Everyday Ironies: Equality for…Some

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Wyoming State Quarter

Here we have the Wyoming state quarter, which on the back features its state motto – “The Equality State” – and, to its left, is the silhouette of a “cowboy” riding a bucking horse.

The website TheUS50 explains:

The bucking horse and rider symbolize Wyoming’s Wild West heritage. “Buffalo Bill” Cody personified this in his traveling Wild West show. First settled by fur trappers, Fort Laramie, Wyoming, later became a popular destination for pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail.

Wyoming was nicknamed the “Equality State” because of its historical role in establishing equal voting rights for women. Wyoming was the first territory to grant “female suffrage” and became the first state in the Nation to allow women to vote, serve on juries and hold public office. In 1924, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman elected Governor of Wyoming. In 1933, Ross became the first woman appointed as the Director of the United States Mint.

As per usual, “equality” by default applies only to human animals; the irony of choosing to feature an image of animal exploitation alongside the state’s nickname was apparently lost on the US Mint. This is hardly surprising, given the speciesist world in which we live. So ubiquitous is our oppression of animals that it’s rendered mostly invisible; like water to a fish. Try as we might, sometimes it can be difficult to recognize it all.

Although this particular quarter was released in 2007, I didn’t catch on to the irony until last winter.* The husband, having taken the dogs walking in a nearby park, accidentally left the car’s lights on, thus draining the batteries. Long story short, I ended up stuck behind the wheel for a half hour while we jumped the battery. Bored to tears, I started rummaging through the car’s various cubbies and compartments and found a few state quarters. Though I’d probably glanced at a Wyoming state quarter countless times by then, for some reason the contradiction struck me; equality for whom? Certainly not the horses imprisoned, enslaved, raped, abused, maimed and killed in rodeos (not to mention other horse-related industries). But nonhumans – much like women before them – simply aren’t deemed worthy of our consideration. I can only hope that history will once again prove us wrong.

* Yes, this is on average how long my posts languish in draft purgatory. Bad blogger, bad.