LABOR What Nurses and Teachers Won by Withholding Their “Feminized Labor”

(WORKDAY MAGAZINE) Amie Stager, January 26, 2023

“When you think about gender perspectives, being a teacher or being a nurse, what they hope is that we care so much about our charges or our patients that we’re willing to accept the bare minimum.”

At the intensive care unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, nurse Kelley Anaas has cared for a lot of people who have gotten sick with Covid-19 during the pandemic.

“I took care of plenty of people who got sick at their work,” said Anaas, who has been a nurse for 14 years and is a steward with the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA). “I remember taking care of a woman five years older than me, who didn’t make it, who got her job working in a liquor store. Her family’s not gonna get a dime for the sacrifice she made and the choice she didn’t have. I saw the ramifications of that in a much more real way than, you know, lawmakers.”

The surge of collective actions by workers in 2022 indicates momentum in the labor movement. Much of this resurgence has been led by workers on the front lines of the pandemic, who have been most at risk when it comes to health and safety. 

Of the hundreds of strikes that began last year, two historic ones occurred in Minnesota, where teachers and nurses withheld their labor to demand better working conditions, hold their employers accountable, and stand up against greed. It is no surprise that workers in teaching and nursing, feminized professions tasked with running institutions on which communities depend, have been militantly raising their voices and risking their jobs to alert their communities to the problems they are facing.

Jobs typically associated with women are considered to be “feminized labor.” Of course, not all teachers and nurses are women, but all workers in these professions still perform labor that’s devalued, because “women’s work” has historically not been rewarded and recognized in the way male-dominated work has. It’s not exactly blue-collar or white-collar work, but a third category often referred to as pink-collar work, a term coined by social critic Louise Kapp Howe.

“Many presume the skills women have in occupations like teaching or childcare work or nursing are innate and that women are naturally good at caring for people,” University of Vermont economics professor Stephanie Seguino told The 19th. “Therefore, there’s a sense that we don’t really need to compensate for that. So, it’s gender stereotyping that really holds down wages.”