explainer

The controversial story of how "Fearless Girl" became a global symbol for gender equality.

Melbourne has a new statue, a bronze girl with her hands on her hips, looking defiantly ahead.

To some, it’s pretty recognisable. To others, it’s just a new statue that’s popped up in Federation Square. So… what?

On the eve of International Women’s Day 2017, State Street Global Advisors (a huge American financial services company) installed a 127cm tall bronze statue in front of Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue, named “Fearless Girl”.

The reaction was immediate and powerful, and she became a symbol of gender quality and female empowerment around the world.

Side note: Here’s a look back at the year that was for women in 2018. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

The statue was a statement by State Street to pressure companies to add more women to their boards.

They followed it up with a letter to thousands of companies across the United States.

Of the 3,500 they mailed, only a quarter had women represented on their boards.

It was only meant to stay a week – to make a statement – but Fearless Girl took up residence outside Wall Street for a year.

She was then reinstalled around the corner near the New York Stock Exchange at the end of 2018.

Did Fearless Girl work?

A year after Fearless Girl was erected the number of companies in America with female-majority boards doubled.

Her message helped 152 companies add women to all-male boards.

However the improvement on the whole was still small – half of the more than 3,500 companies that were emailed still had less than 15 per cent female board members.

But it was a start, and the message was spreading.

scout fearless
Young members of a girl scout troop pose for photos with the 'Fearless Girl'. Image: Getty.

The controversy...

Commissioning Fearless Girl was a brilliant PR move by State Street, and thanks to their calling out gender inequality, they saw a resulting bump in profit.

But just a few months after the statue was erected, the company paid a multi million dollar settlement to black and female executives that a federal audit discovered were paid less for their work than their counterparts.

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It raised the question, was the stunt just about money, and not for feminism.

In another twist, State Street decided to sue the American artist Kristen Visbal, who they commissioned to create the work.

They accused her of breaching her contract and of trademark infringement. Visbal allegedly sold contraband statues for $9,000, according to the lawsuit.

State Street didn't want the original statue to diminish in value. But Visbal didn't want to miss out on profiting from the statue's international fame.

"Fearless Girl can't be owned by anyone, it's a global message that belongs to everyone. I will continue to place her around the world to support her message," Visbal said.

The artist behind the Charging Bull also dipped his toe into the controversy.

Arturo Di Modica wasn't happy with the addition to his artwork as he thought it reduced its meaning. He had quietly erected it after the 1987 market crash, a nod to the bull market and a representation of "freedom in the world, peace, love and strength," he said.

By facing the bull as if it were a symbol of violence, Di Modica said it "cheapens" the Bull's message of ambition.

In 2017, a sculptor thought he'd build on the conversation. He placed a statue of a dog peeing on Fearless Girl to try and show it as "corporate nonsense".

The "Pissing Pug" was promptly removed...

Fearless Girl goes international

Despite being sued, artist Visbal is thrilled to see replicas of Fearless Girl in Australia.

She is now one of four, with Melbourne and the original joined by statues in Oslo and Cape Town.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn and industry super funds HESTA and Cbus are behind it being brought to Australia.

"We are proud to be bringing her to Australia, globally she has served as an inspiring force for change to deliver equality. She will be a reminder to Australian workplaces that we must keep up the fight for gender equality," Maurice Blackburn boss Jacob Varghese told The Herald Sun.

It's not known how much the law firm paid for the statue.

But the artist unveiled the statue in Melbourne yesterday alongside Victoria's Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams.

After two years in Federation Square, a permanent home will be found for Melbourne's Fearless Girl.

For now, she is being welcomed with open arms.

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International Women's Day is March 8th.

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