March 24, 2019 | 47° F

COUTO: ‘Fearless Girl’ does not promote sex equality

Opinions Column: Through the Looking Glass

Since its early beginnings in 1911, International Women’s Day — held every year on March 8 — has become a globally celebrated event. In the past, women have used this day as a platform to showcase their discontent with unsafe working conditions, low wages, reproductive rights and several other issues that have plagued women’s inferior status since the dawn of time. And in today’s technologically advanced world, another method of celebration exists for this historic day: social media. On March 8, if you do not post an inspirational quote by Gloria Steinem as a Facebook status or Snapchat that “feminist” graphic tee in big, bold letters — did you really participate in this important day? This year, however, there was an additional requirement besides the cliche text posts and selfies: If you weren’t praising “Fearless Girl,” you might as well declare yourself an advocate for the anti-feminist movement. “Fearless Girl,” created by artist Kristen Visbal, is the title given to the bronze statue of a confident young girl that was placed near Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, on the eve of International Women’s Day. As anyone with a cable or internet connection will know, this statue was purposefully positioned to face the 7,000-pound sculpture of Wall Street’s iconic “Charging Bull.” In other words, “Fearless Girl” is being promoted as a symbol of female empowerment — but upon further reflection, I began to question the integrity of this assertion. State Street Global Advisors — the investment firm that installed “Fearless Girl” — explain on their website that this sculpture is a celebration of “the power of women in leadership, and the potential of the next generation of women leaders.” Yet State Street’s supposed “pure intentions” get a little murky as they go on to note how “research shows that companies with greater levels of gender diversity have had stronger financial performance as well as fewer governance-related issues.” According to The New York Times critic Gina Bellafante, State Street’s claim recalls “the temperance movements” of the 1800s when “women were enlisted as moral safeguards” to further capitalism’s progression “on the backs of a sober labor force, ensuring that rich industrialists got richer.” In simpler terms, it seems that State Street’s implicit motivation in the promotion of women’s leadership is purely in the interest of financial gain. How fitting, then, that the statue was placed at “the heart of New York City’s financial district.”

On the other hand, the sculptor of “Charging Bull” himself, Arturo Di Modica, has expressed his ardent animosity towards “Fearless Girl,” as one of his lawyers, Mr. Siegel, has stated that “because of ‘Fearless Girl,’ ‘Charging Bull’ no longer carries a positive, optimistic, message … (it) has been transformed into a negative force and threat.” Of course, many people were quick to criticize Di Modica’s hostility regarding the statue of the little girl, such as New York City’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio, who — in response to Di Modica’s disapproval — tweeted that “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.” While I wholeheartedly agree with de Blasio’s sentiment, I can’t help but feel that by strategically placing both statues so they are physically shown in opposition to one another is inherently problematic.

For one, it instills the message that men and women will always have to compete for power. Yes, patriarchal oppression of the female sex is a very real, worldwide problem — anyone who suggests otherwise is either too privileged or naive to acknowledge it — but if the true goal of “feminism” is the attainment of gender equality, why are men and women constantly depicted as rivals? Yes, females have been treated as inferior for centuries, hence why women must “fight” for equal treatment in society. But isn’t the whole point of gender equality to promote how, despite our differences, men and women can stand side-by-side as equals, that it’s actually destructive to treat each other as competitors?

“Feminism,” to put it mildly, is a very controversial term. Many people feel threatened by it because, with its superficial “fem-” prefix, it gives the impression of solely favoring the interests of women. While this is true to a certain extent, what some people fail to realize is that “feminism” is — or rather, should be — the equality of the sexes. In other words, “feminism” can be beneficial for both women and men. Men shouldn’t have to be “charging bulls” any more than women should adhere to “fearless” principles as the sole means to gain a piece of the patriarchal pie. If we want to uplift women and young girls, we cannot do so at the expense of men. We must rise above systemic gender discrimination — alas we remain trapped in this never-ending cycle of prejudice and oppression. 

Ana Couto is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English and journalism and media studies. Her column, "Through the Looking Glass," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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Ana Couto

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