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.”
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.