Don’t feel like reading alone? Listen to Episode 5 of the #SLPodcast and follow along!
Setting The Scene
There was a new sculpture put up in New York City yesterday in honor of international women’s day. The statue is supposed to draw attention to the fact that women are underrepresented in boardrooms across the world, and they should be hired to said positions with more frequency.
I’m not really interested in International Women’s day – I usually don’t comment on it one way or the other. I have no issue per se with the idea of a day to recognize women’s contributions, my only reservations are the roots of the day chosen – which can be traced easily to socialist and communist movements. In true form, the United Nations adopted March 8th as the day they would tell the rest of the world to recognize women’s achievements, and so I’m stuck not wanting to mention the irony that organizers this year encouraged observers to wear red (very sly comrades). But really, if it makes people feel good who the hell am I to try to change the date? That’s not what I wanted to discuss, I want to talk about art.
Good art is a pretty fantastic thing, it stirs you in ways you wouldn’t have thought likely, and increasingly after the post-modern and conceptual eras, art is recognized as a way for people to express political opinions. I want to begin this commentary by saying that I do consider “Fearless Girl” by Kristen Visbal to be good art. It is striking without being overbearing or crude, and best of all it is ripe with symbolism eager for interpretation. Another great thing about art, is the ability by which through critiquing we can come to entirely different conclusions about a piece – even disagreeing with the artist (and even those reasonings can be considered art if one were so inclined). When an artist creates – whether it be music, a play, sculpture, or painting – they lose complete control in the process of defining their art to the larger population of people. From the most refined connoisseur to your Uncle Jack, everyone can have an opinion on what your work means, and as an artist, that is both terrifying and emboldening.
There is of course the stated purpose of “Fearless Girl”, a call to action for corporations to hire more women onto their boards, and in that respect they have certainly been successful in making the call heard – I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the story was viral to an nth degree. The small girl, with hands purposefully on her hips stands firm in her place. With the wind blowing in her face she gazes upward with a look determined as if saying “I’m here to do what I’m supposed to be doing, and nobody can stop me.” The question is of course who exactly would stop this girl from doing what she’s supposed to be doing – to which I suspect the answer would be something along the lines of “society” which is a word that says much, and yet maybe not as much as most people would choose to believe. Whatever a society is, it’s affect on us is of course more complicated than any give it credit for being. The pressures, expectations, stigmas, norms, and trends all of us deal with in any given society are part of the rich tapestry that makes up any one individual’s unique experience.
— Chicago Tribune Biz (@ChiTribBiz) March 8, 2017
But the “Fearless Girl” isn’t just standing defiantly in empty space, she stands firm in front of the famous “Charging Bull” sculpture, a guerilla art installation by Arturo Di Modica that has since become a permanent fixture in NYC. The purpose of the piece was conceived “as a way to celebrate the can-do spirit of America and especially New York, where people from all other the world could come regardless of their origin or circumstances, and through determination and hard work overcome every obstacle to become successful. It’s this symbol of virility and courage that Arturo saw as the perfect antidote to the Wall Street crash of 1986.” While I’ve never been fortunate enough to visit the bull in person, the craftsmanship appears quite exquisite – Di Marco is able to capture the charging power of the animal in the still medium of sculpture, giving the observer the belief that it could bound forward at any moment.
Symbolism of the Bull
The symbolism of a bull is multi fold, but one obvious representation of it is masculinity. Wild, aggressive, and virile – the bull fits many archetypes attributed to the ‘mythical man’ as it were, and encapsulates the proverbial ‘boys club’ that exists in common depictions of bankers and stockbrokers in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and others. The juxtaposition of this little girl standing up to the massive Bull seems evident then to the discerning reader, and in the words of the artist “The Wall Street bull has such power. It’s such an iconic piece. It’s a piece that’s always assumed masculine. Then to put this little delicate girl in this masculine environment — which is what we do when we put women in the workplace — now we are saying, ‘Hey, we are here. We are going to be here more in the future.’ ”
Of course this is not all that a bull can symbolize – the connection of the bull with “Wall Street” is one of prosperity contrasted with that of a bear, representing upward and downward market trends respectively. While the exact ontology of the phrase ‘bull’ or ‘bear’ market is ambiguous there seem to be three different possible explanations when one searches. The first is that a bear attacks by swiping down whereas a bull attacks by lifting his head up, the second comes from bear fur sellers in the 16th century who would ask for a price on a pelt before they procured one from a trapper in the hopes of making a larger profit, and the third (and in my opinion most likely) comes from the early days of the London Stock Exchange. When there was a high demand for stock, there would be bulletins pasted to a board (called bulls) and when there wasn’t a high demand the wall would be “bare” which at some point gave rise to the “animal spirits” that today watch over and describe economic trends.
Who is the adversary?
Consider now the juxtaposition of the “Fearless Girl” in front of the “Charging Bull” placed on the international women’s day with its roots in the Socialist and Communist parties of history. Also consider the symbolic correlation between an archetypal young girl with that of innocence, standing for what is “right” in her eyes. To many who watched videos online or saw the fixture in person, the battle of the sexes in the workplace was actualized, the struggle of women laid for all to see. There is a chorus of voices who claim that Markets inherently “oppress” women and that is why they need to be either abolished or reformed as they see necessary. Consider instead for a moment what accounts for the progress of women in the professional world and helped liberate them to begin with were not socialist and progressive government policies but the freedom of markets, and maybe you’ll begin to wonder why this fearless girl (and all fearless women) should consider the Bull of Capitalism her adversary.
Liberalism, understood properly, recognizes the fundamental right of each individual to be free from coercion in their actions, especially the coercion of government. The role of government then should be to secure liberty for its people, not regulate and dictate their choices. Many well-intentioned people in the United States innocently conflate the just cause of Liberalism with American Progressivism, when historically Progressives were more concerned with protecting Anglo-Saxon males from female (and minority) competition. If we all stood as defiantly against the tyranny of the Administrative State and Socialism as the “Fearless Girl” does today, the world could be a freer more prosperous place for every individual, regardless of sex.