Stamp out gender bias in Postal Service commemoratives

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- The United States Postal Service recently released its list of commemorative stamps for this year.

The 127 new issues will include 15 stamps commemorating famous Americans, four of which will be women (Hattie McDaniel, Katherine Anne Porter, Frances E. Willis, Judy Garland) and 11 of which will be men (Benjamin Franklin, Sugar Ray Robinson, Hiram Bingham IV, Charles E. Bohlen, Philip C. Habib, Robert D. Murphy, Clifton R. Wharton Sr., Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg).

This discrepancy between the number of stamps slated to commemorate women vs. the number of stamps slated to commemorate men is disturbing. Moreover, these ratios have been the same or even more disparate since the formation of the Postal Service.

From Jan. 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2005, the Postal Service issued 618 commemorative stamps - 149 stamps honoring individuals and 469 highlighting topics significant to our country, such as flora and fauna, national monuments and treasures, methods of transportation and the 50 states. Of the individuals honored with a stamp, 123 were men and 26 were women.

This disparity is particularly disturbing when a souvenir sheet is issued in which men and women could be represented equally, such as the 20-stamp "Masters of Photography" sheet issued in 2002, in which 17 of the photographers honored were men and only three were women.

Even more disturbing is that many of the topics the Postal Service selects for multiple stamp blocks fundamentally exclude women, such as the "Legends of Baseball" (20 stamps); "Baseball Sluggers" (four stamps); "Distinguished Marines" (four stamps); "Classic Movie Monsters" (20 stamps); or "Early Football Heroes" (four stamps).

The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), made up of 12 to 15 distinguished Americans appointed by the postmaster general, generates stamp concepts and reviews suggestions from the public for stamps.

The current CSAC is composed of 14 members, 10 men and four women. After an extensive review process, the committee recommends American people or America-related subjects to Postmaster General John E. Potter, who makes the final selection.

People who may be honored on a stamp are restricted to U.S. citizens and those who are deceased for at least 10 years, unless the person was a president.

Why is the significant difference in male and female representation on stamps important? Stamps send a message from the government to the citizenry about who and what is valued. Stamps are the government's Who's Who in American History presented one page at a time.

The implicit message in stamp gender ratios is that either women have not made significant contributions to the founding and growth of this nation or the contributions they have made are not valued.

This subtle and continuous bias is insidious and destructive. It sends a message to our mothers, sisters and, most significantly, our daughters that women are not important in the most fundamental of ways.

The Postal Service is aware of the skewed portrayal of Americans and American culture on stamps. In fact, it does so intentionally, since the vast majority of stamp collectors are male and it believes male collectors prefer to buy stamps about certain topics.

In catering to the collector market, the Postal Service is doing a grave disservice to the general population and is marginalizing half of it. It is time for the Postal Service to honor men and women without bias.

Lynette Long, a psychologist in Bethesda, has written numerous books on psychology and education. Her e-mail is drlynettelong@aol.com.

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