Have you ever seen the “Charging Bull” statue in Manhattan? It’s iconic. It’s cool. It’s a symbol. And now it has completely changed.
No one moved it. But a recent addition, by a different artist, has changed the meaning behind the 30-year-old sculpture.
A LITTLE BACKSTORY
Shortly after the 1987 Stock Market crash, Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor, began working on the “Charging Bull” and completed it in 1989. A naturalized citizen from Italy, he says he created his masterpiece to represent the economic resilience of America.
The two-plus year labor of love was nearly very short-lived. When the statue first appeared in front of the New York Stock Exchange early on the morning of Dec. 15, it was a welcomed sight to locals and tourists, but not so much to those of the NYSE. They removed it the same day.
Mayor Ed Koch, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, and Arturo Piccolo, of the Bowling Green Association, however, decided to give this symbol of economic resurgence a home. The famous statue resides in the small park of Bowling Green in New York City’s Financial District.
CHANGING THE BULL’S MEANING
But now comes the change to its meaning. The State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) commissioned sculptor Kristen Visbal to create a sculpture to commemorate International Women’s Day. She created “The Fearless Girl” statue and the SSgA placed it directly in front of the bull early on the morning of March 8.
According to a New York Times article, SSgA Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Tisdalle said the statue was to be a “unique way to highlight that message” of International Women’s Day, adding that it was “the most tasteful, respectful and effective way” to do that.
There are plenty of people who agree with that notion, but there are also plenty of people who disagree. Di Modica is one who disagrees entirely, calling the message “negative”, as well as decrying the new addition as an infringement on his artistic rights. He does accurately assess the infringement because it directly interacts with his art without his permission.
The symbolism that was once clear about America’s ability to right itself after economic disasters (cue 1929, 1987, and more recently, 2008) was suddenly redefined to mean something quite different. The bull, in every sense of its meaning, due to the additional sculpture, is now taken completely out of context. It is no longer about the stock market and the economy. It is about men versus women. Amanda Steinberg, the finance author and founder of DailyWorth.com, demonstrated just that in her Facebook post about Di Modica’s complaint.
She was accurate that the “Fearless Girl” statue was about “women’s rights violations and exclusion”. That was the whole idea behind starting International Women’s Day in 1909. But to badger the artist, who created something as a source of national pride and with his own money ($350,000), is outrageous. And to turn it into a racial issue is even more so.
Steinberg does a good job of making it about men versus women by calling Di Modica a “powerful white man” (reminiscent of the numerous speeches given on this year's International Women's Day) rather than keeping it about the messages behind the sculptures or about art itself. (And don’t even get me started on the Marxist idea of “intellectual property” being public.) Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it “powerful white men” who purchased and placed “The Fearless Girl” statue (eight of the 11 board members of SSgA are)?
Intellectual property and powerful white men aside, it appears Steinberg doesn’t know about art or the true meaning of both sculptures. Despite being a financial expert, it also appears she may not know much about stock market symbolism either. Or maybe that’s just those who write for her.
Rachel Morgan Cautero wrote an article on Steinberg’s site entitled “Why It’s Important Wall Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ Remains” and made several blunders out of the gate. The first was calling the “Charging Bull” statue one of “Wall Street’s most recognizable – and unabashedly male – icons.”
It seems Cautero doesn’t know, or at least doesn’t understand, the two market symbols: the bull and the bear. One represents a resurging market (bull) and the other a deflating market (the bear). I completely agree that the bear would have been more gender neutral because the balls on the bull are pretty obvious (and brass…bronze, actually), but that would have defeated the entire purpose of creating the statue in the first place. Last time I checked, there aren’t any female bulls. Also, the bull and the bear symbols didn’t originate in America. That started in Europe about 300 years ago; so these aren’t new concepts.
She also fell into the increasingly widening trap of faulty, yet popular math and lazy journalism by stating that “women make 80 cents on the dollar compared to men”. That math takes the accumulative amount made by women and directly compares it to the accumulative amount made by men, rather than comparing them by profession. It’s apples to oranges. Then again, who has time to research when agendas are afoot?
BACK TO “THE FEARLESS GIRL’S” MESSAGE
Tisdalle said the statue was done to be “tasteful”, “respectful” and “effective.” But to whom? It’s quite obvious that the statue, much like International Women’s Day itself (feel free to Google the speeches made at the IWD or read my recent article), wasn’t about taste or respect. It was, however, about being effective.
“The Fearless Girl’s” message is about demanding more women in leadership roles within the financial industry. I like that idea. But the only women who should be in the financial industry are the ones who want to be. They shouldn’t be guilted into it, like how Microsoft’s recent marketing campaign #MakeWhatsNext has attempted to do with girls and STEM.
There have been way too many studies proving that men and women have vastly different interests and passions ranging from career choices to hobbies to shopping habits. Let those women who want to be in finance or STEM or whichever industry, be there and choose it independently.
As Sheryl Sandberg said in her book Lean In, “There is no perfect fit when you're looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around.”
It is my sincere hope that every girl becomes a fearless girl. As for the “Fearless Girl” statue, I hope it remains in New York City’s Financial District. But I do believe it should be placed where it makes the most sense for the proposed conversation and not in a position where it becomes a symbol of contradiction and diminishes the work of another artist.
Perhaps place “The Fearless Girl” in front of the NYSE. Maybe it will fare better than the “Charging Bull” did.