This spring’s political campaigns revealed a deep and ugly wound: misogyny that ranged from Rush Limbaugh’s crass attack on Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke to the repeal of Wisconsin’s pay equity law; from the Republican attacks on Title X (which subsidizes cervical and breast cancer screening, testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and birth control for 5 million low-income women) to Virginia’s mandated external ultrasounds for women who want abortions.
The vilification of K-12 teachers is part and parcel of this misogyny. Last year, when teachers led the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol, many pointed out the obvious: Attacks on teachers—and other public sector workers such as nurses and social workers—are overwhelmingly attacks on women. When “reformers,” from former D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, portray teachers as incompetent, incapable of leadership and selfish, they don’t need to specify women teachers for that to be the image in people’s minds—76 percent of U.S. teachers are women. At the elementary school level, it’s nearly 90 percent. As education blogger Sabrina Stevens Shupe wrote recently,
These attacks on women—as teachers, as those with the right to control their own childbearing, as human beings who deserve respect from politicians and the media—are being taken on by unions, political organization, and activists across the country. But one aspect rarely discussed is what this new misogyny means for us in the classroom. As we have seen in other social justice struggles, claiming and passing on the history is integral to fighting for the future. It’s impossible to confront racism, militarism, or environmental degradation without understanding the history. The same is true for the oppression of women. Our students need a critical understanding of women’s lives and struggles in the past to understand and respond to the present.
If you go by most U.S. history texts, the only piece of women’s history worth space in the curriculum is the fight for suffrage. But women defining and fighting for freedom for themselves and their communities has been at the center of American history from the beginning. The everyday lives of women are half the story in every historical moment—as Native Americans forced out of their lands, black mothers enslaved and resisting, white settlers crossing the plains in covered wagons, immigrants at Angel Island and in New York’s Lower East Side.