How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.
In 1963 I was an assistant chimney sweeper — I mean English instructor and graduate student — in St. Paul, Minnesota, with the lofty salary of $5,300 a year. At that time, Jeanne and I had four pre-schoolers: Perrie, age 4, Peter, 3, Gretchen, 1, and Timothy, just born. My mother looked sternly at the happy parents and said, “What were you thinking of?” I don’t believe we told her.
During that time, another faculty wife, whose children were slightly older than ours, came to our house with a large armload of clothes. “Here,” she said, “our kids have outgrown these; I’m sure you can use them.”
“Thanks, Nancy,” Jeanne said, “but maybe you could give these to some needy family.”
Short silence. “Jeanne,” Nancy said, “I can’t think of a more needy family than yours!”
It seems odd now, but back then we never considered ourselves poor. I suppose we had that graduate student mentality, where most of our friends were in the same boat: a truly classless society, except for our classes.
But over the years, one thing came to rankle Jeanne. As our economy changed, the role of the stay-at-home mom came under fire, from many directions. Somehow, despite her unending work with the house and children, Jeanne never stopped drawing; but even as her career as a free-lance artist picked up, people often asked “What do you do?” Then, if she mentioned she was publishing spot drawings in The New Yorker, they’d ask “How much does it pay?” (No one ever asked me how much I made per published poem; no one likes to see a grown man cry.)
This subject of women’s work and pay is in the news, with Mitt Romney attempting to refute charges by President Obama and the Democrats that the Republicans are “waging war on women.” Romney, who once was an honest Mormon missionary, knocking on Parisian doors to bring the Revealed Truth, must know the Dems’ claims have some merit: His and Paul Ryan’s own specific policies would undo most of the political and economic progress women have made since the 1950s. Remember, Ryan and his friend Todd Akin co-sponsored HR-3 and HR-227, the bills that introduced the term “forcible” rape, approved by the entire Republican Congress. Despite some admonition by nervous Republicans, their platform still prohibits abortions even after rape.
Romney tries to hide the fact that he’s against the equal pay bill that Obama signed, that he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and its access to safe and legal abortion; and defund our family planning program, which already helps over 5 million low-income women, offering them cancer screening, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control information. Without this program, unplanned pregnancies will increase, more babies will be born into poverty and ill health — and thousands more aborted. The macho Republican platform destroys what they derisively call “the nanny state,” which supports basic safety-net programs for us all (women’s work, I suppose — while making millions in tax dodges is men’s work).
Romney, like Shakespeare’s Iago, is a good-looking guy, but he reminds me of TV host Ed Sullivan with his robotic movements, jerking his arms and saying “Really great show tonight!” In London for the Olympics, he watched the English celebrate their National Health Service system with 600 dancing nurses. He couldn’t have missed seeing how proud the English are about it, but he’s still telling us (not them), “Europe’s health care system doesn’t work for Europe, and it won’t work here.” On the same trip, he praised Israel’s health care system; Doesn’t he know Israel’s system is socialist, universal, and mandated? (He said he didn’t know anything about his wife’s horse, either.) And at the RNC, who can forget him stiffly applauding the macho Republican show (starring Dirty Harry), proving yet again that as far as The War on Women goes, they're still #1.
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse. …
—Both quotes from “London” by William Blake (1757-1827)
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