Put a woman on the $20! (Down with Andrew Jackson)

April 25, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

What effect might it have, do you think? What might be the awesome psycho-cultural implications of stripping Andrew “I love slaves and the genocide of Indians” Jackson from his bland, 100-year stint on the $20, and replacing him with a notable American female – Harriet Tubman or Eleanor Roosevelt, say – just in time to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment and, let us merely offer a humble forecast, the first female U.S. president?

It’s an idea. It’s a thing. It’s a nicely empowering piece of legislation that’s actually being floated right this minute somewhere in the miasmatic halls of Congress (and on websites, and Twitter, where angry male trolls are all aflutter, so you know it must be a good idea), with who-the-hell-knows chances of success.

Could it work? Dump Andrew Jackson and put a woman on the $20 (here’s the final ballot) without much fuss or whiny political backlash? It’s possible. So far, aside from a few troglodytes on the far right wailing over the fact that one of the initial candidates was Planned Parenthood pioneer Margaret Sanger (Jackson owning hundreds of slaves is cool, but a woman advocating for a right to basic contraception? Horrible!), there doesn’t appear to be much resistance to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) proposal. Yet.

Few would be overly sad to see Jackson go. Why would they, other than overt misogyny?

Few would be overly sad to see Jackson go. Why would they, other than overt misogyny?

Which is a good thing. The bill’s low-key status might prove its biggest asset. Obama has shown tacit support. Women’s groups would be, naturally, delighted. But best of all, no one’s exactly defending the highly unpleasant Andrew Jackson. Besides owning all those slaves and having a vicious temper, Jackson is perhaps best known for signing the brutal Indian Removal Act and inducing the Trail of Tears, which killed Native Americans by the thousands. Also, he gave us Florida. I mean, good riddance.

It’s a fine idea, no? Overdue and worthwhile? Dovetails beautifully with the Rise of Women (more women than men graduating from college, more political muscle, more influence across the board), Hillary’s historic second run, the ongoing fight for equal pay, the aforementioned, upcoming 100-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which, after years of terrific struggle, finally gave women the right to vote and which, as Louis CK pointed out, means America has only really been a democracy for 95 years.

One thing we know: These things matter. There is, like the various shifts and lurches that led to women’s suffrage, gay marriage and two-term black president, a cumulative effect when long-fossilized American tropes get shattered, a vital tonal shift that gets passed down to future generations and infuses everything that comes after. In this case, it’s a powerful and (still) all-too-rare message that women are not merely essential, but equally – if not sometimes even more – essential to our national identity than assorted old white males.

Every little bit helps. Particularly in a time when angry old-timer fundamentalists are panicking over all the changes, when conservative states are digging in their heels over both gay marriage and women’s rights, passing shockingly harsh anti-choice legislation and embracing bigotry and discrimination and calling it “religious freedom.” The fight for basic progress is far from over.

And besides, aside from Susan B. Anthony on old silver dollars, women have never been represented on US currency. And that’s a shame. It’s well past time to flip it all around, shatter the gender-lopsided message. After all, women on currency sure as hell beats women as currency, you know?

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Mark Morford

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