“Fearless Girl” arrives amid fanfare, optimism and lawsuits

By David Schout

You may have noticed a bronze statue of a confident, wide-eyed young girl at Federation Square in the past month.

While she may be small, she has made waves around the globe in the last two years.

The statue is a replica of New York’s famous Fearless Girl, who stands assuredly facing the equally renowned Charging Bull on Wall Street as symbol of female empowerment.

Melbourne is just the fourth city to host the figure, after New York’s original and fellow replicas in Oslo and Cape Town.

Launched on February 26 in time for International Women’s Day, the Fed Square unveiling was widely celebrated by prominent women, including Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams.

Creator Kristen Visbal was also present at the launch, speaking to a gathered crowd.

But the sculptor has found herself in hot water, after the US company that commissioned the original Wall Street statue in 2017 launched legal proceedings against her.

Boston-based investor State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) is suing Ms Visbal, alleging she has breached contract by selling replicas around the world, something she denies.

“Fearless girl cannot be owned by anyone,” Ms Visbal said at the Melbourne launch. “It is a global message that belongs to everyone. I will continue to place fearless girl around the world to support her message.”

But SSGA maintains that she can’t.

“Visbal is weakening and adulterating the Fearless Girl message by selling unauthorised copies of the Fearless Girl statue for profit,” it stated in court documents.

A court injunction has seen law firm Maurice Blackburn, one of three companies to fund the Melbourne version of the statue, forced to cancel promotional events around the Fearless Girl, and remove online content related to it.

The legal stoush raises questions of the social importance of the Fearless Girl in Melbourne, and whether at its core it represents the values that proponents claim.

They argue the clear-eyed, straight-backed, hands-on-hips girl symbolises female empowerment and promotes gender diversity in the workplace.

And at the Fed Square launch, the Minister for Women certainly agreed.

Fearless Girl is, for me, an absolute symbol of women’s empowerment across cultures, across the globe and across borders,” Ms Williams said.

“She comes here at a time when the conversation both here and internationally around gender equality is reaching fever pitch.”

Opponents, however, argue the statue is mere “corporate feminism”.

Ms Visbal has been criticised for using online forums to sell replica statues, including a smaller version for US$6650.

Similarly, SSGA was heavily criticised when, just six months after unveiling the statue on Wall Street, it agreed to pay US$5 million in settlements over gender pay discrimination.

 Whatever your views on Fed Square’s new heroine, she will remain at the site for two years.

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