Week Woman

A Pox on the Patriarchy

Let Me Explain Mervyn: change.org/banknotes

- Caroline Criado-Perez

On this auspicious day in 2013, Mervyn King, our esteemed Governor of that august institution, the Bank of England, graced the airwaves via the Murnaghan Show

Mervyn Explains

Mervyn Explains

on Sky News, to make his first public comment about the banknotes petition. Mervyn took the opportunity to explain how the process worked, stressed that everyone is treated fairly, and finally, as his pièce de résistance, explained that since the Queen is on the banknotes anyway, we should all give over really.

Now, Mervyn is by far not the first man to explain banknotes to me – indeed, in some ways I’m disappointed it took him so long. Poor show, Merv.

But in other ways, I’m not so much disappointed as furious. You see, Mervyn King is not really like the long list of men who thought that we must have missed the fact that the Queen is on all the banknotes, and took it upon themselves to explain to us. I am used to men explaining things to me before checking – for example by reading the petition text – whether or not I may in fact already have this information at my disposal. I laugh at them.

But Merv’s different. You see, as Governor of the Bank of England, the petition is directed at Mervyn. So really, he should have read it. And the fact that he clearly hasn’t, despite the fact that over 24000 people have signed it, and that his decision has been deemed to have breached the 2010 Equality Act, demonstrates the disdain he holds for the signatories of the petition, for the Equality Act, and for equality itself.

You see Mervyn, as I explained in my petition, should you care to read it, we actually know about the Queen. But we’ve got a few problems with her being handed to us as a booby prize. You see Merv, and stop me if you already know this, the Queen isn’t really on the banknotes by virtue of her good works. She could have done absolutely nothing all her life and she would still be there, because, you see, the Queen is on the banknotes by virtue of her position, which she achieved through a grand old tradition called birthright. The Queen isn’t on the banknotes; the monarch is. And the monarch could be anyone – indeed, the monarch soon will be a man. Where will your non-argument be then, Mervyn?

Chris Salmon, the Executive Director of Banking and Chief Cashier of the Bank himself acknowledges that ‘The Bank is uniquely privileged to be able to use its banknotes to promote awareness and understanding of the contribution of key figures from our past to our cultural, artistic and scientific legacy’. So what message does it send out when all the people who fill that role are men, and the one woman is there by birthright? Let me explain, Mervyn: it sends out the message that women had better be born into, or at a stretch, marry into power – they aren’t managing to contribute in any other way.

What is particularly galling about the rest of Mervyn’s argument, is the idea that because the public can write into a list, this decision is somehow fair and transparent, and women are treated equally. This claim is farcical.

To adress the list itself, there is no denying that it is poor, and represents a damning indictment of the androcentricity of our curriculum – something that is only set to get worse, thanks to Mr Gove, another modern champion of equality. Nevertheless, it does contain some stand-out figures such as Rosalind Franklin, Mary Seacole and Jane Austen. But apparently, Churchill ‘easily clears’ this ‘high hurdle‘ of having ‘made a lasting contribution which…has had enduring benefits’ ahead of any of them. No explanation is given of how this decision was reached, of why Churchill’s achievements are so great that they deserve to be recognised not only ahead of someone who was instrumental in discovering the DNA double helix (pretty useful that), but that they deserve to wipe out any recognition of any woman at all.

The Bank of England actually states that they view the opportunity to change banknotes as ‘a chance to review whether the set of characters for the four denominations achieves a balance over a range of different types of contributions and across different fields’. This means that they sat down and considered whether the four denominations as a whole represented ‘balance’, before deciding that, not only should another man’s name should be chosen over a woman, but that this man should replace the only woman we have on there, representing an actual backwards step for equality. Let me repeat that: they considered the four denominations together, in search of ‘balance’, and saw no problem with excluding women entirely from a ‘gilded list of the most distinguished names from other fields of human endeavour’.

If this is equality, you can stick it.

******************************************************************************

You can read  the full transcript of Mervyn’s interview here; it’s at the bottom that Merv explains “With Respect” about the Queen being on banknotes.

Thanks for the “Respect” Mervyn, I really feel it. Especially when you’re explaining banknotes to me. That just oozes respect.

12 comments on “Let Me Explain Mervyn: change.org/banknotes

  1. Pingback: (Don’t) keep the change | PoliticsTrending.com

  2. Pingback: [round-up] Monday feminist round-up (20th May 2013) | feimineach.com

  3. sarclarke
    May 19, 2013

    “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

    In Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, an exemplary figure in our British literary heritage.

    They can change all the Bank notes while they’re at it, to reflect the diversely gendered and racial histories that reflect modern Britain.

    (p.s. Jane Eyre is a superbly feminist text, I would strongly recommend reading it if you haven’t)

  4. MarySue
    May 19, 2013

    If you thought I was criticising you, I apologise. Perhaps I was concentrating a bit too much on getting the facts correct.

