CNN's Jake Tapper, as the moderator of the second Republican debate on Wednesday night, posed a "lighthearted" question to the eleven candidates on stage: Given the Treasury Department's announcement that a woman will appear on the $10 bill, who would you choose?
Fewer than half of the candidates named actual American women of historical importance: Rand Paul (Susan B. Anthony), Marco Rubio (Rosa Parks), Ted Cruz (Rosa Parks, but on the $20 bill instead), Scott Walker (Clara Barton), and Chris Christie (Abigail Adams). Jeb Bush and John Kasich chose non-American figures (Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa, respectively). And Carly Fiorina said she wouldn’t change the bill at all, because doing is merely a “gesture,” adding, "I don't think it helps to change our history."
But the three other candidates gave the most out-of-touch answers: Mike Huckabee nominated his wife, Ben Carson his mother, and Donald Trump his daughter (or Rosa Parks).
The candidates probably thought it would be endearing to name a loved one. Instead, they revealed either that they couldn't actually name an important woman in American history, or that they have a low opinion of our many historic female figures. “I mean," Huckabee said, "who else could possibly be on that money other than my wife?”
Who else? Here are a few hundred ideas.
No doubt the candidates love these women very much, but with all due respect to Janet Huckabee, Sonya Carson, and Ivanka Trump, they are not women of great historic import. Indeed, by describing them by their familial relationship—"my wife," "my mother," "my daughter"—the candidates implied that these women are important only because of their association with powerful men.
This is all too familiar terrain for politicians. They fill their stump speeches with stories about the women in their lives, to add a personal touch to their canned talking points, but overlook women's achievements outside of the home. The heroism of women—their importance to these men—is that they are faithful wives, productive mothers, and grateful daughters.
Republicans aren't the only ones guilty of this.
A White House petition in 2013 asked that President Barack Obama stop framing women’s equality as protecting “wives, mothers, and daughters.” The petition, receiving 4,600 signatures, argued, “Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist, and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others. Further, by referring to ‘our’ wives et al, the President appears to be talking to The Men of America about Their Women, rather than talking to men AND women.”
Tapper called his question "lighthearted." It was anything but. Putting a woman on an American bill for the first time ever may be a "gesture," as Fiorina says, but a vital one. It signals that women are not merely supporting actors in U.S. history, that they have shaped the nation in ways as important as their male counterparts have. Anthony, Parks, Adams, and Barton are just the beginning of a very long list of historic American women. It's not too much to ask for all presidential candidates to recognize a few of them by name.