Feminists Got The Pissing Pug Wrong

Fearless Girl was met with cheers and open arms. Pissing Pug incited cries of “male fragility!” and “misogyny!” and “revenge!” as though the Pug were a successful rebuke of feminism or women as a whole. Pissing Pug is not that.

The Pissing Pug isn't all bad.  

I know, the visual of a male dog taking a piss on a little girl is a bit much. There are strong arguments, feminist and otherwise, for why it’s in poor taste. The low-hanging fruit here is to say that the message is “piss on women!” or “piss on girls!” or “piss on feminism!” But that would be a gross oversimplification.

Rewind back to the original installation, Charging Bull. It was meant to bolster spirits after the Wall Street crash of 1987, a symbol of virility and courage.

Regardless of its history or the intentions of Charging Bull artist Arturo Di Modica, Fearless Girl took her stand. No one really questioned if the installation made sense within the context of the original work, let alone whether the new piece undermined its meaning entirely. Fearless Girl is a gorgeous piece of sculpture, in keeping with her host. We see her, chest out, pony tail whipping in defiance, taking a stand for women in the face of… bullish men? Men in general? Capitalism? 

But Charging Bull doesn’t represent any of that. It was never something women needed to subvert in the first place.

Fearless Girl might just as well have stood beside the bull, ready to take on the city and its endless possibilities. The message would likely have resonated and the statue would be just as beautiful, but it wouldn’t be quite the battle cry that it is in any other form or position. Fearless Girl is empowered by standing up to Charging Bull.

The placement of Fearless Girl changed Charging Bull at a fundamental level. She’s made the optimistic bull an agent of the patriarchy, ready to charge at and tread on women. That strays dramatically from the original intent with which it was placed: Charging Bull, once protagonist, becomes something dark and threatening and ugly. Fearless Girl gets her edge by reducing Charging Bull to the antagonist of her story. (Those copyright issues are being addressed via legal channels). 

But if the Pug is truly only meant to remind us where the Girl came from, and that she’s figuratively (and nearly literally) stepping on the toes of an iconic piece of New York art, is it less problematic? Of course, the artist could have chosen to execute his message through myriad other forms, but he didn’t. For his part, Gardega has said outright that he is “pro-feminism.”

To complicate matters further, Fearless Girl is part art, part marketing. It may not carry the full weight of the femvertising label, but capitalism lurks just behind her defiant pose. She isn’t the brainchild of an artist as much as the result of a conversation between client and agency:  “…they said, ‘Gee, do you want to do something around International Women’s Day?’ ‘Let’s do it,’ we said. So we came up with this idea together.”

It would be far more romantic (and positive, for that matter) if Fearless Girl were the product of a feminist artist, a pure articulation of the power of the feminine in the face of what might run her down. 

She is not that. 

She is a successful advertisement for State Street Global Advisors. She is still a gorgeous piece of art. She is still a powerful statement of the feminine. But we would be remiss to put aside her origins, particularly in light of what she’s done to Charging Bull, and in light of what Pissing Pug is doing to her.
Now that you know the history of Charging Bull and Fearless Girl, does it change your reaction to Pissing Pug?

Let’s take a moment to be cognizant of the fact that Charging Bull, Fearless Girl, and Pissing Pug were all brought to us by men. Fearless Girl, in particular, has a lot of men behind her. Men who are ostensibly advocating for women, but men, nonetheless. Perhaps they’re all feminists in earnest; the point is that they are the only ones in the room. (The room where it happens, the room where it happens…)

Fearless Girl was met with cheers and open arms. Pissing Pug incited cries of “male fragility!” and “misogyny!” and “revenge!” as though the Pug were a successful rebuke of feminism or women as a whole.

Pissing Pug is not that. 

Pissing Pug, despite his vaguely poo-cum-playdough appearance, is art. 

Pissing Pug was placed with more artistic integrity and intention than Fearless Girl. That’s uncomfortable; she’s easily more aesthetically pleasing (more “arty”) and she is a feminist darling. Her meaning transcends her origin. She is both beautiful and problematic, for her roots and for her continued reliance on Charging Bull for her power.

If we remove the girl from the Bull, does she stand as tall? Does she mean as much? 

Pissing Pug is a reproach of the blind acceptance and love that’s been given to Fearless Girl. It’s a reminder of her corporate origins. Artist Alex Gardega is quoted as saying that the Pug is meant to “downgrade” the Girl the way the Girl “downgrades” the Bull. If the Bull equates to men and the Girl equates to women, then yeah, we have an incredibly misogynist situation on our hands. 

But if the Pug is truly only meant to remind us where the Girl came from, and that she’s figuratively (and nearly literally) stepping on the toes of an iconic piece of New York art, is it less problematic? Of course, the artist could have chosen to execute his message through myriad other forms, but he didn’t. For his part, Gardega has said outright that he is “pro-feminism.” If we believe that, as we believe the creators of Fearless Girl were advocating for women in earnest, all that’s left to do is look at the art.

Pissing Pug is essentially another iteration of Fearless Girl: adding art to an existing installation in order to co-opt and change its meaning for the sake of making a point.

We love Fearless Girl and we advocate for her because she’s on-message. Pissing Pug — at least the oversimplified version — is abhorrent, so we reject him and call for his removal. We launch ad hominem attacks on his creator: that misogynistic bastard! He’s not even an artist! 

But he is an artist, and despite appearances, the Pug is art. The rejection of Pissing Pug betrays a lack of critical thinking and an oversimplified understanding of these artworks individually and as a whole.

We have to do better; feminism doesn’t need the tarnish of torches and pitchforks picked up without just cause.

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Image Credit: Flickr/Anthony Quintano

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