Last week, an idol was erected in the streets of Manhattan: a bronze statue of a defiant young girl standing rigid and resolute in the face of the iconic Wall Street bull. It seems we are to be bludgeoned by expressions of cultural fealty to the statue until our will to resist is broken.
The statue’s alleged purpose—both stated by its sponsors and plainly evident in the figure’s demeanor—is to present a challenge to orthodoxy. It is a call to address the perception that there are not enough women amid the rarefied ranks of Fortune 500 boards. This audacious assault on the staid prejudices of the gatekeepers of wealth and power in America was sponsored by the exclusive Boston-based investment services company State Street Global Advisors and approved by the New York City Parks Department. If the aim of this artistic display was to challenge intractable conventions and change minds, they chose an audience that has been uniquely receptive to their message.
Indeed, it’s difficult to find anyone offering enlightened criticism of the new statue. It immediately drew crowds of picture-snapping onlookers and quickly became one of Wall Street’s must-see attractions. Petitions were organized demanding that the city of New York make the “bold and brilliant” statue a permanent feature. Op-eds were penned likening the bronze depiction of a grade-school-age girl with her hands on her hips to an 1854 protest by a New York City woman that resulted in the end of gender segregation on trolley services. Save for a picture of a likely inebriated young, male Wall Street trader thrusting his hips in the direction of the statue (an offense against decency that resulted in click-worthy outrage-bait on every traffic-starved blog from Kansas City to India), it’s hard to find much elite opposition to the statue or the sentiment it conveys.
That is a feature; not a bug. This is not provocative art challenging customs and precepts but a lamentably familiar expression of tribal kinship. The rote demonstrations of allegiance to this “bold and brilliant” piece of conventional wisdom verged into the absurd on Tuesday. Groping for an excuse to publicize an admittedly beautiful photograph of the statue covered in snow amid a squall, CNN declared: “New York’s ‘Fearless Girl’ statue stands her ground against the Wall Street bull, even in the snow.” Had the statue uprooted itself and sought shelter from the storm, perhaps it would deserve some of the idolatry it has received.
While the sculpture has inspired some reproach from liberal polemicists, who use words like “wokeness” and “neoliberal” as though they had meaning and definition (their argument being that the gesture alone does not suffice for progress toward gender equality), honest criticism of the monument has been in short supply. So allow me to offer some. Thematically, it makes no sense. This is a little girl who is standing in bold defiance of a charging bull—the symbol of a market in which stocks are predominately gaining in value and, thus, creating more wealth. Is this girl standing in opposition to wealth creation? If so, the loyalty she has inspired among identarian nouveau Marxists makes more sense. Presumably, though, women enticed to enter corporate life are not inclined to stand athwart the bull market.
For a political demographic that is so obsessed with hyper-analyzing gender representation in art, few on the feminist left have objected to the “problematic” depiction of female potency in the form of a child. “Stop infantilizing women,” wrote the Breitbart reporter Frances Martel. “Stop using the genitalia of a plurality of human beings to build a social class.” This is a sentiment that any feminist liberal would accept at face value if it were expressed by a professor of gender studies at Wesleyan. Why does it take a conservative editor at Breitbart to articulate it?
Finally, it doesn’t seem like anyone engaged in the competitive sport of exalting this piece of art has examined the motives of its sponsors too carefully. SSGA’s president and CEO, Ronald O’Hanley has used the statue’s publicity to call on companies to “increase gender diversity.” He might start with his own. No woman has ever occupied O’Hanley’s role. Only 17 percent of State Street’s leadership positions (five out of 28) are women. In terms of gender representation—a metric that measures neither an employee’s aptitude nor benefit to their employer—SSGA trails the average S&P 500 firm.
If this is starting to feel like a public relations stunt to you, you’re a perceptive sort. “SSGA released a press release alongside their advertising campaign — and while the statue has received plaudits, it *is* an advertising campaign — organized by McCann of Mad Men fame,” wrote Joe Rennison in the Financial Times. The implication then is that America’s most enlightened critics of capitalist, classically liberal, elite culture have fallen for a commercial; and from a Wall Street investment firm, no less!
The delicious irony in that realization is rendered less enjoyable by the fact that so few appear to be savoring it. To apply critical thought to this display is to expose a suspect lack of faith in identity’s presumed righteousness. That may explain why you’ve only seen that kind of critical analysis in business publications. This is not to say the portrayal of noble individualism depicted in the representation of a defiant little girl on Wall Street hasn’t accomplished anything. It has once again exposed the desperation of the identity-obsessed left’s congregants to suspend critical thought and to blend into a crowd. How perverse.