We’ve all seen her: the defiant bronze model of an unsupervised child staring down the New York Stock Exchange, frozen in time seconds before being mauled by the Wall Street bull. Fearless Girl — the public art work funded by a financial services firm that paid $5 million for discriminating against 305 female employees in a legal settlement just months later — was placed there as a temporary installation on Women’s Day in 2017. The blunt attempt at inspirational symbolism worked on some people; just consider this lede from the New York Times yesterday:
When a bronze statue of a girl with fists on her hips first appeared at Bowling Green, a short distance from Wall Street, in 2017, her defiant expression captured the imagination of women looking for a symbol of economic empowerment. She became known as the “Fearless Girl” and found a new, though also temporary, home at the steps of the New York Stock Exchange in 2018, where thousands of tourists still gather every year for selfies with the four-foot-tall sculpture.
But it seems Ms. Girl might be facing a particular kind of economic disempowerment more familiar to women than hanging out in the Financial District. Specifically, it seems she might be evicted — a fate that occurs to women at a rate about 16 percent higher than their male counterparts each year. The problem concerns the fact that the statue was installed on a week-long permit with the Landmarks Prevention Commission.That permit was later extended for three years; it expires just after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29 (coincidentally, the same day Ghislaine Maxwell — a woman — heads to trial mere blocks away).
The financial services firm, State Street Global Advisors, has requested a new permit for the next decade. But the hearing to determine whether Fearless Girl can stay fearlessly in her place has been postponed. According to the Times, the Public Design Commission, a mayor-appointed group that governs New York City’s art, won’t hear the Girl’s case until December “at the earliest” — after the current one expires.
This is complicated by the fact that the creator of the statue, Kristen Visbal, and State Street have spent several years in legal battle with one another. Two years ago, the women defenders at State Street sued Visbal for infringing on their trademark and copyright licensing agreements. Here’s the Times:
In 2019, State Street sued Visbal, claiming breach of those agreements and saying that Visbal caused “substantial and irreparable harm” to “Fearless Girl” by selling copies of the bronze. The artist filed a counterclaim alleging that State Street has impeded her ability to spread the artwork’s message of gender equality.
In an interview last week, Visbal said she has already spent close to $2.75 million in legal fees — money taken from the proceeds she made on the “Fearless Girl” copies. In December, she plans to release a set of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, based on the statue to further offset her costs.
Visbal has not been involved in the current permitting process, an “unusual” move for the city’s public art procedures, according to the Times. She told the paper she had been “left in limbo.” But in a way, this all makes Fearless Girl a more profound feminist figure — controlled by bankers, ignored by bureaucrats, frozen under the looming threat of displacement, dragged into disputes over ownership, spiritually repackaged into a trendy multi-level-marketing scheme — all those classic elements of American womanhood. We really can have it all.