by Erin L. Cody
By now, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has heard the news – women will finally (five years from now, in 2020) grace paper currency in the form of the ten dollar bill (one of the least-circulated bills in print). While I’m sure that Jack Lew and the rest of the U.S. Treasury expected to be hailed as God’s gift to feminism with this announcement, in truth it has raised more questions than answers. Why is Alexander Hamilton, whose financial programs were the impetus to the current Federal Reserve, being kicked off of paper currency while Andrew Jackson, who not only killed Native Americans for sport but ironically was vehemently opposed to a national currency, gets to stay on the twenty dollar bill (which is the most popular bill currently in circulation)? Why is a woman replacing Hamilton, who currently is the only face on currency who was actually a feminist – was he our equal-rights token, and now that we want a woman we have to give him up? What’s up with this idea being floated that women will “share” space on the ten with Hamilton, while the men who grace other bills aren’t overshadowed by any currency co-stars? And why, after having fought and clawed our way to the point where our nation is even considering putting women on paper money, is the prevailing opinion that the US Treasury is “giving” women space on paper currency, rather than recognizing that we have had to take said space by force?
Any of those questions could be worthy of an entire article on their own. However, the inquiry at the top of everyone’s list right now is who the woman honoree will be? Who will be considered worthy enough to displace (or share space with) feminist and famously poor marksman Alexander Hamilton? A quick search of the mainstream media yields wild speculation on this front. Some suggestions are fairly predictable. Others are downright insulting. Still others, such as Supreme Court Justice/American Hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seem like enticing choices but are not actually possible (more on that later).
In continuing with his extreme generosity of putting a token woman on one of the least popular paper bills, Mr. Lew is graciously accepting input from our nation as to which lucky woman will possibly share space with the man who was a worse shot than Aaron Burr. Because this is 2015 and nothing happens without a hashtag, the search has its own – to send suggestions to the Treasury, type the name and “#TheNewTen” into the social media outlet of your choice. For those who need help deciding, look no further than this power ranking of women who deserve to be immortalized in paper currency, and women who definitely do not.
Let’s start with our “shoulds”:
5) Sacagawea. Female Native American guide (bonus points for gender and racial diversity) who made sure Lewis and Clark didn’t get lost exploring North America. They were men, did you honestly expect them to use a map? No? Neither did she. She only ranks so low on the list because she has already had a turn on currency (in the form of a dollar coin, which actually comes in very handy when the subway ticket dispenser is throwing a fit over your crumpled one dollar bills).
4) Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was the drafter of the Declaration of Sentiments and the brains behind the Seneca Falls convention, which was widely regarded as first-wave feminism’s coming-out party. Stanton first became interested in women’s rights while listening to her father, an attorney, explain to a desperate married woman how incredibly difficult it would be to her divorce her deadbeat husband. Negative points for the fact that her father owned slaves and for her initial opposition to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments (she did not support giving more rights to African American men when women of all races were still second class citizens.) Positive points for the fact that Stanton, unlike Susan B. Anthony (more on that below), did not spend her time trying to erase her feminist rivals from the annals of history. There may be a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, but you won’t see this woman there.
3) Sally Ride. Ride was the first woman ever to go into space for NASA, as well as the first known LGBT astronaut from any space-faring nation. That’s right – space. The final frontier – she dared to boldly go where no woman had gone before (literally). Planet Earth can’t even handle her right now.
2) Rosa Parks. In a world where a simple morning commute was regularly an exercise in government-sponsored racism, one woman dared to take a stand by taking a seat. She represented the end of 1950s white-man-spreading and inspired a nation’s worth of “freedom rides” in support of racial equality by refusing to give up her seat to a white man who demanded it. Chivalry may have been dead, but her spirit was alive and well, making an invaluable contribution to the civil rights movement. If not the ten-dollar bill, her face at least belongs on a commemorative Metro Card.
1) Belva Lockwood. Anyone who’s read my work before knew she had to be at the top of my list. The first woman to be admitted and argue before the US Supreme Court, the first woman to officially run for president (take that, Victoria Woodhull), the woman with the audacity to write a letter directly to the President of the United States to petition for her law school diploma, which was denied to her despite completion of her coursework because she was a woman – all of this accomplished while being a single mother who had been left widowed and penniless before age 25. This woman’s resume is the literal mic drop of feminism. Enough said.
In case you were wondering (as you should have been), the Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a.k.a. Notorious RBG) can only receive an honorable mention “should” for the ten. According to Federal law, a person must be deceased in order to appear on paper currency. Anyone who follows the US Supreme Court knows that RBG is not allowed to die. Ever. Especially not for an “honor” as mediocre as sharing the front of an also-ran paper bill with a tragically poor marksman.
Now for the “absolutely not’s”:
Susan B. Anthony. Yes, she helped Stanton organize the Seneca Falls convention and did some work to advance feminism in general. But she also used her power for vindictive ends, nearly wiping Belva Lockwood off the feminist map because of their disagreement over the intersection of racial and gender equality. Remember that special place in hell? Anthony may be roasting a marshmallow as we speak…
Shirley Temple. I almost choked when I read that she had been bandied about as a serious suggestion. A child star whose claim to fame was a passable singing voice and some Irish-step-dancing-style ringlet curls? Really, America?
Beyonce. Queen Bey actually merits some cred because she publicly identified as feminist in the most ostentatious manner possible – although environmentalist feminists were probably tearing their hair out over the insane amount of electricity it took to light up that “FEMINIST” backdrop. However, at the end of the day she’s famous for having a good voice, a killer body, and a publicly perfect marriage to Jay-Z (Solange, we’re side-eyeing you right now). Close, Beyonce, but no ten-dollar-bill cigar.
Madonna/Lady Gaga/Oprah/Insert Female Celebrity Here. Of course people were going to suggest these women, because in the 100+ years that we have been struggling for equality, America has completely gotten over the idea that the only way a woman can be important is if she’s an entertainer, a slave to conventional beauty standards, or manages to snag her own reality television show. Bonus points if she’s dating a professional athlete, or has been married more times than Elizabeth Taylor. Just no.
Sarah Palin. If I have to explain why, then you have far bigger problems than just deciding which woman to recommend for the ten-dollar bill.
So get to it, readers, and voice your opinions for #TheNewTen. While you’re at it, make sure to keep propping #WomenOn20. Even Susan B. Anthony would be an improvement over staring at Andrew Jackson’s mug every time we use the ATM!
Erin is a local attorney, who often has been described as a Belva Lockwood apologist.