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On March 7, a bronze statue popped up on Manhattan’s Bowling Green at the intersection of Broadway and Whitehall. The timing, one day before International Women’s Day, is no accident: “Fearless Girl” faces the “Charging Bull” of Wall Street with feet spread, hands on hips, and puny chest thrust out like an 8-year-old insisting she will not, absolutely not, clear the table because it’s her brother’s turn.
The statue was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, a mutual fund specializing in gender-diverse companies. It’s artful advertising, and clever of SSGA to capitalize on the moment. Even better for their word-of-mouth when local media, not to mention Twitter and Instagram, went nuts over the symbolism. We’re all about symbolism these days. Mayor de Blasio praised Fearless Girl’s standing up to Wall Street, adding, “Men who don’t like women taking up space” demonstrate “why we need her.” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney saw in the girl’s defiant stance “the resiliency of women.”
Fearless Girl had her detractors as well, such as Washington Post columnist Christine Emba, who wonders why such resiliency must be portrayed as a child, “reinforcing the idea of femaleness as cute and inoffensive.” Arturo Di Modica, sculptor of the Charging Bull, says the new installation undermines the symbolism of his work: The bull represents strength and prosperity, but with a little girl in its path, it becomes a public menace.
We can play the symbols game all day, especially since bronze figures stand still and let us. But will anyone deny that, in a face-off between a real bull and a real girl, the girl wouldn’t stand a chance, no matter how confident her posture?
Actually, some people might deny that if they confuse symbolism with reality. Lethal females in stiletto heels wipe out squads of thugs all over TV- and movie-land, because women could totally do that if they just believed in themselves enough. Or, if they can’t quite manage the heels, they can at least carry a 50-pound pack plus an M-4 rifle and 30 rounds of ammo on a quick march over hill and valley. Anything you can do, says Fearless Girl to her bullish counterpart, I can do better. Or at least just as well, so there’s no reason whatsoever to bar women from anything they want to do.
Except biology, physiology, and psychology. Allowing as always for the exceptions, women tend to be less careerist, more risk-averse, less violent, and more relational than men. They are the circle rather than the tangent, the buoy not the speedboat. Men and women share all the virtues, such as strength, creativity, generosity, and courage, but express them in different ways and circumstances. The big difference comes down to this: Men, in general, drive a culture; women, in general, stabilize it.
The big difference comes down to this: Men, in general, drive a culture; women, in general, stabilize it.
Today the elites tell us it’s time for women to take the wheel. That seems only fair, after millennia of male domination, but what it amounts to is pushing women into attitudes and positions that go against their nature, while letting men stand down when they should be stepping up. The stats are alarming. For example, ages 18 to 24 are prime years for moving out, moving up, and building a resumé, but 35 percent of American males that age haven’t taken the first step—they still live with their parents, and 1 in 4 of that 35 percent doesn’t even have a job. Meanwhile, more women of this age are living with a husband or partner than their male peers are, and at least 16 percent of women head their own (mostly low-income) households, compared to 13 percent of men. The trends show no sign of turning.
God made them male and female, two sides of one image. We need each other to live up to that image: builders and occupiers, managers of the political and the social, influencers of opinion and influencers of the heart. Men will always drive a culture, even if it’s only a handful of them who violently seize the wheel. The question is whether they drive it forward or into a ditch.