My Lesson in Women’s History to the GOP Candidates

A blog reflection from Women’s Center staff member, Carrie Cleveland

Carrie Profile PicI watched the Republican debate twice.  Yes.  That is six hours of my life I spent listening, analyzing, and forming my own opinions about the candidates. I went in with some preconceived notions.  I knew any talk about Planned Parenthood would make me upset because this group of people fail to acknowledge what Planned Parenthood does for women who do not have access to gynecological care.  I was surprised when Donald Trump said he believes we need to spread out the vaccinations that children get because I feel the same way, but I’ll save that post for another day.  I was hoping to see Carly Fiorina carry the torch for  women, but she let me down.

Ms. Fiorina especially let me down when at the end the candidates were asked a “lighthearted” question about having a woman on the ten dollar bill, but so did most of the candidates. Senator Ron Paul chose Susan B. Anthony (yeah!) but then Mike Huckabee said his wife.  Wow.  Not to say anything negative about his wife Janet, but was he so unable to think of ONE woman who did anything for this country? Earlier in the debate he went on and on about ninth grade civics class but clearly Mr. Huckabee needs to spend some time learning about the great women of this country. 

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz said Rosa Parks.  Ok, I can get behind that, but I wonder if these men know all about what Rosa Parks did over her lifetime.  Not only did she refuse to give up her seat on the bus, but she became a part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Mrs. Parks took her role as a civil rights leader seriously and continued to fight against racial injustice long after the bus boycott was over.  She also championed the causes of women.  Rosa Parks worked as an advocate for black women who were raped by white men.  If Senators Rubio and Cruz knew about all the work this woman did over her lifespan, would they still pick her?

Doctor Ben Carson said his mom.  Now, as a mother, of course I think that is a sweet answer, but again, why not embrace your strong Maryland ties and throw out Harriet Tubman as a suggestion? That might have won him a few votes in this blue state. The first woman to graduate from medical school was Elizabeth Blackwell, but she was British, so not really a option for Dr. Carson.

Donald Trump said his daughter, but then flippantly said Rosa Parks.  It sounded like such a copy cat answer.  There was no heart and thought about his choice.  We all know he loves his plane, he told us it is better than Air Force One.  So maybe Amelia Earhart would have been a good woman for Mr. Trump to suggest.

Jeb Bush.  Oh Jeb.  Margaret Thatcher is pretty cool.  I will give you that, but you needed to suggest an AMERICAN woman.  Are there no strong women leaders in this country that you could have thought of? How about Barbara Jordan, the first black woman in the south to be elected into the House of Representatives. There is also Krysten Sinema.  She is the first openly bisexual woman elected to Congress, but we will have to wait quite a while for Ms. Sinema to be a viable option, as only women who have died are allowed to be considered.

Scott Walker suggested Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.  I give him a point for thinking on his feet and coming up with someone besides his mom, his wife, Rosa Parks, or Susan B. Anthony. You get a pass this time Governor Walker.

Now we come to Carly Fiorina who said no one.  I think that response made me the most upset. Her comments about not needing to reshape history failed to answer the question.  Let’s honor a woman who made history, who paved a path so you can stand on that stage.  I would suggest she read about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I felt like Ms. Fiorina really let women down in this moment. Saying that women are not a special interest is simply untrue.  Women are a special interest group both past and present because in the history of this country we have almost always been represented by men (and we still are!).  Yes, we need more women in government, but we also need women who understand that women are marginalized by our gender and our other intersecting identities like race, class, and sexual orientation. We need women who want to help us make up the pay gap for all women, who want to fight for a better maternity leave policy, and who want to make the workplace a more hospitable place for mothers (to name just a few important issues). She sounded like one of the guys which makes me question where her unique voice is.

Governor Kasich suggest Mother Teresa.  Governor, please see my response to Jeb Bush above.

Governor Chris Christie.  Now, I should say, I have a warm spot in my heart for a loud mouth, brash man from New Jersey.  I do not agree with much of his politics, but he reminds me of home.  That said, I was happy that the Governor chose Abigail Adams, not only because she was a kick ass wife who was as much involved in the shaping of this country as her husband, (please watch John Adams, the miniseries for an in-depth look at these two) but she fought for married women to have rights to property in a time when that was unheard of. Governor Christie gets a point for having a great suggestion as an answer to the question.

My final suggestion to all these candidates, many of whom are parents, is to get a book called Heroes for my Daughter.  It is by Brad Meltzer and it is a beautiful book that talks about many different people, many of whom are women, and what amazing things they have done for this world. I think many of you need some education around strong women so that maybe next time someone asks for an example of one, you are prepared.

So, tell me UMBC, who would you like to see on the ten dollar bill?

For more info on the campaign to get a woman on some American dollar bills, check out these links and resources:

Women On 20s
A podcast from Stuff Mom Never Told You: The $10 Woman