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Chris Honoré: ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘Charging Bull’

In lower Manhattan, on Wall Street, stands a massive bronze statue of a bull, head lowered, its powerful body all sinew and muscle, horns threatening. A matador’s chest-tightening nightmare. According to its Italian creator, Arturo Di Modica, his sculpture, called “Charging Bull,” is a symbol of America’s financial resilience and now so popular it has been given permanent status by the City of New York.

More recently, on the eve of International Women’s Day, there appeared another bronze statue referred to as “Fearless Girl.” Also bronze, she stands arms akimbo, hands on her hips, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, a short-sleeved summer dress flaring, as if lifted by the wind. I would estimate she’s no more than 12-years-old, facing dead-on the Charging Bull, her eyes raised slightly, the expression on her face not of defiance, really, but of determination. Like Modica’s sculpture, she is immensely popular.

Fearless Girl was created by artist Kristen Visbal and commissioned by State Street Global Advisors in an attempt to highlight the lack of female directors on corporate boards (women hold less than a fifth of all seats).

But it’s not a stretch to look at Fearless Girl and wonder about the place women hold in our society beyond the board room, and marvel at the inherent contradictions that still thread their way through our culture, assumptions that demonstrate that women are still treated as a minority though they represent 50 percent of our population.

Consider Fearless Girl. And then consider that according to NOW (National Organization of Women) discrimination directed toward women remains a reality. Consider the fact that for full-time year-round work, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Women of color make less, with African American women earning 64 cents and Latinas 55 cents.

According to NOW, as far back as 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, full-time working women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man made. In other words, it has taken 44 years to narrow the gap by 18 cents. And things are not improving no matter how blatant this inequity is.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “if equal pay were instituted immediately across the board it would result in an annual gain of $447.6 billion nationally for women and their families (today women play a vital role as wage earners hence the impact on families would be significant).

Over 15 years a typical working woman loses $499,101 due to pay inequity. That number increases to $1.2 million if she has a college degree.

The stark difference in equal pay for equal work follows women into retirement, affecting their Social Security, savings and pensions.

There is also the reality that many women find it necessary to interrupt their time in the workforce and devote years to the responsibility of giving birth, followed by child care. Many, if not most, are income earners, wives, mothers, daughters and familial nurturers.

Research has shown that when they return to work, they are faced with what is known as the “motherhood penalty,” which can impact their earning ability and prospects of promotion.

The above examines the inequality of pay; however, there are countless other facets to our culture that transcend pay discrimination. It could be argued that as a nation we have not freed ourselves from what amounts to misogyny, however subtle or blatant.

Today, women have stepped forward at Fox News and found the courage to point an accusing finger at management, insisting that the network created and sustained a culture of serial sexual harassment. And we know that Fox is but the tip of an attitudinal iceberg. Look no further than the military, college campuses, Congress or the presidency. Meanwhile, pleas continue for a Family Leave and an Affordable Childcare Eldercare Act.

Perhaps the ultimate question is how do we instill in our sons the importance of respect for all women? Let us also ask how far we’ve come from that time in history when the “rule of thumb” meant that a husband could not hit his wife with a stick wider than his thumb?

And then there’s the Fearless Girl.

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.