    I agree with you about (1). I wasn’t seeking to imply that your petition wasn’t important. I certainly have no doubt you can do more than one thing at once. ;-)

    I think I’d go further than your point (2). I was exploring whether there are fewer senior women at the Bank now than there were back in 2003 when Mervyn became governor and why there are so few “home-grown” senior women economists at the Bank. Does the fact that Mervyn was Chief Economist then Deputy Governor in charge of economics from 1991-2003 have anything to do with it?

    His rather bizarre comments about the Queen point to a lack of awareness (at the very least).

    I am very well aware of the problems you mention. My impression is that in many respects those problems have got worse over recent years. For instance, I believe the data shows that the pay gap has widened over the last 10 years.

    The Bank seems to be a very good example of what’s happened over the last decade or two. There used to be quite a few fairly senior women at the Bank, just below Merlyn Lowther. Where are they all now? Where are the next generation of female central bankers? And who is responsible for that?

    Certainly, let’s not argue! :)

  5. MarySue
    May 19, 2013

    Wouldn’t it be even more interesting to look at how many senior women there are *working* at the Bank now compared to when Mervyn became governor in 2003? That is, discounting the HR director they imported from outside (as many other companies have over recent years), prior to which there were four, not five, directors and Head of HR wasn’t a director level post.

    Have any women promoted from within the Bank done any proper central banking jobs at as senior a level as Merlyn Lowther since she ceased being Chief Cashier in 2004, was seconded to an outside post and then decided she’d like to “broaden her interests”?

    Have there been any very senior women economists at the Bank since Rachel Lomax (an import from the civil service) ceased being Deputy Governor in 2008?

    Have there been any women members of the Monetary Policy Committee since Kate Barker left in 2010?

    How come none of the four women members of the MPC since it started in 1997 (compared to 27 men) came from within the Bank? (Hint: Mervyn King was the Bank’s Chief Economist from 1991.)

    Why shouldn’t women do the fun jobs alongside Tucker, Bean, Bailey and all the rest? HR doesn’t really count, does it?

    All far better questions than “Why aren’t there any women on our banknotes?” I would have thought.

    • Week Woman
      May 19, 2013

      Those are all indeed good questions. I make two points in response:

      1) Why does focusing on banknotes mean we can’t turn our attention to other things as well. For example, as well as running the banknotes petition, I also run thewomensroom.org.uk, am completing an MSc in Gender, focusing on behavioural and feminist economics, and I write articles for various outlets on a variety of issues. This demonstrates that people can focus on and do more than one thing at a time.

      2) Do you think that the exclusion of women at a higher level is isolated, or do you think it happens within a sexist culture that routinely overlooks and undermines women? If you grasp that, then you should be able to see why it’s nonsensical to say there are ‘bigger’ or ‘more important’ issues. Culture is made up of lots of seemingly small, insignificant things. It’s when they are taken as a whole, that they add up to an oppressive culture. Unequal pay, for example, is illegal. It still happens. You know why? Because we live in a culture of gender inequality (amongst other inequalities) Furthermore, banknotes are symbolic and hugely visible. This is why they matter as a target.

      But please do campaign for more women working at the Bank of England. I completely agree that it’s an important issue and, if you were to start such a campaign, I would support you 100%.

  6. renaissancewomanreads
    May 19, 2013

    How disgusting. Mansplaining at its finest, and so disrespectful and obtuse.

    • Dan
      May 19, 2013

      Anyone who uses the term “Mansplaining” is a complete cretin. No wonder most women hate feminism.

      • Week Woman
        May 19, 2013

        If any woman dislikes feminism Dan, it’s much more likely to be because the sexist society we live in teaches women to live for male approval. Feminism is the opposite of that. Feminism does not care for male approval. If men want to approve, all well and good, but that’s not exactly our first priority. And I’m afraid that mansplaining is sadly a phenomenon. It’s when men explain things to women assuming that they won’t know. For example, men explaining the inner workings of a car to female mechanics. Or men explaining to women that the Queen is on banknotes. Ad if we didn’t know. Things like that Dan. It happens quite a lot, and it gets a little tiresome. So we made a word for it. Sorry you don’t like it. Guess the truth hurts.

      • Richard
        May 19, 2013

        OMG, he’s mansplaining about mansplaining! A new low for cockwombles.

  7. Jessica Holloway Dyker
    May 19, 2013

    Perhaps in the interests of fairness, we could have a 2 men and 2 women on our bank notes? We are after all 50% of the population, can’t we be represented on 50% of the bank notes.

  8. susansupramaniam
    May 19, 2013

    I do stand for a female representation for the £5 none and this is an
    existing change which Mervyn King wants to change. Why don’t he change the £10
    pound note to Winston Churchill and either leave the £5 note alone with the
    female representation or have another female figure. Jane Austen is a very good example.

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