PC Culture

Wall Street’s Charging Bull Does Not Represent Oppression

The Fearless Girl statue, which stands in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull statue in New York, March 15, 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Here’s the backstory.

Even though it’s only 55 inches tall, New York City’s Fearless Girl statue is perhaps the biggest monument to virtue signaling erected in the past two years. Hands on hips, ponytail whipping back behind her, the statue faces Wall Street’s famous symbol, a 3.5-ton bronze mass depicting a bull preparing to charge down Broadway. The statue’s patron, Boston asset-management firm State Street Global Advisors, maintains that it’s a symbol of the female struggle to break into male-dominated corporate-leadership positions. The fund claims that since its installation last March, the statue has inspired 152 large public companies to reevaluate their leadership and strive for greater gender diversity.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is obsessed with it. He eagerly announced an extension on its lease back in 2017, and last month he promised to find a permanent place for it somewhere in the city. On Thursday, he announced that its new location would be opposite the New York Stock Exchange, and that, if he has his way, it’ll be taking the Charging Bull with it. Eric Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary, said that “the mayor felt it was important that the Fearless Girl be in a position to stand up to the bull and what it stands for. That’s why we’re aiming to keep them together.”

De Blasio and SSGA have made clear that they either don’t know what the bull stands for or simply don’t care. Each corrupted by self-interest in Fearless Girl’s continued success — for de Blasio, easy political points; for SSGA, free publicity — they have campaigned for her to be recognized as a living, breathing symbol of female strength against a relentless, seemingly indestructible patriarchy that is blocking access to Wall Street. But Charging Bull was never meant to symbolize that, and moving it with Fearless Girl would legitimize the forced abdication of the venerable meaning for a horrid one that’s more convenient for Fearless Girl’s purpose.

When it was first installed in 1989, Charging Bull was meant to be a gift to New York from SoHo artist Arturo Di Modica. The city was still reeling from the 1987 stock-market crash, during which the DJIA recorded the worst single-day decline in market history: 22.61 percent. After spending the two years after the crash working on his magnum opus, Di Modica dropped it off outside the Stock Exchange overnight, declaring in the morning that it represented the “strength and power of the American people” to rebound from financial struggles. The following day, his assistant, Kim, told the New York Times that Di Modica “wanted to encourage everybody to realize America’s power.”

So when de Blasio’s office says he feels it’s important for Fearless Girl to stand up to the bull and “what it stands for,” he’s referring to a fake meaning imposed on the bull by the new statue, and not the artist’s original intent. Indeed, since the new statue’s installation, Di Modica has been rightly indignant about the appropriation of his work. During a press conference after Fearless Girl appeared, his lawyers pointed out that because of the new statue that had been placed adjacently, “‘Charging Bull’ no longer carries a positive, optimistic message,” but represents “a negative force and a threat.” What was de Blasio’s response to this fair criticism? A tweet reading, “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”

Well, that’s convenient. De Blasio’s response echoes an especially irksome left-wing strategy: Breach an area prohibited to all, and brand the subsequent outrage as evidence of hatred for your cause.

Besides permitting the bizarre conversion of a venerated Wall Street landmark, in his attempt to appear an #ally, de Blasio has ignored some issues that undermine the owning firm’s claim to hold progressive values. Some background on SSGA: They are one of a growing number of asset-management firms using the investments they make — which come with the right to vote, as a shareholder, in other companies’ board elections — to enforce their own political standards. As an example, state pension funds often threaten not to support board members who don’t ensure higher wages or better benefits for workers. SSGA’s big thing is gender equality. So Fearless Girl was as much a public symbol of the female struggle in the financial world as a private advertisement of how serious SSGA was about enforcing these standards. (This threat, backed by billions in assets managed by SSGA, not the statue, was what convinced those 152 companies to hire more women, by the way.)

Ultimately, the pairing doesn’t make any sense: A defiant girl is standing athwart the strength and power of the American people at the behest of a mutual fund with a spotty record of promoting women’s rights?

Yet SSGA’s parent company, State Street, appears to be having trouble conforming to its own standards. In October, State Street agreed to a $5 million payout to settle claims that it paid 305 of its top female employees less than men employed in the same positions. The Department of Labor alleged that the firm also discriminated against 15 African-American employees in the same fashion. Unsurprisingly, State Street denied the claim and reaffirmed that it is “committed to equal pay practices.” Further, State Street’s own corporate board does not meet its touted gender-equality standards: In March, a year after the statue went up, the ten-member board featured three women. Today? They have another woman, but also two more men. They’re getting closer, but not by much. The picture elsewhere at SSGA is worse: Of the 28 members on its self-described leadership team, just five are women.

Ultimately, the pairing doesn’t make any sense: A defiant girl is standing athwart the strength and power of the American people at the behest of a mutual fund with a spotty record of promoting women’s rights? No, for the image to work, which it must, the two statues have been transplanted to a fantasy world, where the bull symbolizes the evil patriarchy and the girl symbolizes liberal gender policies. So when de Blasio says he will grant Fearless Girl permanent residence in New York and hopes the bull will come with it, he’s really saying that it’s time to recognize the fake backstories as established fact. Di Modica will put up a fight, but will anyone else?

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