A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter feed burst into a frenzy of snippy snippets of protest against replacing Elizabeth Fry, the woman on the back of the £5 note, with Winston Churchill. ‘There’ll be no women on ANY of our notes,’ came the cry, (disregarding the presence of the Queen’s face on all of them – she’s more figurehead than woman, perhaps?).
Having a woman on our bank notes is, apparently, a feminist issue. Women should be equal in every aspect of our ordinary lives, including equal representation on the graphics on our money.
Then this week, three brave woman escaped a decade of confinement and imprisonment, rape and systematic abuse in Cleveland, Ohio. The joy at their discovery and escape is palpable, even to those of us who live thousands of miles away. There’s no doubt that the man who kidnapped and then held them had a hatred of women, a personal misogyny, that led him to commit atrocious crimes against the personhood of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.
It was the personhood, not the womanhood, of these women that was attacked, a crime which is abhorrant to us regardless of gender. But the fact that a man was able to use his strength against these women, in acts which gave him a sense of his own personal dominance, adds a misogynistic element to it.
It makes it a feminist news story, in the same way that Mick Philpott’s systematic control of the women in his life was. They’re examples of what can happen when the balance of power all lies, unchecked, with one gender. (This is NOT to say that all men would, could or might commit crimes of this nature. I certainly do not hold that to be true).
How is the feminism that starts a campaign to get women on a bank note the same feminism that wants to stamp out the possibility of crimes against women because we’re physically less strong?
Or is it not actually the same?
If we had more women than just the Queen on our money, would that prevent men with power complexes from doing terrible things to women? Would it even stop the less extreme forms of control and dominance that some women live with daily – the domestic violence or the casual sexism of corporate workplaces? Would putting women on our money raise the aspirations of abusive women to better themselves and treat male victims of abuse better too?
I’m proud to call myself a feminist. I’m pleased there seems to be a resurgence in feminist thought. I’m sad that terrible things still happen to women purely or largely BECAUSE they are women. I also worry about bandwagons and easy protests that mean little in the face of the larger issues. I suspect losing Elizabeth Fry from our banknotes is one of those – a distraction from the things that actually matter, from the fact that more women are less likely to be in work than men, and therefore less likely to have £5 notes in their pockets, regardless of whose face is on them. Who cares whose face is printed on our money? Surely making it impossible for women to be raped, or attacked, or kidnapped, or trafficked, or manipulated, or abused, or left vulnerable to people who are predatory, is more important?
There are bigger battles to fight, and we’d be wise to pick them carefully, than squander goodwill.