artist Kristen Visbal, who told me the dynamism between the two figures was no accident. “My work is all about motion. …I was trying to mimic the spin on the bull.  Look closely at the girl. There is no real symmetry so that she looks natural: one shoulder rolls more than the other, there is a subtle turn to the head, and to the torso as well. One fist is slightly higher than the other.”

To make her placement that much more perfect, the installation team seamlessly extended the island with more cobblestones.

The determination of her stance beckons all girls to feel similarly fearless. As such, she’s like a 21st-century answer to Degas’ 19th century "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen," which was never cast in bronze in his lifetime. Why not?

In showing the humanity of an “opera rat” -- as the working-class, adolescent girls in the corps de ballet were then known -- he was depicting a young model who didn’t reflect the contemporary ideal of beauty. That alone was considered shocking. Plus, the use of mixed materials — her silk hair ribbon and the muslin of her tutu — and the naturalness of her stance was also considered highly unorthodox for the time.

The other thing that made 19th-century critics wince at "Little Dancer" were negative associations with “loose morals.”

Whereas in response to “Fearless,” there were questions about why the figure had to be a girl, and not a woman. The artist told me: “A child is more endearing” -- and, with a 9- to-11-year-old, “there’s no sexual connotation.”

It’s true, sadly, that the sculpture is far more universally accepted and appealing as a confident girl on the cusp of womanhood rather than as an adult woman. Unfortunately, studies show that girls do lose confidence as they hit their teen years, and powerful, assertive women are still cruelly criticized and sexualized (or de-sexualized), especially online and in social media, as we found out during this past election.

It’s also true, sadly, this year especially, that partisan politics has shaped reactions to “feminism” and the women’s movement in general, with conservative and pro-life women feeling excluded.

But this girl cannot be politicized. She radiates human potential and possibility. (See a short "making-of" video featuring the sculpture here.)

If the future is female, she’s a determined new model for change -- and a bright light for the advertising industry.

So bravo, “Fearless Girl.” Your existence makes us all one more step closer to insuring that 51% of the population is granted 100% of the rights.

6 comments about "Women, Bulls And Gendered Expectations".
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  1. Jane Farrell from Freelance, March 10, 2017 at 7:34 p.m.

    Love the statue and your analysis. It's so important for girls to continue to have confidence throughout their adolescence and adulthood. May she stay on Bowling Green forever. And the fact that girls are having their pictures taken with her - what a wonderful attitude that signals. Kudos to all involved.

  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 11, 2017 at 6:53 p.m.

    This is beyond belief revolting:http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/03/this-dude-humping-the-fearless-girl-statue-is-the-worst.html

  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 11, 2017 at 10:34 p.m.

    Also forgot to mention that she's facing "bull" -- the crap that goes along with sexism, etc. 

  4. Nancy Levine from Self, March 12, 2017 at 3:12 p.m.

    Absolutely love this piece! Thank you for calling attention to Fearless girl, her artistry and all she represents. Brava!

  5. HS Hughes from PDN, March 12, 2017 at 9:16 p.m.

    How interesting! I had no idea that damned bull began as street art. "Street art" connotes rebellion but that bull has become a symbol of Wall Street's triumphalism. Also it's a popular spot for tourists who pose for photos next to the statue's testicals, which are to scale. Last week on a sunny afternoon I saw about 9 people jockeying to photograph the defiant girl for every one getting  shots of the bull's balls. I consider that progress. 

  6. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 14, 2017 at 9:37 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara. Speaking of the art world I believe the bronze image of "Girl Skating" would have worked well at Bowling Green also.  A girl of about the same age as Degas'"Dancer" nimbly balances herself  with just one roller skate because she is poor, yet expresses considerable momentum -- and delight in picking up speed. I think the bull might have backed up when he saw her. A rare female sculptor created her, Abestenia Saint Leger Eberle. (Full disclosure: I work at The Met Museum.)

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