Last week, a small bronze statue appeared on Wall Street defiantly facing the Charging Bull that’s been a staple of the neighborhood since 1989. The statue is called the Fearless Girl and its purpose is to remind the world of the challenges women face in male-dominated industries. The plaque at her feet reads, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.“
A mere two days after the sculpture debuted, however, an architectural designer by the name of Alexis Kaloyanides posted a picture of a white dude bro humping the statue on her Facebook and Instagram. Her caption read, "Almost as if out of central casting, some Wall Street finance broseph appeared and started humping the statue while his gross date rape-y friends laughed and cheered him on. He pretended to have sex with the image of a little girl.”
The man’s act quickly exposed our dark reality: that is, that all the statues in the world won’t persuade some men of the hardships women face in the workplace. A statue won’t help close the wage gap or force men to treat women as equals. In 2017, a sassy bronze girl is not enough to create change.
Consider the maternity leave laws in this country: According to the Family Medical Leave Act, women are allowed 12 weeks unpaid leave after they have a baby—but you to have worked at your job for at least a year and you have to be able to afford to go without pay for 12 weeks. Forty percent of workers don’t meet FMLA’s requirements.
Compare that to India, which observes a law called the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act that states “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” The country’s parliament recently passed a law upping paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks, for the first two children. That’s the highest in the world, behind Canada and Norway. Research has shown that extended maternity leave leads to lower rates of depression in mothers and higher rates of breastfeeding and infant bonding. Bottom line, women and children are healthier when they can stay together longer. But the U.S. is still so mind-bogglingly backwards when it comes to treating women with respect in the work place that their health issues aren’t taken seriously by the lawmakers tasked to protect and serve them. (Some good news: In 2016, the city of San Francisco did approve a mandated six weeks paid maternity leave for new moms.)
Kristen Visbal, the artist behind the statue, has admirable intentions. After all, the Fearless Girl is a reminder that the presence of women can’t be erased or easily ignored. But ultimately, a little girl is non-threatening, as the humping Wall Street bro proved. The bull can overtake her. Going forward, it’s east to imagine well-meaning Wall Street financiers simply patting her on the head as they pass by. They’ll be happy the statue exists, but they probably won’t feel required to advocate for real-life women to gain recognition in their offices. They see it and think, sexism is being solved by someone else—or that is has been solved altogether with this statue.
It’s true that women have made great strides: A recent study from Pew showed that 38 percent of the world’s 146 nations have had a female leader in office for at least a year in the past fifty years. Of the 15 women leaders who are currently in office, eight of them are their country’s first female leader. Still, according to Pew’s research, these female leaders rarely hold office for more than five years.
Symbols can have power. Walking by the likeness of a tough girl standing against patriarchy may very well acclimatize more people to idea of women in power. Perhaps another Fearless Girl should take her message to Washington, where women still represent such a troubling minority in government.
Regardless, women are better served with images of themselves as fully-possessed adults, not innocent versions of our younger selves. If the statue makes you feel stronger and gutsier, that’s great. But don’t let that good feeling allow you to forget that conscious activism will always be more effective at creating equality than unconscious statues.