So, when Caroline Criado Perez started her campaign to get a woman other than the Queen onto Bank of England notes, what happened? Well, first of all, the Bank did not roll over and go “Oh, yeah, you’re right, our bad, we’ll change it,”. Instead, they put out a statement saying, thanks, but we have a committee which chooses who goes on the banknotes and they decided on Winston Churchill, but not to worry, they have Jane Austen waiting in the wings for when a space comes up next. Apart from the fact that this is PR speak for “Calm down, dear”, it’s also a gob-smackingly arrogant illustration of how the institution sees women, in that they apparently believe women should wait quietly “in the wings”, out of sight, out of the spotlight, voiceless and invisible until somebody decides the time is right. Big whoop.
Criado Perez had a meeting with the Governor of the Bank and pointed out that women weren’t asking for all the places, as men currently had, they weren’t even asking for a proportion of the places equivalent to their position in the population, they were just asking for one measly place out of four. The petition and the publicity it was gaining probably helped. A lawyer had also offered to act for Criado Perez, which lawyer pointed out that as a public body the Bank was in breach of its duty of equality and that a small bit of legal action might be in order; that probably helped too. The Bank duly backed down and announced that, oh, look! Jane’s cue had come up sooner than expected and she would be duly placed on the £10 note. They also announced that their process for selecting those to be represented on bank notes would be amended to take more account of diversity.
And that should have been that. Sure, it was a pity that the Bank hadn’t given in more quickly and gracefully, but then, it’s an institution of the old City, stuffy and male-dominated and unrepresentative of the population as a whole, who would, forty years after the Sex Discrimination Act, be right behind the idea of having a woman on a bank note. Wouldn’t they?