Overnight, a bronze “Fearless Girl” was erected staring down at the famous charging bull on Wall Street. It is the advertising conception of an investment firm, State Street Global Advisors, whose leadership team is less than 10 percent women. Erected on the eve of International Women’s Day, March 8th, it is designed to celebrate “the power of women in leadership”. Says the sculpturist, Kristen Visbal, it “reminds us today’s working woman is here to stay”. In the week since, throngs of tourists have flocked to see it.
All sounds lovely right? So what is my problem? For one, I’m beyond tired of women being infantilised. This is a statue of a girl, ponytail blowing back in the breeze, unawares of what the future beholds her. It is not the statue of a woman fearless or beaten down, ambition thrown back into her face. How patronizing can male-dominated companies be to install a girl statue, presumably a non-threatening version of a woman, to represent womanhood? Right from the get-go, I am insulted.
The message is “you go girl”, “be fearless”, “be ambitious”, for someday, sweetie, someday honey, someday child, you can lead the emerging markets on Wall Street or become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Someday.
Have Ambition But Not Too Much
Ambition is complicated for women. As a young woman myself, late 30s counts as young right?, I know to strive for ambition delicately lest I risk negative judgement from those who supposedly love me and wish me well and from those who are threatened by the idea of a woman with ambition. Relentless ambition in a woman is not to be respected. Case in point? Hilary Rodham Clinton.
The “Fearless Girl” represents a betrayal. It says “you can have it all” when we, the girls of yesteryear who are now the women of today, are experiencing that to be false. We the young women who have out-performed our male classmates academically for at least a generation are few to be found in the upper echelons of the workforce despite the major inroads the older women trailblazers created ahead of us.
Apparently, there’s nothing cute about a grown woman demanding her seat at the table despite Sheryl Sandberg telling us to Lean In and own our ambitions. I’m sure it would be worse if we tried to do so hands on our hips like the Fearless Girl statue. Also, it is not lost on me that the woman who is working 3 menial jobs to keep her family together doesn’t have time to consider if she is leaning in enough. Regardless, some of us have leant in so far we’ve fallen over and many of us are simply exhausted.
No. I find nothing inspirational in the “Fearless Girl”. I will not be one to embrace it nor the myth sold to me of being fierce.
Here’s an idea!
If corporate America really wants to celebrate women, how about hiring them, paying them as much as their male peers for equal work done, and promoting them fairly? Or if they only want to celebrate women’s achievements in art form, how about doing so legitimately, with statues of women who have achieved. There are many we could choose from. This adorable fearless girl is just shallow corporate feminism at play.