March 13, 2017

That “Fearless Girl” sculpture should stay up — as a reminder of the Democratic Party


She stands with her hands on her hips and a ponytail flying in the wind. She squints her eyes and plants her feet in the earth with tremendous courage and defiance. This young girl cast in bronze appeared a day before the historic Day Without a Woman marches, and stands head-to-head with Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull.” Less than a week later, some are now clamoring to make this artwork a permanent part of this famous monument.

But, of course, this artwork was no guerrilla action. Everything points toward the entire project having been implanted by meticulously above-board interests. And more than just above board, the work is all about the board: the corporate board. The artwork, by sculptor Kristin Visbal, is part of a PR campaign spearheaded by McCann Advertising on behalf of their client, State Street Global Advisers. And if you think the artwork is a critique of capitalism, well, you couldn’t be more wrong. State Street Global Advisers manages $2.5 trillion in assets.

“Today, we are calling on companies to take concrete steps to increase gender diversity on their boards and have issued clear guidance to help them begin to take action,” Ron O’Hanley, president and CEO of SSGA, said in a statement. “A key contributor to effective independent board leadership is diversity of thought, which requires directors with different skills, backgrounds and expertise.”

State Street Advisers operates as a subsidiary of the State Street Corporation, which is the nation’s second-oldest financial institution and manages $28 trillion in assets. Out of its eleven board members, three are women. Rather than a critique of capitalism, the gesture, from the perspective of O’Hanley and co., understands the spirit of the age as a demand for better gender balance in our collective embrace of the market. As in Audi’s ad during this year’s Superbowl, which also relied a young white girl in a race car to make its call for greater gender equality, it appears here that corporate culture has embraced the women’s movement as an opportunity to diversify, rather than reconsider, its agenda.

But this artwork might actually capture the true spirit of today’s anti-authoritarian movement without having intended to. Obviously, Fearless Girl, just a stone’s throw from Zuccotti Park (where Occupy Wall Street came into existence in the fall of 2011), possesses a Jeckyll-and-Hyde relationship to capitalism itself. The SSGA’s cluelessness about the contradictions of capitalism and gender is matched by that of the Democratic Party. With an “opposition” party that continues to fight tooth and nail to keep the economically progressive agenda of Bernie Sanders (and his wave of millennial utopians) off the ticket, neoliberalism, marked by its embrace of markets, dominates the Democratic pushback on Trump. Focusing on Russia rather than jobs, the Dems continue to think of themselves as the Fearless Girl pushing for equality at the top .1% of the global economy.



Nato Thompson is Artistic Director at Creative Time. His books include Experimental Geography, Seeing Power, and Culture as Weapon.