Perhaps it’s silly of me to be upset but I was practically enraged by the “lighthearted” question to the Republican candidates in the last “debate” of what woman they’d like to see on the $10 bill. This question could have been an opportunity for the candidates to prove how much they value American women and our achievements (I know but a girl can dream, right?). They had a chance to slightly improve their utterly dismal record on women’s issues and instead it was played for laughs. If anyone was still unsure, I guess that answers the question of why they poll so poorly among women: they don’t respect us at all.
Although I would have preferred that this deserving woman oust Andrew Jackson off the $20, the Treasury Department has said that the woman who will replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill will have played a major role in American history and democracy. This makes sense, right? We put people on our currency who have influenced our government. I would have thought that this was a no-brainer but apparently I give certain politicians too much credit.
Three of the candidates named family members, so clearly the only women who matter are ones related to them. That makes me feel good. Scott Walker selected Clara Barton who was a great woman but her area of achievement was not democracy. I would have been more impressed by that answer had he not said that he knew her because of his work at the Red Cross. So yet another candidate who could think only of a woman who specifically impacted his life. Typical. Then there were two candidates who couldn’t think of any important American women and instead chose non-Americans. They shrugged off the illegality of it. Yeah, that kind of disregard for the law is just what we need in a president.
I was gratified that two chose Rosa Parks (although shouldn’t Ted Cruz have chosen another woman so that he would look original and not like he was copying Marco Rubio’s answer?) and that Rand Paul and Chris Christie chose Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Adams respectively. So at least a few of them know a little something about American women. Of course, only a big nitpicker would point out that Susan B. Anthony is probably the only suffragist Paul knows or that Christie’s answer came with the reminder that Abigail Adams was important solely because of her husband.
But it was Carly Fiorina – the only woman on stage – who had the most interesting answer. She declined to change the bill saying instead that it was only a gesture. “I don’t think it helps to change our history. What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group…We are half the potential of this nation and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.” Let me get this straight: offering one woman the tribute she deserves for her hard work is changing history? As is true with much about Fiorina, that makes no sense. And while she is correct about women needing the opportunity to make our own choices, she has spent her entire political career trying to deny us that. So, her answer was a great gesture but no dice.
One could fairly ask why I am so upset. Did I honestly believe that the GOP candidates trust and respect women? Was I disappointed in their answers? No and no. If anything, two of them pleasantly surprised me but since the bar is set so low, that wouldn’t be difficult. So why, in a debate full of political theatre and minimal substance, was that what upset me the most? Because it was a reminder that, once again, women are so peripheral to most of the candidates’ conception of American history that the vast majority of them couldn’t even come up with anyone who hadn’t impacted them personally.
Jeb Bush didn’t even care when he got pushback on his answer. He totally missed the reason why people were upset: that women are so insignificant to his world view that he couldn’t think of even ONE American woman who did anything of consequence. Instead, he dismissed his answer as trivial and said he’ll let the internet decide who the woman should be. So, American women and our achievements are unimportant to these people and they are not only the major GOP contenders for the presidency but most of them either have been or currently hold leadership positions in their home states. Unbelievable.
Maybe that’s what we have to expect from the party that hates women but the other reason I’m so upset by this is because of the silence their answers received from everyone else. I didn’t really think the bought and paid for mainstream press would hop on it (although a few press outlets did give it a mention) but I hoped that at least some women’s groups might. But there was nothing. Perhaps they are too weary from fighting the battles against defunding Planned Parenthood, violence against women, unequal treatment in the workplace, healthcare, education and the legal systems, and a host of other women’s issues. It also begs the question of how many people would have been able to come up with a breadth and depth of relevant names. I fear the answer to that question. All of this served as more evidence of not only how far we need to go but just how much we’ve gone backward. And it is scary.