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One of the most striking themes to emerge from the current, destructive era in Wisconsin government is a pervasive and toxic contempt for women.
It was the backdrop to Governor Scott Walker’s initial attack on public employees, including teachers, who are, by and large, women.
Lots of people, including Matt Damon and Jon Stewart, both of whom have teacher moms, struck back at the sheer meanness of the suggestion that teachers are lazy and overpaid, appealing to a common feeling of warmth and appreciation for the women who helped raise us.
But the attacks didn’t end there. Walker and other politicians followed up with more cuts to teachers’ pay and benefits, an attack on the dignity of the profession that strips away teacher certification requirements, and a proposal that will ratchet up stress in the classroom by threatening to fire teachers if they don’t raise the test scores of underperforming students. This targets in particular teachers who work with low-income kids and English language learners.
Over the last couple of years, hundreds of gray-haired, retired teachers, including my own beloved sixth-grade teacher, have turned out for hearings to stick up for high-quality public education, only to be made to wait all night long as Republican-led committees cynically delay debate until after midnight.
Former state Sen. Glenn Grothman, who once proposed defining single motherhood as a form of child abuse, strolled through the hearing room during one extended late-night session, saying he “just wanted to see what the weirdos look like.”
They look like your mother, your grandmother, your favorite teacher.
The contempt for women continues with a policy that requires women seeking abortion to have an ultrasound (Walker justified the measure by saying ultrasounds are “just a cool thing”) and a proposed 20-week abortion ban that will endanger the lives of medically fragile pregnant women.
You could see the contempt for women up close at the Capitol last week in the joint health committee hearing on the 20-week ban, where, as one woman who testified pointed out, 10 of the 11 committee members were men.
Over and over, tearful women testified about pregnancies gone horribly wrong — wanted babies with no brains and with terminal illnesses, and their own health and lives at risk if they carried to term.
Every medical organization in the state opposes the so-called Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, on the grounds that it is dangerous to women, is based on bad science, and threatens doctors who perform medically necessary abortions with years in prison.
Yet the Republicans on the committee seemed deaf to the wrenching personal testimony of the women in front of them. They were lost in their own ideological war.
That deafness is the root cause of a lot of what’s going wrong in Wisconsin.
The Republicans don’t want to hear that their aggressive, punitive “reforms” are doing nothing but damage.
Women who are forced to carry dead and dying fetuses to term — and then be subjected to unwanted grief counseling — will not be saved. There is no “saving” fetuses from the mothers who carry them. And there is no “saving” children from their teachers by replacing a supportive, nurturing environment with fear and punishment.
As Sheila Plotkin, a retired teacher who testified against the 20-week ban, put it, “This bill is not about preventing real human pain. It’s about control.”
Any good teacher will tell you that respect, cooperation and connection are the building blocks of human development and progress. Trying to control people just drags us backward.
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive