At first, I was inspired by Fearless Girl, the statue of the young woman standing defiantly in front of with Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull. In fact, a friend even suggested planning a special girls’ weekend to New York City just to see it. But, while I was once a fearless girl myself, I’m now a woman—and that’s giving me second thoughts.
The statue was sponsored by investment fund State Street Global Advisors and the value of marketing and media exposure drummed up by the installation has been valued at $7.4 million. It was originally accompanied by a plaque (since removed) that read: "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference."
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Putting aside the issue of an investment fund profiting from a symbol women's empowerment, for me, the statue raises one important question: If the artwork is intended to represent working women, why isn't it an actual woman? And if it were, would it have had the same impact? I don’t believe it would. As a society, we pay lip service to the idea of empowering girls, but despise what they become: powerful women.
Take the current focus on encouraging girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM. We want to empower girls learn to code, but where is that support when those young women attempt to climb the tech career ladder? We know that women in the technology industry are often faced with systematic oppression, a phenomenon so insidious that it can cause women to second-guess their own knowledge, skills, and power. And even those who do hold on to reach prestigious jobs at top companies can’t bet on encouragement or fair treatment. You need look no further than women like Susan Fowler, formerly of Uber, and Ellen Pao, formerly of Kleiner Perkins, for proof.
Meanwhile, we bubble with pride when Girl Scouts learn entrepreneurial skills selling cookies. But when they grow up, the venture capital industry balks at extending funding for their big ideas. Women-led startups got less than 3% of all VC money last year, according to PitchBook.
The Fearless Girl statue lets us off the hook. It gives us all the girl-power warm fuzzies about the future for women—but with no accountability that the patriarchal oppression of the Charging Bull will ever back down.
Creating that future, one where empowered girls become powerful women who are supported and celebrated means dismantling the obstacles that exist now. Tackling the patriarchy is not a girl’s job, fearless though she may be. It’s something we must do together. I’m challenging everyone to bridge the gap between empowered girls and powerful women. Insist on equal opportunity and equity in pay. Encourage the type of mentorships that help girls succeed in their chosen field. And yes, teach girls to code—then stand up for women in tech.
A statue won't fix archaic gender norms, but it has inspired an important conversation. Next time though, cast a powerful woman in bronze opposite the Bull. I’ll reschedule that “girls’ weekend” and make it a “women’s” weekend just to see it.
Christine Gallagher Kearney is a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project, columnist for the Irish American News where she elevates stories of women's careers and former president of DePaul University’s Women’s Network.