Remember the statue of the Fearless Girl that showed up in Bowling Green on International Women’s Day, staring down the Charging Bull of Wall Street? The statue that turned out to be paid advertising for a global finance company flogging a new financial product? A finance company that, notwithstanding its avowed commitment to expanding the role of women in corporate leadership, is headed up by a leadership team that is 82 percent men? The statue that nonetheless many found to be a powerful symbol of feminist resistance?
It turns out that State Street Global Advisors actually wanted its advertising statue celebrating the strength, intelligence, and equal humanity of women to be a cow. According to emails unearthed by Linda Massarella of the New York Post, SSGA’s consultants first approached the city about installing a big bronze cow in Bowling Green to celebrate International Women’s Day. Stuart Weissman, a contractor hired by SSGA to shepherd its statue vision to reality, told the city permitting agency in December that “the client realized, after we had gone down the road a bit, that a cow sculpture could be conceived as demeaning to women.”
That’s a good realization the client came to!
It’s hard to know why all the gushing behind-the-scenes media narratives extolling the creation of the Fearless Girl moment skipped over the part of the project where SSGA was planning on tapping into women’s latent enthusiasm for #CowPower. One can imagine early drafts of the attendant social media campaign: “Ladies! Show your support for gender equity in the corporate boardroom by tagging yourself #IAmACow!”
The emails reported on by the Post don’t shed much light on SSGA’s internal deliberations and vision-boarding, or how the cow idea got as far as it did, but as one thinks about it, it’s hard not to come back to the fact that the people trying to sell you a girl-power financial product look like this:
Though it has since been scrubbed, the version of the story initially published by the Post also noted some influence-flexing on the part of SSGA’s agent. “Somebody amongst the higher-ups has a relationship with Kathy Wylde,” Weissman wrote to the city regulator in March, referring to the powerful head of the pro-business organization Partnership for New York City. “I may not be able to stop them from reaching out to her, or reaching out to someone else.”
The message was plain: Whether represented by a cow or a little girl-child, the power of women, as conceived and monetized by a room 82 percent full of men, is not to be denied.