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Hold up half the sky? Not there yet

11:47 PM March 27, 2015

NEW YORK CITYI never really thought about who gets to appear on dollar bills of various denominations. Until, that is, a movement, Women in 20s, recently attracted the media and the public’s attention. Their complaint about US paper money? All the figures selected are all male, from George Washington on one-dollar to Abraham Lincoln on the five-dollar bill. (Two women are featured on dollar coins: Suffragist Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, the Native American guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition, the famous early 19th-century explorers of the Western part of the United States. But dollar coins are rarely used.) Washington is guaranteed his spot in perpetuity: By law he can never be removed. Lincoln is vulnerable, but he is too esteemed to be touched.

The most likely candidate Women in 20s is targeting is the face on the $20 bill—that of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. This slave-owning president (1829-1837) presided over an administration that implemented anti-Native American policies, forcing Indians off their ancestral lands, resulting in unnecessary suffering and deaths, displacement and psychological and cultural alienation. Five Native American nations were forced to abandon their homelands in the southeastern part of the US and move to areas west of the Mississippi River, basically to what is now the state of Oklahoma—a humiliating exodus that became known as the Trail of Tears.

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Women in 20s has put forth a slate of 15 candidates to replace “bloody bloody Andrew Jackson,” as a Broadway rock musical describes him. Among the proposed replacements are Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Patsy Mink, Margaret Sanger and Eleanor Roosevelt. People can vote for three of the 15 online: www.womenon20s.org/primaries and the list of the final three, with Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller added as the fourth finalist, will then be subjected to a final round of voting. The winner will be submitted in a petition to the White House for the change, in time for the 100th anniversary in 2020, of the Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote. That is the hope and expectation.

I wondered about female representation in Philippine paper currency. For the most part it too is also dominated by male figures, among them Mabini, Quezon, Osmena and Macapagal. The new 500-peso bill will feature both Cory and Ninoy Aquino, while the 1,000 denomination has three faces representing overseas Filipino workers, with one of those faces being that of a woman. From the Internet image I couldn’t quite make out who she was. Certainly there is no dearth of females who could grace pesos of different denominations, such as Tandang Sora and Gabriela Silang. Why not feature Malakas and Maganda, the mythological Filipino first man and woman who emerged from bamboo fully formed and at the same time? I know there is the lingering association with Ferdinand and Imelda, but that shouldn’t be taken into account.

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Another area that is under the radar when it comes to the gender gap is the matter of Wikipedia authorship. Wikipedia is by now well-known as the free Internet encyclopedia that, according to its Website, “anyone can edit.” In its English version it has close to five million articles, and is also available in other languages, including Tagalog.

The Wikipedia in Tagalog (“Ang Malayang Encyclopedia”) has an archive of 63,273 articles as of March 26, 2015. The main page has a link to assist any non-Tagalog speaker who wishes “to discuss anything related to the Tagalog Wikipedia.” Presumably said non-Tagalog speaker would have had someone translating a particular entry for the former to understand and subsequently comment upon.

I use the English-language Wikipedia often, as do so millions of others around the world. Consequently omissions, misstatements and gaps can have a profound impact, especially when (as I find with a number of my students) increasingly Wikipedia is relied on as the main research source. (The quality can be spotty, and the English used in some of the pieces could have used a good copy editor. But that’s another story.) But I never really gave much thought to who the multitudes of authors were or are, and none at all to their gender. It turns out that according to Wikimedia Foundation, fewer that 13 percent of Wikipedia writers are women. This percentage is at least true for Wikipedia in English, but not necessarily so for Wikipedia Tagalog. Which. of course, made me curious as to what the gender picture is for Wiki-Tagalog.

There is also concern in terms of demographics, as for instance in matters relating to African Americans. Knowledge being power, it’s understandable that African Americans (as well as feminists and other groups historically excluded from the mainstream) have cast a critical, even suspicious, eye on the entries that represent their history and culture.

Being at heart a democratic enterprise, Wikipedia is eminently laudable. But any such democratic enterprise needs to be a dynamic process, that is, it needs to be open to change when warranted while at the same time sticking to its democratic principles, principles that demand an encyclopedia by the people, for the people and of the people.

Copyright L.H. Francia 2015

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TAGS: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Lewis and Clark expedition, pictures on Philippine pesos, pictures on US dollar bills, Sacagawea, Suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Wiki-Tagalog, Wikipedia, women representation
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