Category Archives: Role of Women

Fearless Girl—A Contrarian View

Fearless Girl Faces Charging Bull in Manhattan’s Financial District

Fearless Girl gets to stay in the path of Charging Bull  at least until February of 2018.

State Street Global Advisors installed the bronze statue on the eve of International Women’s Day in order to highlight the need to increase feminine representation on the boards of Wall Street firms. An inelegantly expressed sentiment on the plaque at the girl’s feet states, “Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference.”

That should make the feminists happy, right? but not all are. Gina Bellafante, columnist of the New York Times criticized the statue as a cynical PR ploy, an example of “corporate feminism.”  However, after 28,000 people signed an online petition advocating for its permanent placement, Mayor De Blasio, acquiesced to popular opinion and decided to let her stay—for now.

But the fact that the statue represents a prepubescent child suggests correctly that it may take a long time to achieve gender parity on Wall Street boards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she is around for much longer. No doubt State Street realized that many people would be offended by the representation of an adult female protester, who would certainly appear too aggressively militant. Everyone can sympathize with a brave child. But I can’t help wondering why she is thought to be “fearless.”  Ticked off, resentful and angry, surely, but fearless? Being ignored is different from being threatened.

Fearless_GirlFor awhile, moving Fearless Girl to another location was under consideration.  But of course removed from the path of the charging bull, she would lose her power as a messenger for equal rights. Out of context she just looks like a spoiled brat. One has the impression she would stamp her little foot if she could.

Arturo Di Modica, worked on the bull  for two years following the crash of 1987 and with the help of friends secretly installed the 7,100 pound statue in the early morning hours of December  19, 1989. Di Modica himself wants “Fearless Girl” out of there. He was recently quoted by the New York Post as saying that his statue is “a symbol for America. . .of prosperity and for strength.” He resents his statue being viewed as an oppressor. New York City does not own the statue. Actually Di Modica would be within his rights to remove the bull, though he has not threatened to do that.

I am in sympathy with the sculptor. Surely no one would consider the bull a symbol of the male managers of Wall Street who make the decisions about board appointments. Rather, Charging Bull is a positive statement about the energy and bullish optimism the stock market generates. It is a powerful tribute to capitalism.

Standing defiantly in its path, Fearless Girl is a rebuke that makes no sense whatsoever.  MK

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Filed under Monuments and Memorials, New York City, Role of Women

Lest We Forget—You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

fashion-1860

As I worked on my book on 19th century domestic life in New York City, I was constantly reminded how lucky I was to have been born in the 20th century!

 The Women’s March reminded me again. I couldn’t help but think not of how far we had to go, but of how far we have come

 Gender Equity? There was no such thing during the mid to late 19th century. The “doctrine of the spheres” was accepted by virtually everyone—men and women alike. Women’s place was in the private sphere of the home and men’s in the public arena. Women were expected to be conciliatory to their husbands, long-suffering if necessary. Divorce was a disgrace—and rare.

 Equal pay for equal work? No possibility of equal pay because there was no equal work. A woman who did not have the prospect of inherited wealth needed to find a husband who would support her, and the sooner the better. Lacking such support, there were few possibilities of supporting herself.  She could work at sewing in a garment factory or as a domestic — jobs men did not do.

 Reproductive rights?  Forget about it. No effective means of birth control was available. Women had on average four to seven children, though they were not always able to raise them to maturity since there were no antibiotics— not even an understanding of what caused disease. Childhood death was commonplace.

In 1913, women marched on the eve of Wilson's inauguration in support of women's suffrage.

In 1913, women marched on the eve of Wilson’s inauguration in support of women’s suffrage.

In 1848, the fight for women’s rights began in earnest with the Seneca Falls convention where Ellizabeth Cady Stanton outlined her grievances, among them the fact that women could not vote! Many years later, in 1913, women marched to demand that right, and since then there have been other women’s marches, most notably those in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In the sixties, ERA supporters marched for a very specific purpose.

Supporters of the ERA knew exactly what they wanted, and they wanted it now!

But cultural norms change slowly. It was seven long years after the suffragettes marched before women achieved the right to vote, and the effort to pass an Equal Rights Amendment eventually proved unsuccessful. The suffragettes and the supporters of ERA were serious and focused, and there is no doubt that these women’s marches moved the needle forward.  (Some day I will write about the condition of women in the 1950s when I was a young mother. We were certainly better off than our 19th century sisters, but we still had a long way to go.)

 Today, we are no longer expected to be domestic, submissive, pious, or pure, as the nineteenth century  “cult of domesticity” demanded. And it’s a good thing we can speak our minds freely. But looking at the recent Women’s March, I think sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

womens-march-2017Wearing pink pussy hats that reference women’s genitals is probably not the best way to show seriousness of  purpose. Hats with animal ears are cute on babies, but look ridiculous on grown women. In fact they just reinforce the stereotype of women as childish and silly. And I find it particularly ironic that women were “sticking to their knitting” in order to fashion a symbol of power. And then there is that “pink is for girls” thing. Weren’t we supposed to get over that? Or so I was told when I considered buying a blue blanket for my baby grandson.

 Actually  there was obviously no specific purpose to this march, no desire for any particular outcome. It was just a diffuse aggregation of gripes about every conceivable outrage that could be perpetrated against women, and a warning that  nobody better try to perpetrate them.

 As such it provided a protected venue for lots and lots of women to express their outrage and unhappiness and most particularly their hatred of Donald Trump and their extreme disappointment over the defeat of their sister candidate for president of the United States.

 They could scream whatever they wanted  as loudly as they wanted—and many did. Some, in fact, seemed to  have lost all semblance of self control. Is there anyone, really, who does not consider that berserk rant of Ashley Judd unhinged? And what about the crude and extreme vulgarity of some of the costumes and signs? I am surely not the only one who found it off-putting.

 In the end, will this Women’s March move the needle forward?  Will women achieve more respect as a result? Will it change atttitudes in a positive direction?  What do you think?

 

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Filed under Role of Women