After a two-year long campaign of “Women on the $20”, the Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that the new version of the $20 bill will see a substantial makeover -- out with Andrew Jackson and in with Harriet Tubman. In addition to this historic remodel, other notable women and civil rights leaders will be featured on the back of the $10 and $5 bills. While this alteration shines a light on often ignored aspects of American history and casts a spotlight on women who too frequently remain unsung American heroes, I remain unimpressed.
Harriet Tubman and other women having their likeness printed on currency is not equity - it is a distraction. In fact, one could consider it an ironic slap in the face.
Think about it - a woman on our currency...while women still only make 78% of what a male does. In fact, if we want to keep this comparison accurate, Harriet Tubman, a woman of color, would be earning 64% of the income that her male counterparts make, were she still alive today.
Is the $20 bill now only worth $12.80 with Harriet Tubman’s face on it?
This obvious tension begs the question - why are women STILL not making the same amount as their male colleagues for the same work? While there is nothing wrong with wanting a woman to be on currency, as I am absolutely in support of this effort, but I like to “put my money where my mouth is.” Give us the $20 bill and give us equal pay. You can give us symbolism, but you also must give us equity. And equity for women goes way beyond just the wage gap.
I turned on the news this morning and there was a 30 minute segment of anchors interviewing politicians and pundits about the “issue” of having women on currency. I was thrilled to hear that majority of people were wholeheartedly in favor of updating the American currency to be more inclusive. What I wasn’t thrilled with was the news that wasn’t being reported and discussed, the real issues that women face.
Allow me to provide an example: there are 672 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the United States, 64 cases of which are of pregnant woman. The Zika virus is a grave threat and danger to the reproductive health of women everywhere, mainly because it causes microcephaly and extreme fetal brain defects in children. Those 64 Zika-positive pregnant women are now condemned to having a child with probable extreme health problems such as seizures, hearing loss, difficulty swallowing and extreme developmental delays. The Principal Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention sent out a severe warning to health officials while echoing the Obama Administration’s request for $1.9 billion to prevent the inevitable global health emergency of what is the next Ebola for women of the United States.
$1.9 billion, that’s $95 million Harriet Tubmans that are required to protect women from serious reproductive health threats. That is the headline that should be making the news. Giving equity to women isn’t replacing the face on our currency, it’s investing that currency in women.
The CDC and health officials have also recommended for women to prevent themselves from the Zika virus (without listing steps on how to do so because the infected mosquito carrier is now breeding in 30 of the 50 states) and to delay pregnancy if possible. Here is the thing, women are already delaying pregnancies, and they have been for quite some time and it's not just because of the Zika virus. It is because they are afraid they may lose their jobs. It is because their employer doesn’t offer paid family leave. It is because they cannot afford a child. It is because they have economic uncertainty in addition to making 78% to 64% to what their male counterparts make.
Do not get me wrong, I am all for putting women on currency. I think it is a noble and worthy cause and Harriet Tubman more than deserves the honor of being the first women featured on our money. We cannot confuse the true issue at hand: having a female face on currency is equality, it is not equity. Let us not be distracted by the superficial and symbolic when there are substantial reforms that still need to be implemented.