News & Politics

A Conversation With The Woman Who Got A Fearless Girl Tattoo

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As this week’s cover story makes clear, I’ve got my doubts about the Fearless Girl statue erected next to the Charging Bull statue in Bowling Green by State Street Global Advisors. But lots of people are enthusiastic supporters of the statue. So when I heard that someone had posted a photograph of their Fearless Girl tattoo to the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, I wanted to speak with her to figure out why.

Misty Allen, a 47-year-old from Portland, Oregon, who works in technology, graciously agreed to talk with me. Below, edited for length and clarity, is our conversation.

Village Voice: Hi, Misty, I’m writing a story about the Fearless Girl statue and how people are reacting to it. Given your recent tattoo, I thought you might be a good person to talk to. Can you tell me how you decided to get the tattoo?

Misty Allen: Sure. Before I even knew who put the statue there, I started seeing images of it, and it resonated really strongly with me. I work in tech, I’ve been in corporate America my whole life, I’ve dealt with a lot of sexism and misogyny, like many women have, and just her pose — strong, with her chin up, just facing the bull — that really spoke to me. I know there’s been some backlash against the fact that it was put there by a big corporation, and I respect those opinions.

Full disclosure: I wrote something kind of skeptical about it, which you may have seen if you looked me up before we talked, but I’ve been interested in the weeks since in how people are seeing it in different ways, bringing their own stuff to it and reading different things into it.

Yeah, that’s what art is about, right? It speaks to your life’s path and things you’ve experienced. Art is going to speak to people in different ways. I feel like anyone who is speaking out for more diversity and empowering more women to speak up and stand out, I don’t care where it really comes from. I’m sure there are limits to where I would care about where it comes from, but for me, I was not upset that it came from a corporation, because I feel like people in those environments really need to speak out too, and need to speak out even stronger.

As I kept seeing these images of it, there was something about it. One thing that I’ve always struggled with as a woman in a corporate, male-dominated world is being able to find my own voice in a way that I can have that strength, but still encapsulate the fact that women are feminine and vulnerable as well. I know that people complain about the fact that the statue is of a young girl, but for me, that was showing that women can pull all of our strength and vulnerability together into one and embrace every part of what it means to be a woman, instead of turning into men, which is what I’ve seen a lot of women do — we feel like you have to act emotionless and strong and confident.

Especially with this election. Trump represents every man who has ever sexually harassed me, every man who has ever called me “honey” in a meeting, every man who has ever taken my idea for his own or spoken over me. He’s that guy. And the fact that he was elected president is just devastating, and it has made me realize that I need to speak out and be louder.

Can you talk a little more about the different kinds of bullshit you’ve had to deal with in your career?

Sure. I’ve managed to be successful despite it — there are women who have experienced so much worse than me. But there have been so many times when I’ve been the only female in the room. I sell business software, business solutions, so I’m generally going into manufacturing and distribution companies and talking to them about our software and how it can help their business. There have been many times where I have been at a manufacturing plant and been the one leading the conversation — and this is when I first started, fifteen years ago, it hasn’t happened as much lately — but I would ask a question and the answer was given to a male colleague.

Just completely talking around you.

Yeah. There’s so much stuff like that. I have experienced being told I was a leader and very important and then not invited to leadership meetings, for example. Or having my ideas taken as someone else’s. I was told many times that I made too much money, and I wouldn’t get that money elsewhere if I went anywhere else. I have been hit on so many times by my bosses, my co-workers, my customers. In one particular situation, it was really bad, and we were trying to close the deal, and I went to my boss and I said, “I am super uncomfortable, this guy is really coming on to me.” He was the decision maker. And I was basically told, “Well, this is a really big deal and we really need them as a customer, so if you could just deal with it until they sign the contract, that would be great.”

Wow.

No support, just like a piece of meat for a lion, just, “Hang out there until we get what we want.” I look back and I think, “God, I put up with so much shit! Why did I put up with that?” And I think it was because I thought I could never get another job and never make that much money and I was lucky to have it. I was made to feel that way the whole time, so I was undercutting myself. And I finally stepped out of it and have moved on and am very happy, but the last few years, it’s really started to sink in, the things that were said and done, and I’m looking back and really thinking through everything I experienced, and then Trump runs for president, overlapping the whole thing, that guy. I’m trying to process everything that happened in my life, in my career, and that guy who embodied all of it got elected president.

Did you identify with the Clinton campaign, then, on that same symbolic level?

