The effort to get a woman on American currency just landed a major victory: Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. This is fantastic news. Tubman was an American hero who should be honored alongside the men we place on pedestals.
But while I’m overjoyed, I can’t help thinking this just isn’t enough.
A woman is going to be featured on one the front of a single bill out of seven in U.S. currency, which hardly seems representative. And it took a massive grassroots effort, led by women, to even get this change to happen.
The news also follows one confusing announcement after another from the Treasury. Originally, a woman was to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill — until enthusiastic Broadway fans had something to say about it. On the surface, it doesn’t sound so crazy, since Hamilton arguably did significant good for this country while Jackson was responsible for a genocide. It makes sense to bump Jackson and keep Hamilton.
Hamilton’s $10, however, is getting a makeover. It will include “a mural-style depiction of the women's suffrage movement — including images of leaders such as Susan B. Anthony,” according to CNN. This mural will appear on the back of the bill. I guess behind every great man is a group of women being marginalized. [Update: Since this story ran, the Treasury Department announced additional changes to our curency. The back of the $5 bill will feature Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.]
Putting the appeasement mural for women on the back of the bill is the bad joke that writes itself. But in all seriousness, it tells us that women are seen as just a subset of the American population, and that white men are the default. It tells us that American women are not in the same league as American men. And this has gone on for too long.
It’s not an accident that women are left off bills, or that it took us this long to get here (Tubman could appear on a bill in 2020 or absolutely not before 2030, depending on which report you believe). Women’s role in money and finances has long been minimized, despite staggering evidence to the contrary.
Women have also been erased from history in other ways: There are just two national memorials honoring women, one dedicated in 2013 and one dedicated about two weeks ago. And less than 10 percent of public statues in the U.S. are of women.
We need to bring women to the forefront. Symbols matter. Honors matter. If they didn’t, then 7.94 million people wouldn’t have visited the Lincoln Memorial last year. And it needs to be more than just a $20 bill and the back of the $10. Women are an economic, political, and cultural force in this country — not background actors.
If anything, this change is a reminder of just how far we have to go in the battle for equality for all Americans, across intersections of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and ability. Lest you think that everyone reacted with the appropriate glee that you’d expect from an announcement like this, Twitter is blowing up with an onslaught of drivel that demonstrates the unbelievable hatred black women in this country face.
It’s one step forward, three steps back. So if you feel tempted to just call it a day, I’d tell you think twice. We’ve got tons of work to do.