Monetary Affirmative Action: “Women On 20s”

Patsy Mink, almost certainly one of the 100,000 most significant Americans in our history.

Patsy Mink, almost certainly one of the 100,000 most significant Americans in our history.

Barbara Ortiz Howard was interviewed on CBS this morning, talking about her effort to put a female face on our money. The thrust of her argument distills down into simple math: there are a lot of women, so the money should reflect that. We are now in the realm of affirmative action, and this was a sitting duck for the effort. There is no criteria for being on currency, just death. It’s an honor, of course, and as an honor, should be taken seriously, though its hard to argue that the current slate of faces reflects any objective evaluation. Salmon P. Chase? Kennedy’s undistinguished three years in office didn’t earn him his place on the 5o cent piece; getting shot did.

I can’t work up much indignation over the campaign being played out on Howard’s website, Women on 20’s. Like all efforts to impose quotas and encourage group identification, the effort is devisive, and the site’s candidates to replace Andrew Jackson could serve as a primer on how affirmative action can have the perverse effect of diminishing the credibility and integrity of an accomplishment. Whatever one thinks about Jackson, he had a tremendous impact on the nation and its political culture, was a transformative national leader, and a historical figure of great significance. Quick: name the major legislative accomplishments of Patsy Mink, Shirley Chisolm and Barbara Jordan for example. Jackson towers over them in importance to the nation’s growth and long-term success. That doesn’t mean he has to be on a bill, but nobody will be able to argue again that being so honored means anything more than that a powerful constituency caught an accommodating Democratic President when he needed to bump a poll number.

The list is pretty thin.  Most of the fifteen are “firsts,” and being a first isn’t itself proof of extraordinary talent or achievement.( Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to be on a national presidential ticket, for example.) Most of the rest are symbols of feminist issues, like birth control (Margaret Sanger), women’s suffrage (Elizabeth Cady Standon, Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony), and feminism itself (Betty Friedan). For those that remain, their gender is the only feature that would elevate their significance above that of many equally or more qualified men. Howard also didn’t do her homework. Where, for example, is Abigail Adams?

The qualified candidates who wouldn’t degrade the honor of being on a bill are Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. But if the self-selected minority who are voting on Hoffman’s site decide that Patsy Mink is the most deserving, I’m sure the President will boot Andy.

One thing is certain: Jackson wouldn’t care. It was always a little strange to have the portrait of the single President who most distrusted banks on a bank-note.

41 thoughts on “Monetary Affirmative Action: “Women On 20s”

  1. “Like all efforts to impose quotas and encourage group identification, the effort is decisive . . .”

    As well as divisive?

  2. They didn’t have much luck with the Sacagawea dollar coin. She had a good strong face — they could try again with the alternate spelling of her name. I agree that Parks, Tubman and Roosevelt are worthy successors to Old Hickory. Then there’s Abigail Adams, Marian Anderson, Margaret Bourke-White. Julia Sand? The campaign I’d join, though, would be one for Nellie Bly, a role model for ethical journalism and social justice.

    …. Ah, but then, there’s Carrie Nation . . . .

  3. I look forward to the inevitable updating of the lyrics to Ray Charles’ Greenbacks:

    “Whenever you in town and looking for a thrill
    If Lincoln can’t get it, Mink sure will”

  4. You know, as I read this, I couldn’t help but think of something that happened a couple of weeks ago. I attended a comic convention at which a panel was held called, “Gender & Diversity in Star Wars”.

    Shortly after Episode VII was announced, a photo of the main cast at a table reading was released showing exactly two women: Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley. That’s it. The internet exploded with indignation at how there were only two women in the film.

    Soon the studio announced that several actresses had been added to the movie, including Lupita Nyong’o. Of course, we have no way of knowing the size of the parts and if there’d always been additional female roles in the film or if that was adjusted in response to the complaints.

    The gender & diversity panel was run by two women who argued that Star Wars may take place in a fictional galaxy far, far away but that it’s enjoyed by people on this planet and that it should reflect the same demographics. People should be able to relate to the characters in the film, they said, and need people who look like them.

    I’m not convinced. I relate to no one in Star Wars, regardless of whether or not they look like me. I don’t necessarily need to relate to anyone in it either to enjoy the film. I also don’t need my movies to meet a specific demographic ratio. I definitely do not need a movie to be adjusted in order to pad it with characters to meet that quota (if that is, in fact, what happened. We don’t know for certain).

    I don’t see much difference between this and the money issue. We don’t need women on money for the sake of having women on money. We don’t need women in Star Wars for the sake of having women in Star Wars. And we don’t need a woman President for the sake of having one. I’m not opposed to any of those things, but don’t promote it just to pander to one segment of the population.

    And…as it happens, actress Carrie Fisher was at that same convention – dousing her fans with glitter and generally acting as nutty as a fruitcake.

    • For what it’s worth, Koo Stark was in Star Wars, but she ended up on the cutting room floor. “She is known for her appearance in the [soft porn] film Emily and subsequent relationship with Prince Andrew, son of Queen Elizabeth II, before his marriage to Sarah, Duchess of York.”

    • I am not exactly a Star Wars fan but the “prequel” movies managed to take a BIG step backwards in terms of portrayal of women. Surprising, since the original was from the 70’s and really only featured one woman.

      The prequel movies also only feature one woman, but she is just the worst. She gives up politics and lets the universe go to rot so that she can make googley eyes with some guy and chooses to be a recluse so she can have his baby. Oh, and her man commits minor genocide and she’s all like, “It happens. I still love you, boo.” Dumb as toast. If George Lucas were a Republican I promise feminists would be camped out around his house.

  5. Sure the argument is to be made to replace Jackson, but honestly, one must evaluate all the current occupiers of our currency:

    This list:

    Washington (x2)
    Jefferson (x2)
    Lincoln (x2)
    Susan B Anthony or Sacagawea

    compared to this list:
    Alice Paul
    Betty Friedan
    Shirley Chisholm
    Sojourner Truth
    Rachel Carson
    Rosa Parks
    Barbara Jordan
    Margaret Sanger
    Patsy Mink
    Clara Barton
    Harriet Tubman
    Frances Perkins
    Susan B Anthony
    Eleanor Roosevelt
    Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    Is this a joke?

    I could add a handful of other Presidents that would rank above the proposed list and a few other Founders.

    I count maybe 2 from the proposed list that rise up just below the lower level of the current faces and maybe 2 more that rise up just below that. The rest of that list is just some isolated-from-the-world Liberal professor’s wet dreams.

  6. Well, call me weird here, but if we’re going to have a dead, non-President female’s image on U.S. currency, then I think the woman should be one who MEN will enjoy seeing on the money THEY use – Marilyn Monroe!

    • I believe that this is in fact what you think. And this is why a certain subset of women devote precious energy to movements like having women pictured on our money, so that they can at least have some sort of symbolic personhood while the day to day attitudes of folks like you go on unchanged.

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