July 14, 2013
If money talks, then in Britain it has a decidedly baritone voice. And that, many say, is a scandal.
Three months ago, the Bank of England announced that Winston Churchill had been chosen as the new face of the 5-pound note, in recognition of “a truly great British leader, orator and writer … a hero of the entire free world.” Starting in 2016, Churchill’s jowly mug will peer out pugnaciously from the back of what is probably Britain’s most widely used bill, worth about $7.50.
But the decision has riled thousands of women here (and not a few men). No disrespect to the cigar-chomping, wartime prime minister, they say. But his portrait will replace that of Elizabeth Fry, a 19th century prison reformer, which means that no female figure from Britain’s past will appear anywhere on its currency — only the present queen, who is there by convention and by accident of birth, not by merit.
This is a nation whose most important prime minister of the last 50 years was a woman (Margaret Thatcher). Its longest-serving monarch was a woman (Queen Victoria), whose record of nearly 64 years on the throne may soon be beaten by another woman (Elizabeth II). The world’s bestselling author of all time is a British woman (Agatha Christie), as is the one in recent history (J.K. Rowling).
Yet nobody of their gender has been deemed worthy of being added onto British money, a situation that Caroline Criado-Perez finds morally bankrupt.