Union Women's Voices in Wisconsin

I threw something out on Twitter this morning regarding the ongoing conservative pushback on protesting union members in Wisconsin:

You’ll notice it’s always “lazy overpaid teachers” and never “lazy overpaid ironworkers.” I wonder why that is.

Friends speculated it was because teachers seemed, on balance, less scary, less able to physically retaliate against such bullying. However, it’s most likely that many of the teachers’ voices being heard in Wisconsin, and now around the country as workers fight to preserve collective bargaining rights, are female.

I sat in on worker testimony in the Wisconsin General Assembly on Sunday, and most of the stories I heard in opposition to the Republican governor’s budget bill were women’s stories:

I have a son with autism, and his school is facing service cuts if this bill is passed.

My roommate is a nurse’s aid and makes $15 an hour caring for others. Don’t take away her right to what little money she does make.

I’m a teacher, and the children in my classroom need the best teachers they can get. Strip us of our rights and you strip them of their education.

My husband and I both work for the state and both our livelihoods are at risk.

Women’s voices, women’s faces, women’s stories. They came from professions likely to be heavily female: home care workers, office support staffers, nurses. Some arrived with children in tow, or with their elderly parents. They’re the ones being tarred as lazy and overpaid and being condescendingly told to “get back to work” and “get back to class” and “stop whining.”

One floor below, circling the Capitol rotunda in solidarity with those testifying upstairs, were firefighters and steamfitters and plumbers and electricians, big guys in hard hats with rough hands, there in solidarity. They see their cause as common with the schoolteacher and the nurse — so why don’t their political opponents and adversaries in the press?

The definition of a union worker is as broad as the definition of an American, and singling women workers — and professions which are traditionally female in this country — out as representative for ridicule just because they’re the easiest to pick on adds another layer of unfairness to what is already a monumental example of ill-treatment. This is a tough enough argument to have without adding sexism to the mix.

For more on this, see Amanda Marcotte.



Author: Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a journalism and politics blog, with her partners Adrastos and Jude. She is the author of It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal (2008, Heritage Books) and the forthcoming Chicago’s Historic Irish Pubs (with Mike Danahey) (2011, Arcadia Books). She also edited the anthology Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War (2005, William, James & Co.). Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three pet ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.


  1. Roane says:

    It appears that women need to fight much harder to have their rights recognised. Just look at how long it took for women to be allowed to vote.

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