How does one stir up the male bastion of Wall Street? On International Women’s Day, State Street Global Advisors, an investment service company, decided to strategically place a ‘Defiant Girl’ statue in front of Wall Street’s iconic charging bull statue. The firm wanted to make a statement about gender diversity and to send a message to financial companies to increase the number of women on their corporate boards.

The five-foot high sculptor by artist Kristen Visbal depicts a young girl in a dress standing defiantly with her hands on her hip and her chin up. It has lured throngs of visitors to Wall Street, where many have posed for photos next to it. Even though it's a little girl, her stance is one of determination, forwardness, and being willing to challenge and take on the status quo.

Is this the new face of feminism? But then what is ‘feminism’. Is it simply ‘equality’ as the patrons of ‘Defiant Girl’ sought for their boardrooms? Since its origin in the turbulent sixties when it stood alongside civil rights and Vietnam War to signal everything that has gone wrong with society steamrolled by men, feminism has been interpreted in many different ways. Its cultural penetration has been patchy, fluctuating and disappointing. There's a whole generation of people who've confused 'feminism' with 'anything to do with women'. People who like to sound the death knell for the ideology – it's remarkable even that such people still exist – point to the fact that young women tend not to describe themselves as feminists.

One can promulgate the values of feminism quite effectively by just living them, by expecting fairness at work and at home, and young women are better at this, less surrendered, than anyone. Today, despite decades-old predictions to the contrary, young women are furiously active online and off, and are adopting “the F word” with far greater ease and rapidity than previous generations. Women of color have embraced the words feminism and feminist as their own, along with women all over the world, including Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

To the practitioners of feminism, victories are always hard fought and holding on to successes is even harder. Perhaps previous generations of feminists won clearer victories, such as the right to vote by the first wave of feminists, or sexual and reproductive rights and freedoms by the second wave. Yet the movement has not lost momentum.

Feminism has suddenly become a hot topic. The celebrities, like Beyoncé, are identifying themselves as feminists. Given that we live societies bounded by a celebrity culture, it is not surprising that such participations are bringing more attention to issues like equal pay, full reproductive rights, and ending violence against women.

Irrespective of the fact that feminism itself has become a cause célèbre, the inexorable forward trajectory of this global movement is undeniable: Powered by women in Nepal’s rice paddies fighting for literacy rights; women in Kenya’s Green Belt Movement planting trees for microbusiness and the environment; Texas housewives in solidarity with immigrant women to bring and keep families together; and survivors speaking out about prostitution not being “sex work” or “just another job,” but a human-rights violation. From boardroom to Planned Parenthood clinic, this is feminism.

However, feminism is more than just a theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It means freeing a political force: the power, energy and intelligence of half the human species hitherto ignored or silenced. More than any other time in history, that force is needed to save this imperiled blue planet. Feminism, for me, is the politics of the 21st century.

Needless to say, I supported a petition to make the ‘Defiant Girl’ display a permanent landmark of Wall Street.
*Photo credit: Google Image


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