Fearless Girl facing Charging Bull: Dr Daniela Peluso on an art juxtaposition that restates outdated stereotypes
10th October 2017
Kristen Visbal's 250lb "fearless girl" sculpture recently won three Grand Prix and 18 Lions in all, making her the biggest winner in the history of the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity. The awards and accolades have credited her with challenging gender equality on Wall Street.
The statue, which was placed in front of Arturo Di Modica's iconic "charging bull" – a minimalist three-and-a-half tonne bronze sculpted bull that marks New York's financial district that is also the most photographed art object in the city – on International Women's Day, has been at the centre of debates ever since. Their juxtaposition has spurred discussion about workplace gender equality as well as art that mostly ignore the political economy of the surrounding financial institutions that directly and indirectly brought them together.
The newcomer was enthusiastically embraced and commentators see her as challenging Wall Street's gender gap salary ceiling, implying that the bull is a symbol of patriarchy and capitalism gone wild, antagonist toward female leadership in business.
Writing for The Conversation, Dr Peluso argues that the creation of the Fearless Girl was orchestrated by a financial institution that is emblematic of the type of power structures that impede such emancipation. The piece was commissioned from McCann advertising agency by State Street Global Advisors, a firm managing US$2.4 trillion in assets, as a means of positive publicity. State Street was aiming to rehabilitate its brand image, particularly in a climate of past allegations of misconduct and as a turnaround celebration of its SPDR Gender Diversity Index, which trades under the symbol SHE. Indeed, the Fearless Girl's plaque (now removed) reads: "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference."
Equally objectionable is how the juxtaposition of the girl and the bull restate conservative gender images. This deliberate casting of outdated conventional gender stereotypes – the brave little girl vs the big bad male bull – is belittling. Gender discrimination and the corporate sidelining of women assume more nuanced and insidious forms, which such simplistic images obscure. Might not women and girls be the bull or charging alongside it?
The full article can be read here.
(Image kindly provided by Florence Buchanan.)