No, not really. I was a Bernie supporter all along. I came around to her when it became clear that she was the candidate, and it became obvious very quickly that, looking at my choices, she was the choice. I’m not a one-issue voter, I’m not a one-vagina voter, I’m not just going to vote that way automatically.

You said the statue encourages you to speak up and be louder. What does that look like for you?

I feel more empowered in my own voice. Luckily I left that job a couple years ago and have landed one at a company where diversity is a big focus and there are a lot of women in leadership. I’ve gotten involved in educating younger women and encouraging them to get into tech, so my voice is definitely getting stronger there.

But my voice has gotten even louder in my personal life. I’m not letting things slide anymore. I’m not allowing the jokes to go by without saying anything, and I am seeing more and more of things that I believe we just ignore and push aside because it’s too much. I’m taking on more of that. In discussions, and in standing up when I feel like I need to stand up, whether it be for me or for anything else.

Do people recognize what the tattoo is referring to, or does it require explanation?

I think I’ve only had to explain it to one person. In the age of social media, that image has reached so many people. The reactions have generally been good! Some men of an older generation — I’m 47 — have said something like, “Oh, wait until you’re older, I don’t know if you’re going to like having that on your arm.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure I knew that it was permanent when I went in! I got my first one 25 years ago, so I’m clear on the concept of tattoos.

Sometimes it’s just nice to have an older man explain your body to you, though, I would think.

Ha! Yeah, I really appreciated it! I’d never thought of what my body will look like when I’m sixty until that man decided to tell me. It was really sweet of him.

But the main thing about the tattoo is that it’s for me. I think the fact that it’s so personal to me, too, it’s not like I’m out there shoving my tattoo in people’s faces and yelling about female empowerment. It’s my life, it’s my representation, it’s a reminder to myself to put my hands on my hips and open my mouth and stand up for myself. It’s for me.

That all makes sense. I feel like a jerk now. Can I put to you some of my reactions to the statue and get your thoughts on them? What bugged me about this from the beginning was that the company that put this out has not really put its money where its mouth is in terms of its own leadership. And the timing of it, right after they had bad press for getting caught out stealing from their customers, just seemed cynical to me. Maybe if someone else had put the statue up, I might have had another reaction, but I just wasn’t convinced that these people were acting in good faith.

Yeah. That’s the one thing that kind of sticks in my craw a little bit, is that exact piece that you just explained. I’m not that thrilled about that part of it either, to be honest. But the image and the art itself had already seeped into me so deeply and hit a nerve in me before I learned about that. So while I’m not thrilled about it, I was already committed to what the statue meant to me.

But I feel like in the last year I’ve seen a lot of criticism and backlash against people who are speaking out for what they believe in, like you’re not allowed to say that because you’re white, or you’re not allowed to say that because you’re a man, and I just feel like we should all be allowed to speak out. So maybe it was self-serving for them, on some level, but it did something. It had an effect. The feelings of empowerment that people see when they see that girl standing there, I think that in twenty years that’s going to be the part that’s still hanging out there. The company has had a lasting impact, whether their intentions are what they should be or not. There’s too much criticism of who’s speaking out on what, and when and which people can do what. People are allowed to be outraged, even if they’re not the ones being personally oppressed.

What are some examples of that, where you see people are being told to shut up and sit down when they’re trying to raise an issue?

First of all, my experience online is that white men who are trying to say anything right now to stand up for the right thing, a lot of them, if they say one thing, it’s, “But you’re a white man, you don’t understand.” We’re just quick to trigger on that.

Or, I don’t see how white women speaking out against racism and all the awful things that have happened, I don’t see how we don’t have the right to do that. I know that I don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman of color in this country — I know what I don’t know, and I know that I’ll likely never be able to know what that feels like, but is my voice not allowed? Is it not as legitimate? I can’t join in my chorus of outrage? It just doesn’t seem right. It feels like people on the left, we’re attacking inward instead of coming together.

I think we may disagree about some of these things, but it seems like part of a conversation that a lot of people are working through right now. Some people have criticized the statue as corporate feminism, a very specific sort of feminism that’s only for a very specific kind of woman, focused on boardrooms. It’s not a statue of a woman making minimum wage.

Then someone make that statue! You know? Because they’re perceived to be fighting for only a smaller group of women, does that mean they can’t fight? It’s all important. That’s why what’s happening in this country needs all of us, needs all of our voices and experiences and all of our outrage to be out there, speaking out as loudly as we can. The country needs all of it.

Well, thanks for talking with me about all this.

Sure, thanks for your interest, and for opening yourself up to someone who loves the statue so much they had it tattooed on their body. If I start getting hate mail, I’ll just send it to you.

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