Sunday, 19 May 2013

It's all about the money

Winston Churchill by J. Russell & Sons
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last month it was announced that Winston Churchill will feature on the new £5 notes, to be issued in 2016.

This is fine in itself – Churchill was an important political figure. The problem is that Winston will be deposing the social reformer Elizabeth Fry, who appears on our current £5 notes and is the only woman represented. She and Florence Nightingale are, I think, the only two women who have ever featured on our currency.

Missed out - again

Centuries of inequality mean that fewer women than men have been in positions to achieve greatness. So of the four sterling banknotes (£5, £10, £20, £50), we might reasonably expect two or three of these to be occupied by male faces.

But to have no women at all is disrespectful, and hardly supportive to women and girls, who when they hand over their cash receive yet another reminder of women’s lack of representation in our past and present.

Of course there is one woman who appears on all of our currency – dear old Lizzie. I’m fine with that (she must be relieved!), but she is there because she was born to be, not because of anything she has done.

Can't we have some women of merit?

Is there really such a shortage of significant women?

Great women

Women may have been underrepresented in all areas of power in the past, but that does not mean that there have not been great women, who have made a huge contribution to the world they lived in. Because they were women, and so seen as inferior to men, it is all the more remarkable that they were able to achieve what they did.

Here are a few high-achieving women who might deserve a place on our bank notes – there are plenty of others:
  • Emmeline Pankhurst 
  • Octavia Hill 
  • Jane Austen 
  • The Bronte sisters 
  • Margaret Thatcher 

Incidentally, it's slightly galling that Churchill, who is deposing Elizabeth Fry from the £5 note, actually opposed women's suffrage. Not to do down his achievements, but it seems a sad irony that 100 years after he actively opposed votes for women and 50 years after his death, he's still able to put us in the shade.

Give us some women!

All of the men featured on our banknotes were important achievers, who deserve their hard-won places in our historical record. But, dear Bank of England, please put some women in there too!

Our currency is an important symbol of what our country stands for, and we women will be using it just as much as men, so it would be nice to see someone from our own sex represented.

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