(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Salon)

Margaret Thatcher? Ivanka Trump? Ben Carson's mom? Silly answers to the $10 question are the latest in GOP candidates not taking women seriously

Last night it became obvious some candidates can't admire an American woman they aren't married or related to


Mary Elizabeth Williams
September 17, 2015 11:23PM (UTC)

It's bad when even the softball questions turn into stumpers. So how did the candidates who honestly believe they are qualified to run the United States of America fare handling a pretty lightweight inquiry during Wednesday's GOP debate? About as well as a beauty pageant contestant.

On Sunday, aspiring Miss America Kelley Johnson — she of the attention-getting monologue about being a nurse — fielded a question from "Shark Tank's" Kevin O'Leary regarding the US Treasury's stated plan to feature a woman on the next incarnation of the ten dollar bill, beginning in 2020. Johnson offered her choice for the new face of the ten spot, saying, "The person that I would put on the ten dollar bill is Ellen DeGeneres. I think that woman is so amazing. [applause] Not only is she kind, not only is she intelligent, not only is her entire platform speaking tolerance and equality for all, and kindness — but she is able to be funny without insulting someone, and I think that is an incredible feat." When they faced the same question Wednesday, the GOP candidates were similarly creative.

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For context, remember that this is a story that has been in the news since June, regarding a change in American currency that would take place during the term of the next president. Anyway, Huckabee's answer was, "That's an easy one. I'd put my wife on there." He added, jovially, "That way, she could spend her own money with her face." What. Does that. Even mean?

After that, the replies varied greatly in quality. Rubio took an honest whack at the topic, saying, "Rosa Parks, an everyday American that changed the course of history." Ted Cruz jumped on the bandwagon, agreeing that "She was a principled pioneer that helped change this country." Scott Walker gamely said, "I'd pick Clara Barton. I once worked for the American Red Cross, she was a great founder of the Red Cross." Christie rather circularly decided that "Our country wouldn't be here without John Adams, and he would not have been able to do it without Abigail Adams, so, I'd put Abigail Adams on the bill."

Other responses were less rooted in reality. Ben Carson said, "I'd put my mother on there" because she "refused to be a victim." Imagine. An American woman who refused to be a victim! That is historic! Naturally, Trump decided the best face for currency would be "My daughter, Ivanka, who's right here," but barring that, "We'll go with Rosa Parks. I like that."

Jeb Bush, not quite understanding the concept of legal tender, said, "I would go with Ronald Reagan's partner, Margaret Thatcher. Probably illegal, but what the heck?" And John Kasich really went far afield, saying, "Well, it's probably not, maybe, legal, but, I would pick Mother Theresa."

The only woman in the discussion, Carly Fiorina, meanwhile refused to play, saying, "I think, honestly, it's a gesture. I don't think it helps to change our history." It's like none of them even considered the Beyoncé option. Given the tone of the party recently, though, I was surprised nobody said, "Anybody, as long as she's a pregnant heterosexual."

Women have already made token appearances on coins — there was the brief run of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the still-in-limited circulation Sacagawea dollar. If you can find once, notice that Helen Keller appears on the 2003 Alabama quarter. And in the 19th century, Martha Washington graced the one dollar silver certificate, the only time a woman's made it on to the stuff that folds. While the accuracy of varying demographic statistics is debatable, it's unquestionable that women make or influence a large portion of the purchasing decisions in the daily economy. It's often our dainty little manicured hands on those bills, circulating them around like ya do in a capitalist society. And yet we're largely invisible from the money we're spending.

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You can argue, as Fiorina does, that putting a woman on our money won't change anything. But plenty of us still say, let's give a shot anyway. What's telling is how shocking little the Republican candidates seem to understand or value the role of women in the history of their own country. It's shocking that when pressed for a female fit to grace our currency, they look abroad to achievers of other nations, or they jokingly flail toward the women they know — their own mamas and their wives and their daughters. Does anybody really think people who don't know that plenty of American women have made already history would know how to make history with them now?

What Woman Should Appear on the New $10 Bill?


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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