Earlier this month, the statue of a defiant girl staring down the iconic Wall Street bull was installed ahead of International Women’s Day. To some, the “Fearless Girl” sculpture is a powerful and inspiring symbol calling for gender equality. To others, including the artist who created it, it is nothing more than an “advertising trick” commissioned by a Wall Street firm to promote its campaign to increase the number of women on corporate boards.
But the “Fearless Girl” has taken a life of its own: It is no longer just a symbol for International Women’s Day, or a corporate ploy, or a nuanced statement of an artist who hasn’t had to share the spotlight with anyone else. Rather, the statue is a symbol that says women are resilient in the face of all the bull we face on a daily basis.
I worked on Wall Street for almost a decade, first at Goldman Sachs and later at Merrill Lynch. I walked by the bull statue almost daily on my commute to the Goldman office, and I must admit that I thought of it as a symbol of strength. But it was also a masculine symbol, and a daily reminder of the male-dominated world I was about to enter when I arrived at work.
My team at Goldman was unique for Wall Street; my boss was a woman, and three of the four vice presidents on my team, including myself, were women. But the uniqueness stopped there. My boss’s boss was a man, and his boss was a man as well. When I left Goldman, nine of the 10 executive officers of the firm were men. Little progress has been made in this area, as even today only two of its nine executive officers are women. Given the overwhelmingly male environment I worked in, I would have loved to see the brave statue staring down the bull on my way into the office every day.
Arturo Di Modica, the artist who created “Charging Bull,” told the New York Post, “My bull is a symbol for America. My bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength.” He went on to say, “Women, girls, that’s great, but that’s not what that [sculpture] is.” Di Modica is correct that the bull is a powerful representation of our national identity, and that’s often how I viewed it. But I believe that a symbol that represents America must be inclusive, and can no longer just be encapsulated by the masculine bull. The new statue of the girl places women on the same level as men in displaying our power to the world.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for the “Fearless Girl” to be defiled. A man in a suit was photographed thrusting his hips at the statue in a sad attempt to be funny. But such lewd behavior is all too real to women in the corporate world. The photographer, Alexis Kaloyanides, called the man a “Wall Street finance broseph.” I met my share of them during my time on Wall Street—men who would make crude passing remarks or question if I had slept with someone to get ahead professionally. It was the part of the Wall Street culture that we women have had to stare down and move past.
The presence of the new statue threatens the creator of the bull in the same way that the very presence of women on Wall Street and in executive positions threatens the status quo of male-dominated leadership across America. Removing the statue would send a clear and loud message that America isn’t ready to treat women as equal to men. We have fought too hard and for too long to earn our place in the world, and we will fight for the “Fearless Girl” to keep hers.
Julissa Arce is a former Wall Street executive and the author of My (Underground) American Dream.