The Back Is Backwards: Visibility for Women on the $10

What you need to know about a woman on the new $10 bill….

In June 2015 the Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, announced, “the new ten dollar bill will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman… This historic endeavor has been years in the making.” And, to clarify, the “portrait” position on a US bill is the front image, which is currently held by Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.

Fast forward 8 months to March 2016 and the Treasury is making news again. Interviews with Jack Lew, a Newsweek article and a tweet by the producer of the Hamilton broadway show, Lin-Manuel Miranda, strongly imply that a women will no longer be on the front of the $10 bill as originally planned and instead will be on the back of the bill.

We have to ask — Is the back of the bill secondary? Do the courageous and passionate women who shaped our great nation deserve a secondary position on our currency?

We think not, and we ask you join our campaign as we raise our voice to say we are #NotGoingBack.

We are NOT accepting a woman being put on the back of the bill.

We will NOT allow the Treasury to go back on their promise to put a woman on front of #thenew10 bill.

We are NOT going to tolerate what women have experienced far too many times: being relegated to the back.

Read the full story….

“US currency, and the images of great leaders and landmarks that our notes depict have long been a way for us to honor our past, express our values, and capture the prevailing sentiment of the time,” US Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew announced, introducing the news in June 2015. “The new ten dollar bill will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman… This historic endeavor has been years in the making.”

Eight months ago, this momentous announcement was a cause for celebration: finally, the women and men who shaped America would be presented as equal in their accomplishments and importance. Today, the Treasury Department is making news again, this time for recent comments about just how visible the changes will be. The latest press suggests that the first woman to ever grace our currency will be printed on the back: is the backside, the second thought, the overlooked placement what the women who shaped our country deserve?

Enter: the US currency at the center of the discussion. The bills we hold in our wallets are subject to regular security-based redesigns, the first of which brings the $10 bill into discussion.

The Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (ACD) Steering Committee recommends notes for redesign based on security to defend against counterfeiting, and the $10 specifically— more so than the more common or valuable $20 or $5, has a higher likelihood of compromised security. According to reports, the previous Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner had green lit the currency redesign concept at the beginning of President Obama’s term, an idea that has grown and evolved to what was announced by current Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, last summer. The public engagement process #TheNew10 launched by Lew, US Treasurer Rosie Rios and other heads of state in June 2015 was intended to solicit additional feedback from the American people.

“As we continue to incorporate the most advanced security features into our future currency design, we’d also like to ensure that our next currency design best represents the value of democracy and the diversity on which this country was founded,” shared US Treasurer Rosie Rios in June 2015. Rios spoke in support of the #TheNew10 campaign at its kick off. “We want the design of the new $10 note to be a collaborative process. That’s why the Secretary would like to hear from you.”

And the Treasury heard from you. Americans shared their ideas and hopes for the new bill in droves. By August, the Treasury Department had received over 1.5 million messages from Americans joining the conversation. “As I announced a few weeks ago,” Lew said in an internet video announcement, “For the first time in over a century, a woman will appear in our paper currency again. Throughout the summer, you’ve been telling us which woman you’d like to see on the new note, and giving us recommendations on the new bill. The response has been tremendous.”

“We’ve heard from you at public forums, at round tables, and open houses. You’ve also reached out through the #TheNew10 website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email and letters. In fact, there have been over one and a half million interactions on the new $10. America’s enthusiastic involvement on the redesign is a testament to the enduring strength of our democracy and clear example of the democratic principle that every voice counts.”

Many names of many incredible women were mentioned, from the aforementioned Rosa Parks to Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt to Harriet Tubman, Sally Ride to Wilma Mankiller. The list of civil rights activists, suffragettes, diplomats, humanitarians, scientists and leaders continued, their contributions to America being listed and celebrated. The impact these women made is palpable, and in no way less relevant than the contributions of influential men. The work of both sexes was nothing less than important and equal.

Suddenly, the absence of women on American money began to be noticed, felt, and heavily discussed. Historically, only a handful of the females that shaped our country have been visible, and most of them immortalized in limited editions. Martha Washington adorned the silver $1 certificates issued in 1886 for about a year, and Pocahontas was printed on the $20 in the 1860s. Susan B. Anthony and Helen Keller’s likenesses were pressed into coins, but today, the only currency with a female face represented is Sacagawea on the dollar coin — the circulation of which was reduced by 90% in 2012 due to low business demand.

The millions of voices contributing to #TheNew10 campaign began to take the conversation even further, beyond who should be shown, and to where they would be pictured. The effort to “honor our nation’s commitment to equality, fairness and opportunity,” as stated in the new note announcement, grew into a very visible symbol of gender equality.

That conversation of equality outgrew the $10 bill with every trending tweet from American citizens who declared themselves ready to finally see a female on our currency. An organization called Women On 20s sprung up, launching multiple rounds of voting for impactful women who deserved to be on bills with more value than the $10. Civil rights activist Harriet Tubman won WO20’s votes, but the change was far from imminent despite stemming from truly democratic sources. A redesign of the $20 note is currently tabled until the ACD declares security reasons for an update, leaving the $10 the most timely, and currently only, note up for an upgrade.

