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Labor and feminism really don’t belong in different silos

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, February 21, 2011 14:45 EDT
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Update: Some useful and quick reading here. Seriously, it’s like a paragraph.

While I said Friday that I didn’t have much to add to the discussion about Wisconsin, obviously all things are subject to change. I’ve been watching the right wing reaction to the protests, and it’s been fascinating to see how the hostility towards people who work for a living is really coming out. Between the union-busting sentiment and the desire to shut down contraception access for low income women, this past week has really made clear how much the end game of the conservative movement is to destroy the middle class, creating a country where a few rich people live off the labor of a impoverished proletariat. Like the “good old days” of the Gilded Age, complete with squalid city blocks, where 10 people are packed in to each apartment because there’s no way to stop having children. (Which is, despite what Glenn Beck may tell his sycophants, the actual misery that induced Margaret Sanger to make birth control access her life’s work.) Not that I think that your average conservative voter really thinks about the implications of demanding a race to the bottom, income-wise, for workers. Like I recently saw a Facebook acquaintance I shall not name complaining about how hard it was to hire employees at low wages for her service-oriented business, because of the government and the unions bringing wages up. I had to refrain from pointing out that small businesses would have no customers if it wasn’t for jobs that pay a living wage. People supporting families on minimum wage—especially if they have more children than they want because of forced birther policies—don’t do things like go shopping and eat out at restaurants. Bringing an end to collective bargaining and eventually the middle class would indeed produce a lot of people who work for peanuts, but it would also end the economy that creates demand for most American businesses.

Anyway, I’ve been interested in seeing how right wingers can’t exactly decide what makes people who want to be paid for the job of educating children such horrible people. Even though we spend a lot of time in our culture waxing on endlessly about how the job of raising the next generation is the Most Important Job In The World, it’s also a job we expect women to do most of the work in, so we expect those who do it to be paid in crayon drawings from children and bemused pity from other adults. Via Roy, I see that Jay Nordinger is leaning hard on sexism to justify his anti-union blather. He really couldn’t be more condescending.

One thing about all these teachers — 40 percent of the union — calling in “sick”? They’re lying. And it’s not nice to lie, yes? These are the adults, of course, who are expected to set examples for “the children”: those vaunted children in whose name the unionists pretend to be doing everything they do.

What’s little Susie supposed to say? “Good to have you back, Miss Brown. We heard you were sick. Are you feeling better? Did you go to the doctor?” What does Miss Brown say, in response? “I was just lying, honey: I called in sick to protest our evil Republican governor.”

For those ready to deny that this condescending crap—scolding the teachers like they were little children caught with their hands in cookie jars—try to imagine if Nordinger had used an example of a teacher who is not “Miss Brown”, clearly a female elementary school teacher. Try to imagine that this scenario is being played out with a male high school football coach. Yeah, I can’t either. It would read as comical and surreal. “Golly gee, Coach Brown, didn’t Jesus say it’s wrong to lie?” They wouldn’t have even tried that shit on “Leave It To Beaver”. And let’s be clear—despite Nordinger’s hypotheticals centering around female elementary school teachers, high school football coaches are also being affected and are also in teacher’s unions.

But it gets worse!

n a previous era, long ago, teachers were rather like missionaries. You practically had to take a vow of poverty to be a teacher. Often, a teacher ate at students’ homes. And a teacher would do things like painting houses in the summer, to tide him over until the school year started.

Sure, now it’s a “him”. You can feel Nordinger grasping, in his pea brain, that maybe the implications of this argument are veering towards sexist, so he plugs a “him” in there for ass-covering purposes. But even in the “good old days”, women did much of the teaching in this country, usually to pull down a little extra money for the family before they got married and unceremoniously fired. That they were mostly women is why they were paid shit, and that they’re mostly women is why Nordinger knows he can get away with suggesting that they should be grateful to be paid for working at all. He does suggest later that teachers should be paid for their work, but that’s just a neat little varnish on his argument, because if you reject any and all methods workers have to get paid for their work, then you object to them getting paid fairly. It’s like saying, “I’m pro-choice, but doctors shouldn’t be allowed to perform abortions. If you can get around that, go for it.”

But what makes the right wing reaction comical is many can’t decide if they want to go with the “those ladies should be grateful to get paid at all for the Most Important Job In The World” or “unions are scary hoards of monsters who want to rape your wives and eat your children”, which is, of course, the narrative Glenn Beck is spinning. Digby has a great example of a wingnut just reviving the “dirty hippies are rioting in the street, just fucking shoot ‘em” narrative from the dustbin of the 60s.

People who have been following the demonstrations closely reported that Madison was a chaotic scene. “The place is under siege by union thugs, rent-a-mobs, and high schools kids let out of school because the teachers have abandoned their posts,” explained The New American magazine’s Ann Shibler, who has received continuous updates on the protest as it developed from sources within the Capitol.

“That beautiful and recently restored building has been trashed. Bands of thugs are roaming the halls, blockading restrooms, stairwells, and elevators,” she said. “They scream and yell, bang drums, and run around with clenched fists, banging on the windows and doors of the locked legislators’ offices.”

She also said students were being used for political purposes and that “thugs” had been bussed in from Illinois. “Keep in mind the majority of these thugs are teachers, who are teaching impressionable children,” she said, noting that Gov. Walker should have called in the National Guard already to prevent the “teachers’ union mobocracy” from overrunning the capitol. “I would also fire every teacher that abandoned their post over this across the state.”

I suppose there’s a narrative consistency here, and it dovetails neatly with anti-feminist hysteria. The narrative is, “Women used to be sweet, quiet little things who were overwhelmingly grateful for anything they got, and now they’re a bunch of screeching harpies making demands and abandoning the submissive roles handed them by Jesus.” And that this transition is supposed to be a bad thing.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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