$10 change reveals a lot about gender views


The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

A woman will replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill in 2020 — that much the U.S. Treasury has revealed. But who will it be?

There’s a short list of famous names every high school graduate knows (or should): Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony.

Those were the “easy” ones reporters Kelsey Leyva and Valerie Urbanik suggested when I posed the $10 bill question to the office this week. Beyond those, they struggled to come up with nominees, which underscores the problem: The contributions of women to our nation are not exactly shouted from the rooftops.

A look down several lists of “famous American women” shows another issue: With few exceptions, they are populated by heroes who either explicitly championed women’s rights or were the first women to make achievements in their fields. Rarely are women in history simply recognized for awesome accomplishments that aren’t directly informed by their gender.

The more I asked Kelsey and Valerie about the women they view as heroes, the more it became clear they are frustrated.

They feel that though the Fourteenth Amendment (protecting against discrimination based on sex, race, creed, and age) to the Constitution is 147 years old and the Nineteenth Amendment (ensuring voting rights for all adults, not just men) is 95 years old, there is still clearly a social bias against women.

“I know I’m equal. I don’t think everyone else sees me as equal,” Kelsey said, citing the pay gap in the United States as an example.

Valerie, raised with three older brothers, grew up seeking to be their equal in every way: “If you tell me I can’t do it because I’m a woman, I’m going to do it,” she told me.

Both looked to the sports world for examples of how men and women are still considered unequal. There are no women in Major League Baseball; for some reason they can only play softball. Women’s basketballs are slightly smaller than men’s. In the rare instance that a girl is allowed to play for a high school football team, she is the place-kicker.

If you saw even a snippet of this weekend’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, there is no way you can still buy into the old women-are-weaker fallacy. Where men would flop for penalties, the women of Team USA played through blood and pain.

Like professional sports, politics in the U.S. has been a boy’s club for too long. Many of the $10 bill candidates I would nominate come from that realm. Let me stump for just two:

• Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995) was a Republican congresswoman from Maine. She was the first woman to be seriously vetted as a U.S. presidential candidate, unsuccessfully seeking her party’s nomination in 1964. She is perhaps best remembered for being outspokenly against McCarthyism during the Red Scare.

• Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) was the first African American woman elected to Congress, representing New York in both the Senate and House. Following Smith’s precedent, she made a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Critics in 2008 were quick to point out that she paved the way for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to seek the highest office in the land.

I’d be happy to see either on the $10 bill, though I’d rather see President Andrew Jackson wiped from the face of the $20 instead.

Jackson was a scumbag. But that’s an opinion for another time.