There she stands. Fearless. Defiant. Chest puffed forward with a look on her face that is much more defiant than McKayla’s and much less impressed. Inches in front of her is a plaque that reads: “Know the power of women in leadership – SHE makes a difference.” About a score of feet in front of the girl is the 11 foot tall, 3.5 ton Charging Bull of Wall Street with head lowered, nostrils flared. Make no mistake about it. It’s an angry beast — with oysters as large as the Rocky Mountains. Sound like anyone you know?
The Internet was quick to salute the bronze girl as a physical representation of female empowerment on International Women’s Day. And, just as quickly they turned on her. ‘Gimmick.’ ‘Irresponsible.’ ‘Poor parenting.’ ‘Stupid.’ ‘Anti-feminist.’ It provokes both conversation and nearly as many visitors as the iconic Charging Bull. In other words, it is an artistic installation that works.
The moment I saw images of the bronze girl (which I had only seen pictured from the back), I knew I had to meet her face-to-face. Despite the pre-blizzard arctic temperatures and wind of Lower Manhattan, my undeterred wife Megan and I visited with her during our NYC adventure. I wasn’t sure if the shaking in my bones was from the build-up of excitement or the result of the early breath of winter storm Stella that was hours away.
It was inspiring to watch strangers taking pictures of Megan and me while we were staging our own photos. Megan took the opportunity of the bronze girl distracting the Charging Bull from the front to deliver the unkindest cut of all.
I then saw a young girl of about 2-years-old. Her mom placed her square in front of the rear end of the bull and tried to snap a picture. The girl was confused. She had her tongue out, like a 2-year-old will do. I shouted, “Don’t touch your tongue to the Rocky Mountain Oysters! It’ll stick!” The crowd laughed.
Judge me for my inappropriate joke. That’s fine. I do, too. What about the mom who staged her daughter in front of bull balls when she had the opportunity to inspire and educate her with the fearless girl not 40 feet away? How do we get out from behind the bulls, or better yet, change the game so that bulls and bullying don’t rule the roost.
Then it was my turn. We proceeded to the front of the bull. We were ushered to the front of the line in front of the girl. Folks seemed to think we meant business. I looked at her. I read the sign. We were face-to-face. And then I realized why I needed to meet her.
That girl is you when you came out of the closet to an unwelcoming audience — whatever closet it may be. She is that woman who applied for the promotion even though she didn’t check every single box in the job description — and got it. She is the boy who asked his mom to paint his toe nails — only to have his grandmother disdainfully remove it when his toes were exposed. She is me when I stood in front of the man with the swastika tattoo on his arm in Biloxi, Mississippi, announced to the stage with my Jewish last name and performed my personal brand of comedy. She is fearless. She is determined. She is defiant. But, most of all to me, she is my niece Madeline — McBean to some of her friends.
When Madeline was a child, she belonged to me. I was wrapped around her little finger — even moving 3,000 miles across the country so I could be an active part of her life. She loved me with such honesty, openness and ferocity. When she was a child and didn’t have the tools in her kit to protect herself, I knew that I’d be the toreador to distract the bull and take the gorge of the horns in her stead. And, as she got older, I would stand proudly beside her, never making her feel like her youth makes her any less credible.
Today, Madeline is a brave, strong, confident — though in truth, sometimes fearful — young woman. Every time we talk, and even sometimes when I post something on Facebook, I remember how my love of her is rooted strongly in respect. She is a passionate spitfire, a visual artist, a writer, a defender of justice. While many of my peers think that I color outside the lines, I see the lines. I will dance just on one side or the other as it suits my purpose. But, make no mistake about it — I respect the lines. And, that’s where Madeline stands apart. That is why I see her in the face of this girl.
She is an ally to all. She defies labels. We’ve discussed gender in it’s many incarnations. We both yearn for a world that is trasce-gender — transcending the binary definitions associated with the social and cultural aspects attributed to gender. Whenever I think I am boldly bucking societal norms, believing I’ve earned some ‘cred,’ she holds the mirror and shows me my privilege, betraying the point I think to make.
The beauty of Madeline is that through every word and action, she clings the unconditional love we share like she does to Ba-ba — the stuffed animal bear I gifted her when I met her at 6-weeks-old. She doesn’t leave home without Ba-ba. She holds me in her heart as I do her in mine. Wall Street can have its bulls. I will unflinchingly let Madeline create our own rules. We will embrace our bears. There we’ll stand together — side by side. Fearless. Defiant. Chest forward with a look of love on our faces. Filled with love. I know the power of Madeline. She makes a difference.