On September 13th, the Bank Of England released the brand new £5 note. Brighter blue, smaller, and ‘polymerised’ it feels incredibly like monopoly money to me. My real problem with it, however, is the man on the front of it. Not only because of who that man is (Winston Churchill, No Hero of Mine) but the fact that he is a man. Previously our £5 notes featured Elizabeth Fry, a devout quaker who dedicated much of her life to improving conditions in prisons during the Victorian era. She was also the only woman featured on British currency.*
To me, it is beyond important to have women featured on our money. This currency is seen by everyone (bordering maybe a few ‘off the grid’ Bear Grylls wannabes). How many times have you looked at the faces on a bank note; waiting to pay in a queue, getting cash out of a cash machine, opening up Christmas cards and finding money inside. We are surrounded by these faces on a daily basis so to suggest that they have no significance or importance is, to me, ridiculous. Young girls will look at these notes and wonder why there are no women on them. Have women not done anything significant enough to be featured? Can women not achieve anything significant enough? This is not the kind of self doubt that I believe we should plant in children’s minds, where it will grow and grow as they get older, fuelled by textbooks which don’t feature female experts, a government which is less than 30% women, and an underrepresentation of women in senior management roles. It is not the banknotes alone which will damage the self-esteem of these girls, it is the banknotes in combination with all the other aspects of our society. If the whole of society seems to be subtly telling you that you will never be as significant or successful as a man, why would you bother trying to be?
I am aware, that sometime in 2017, Jane Austen will replace Darwin on the £10 note. But that only goes partway to fixing the problem. Jane Austen will be the 3rd woman to feature on British currency. Churchill is the 14th man to appear. It will be up to 14 months from now until the Austen £10 note is released and even then, there will be only one note featuring a woman to 3 featuring a man.
The second part of the problem is the lack of variety in the women being represented. Jane Austen is a novelist, Elizabeth Fry was a humanitarian, and Florence Nightingale (the 1st woman to appear on British currency) was in nursing. All these women work in stereotypically feminine careers. Their work is valid, important and inspirational, but featuring only their work fuels the stereotype that the only careers suitable for women are the arts, or work based around providing care. Prevalent in our society is an implicit bias for associating women with the arts and men with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields. 50% of the men who have appeared on UK currency worked in STEM fields, compared to 0% of the women. The men who have been featured on British currency worked in a huge variety of fields, there have been architects, composers, writers, scientists, playwrights – the list goes on. This kind of variety is hugely important, as it provides the message to boys that whatever their interests are, they are worth pursuing. Why should this same message not be given to girls? There are many noteworthy British women who have made huge advancements in STEM subjects. Rosalind Franklin – a scientist key to the understanding of DNA, Beatrice Shilling – an aeronautical engineer, Ada Lovelace – the 1st computer programmer. Research has shown that if women or girls have a female role model in a STEM field, they are more likely to pursue their interest in STEM fields. Exposing young girls to inspirational and innovate female scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technologists has the potential to inspire them to become inspirational and innovative themselves.
*Yes, I know that the Queen is also on the currency, but she wasn’t exactly chosen, if you don’t put the Queen on the money you can probably be beheaded for treason.
So there you have it, a little rant about the lack of women on our currency. Let me know what you think about the new fiver, do you like having it plasticised, do you think it’s important to have women featured on currency? Drink some water, get rid of clutter, eat your vegetables. Take care of yourself x