Fearless Girl

Kristen Visbal

Fearless Girl is a bronze sculpture by American sculptor Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), a large asset management company. The statue was installed on March 7, 2017, in anticipation of International Women’s Day the following day.

The statue was originally installed in Bowling Green, a park in lower Manhattan, facing down the ‘Charging Bull’ (also known as ‘Wall Street Bull,’ a large bronze statue illegally placed there in 1989 by Sicilian artist Arturo Di Modica), but following complaints from Di Modica, ‘Fearless Girl’ was removed in November 2018 and relocated to a nearby spot across from the New York Stock Exchange. A plaque with footprints was placed on the original site.

‘Fearless Girl’ was commissioned to advertise for an index fund that comprises gender-diverse companies with a relatively high percentage of women among their senior leadership. The plaque below the statue states: ‘Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference,’ with ‘SHE’ being both a descriptive pronoun and the fund’s NASDAQ ticker symbol.

Originally, the sculpture, which measures approximately 50 inches tall and weighs about 250 pounds, was placed defiantly in front of the 11 foot tall and 7,100 pound ‘Charging Bull.’ ‘Fearless Girl’ was meant to ‘send a message’ about workplace gender diversity and encourage companies to recruit women to their boards. Visbal commented that ‘I made sure to keep her features soft; she’s not defiant, she’s brave, proud, and strong, not belligerent.’

The concept for the statue was developed by Senior Art Director Lizzie Wilson and Senior Copywriter Tali Gumbiner of McCann New York, an advertising agency. Wilson and Gumbiner established both the idea for the statue as well as the overall look of the girl using countless moodboards and imagery, which Visbal referenced.

‘Fearless Girl’ was originally given a one-week City Hall permit that was later extended to 30 days. Later, it was announced that the statue would remain in place through February 2018. Among those advocating for the statue to stay longer was U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York’s 12th congressional district, who stated: ‘This statue has touched hearts across the world with its symbolism of the resiliency of women.’

The juxtaposition of ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘Charging Bull’ upset some observers, including ‘Charging Bull’s’ creator Arturo Di Modica, who argued that the piece exploited his work for commercial purposes. His sculpture was conceived in the wake of the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash. Having arrived penniless in the USA in 1970, Di Modica felt indebted to America for welcoming him and enabling his career as a successful sculptor. ‘Charging Bull’ was his gift back to America and intended to inspire each person who came into contact with it to carry on fighting through the hard times after the market crash for a brighter future.

Di Modica and his attorney, former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel, challenged city officials who let the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue be installed, claiming they corrupted Charging Bull’s artistic integrity by distorting the intent of his statue from ‘a symbol of prosperity and for strength’ into a villain for SSgA’s commercial gain. Mayor Bill De Blasio supported keeping the statue, tweeting that ‘Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the ‘Fearless Girl.” On May 29, 2017, artist Alex Gardega added a statue of a small dog, titled ‘Pissing Pug,’ and removed it after approximately three hours. He described ‘Fearless Girl’ as ‘corporate nonsense’ and ‘disrespect to the artist that made the bull.’

Some women criticized the statue as ‘corporate feminism’ that violated their own feminist principles. ‘The New York Times’ columnist Gina Bellafante called it ‘an exercise in corporate imaging’ by State Street, which, she wrote, had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the United States Department of Justice, agreeing to pay more than $64 million to resolve fraud charges for secretly billing clients for unwarranted commissions. ‘Corporate feminism,’ she wrote, ‘operates with the singular goal of aiding and abetting a universe of mothers who tuck their daughters in at night whispering, ‘Someday, honey, you can lead the emerging markets and sovereign debt team at Citigroup, and then become a director at Yahoo.”

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