More on the Paycheck Fairness Act

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) addressing the Senate:

 

Garment Workers Overseas: Unpacking the Feminist Politics of Clothing

Over the last year, U.S. companies, including brands like Gap, Joe Fresh (JCPenney), H&M, and Faded Glory (sold at Wal-Mart) have come under increasing pressure to increase the safety standards for the workers in their garment factories overseas. Recent disasters, including the factory fire in Bangladesh (on India’s eastern border), in November 2012 that killed 112 and the collapse of another building that houses five garment factories near Dhaka (in Bangladesh) in May of 2013, which killed 1,127 workers have brought worker safety to the forefront of global conversation.

Why would these disasters be of especial importance to feminists? For one, the majority of the workers are women.

Here is some context for our reading of Cynthia Enloe’s “Blue Jeans and Bankers” from her book Bananas, Beaches, and Bases.

The collapse of the factory earlier this year is one of the worst industrial disasters in history–and some U.S. corporations,  most notably Wal-Mart, still refuse to sign off on the safety regulations for overseas factories that Europeans have already agreed to.

A garment factory in Rhana Plaza, Dhaka collapsed in May 2013. Over 1,000 workers were killed, and it has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

A garment factory in Rhana Plaza, Dhaka collapsed in May 2013. Over 1,000 workers were killed, and it has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

 

These recent disasters have fueled ongoing labor protests and other areas as workers demand safer working conditions and better pay.

Bangladeshi garment workers demand better wages and safety regulations after the industrial disasters of the last year that have left thousands of workers dead.

Bangladeshi garment workers demand better wages and safety regulations after the industrial disasters of the last year that have left thousands of workers dead.

 

If companies like Wal-Mart have gotten themselves in trouble for exploiting their workers abroad, they’ve also come under fire at home, as American workers have participated in ongoing strikes and boycotts for a livable wage and benefits. (FYI: Wal-Mart remains staunchly anti-union.) In fact, despite mounting evidence of Wal-Mart’s numerous abuses (labor, environmental, etc.), celebrities like Tom Cruise have praised the company for improving women’s lives all over the world (Democracy Now, “Striking Workers, Bangladeshi Activist Challenge Wal-Mart”).

This haunting photograph was taken in the aftermath of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, India, earlier this year.

This haunting photograph was taken in the aftermath of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, India, earlier this year.

LEARN MORE…

Watch the full story of the Bangladesh garment factory disasters on Democracy Now, including a report from global labor activist Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Scott Nova of WorkersRights.org.

Read an interview with a garment industry labor activist involved in the protests, who spoke to Purdue’s own Tithi Battacharya.

Homework Due Tuesday, April 15th

In preparation for next week’s discussion about low-wage labor and international politics (Enloe), visit the following site and answer the questions to see how many slaves work for you around the world.

Slavery Footprint

Write up a paragraph reflecting on your number and tying your experience of going through the questions to Enloe’s reading. You’ll receive homework points for turning it in.

Adair and Hays: Welfare Reform, Work Ethic, and the Working Class

Toward the end of our last presidential election in 2012, Mother Jones journalists released the following footage of Mitt Romney meeting behind closed doors with some of his inside supporters. Listen especially to his characterization of President Obama’s supporters and how he uses the accusation of “entitlement.”

 

FYI: he’s not just talking about those on welfare and programs like SNAP here. He’s also talking about anyone who gets (“feels entitled to”) money from the government, including, for example, those of us using students loans. At the core of Romney’s speech is the beloved “boostraps” rhetoric – the idea that if an individual can just work hard and “pull himself up by his bootstraps,” he will be able to “make it” (and that success is so often defined in a narrow, profit-driven way, that is, as the accumulation of private wealth and material goods).

What stereotypes of poor and/or working class Americans does Romney invoke in his speech? How do such stereotypes connect to public arguments about welfare reform?

THE WELFARE QUEEN IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION

Let’s think more specifically about how the stereotype of the welfare queen is often used to justify cuts to welfare programs.

 

A political cartoon of the stereotypical image of the welfare queen living off the government, linked also with Democrats, who have historically been defenders of welfare programs.

A political cartoon of the stereotypical image of the welfare queen living off the government, linked also with Democrats, who have historically been defenders of welfare programs.

 

On November 1, 2013, welfare recipients saw dramatic cuts amounting to a total of $40 billion to their SNAP (or food stamp) allowances. Recently, Congresswoman Speier (D-CA) gave this speech in an attempt to put such cuts in perspective, especially in an age of “austerity panic”:

 

Do you think you could take the SNAP challenge and eat on just $4.50 a day?

Want to now more about common myths the media uses to undercut welfare and perpetuate those stereotypes of the poor that Adair talks about? Read “What the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Welfare: 9 Myths Exposed.”

 

Education Theft and the Policing Image of the Welfare Queen

In 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar, a young, Black mother of two daughters living in Akron, OH, was jailed and convicted of a felony for sending her daughters to a well-to-do private school in her father’s better neighborhood. The court’s decision ultimately jeopardized her job as a teacher’s aid and her future career as an educator. Watch ABC’s news coverage of the story:

However, this isn’t an isolated incident; it may be the beginning of a new trend. Last year, another woman, Tanya McDowell of Bridgeport, CT, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for “education theft.”

The Feminist Wire asks: “…when does American Dream seeking, innovation, motherly ‘instinct,’ and creative problem solving get celebrated and when does it get criminalized? Which mother’s children deserve the best, and which mothers are demonized for asserting their children’s worth?”

To begin to answer this question, we first need to determine what these two women have in common. Let’s go back to Adair:

“…systems of power produce and patrol poverty through the reproduction of both social and bodily markers” (233).

In other words, Adair, like the French Philosopher Michel Foucault whom she cites, understands that the body of a citizen becomes “written on,” or like a text that we all read meanings onto; and some bodies, like those of the poor and of minorites become texts we read, in particular, as warning signs. This, Foucault asserts, is how such systems of power discipline the rest of us to behave or think in certain ways. Consider, in particular, the image of the welfare queen (see Adair, p. 234 and p.240).

Here’s Adair analyzing how our culture “reads” the body of the welfare queen:

The welfare queen’s body is portrayed as “the embodiment of dependency, disorder, disarray, and otherness. Her broken and scarred body becomes proof of her inner pathology and chaos, suggesting the need for further punishment and discipline. In contemporary narratives welfare women are imagined to be dangerous because they refuse to sacrifice their desires and fail to participate in legally sanctioned heterosexual relationships; theirs is read, as a result, as a selfish, ‘unnatural,’ and immature sexuality” (240).

 

Putting Social Protest in Our Time in Perspective

Since you’re working on your Collective Action Project at the moment, let’s put the importance of activism and collective action in our time in perspective: watch the following time-lapse map of major protests around the world since 1979 to get some perspective. Watch what happens when we hit our current century:

Abortion Stories: Breaking the Silence

The following clip comes from the documentary When Abortion was Illegal: Untold Stories (1992).

 

MORE STORIES

Many feminist campaigns are engaged in breaking the culture of silence and shame that surrounds abortion. Statistically, one in three women of childbearing age will have one, yet we rarely hear their actual stories. New York Magazine recently published the stories of 26 diverse women, who talk about their circumstances and decisions.