This question of where on the $10 bill is currently of most relevance. Secretary of the Treasury Lew, in recent press appearances on PBS’ Charlie Rose and CBS This Morning, drew attention to the location of the yet-to-be-announced woman on the new bill. “One of the things that’s come of this conversation,” says Lew, citing the public response to the #TheNew10 campaign, “is that very few people know what’s on the back of our bills. Almost every conversation I’ve had where I’ve asked ‘what’s on the back of the $5, the $10, the $20,’ almost nobody can answer the question. I think part of the challenge we have is to think about more than one square inch of the bill and think about the bill more generally to tell the story.”

CBS This Morning anchor Norah O’Donnell, visibly taken aback, asked Lew in response, “so, you’re going to put women on the back of a bill?”

“I’m saying we’re going to tell the story of American democracy as we unveil the new series of bills,” answered Lew. “And women will be a prominent part of that.”

At this point in the conversation, it’s important to take a beat. Yes, the Treasury cited the history of democracy influencing the changes on the bills. No, it was never implicitly stated that the woman (or women) chosen would be placed anywhere specific. So what about this mere suggestion that after all the conversation and celebration of female figures without whose influence America would not be what it is today potentially getting relegated to the backside of a bill is so polarizing?

The answer is simpler than the question: because women’s contributions to American democracy and history are worth being seen.

Rather than one gender above the other, the collective impact of both sexes working synonymously is what needs to be acknowledged. The impact that women have had on politics, equal rights, history, economics, education and research, and American culture in general simply can’t always stay in the shadows that were cast long by history and ran especially dark in the years before 1920’s 19th Amendment and 1972’s Equal Rights Amendment. These amendments were the milestones of the past, which invited women to sit at the table, where they are still defending their place against unconscious bias, the wage gap, and sexism. The new $10 note is either a part of the solution to the lack of visibility and its impact on equality, or it is actively choosing to be a part of the problem of division and exclusivity.

In a large part, these are the reasons that The Girls’ Lounge was founded and has quickly become an empowering movement for corporate women all around the world. Over the last few years, our community has grown to influence millions of women while gathering at 10+ industry events per year and working with global Fortune 500 companies to bring an impactful evolution to corporations and beyond. From closing the wage gap to bringing unconscious bias into the light, The Girls’ Lounge is powered by collaboration to make the workplace more equal, diverse and inclusive. In response to this $10 discussion, we ask ourselves: with women making up over half (50.8%) of the US population, and having shaped the social, economic and political history of our country, when is the time to see diversity and equality in action?

Other countries are firmly answering this question, “now is the time.” The Bank of Canada announced that they would feature a woman on their currency by 2018, and the Bank of England, already having Elizabeth II and Florence Nightingale’s likeness in circulation, is planning to print Jane Austen on their £10 note. Our new American $10 note has been in the works since 2008, is a year behind its original release date of 2015, and won’t be printed until 2020. With this momentous occasion still so far ahead of us, the magnitude of its impact deserves to be worth the lead up to it, not a compromise on a promise of equality.

In recent months, the questions asked by the #TheNew10 campaign have changed course. What began, and needs to remain, as the focal inquiry, was “where and when can we see the women?” has shifted to “But what will happen to the man?” It’s impossible to avoid the irony of this transition: what started as a movement forward towards a conversation of diversity and equality has taken an irrefutable step back, back to the tunnel-vision of the America of the past, where the small pool of founding fathers were considered above and before any other members of society.

There is no shortage of reasons why Hamilton should be on the note. He authored a majority of the Federalist Papers, served as the first Treasury Secretary, vocally opposed slavery and shaped the first years of American democracy. His accomplishments are far from being questioned, and the initial motivation for a new $10 was not a lack of admiration for him as a figure. Both of these facts make the shift to defending him confounding. The remake of the new notes was and is not about removing one person, but rather celebrating another, which makes it all the more personal when Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew says “I’ve been clear from the very beginning when I gave the speech in June. Alexander Hamilton is one of my heroes,” Lew said in an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week. “He is not leaving our money.”

Hamilton’s legacy and the Treasury’s personal connection with its inaugural Secretary aside, the founding father’s popularity has been bolstered by the recent popularity of the musical “Hamilton.” The Broadway play, which opened in 2015 and has won 8 Drama Desk Awards and the Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, pulled Hamilton’s story into the modern spotlight, endearing the historical figure to spectators, and certainly the show’s creator. Lin Manuel-Miranda, the playwright, lyricist and composer, has become a voice for Hamilton’s relevance, even tweeting his confident response to his icon being unseated on the $10: “I talked to @USTreasuryabout this on Monday. Sec. Lew told me “you’re going to be very happy.”#wegetthejobdone

Is this where the sign of progress that is the new $10 has landed? In a Twitter endorsement rooted in pop culture, or as a question of political favoritism? Are the millions of voices that spoke up and the female figures from history that have been nominated worth less because of the uncontested contributions of one man, the legacy of who no one is out to compromise?

The conversation is far from over, but the time to have it is now, and not over the drying ink of a new note that doesn’t fairly represent the historical contributions and present-day opinions of the full American public.

Join voices with the people who are #NotGoingBack, click here to join the conversation on Twitter and take action by signing a petition that will be delivered directly to the White House. Equality, including equal representation for equal contributions, is on the horizon, and, if we continue to honor our nation’s commitment to it, fairness and opportunity, equality will also be on our $10. On the front of it.

Written with ❤ by the Girls at The Girls Lounge.

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