In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Lindsey talks about the American women the Republican candidates would (or wouldn’t) put on the $10 bill. Woe and despair, friends, woe and despair.
I didn’t watch the Republican debate Wednesday night. Not because I don’t care about the political process, or because I don’t occasionally enjoy watching people say absolutely ludicrous things and then having other people cheer them. It’s mostly because I occasionally have to do this thing where I deliberately avoid doing things that make me despair about the world, because otherwise I call my friends and moan about how the world is ruined and no one can do anything about it. My friends are kind, patient people, but there is a reason that I’m not allowed to watch documentaries anymore.
So instead of watching the debate, I got the Cliff’s Notes version by reading a few news sites and seeing what other people posted on Facebook. And… wow. Wow guys. Apparently Carly Fiorina had zingers, which basically shouldn’t happen, and she and Trump got into an “I’m a better business person fight” which should really be turned around into a “who failed as a business person more spectacularly” fight. (I think Trump might win if we’re talking number of bankruptcies, but Fiorina wins if we’re going by sheer number of people who are very, very angry at the way she screwed them over.) But my “favorite” moment came when the candidates were apparently asked what American woman they would put on the $10 bill. Because then we just went from “bizarre” to “….are we being punk’d right now?” territory.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the origins of the question, last year Jillian Keenan at Slate pointed out that Andrew Jackson was, to put things politely, a slave-trading, genocidal jerk whose racist and oppressive Indian Removal Act led directly to the forced relocation, trauma, and death of thousands of Native Americans. He ignored a Supreme Court ruling that found the Act unconstitutional, and continued pushing Native Americans off of their land so that the slave trade could flourish. (He also, ironically, hated paper money.) So… a pretty terrible person.
A year after Keenan’s article, the online campaign Women on 20s held a massive vote for a historical woman to replace Andrew Jackson with, and Harriet Tubman was announced as the winner. The campaign petitioned Obama, asking him to order that the currency be changed. A month later, the Treasury announced that there would be a woman joining Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, which is totally basically the same thing as being on a bill by herself, and we totally were already planning to do this and this is in no way a half-hearted response to public pressure. It’s like Weekend Update on SNL, where women have to start as the co-host and then…. never, ever actually get to host by themselves.
The woman who is going to grace the $10 bill has yet to be determined, which makes the issue the perfect question to ask GOP candidates in what should be some kind of no brainer. Literally all they have to do is name any American woman with a modicum of historical relevance. So most of them proceeded to…. not do that. Two of the candidates chose women who aren’t even American. Jeb Bush picked former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was so well-loved in her own country that “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” hit number two on the UK singles chart after her death. John Kasich picked the Macedonian Mother Teresa, who has also received a lot of criticism along with her sainthood. Donald Trump picked either Rosa Parks or his daughter. (Trump’s answer is only mostly creepy in light of the multiple times he talked about how he would date his daughter if she wasn’t his daughter.) Mike Huckabee picked his wife, Janet. Ben Carson picked his mom, Sonya. Those are not answers to this question. Those are the answers you give when you’re in class on the first day and your teacher asks you to tell the class who your hero is as an icebreaker. These men were asked to pick a single, standout American woman from all of our country’s history and they couldn’t do it. On top of that, their answers don’t even work, because only dead people are allowed be on the money.
Most of the rest of the candidates actually managed to pick historical American women, including Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Rosa Parks again, and Abigail Adams. I now have to write a sentence that I never expected to write: I partially agree with Ted Cruz, who suggested that Rosa Parks be put on the $20 bill, and Hamilton remain on the $10 bill. (I feel kinda dirty now). But once again, Carly Fiorina wins the “say something interesting” prize:
We shouldn’t change the $10 dollar bill or the $20 dollar bill. I think, honestly, it’s a gesture. I don’t think it helps to change our history. What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group. Women are the majority of this nation, we are half the potential of this nation and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.
Parts of what she says make sense. She says that it is a gesture. It is. Letting a woman share space on a single piece of currency out of all of the current pieces of currency is a gesture. Women are, in fact, half of this nation/the potential of this nation, and the country will be “better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.” This is a true statement. But the facts that women are half of this country and that women should be able to live the lives they choose are the very reasons this gesture is important. That’s the part Fiorina doesn’t get.
Representation is important. Gestures precede actual actions. Speaking of the reasons that it is important to make the “gesture” of removing Jackson from the $20 bill, Jill Keenan writes, “Symbolic change and practical change have a symbiotic relationship. By confronting and correcting the symbols of our violent and racist histories, we prompt conversations about how that legacy continues to affect marginalized communities today.” It’s important to take Andrew Jackson off of the money because it’s important to show that we don’t celebrate genocidal jerks. It’s important to have women on currency to show that we celebrate women. If women are half of our nation, shouldn’t they be on half of our money? If we want to show that we value women, isn’t it better to start with “gestures” that will be the symbolic frontrunners of cultural changes? Maybe the reason that five out of eleven presidential candidates (or four and a half, if you count Trump’s dual answer) couldn’t pick an American woman who could legitimately be on our currency is because they haven’t really been asked to think about American women for most of their lives. Maybe if they have to look at a woman every time they got money out of an ATM they could come up with a better answer to that question.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to remove the almost-surgically-attached-at-this-point palm from her forehead, she studies gender in popular culture.