Here's Why It's Important That Jane Austen Is On The £10 Note

Biba Kang
Is it possible to look at the image of a women without descending into a discussion on looks?

Four years ago, Caroline Criado-Perez started a campaign to keep a female historical figures pictured on bank notes. Now, the £10 with Jane Austen on the front will be released for the first time.

This long campaign has sparked controversy and debate at every stage. From its very beginning to its final success, people have been disagreeing with and disparaging the efforts to put Jane Austen on the front of the tenner.

These protests have mutated from the form they might have taken in Austen's own day (this year marks the 200th anniversary of the novelist's death). Back in 1817, the arguments against having a woman's achievement's marked on currency would have been straightforward in their misogyny. They would have been along the lines of: 'you can't have a woman on banknote because ... well, she's a woman ... obviously.'

Now that this simplistic argument doesn't quite cut it anymore, the patriarchy has come up with subtler and cleverer ways to slow down progress. When the campaign to keep women on banknotes was launched it was distorted and undermined in the hope that it would go away.

The criticism of the feminists arguing for female representation on the new £10 took a disconcertingly insidious form. Whilst there were still a roster of old school misogynists taking the 'no b**tches on my riches' approach, many took a different tack, asking instead, 'shouldn't you ladies be focusing on something more important?'

In one sense, this is an understandable approach. For many women, Jane Austen appearing on their money is going to bring little liberty. Certain women - working class women, women of colour, lesbian women, transgender women, disabled women and so many other subcategories of women who have been failed by mainstream feminism - have every right to refuse to celebrate the veneration of a women who they may not feel represents them.

But, arguing for a more intersectional approach to female equality is not the same as begrudging feminism its small progresses. The first stance seeks to make the movement more effective and inclusive, the second to destabilise and undermine it. And, in my experience, certain men seem to be convinced that it's their responsibility to berate women who've chosen to focus on a feminist issue that they deem too insignificant to deserve attention.

This view of oppression is fundamentally problematic. It presents equality movements like business transactions, in which the oppressed need to be careful and calculated about the 'luxuries' they demand in case they lose sight of their ultimate goals. Small victories, like a successful campaign to get Jane Austen on the £10 note, are reframed as losses when feminists are reminded that their time would have been better spent fighting important issues like the gender wage gap, FGM and domestic violence.

Yet these issues are all part of the same picture - a picture which, at the moment, still paints women as inferior. Any attempt to change this status-quo is an attempt worth making, and yet we are taught to think that women should prioritise their list of demands before they start reading it out.

Men who make these arguments about how women are 'doing feminism wrong' are almost always wolves in sheep's clothing. They are not the people championing the worthy causes that they bang on about. Usually, you'll find that it's the person arguing against page 3 who also volunteers at Rape Crisis.

Unsurprisingly, having won her long-fought campaign, Caroline Criado-Perez has said, 'I'll be donating my first Austen tenner to my local women's shelter.'

Feminism isn't about picking your battles. It's about fighting every battle, on every front, until we've won the entire war.

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