Commentary

If schools can send girls home for short skirts, they can enforce mask mandates

September 15, 2021 4:49 am

Young girls wearing protective masks running on sidewalk

We’ve tried all sorts of things to make masks palatable for the extremely loud minority of parents and GOP politicians who keep taking over school board meetings across the country, throwing Nazi salutes and nonsensically screaming that safety measures are “child abuse.”

Let’s be clear. The majority of our country is vaccinated against COVID-19 and supports commonsense health rules. But there’s a concerted right-wing effort to convince us anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are the majority with hysterical antics at public hearings, knowing they’ll get disproportionate media coverage.

At first, we thought that doctors and medical experts calmly explaining that masks are a great way to keep your children alive during this delta-surge stage of the COVID pandemic, especially if they’re younger than 12 and not able to be vaccinated, would be enough.

After all, children are supposed to be the future and all that and we’ve all expended an inordinate amount of time trying to keep our kids safe and alive since the day they were born. That’s pretty much the job. Surely, the sane majority thought, this is the silver-bullet argument.

But then parents in Tennessee surrounded a group of doctors who testified at a school board meeting and threatened to hunt them down (“We know who you are. You can leave freely, but we will find you,” they said, as caught on video.) So it soon became clear that simply telling parents we didn’t want their kids to get sick and die wasn’t enough.

And deep conservative thinkers told us we have an obligation to keep the economy going — parents can’t go back to work without (socialist) schools as babysitters, after all. “There’s such a thing as too much caution. The right number of kids with Covid isn’t zero,” Michael R. Strain of the American Enterprise Institute decided to lecture us this week.

In other words, it’s an update on Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declaring in the early COVID days of March 2020 that grandma should die for the economy. But after decades of flowery pro-life rhetoric from the right, it’s pretty jarring to hear them now tell us it’s OK for little Kayden to die to keep the stock market high.

So medical experts patiently explained to parents and politicians that masks in school was a great way to make sure that they — and everyone they love — don’t catch COVID-19, needlessly suffer and even die. Usually self-interest is a winner in modern-day America, but again, it just doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal as weird conspiracy theories about shots magnetizing you or anti-Semitic tropes that the unvaccinated will be forced to display their status like Jews in the Holocaust.

So something stronger than parental love and the biological imperative of survival appears necessary to get these folks on board with masking up in schools.

Luckily, the answer has been right in front of us all along.

We’ve seen a Texas school district get around the mask ban from Gov. Greg Abbott — who now has, you guessed it, COVID — by mandating face coverings as part of the dress code.

That makes complete sense, because schools have been policing what female students wear for decades, particularly if they’re curvier or a person of color. Getting dourly lectured by administrators and being sent home for baring spaghetti straps, short skirts or crop tops is a humiliating rite of passage for many middle- and high-school girls because slut-shaming is as American as apple pie.

Clearly, school districts can exercise the power to require masks if they so choose.

But sadly, you’ve got to sell it to right-wing politicians and parents, who have decided that children’s lives are now a culture war issue.

So that’s why we should rebrand the argument as guarding female modesty. (The rest of us can ignore all that pablum; we’re just happy to keep our kids breathing.) Many traditional parents don’t believe school-aged girls should be wearing makeup, so covering that mouth with a mask helps ensure that they’re not being too suggestive. Hopefully, we can enlist the help of Michigan GOP lawmakers who spent the beginning of the pandemic worried about the bigger public health crisis of pornography.

And children these days have a problem with back talk (amirite, my fellow olds?) so masks can make all kids — boys, girls and nonbinary (yes, we know, the right-wingers don’t believe in the latter, too — but that’s a fight for a different time) — more respectful. After all, it takes more effort for them to whine and argue through a mask. Anything that helps our youth develop better manners and more respect for their elders is a positive, what with all the sin and corruption of video games and computer phones.

If we make masks a tribute to patriarchal morality and traditional family values, who knows? Maybe a few hundred kids won’t have to be intubated in the ICU than would have otherwise.

Of course, it’s a long shot, as the right drew the culture war lines on COVID more than a year ago. But for millions of parents sending our kids back to the classroom without basic health rules, we need all the help we can get to blunt the impact of an angry, irresponsible and dangerous minority of our neighbors.

You’d think Parenting 101 is doing absolutely anything you can to make sure your kids grow up safely. We’re always hearing about moms who develop superhuman strength and pull their children from burning buildings or lift up a car to save them after a crash.

Sending your kids to school with a face mask is really the bare minimum of parenting. The fact that thousands are failing — and want to endanger our kids and our communities in the process — is perhaps the most fundamental way the pandemic has broke us.

This column was originally produced by the Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Daily Montanan is a sister organization of the Michigan Advance.

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Susan Demas
Susan Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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