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In case you’ve missed the controversy over the past couple of months, an artist named Kristen Visbal recently sculpted a statue called Fearless Girl, which depicts a little girl in a flamboyantly defiant pose. Visbal then placed Fearless Girl in front of a much more famous statue: Charging Bull. In doing so, Visbal has staged a wonderfully dramatic scene: It looks as if a giant bull is rushing the girl, and that she is completely undaunted.
Charging Bull is that giant Wall Street bull you’ve seen in a hundred movies. It has become an icon for America’s can-do spirit and economic vitality. This is exactly what the Bull’s creator intended it to mean. So, if the Bull represents America’s financial strength, you may ask, what sense does it make to place a sassy little girl in front of it?
Ah! But that was before. The Bull once represented economic strength, but the Bull has been recast. He is no longer the hero of the story. He is now the villain. According to Ms. Visbal and her patrons, the little girl represents women in leadership, and the Bull now stands for a cruel patriarchy that seeks to gore to death the aspirations of little girls everywhere.
Fearless Girl’s visit to Bowling Green Park was supposed to last no more than a week, as part of an International Women’s Day celebration, but the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has extended the permit until the next International Women’s Day ten months from now. Many people are already arguing that Fearless Girl should stay indefinitely, permanently recasting the Bull as a symbol of woman-hating.
Naturally, the sculptor of the Bull is not thrilled. He’s an old Italian immigrant named Arturo Di Modica, who thinks his statue ought to remain a separate work of art, rather than becoming part of somebody else’s sculpture. After all, Charging Bull is his best-known work, and he spent two years and over $300,000 of his own money making it. He has politely asked Fearless Girl to leave.
Mayor de Blasio has ridiculed Mr. Modica’s request, saying that he would not remove statues just because “someone was offended.” Mr. de Blasio, as is often the case, seems to have missed the point. Mr. Modica is not simply taking offense. His world-famous work of art has been highjacked to serve somebody else’s vision.
If this conflict were to end up in federal court, Mr. Modica would likely win, but I want to make a different point: allowing Fearless Girl to stay put against Mr. Modica’s wishes is immoral. Whether you follow the Golden Rule or the Categorical Imperative, something you do is immoral if: you don’t want everybody else acting the same way. So, to illustrate the point, let’s imagine a world where I do unto Ms. Visbal as she has done unto Mr. Modica.
What if…I added a slightly larger-than-life bronze statue called American Soldier next to Fearless Girl, demonstrating, of course, that girls can be fearless in this country only because of burly men who are willing to fight for their rights.
What if…I added a giant matador to the scene and surrounded Fearless Girl with a small group of cheering Spanish spectators. Then, the statue would be about bullfighting, and the little girl would be cast in a bit role as an obnoxious, morally preening American who disapproves of the sport.
What if…I added a lot of people in ancient middle-eastern garb, bowing to the great Bull. This would cast the Bull as the ancient middle eastern idol Baal (who was usually depicted as a bull or a man with a bull’s head). And the girl? She would be cast as an ancient Israelite who refuses to bow before the false god.
I imagine Mayor de Blasio wouldn’t like my ideas. He probably would refuse to permit any of my proposed statuary to share Bowling Green Park with Charging Bull and Fearless Girl – and not only because my ideas are not very clever, but also because any one of them would alter the message currently communicated by Fearless Girl. Ms. Visbal’s statue may remain untouched by my proposed additions, but its essence would be lost. After all, Fearless Girl was not meant to be a damsel in distress or a disapproving spectator or a biblical heroine. By the same token, Mr. Modica’s Charging Bull was never meant to symbolize the subjugation of American women.
I feel sorry for Ms. Visbal. Her statue is beautiful and her idea is clever. But her vision should not come at the cost of someone else’s. She simply has no right.