The popular statue in New York reminds ElsaMarie D'Silva of a real life Fearless Girl who used art to stand up to harassment.
“I looked at her expression and it resonated with my own self-belief.”
The Fearless Girl statue, only four feet tall, stands defiantly at Bowling Green, near the New York Stock Exchange. There, she stares down the famous 7,000 pound Wall Street Charging Bull—a symbol of America’s strength and prosperity.
Since Fearless Girl was installed in early March, the contrasting yet powerful image of these two structures has captured imaginations. Much of the media is raving about the statue; people are posting pictures on social media; young girls are proudly imitating the fearless pose.
"Fearless Girl shows us that the might of a charging bull, and that which it symbolizes, can be easily matched with the determination and defiance of young women," says New York State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou in a letter insisting that the statue—commisioned through April—become permanent.
I decided to visit this statue myself while I was on a work trip in New York. On a very cold but sunny day, I managed to take a picture of the girl without being bombarded by tourists. I looked at her expression and it resonated with my own self-belief. It also reminded me of Sunita*, a 13-year-old girl in New Delhi whose picture I often use to show how a young girl can lead change.
Sunita is from Lal Kuan, a low-income neighborhood in New Delhi, the capital city of India. In 2014, my organization Safecity ran a campaign in her neighborhood with the local Gender Resource Centre to map sexual violence in public spaces. We encouraged women and girls to share their personal stories, which we then put on a map to identify location-based trends. One of the hotspots we found when analyzing the data was near a tea stall on a busy main road.
Sunita, along with other girls and women, reported that men would loiter around this tea stall while having their tea. The men would intimidate them with their constant male gaze. Rather than confront the men, which is difficult to do in a highly patriarchal culture, the girls and women would change their routine, divert to a different route, and some of the girls even dropped out of school. When we asked the young girls what they would like to change in their neighborhood, they said they would like the staring to stop.
In December 2014, we organized an art workshop for Sunita and her friends in collaboration with the Fearless Collective—a group that uses art to speak out against gender violence. The girls painted a wall mural next to the tea stall. The mural featured staring eyes along with messages in Hindi and English that read, “Look with your heart, not with your eyes”; “We won’t be intimidated by your gaze”; “We will raise our voice”; “Stand up, Speak up.”
Art can raise collective consciousness, address difficult topics, and bring about local change. In Niou’s letter about the Fearless Girl, she says the statue in New York ignites a critical conversation and begins a discussion. That’s exactly what is happening with the mural of staring eyes in Delhi.
In a society where it is difficult to confront a man directly and voice concerns, this wall mural speaks for girls and women. Since the mural was painted, the loitering and staring have stopped because it is no longer acceptable. One of the tea stall owners says that when men now loiter, he points to the mural and asks them to move on.
As the painting was in progress, one of my team members took a picture of Sunita. In the picture, she looks so confident and empowered to stand up for herself.
Like the Fearless Girl statue, Sunita gives me hope.
*Names have been changed.
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How to Get Involved
Sunita's story of taking a stand started with crowdmapping the harassment in her community. Elsa invites you to report your personal experience of sexual violence in public spaces anywhere in the world through Safecity. It is important to record your story and you can do so anonymously. If you wish to start a local Safecity chapter contact Elsa (Safecity) on World Pulse.