By Katie Hillman
Clarion University’s Equity Week, “Gender Equity: A Human Fight, not a Female Fight,” began with the second speaker of the Mary L. Seifert Series Nov. 7 in the Gemmell Multi-Purpose Room.
Clarion Community members joined students and faculty to listen to a presentation by Sarah Jaffe. Jaffe is a Nation Institute Fellow and an independent journalist. She received a master’s in journalism from Temple University. Her main focuses include labor and social movements, topics that guided her speech of the evening: “Labors Love Lost: On Gender, Work and Rebellion.”
Jaffe started off by talking about “Our Walmart,” a worker’s organization united for respect at Walmart. Walmart employees within this organization went on strike Oct. 4, 2012 and aimed to unify the 1.2 million workers together from across the country. She noted that Walmart was an arbiter of how working conditions across the country were and that it was shaped by their assumptions about gender.
“Sam Walton built his company on the backs of married women from farm families that had never gotten wages before,” Jaffe said. “This made it easy to say that they deserved what they got based off of the skills they had.”
Throughout the rest of her speech, Jaffe noted that many companies followed Walmart by paying lip service to their employees rather than paying them nicely; Walton even refused to pay below minimum wage. Jaffe noted that employers made women believe that they should not complain about their working conditions, and that they should be lucky that they have a job.
Eventually, these principles adapted to service jobs that were typically done by women. Conservative Christians even preached that women should be thankful for any job they get because women are not supposed to work outside of the home.
Jaffe then transitioned into the Fight for 15, the fight that started Nov. 29, 2015 among fast food workers that earned less than $8 an hour. One woman that she spoke with told her “managers are telling us that we don’t have power. In reality, we do.”
Fast Food Forward was the movement that targeted workers in several different states through a series of one-day strikes. One New York woman went back to work the next day and was fired because she was the only one that walked back due to a lack of people. This opened up a series of lawsuits, and the woman got her job back.
Jaffe spent the remainder of her speech focusing on struggles that women have had to face. She mentioned how she felt that the Welfare Reform of 1996 shaped economic standards for women by stereotyping them negatively as people not meant to do work. As the demand for work was rising, lobbyists spent more time pushing for Welfare for Work than focusing on allowing women to do more jobs for decent pay.
Last month, there were strikes for women’s work in Poland, Argentina and Iceland. Whether it be abortion bans, increased violence against women or the gender wage gap, thousands of women in each country left their jobs and refused to do any housework or labor until anything was resolved.
The session concluded with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. After Jaffe left the stage, she met with audience members and signed copies of her book Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, which were sold at tables in the back of the MPR.