A Day Without Women, the general strike organized to coincide with International Women’s Day, appeared to be a logical successor to the January 21st Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration. The election of a racist, kleptocratic egomaniac with no attention span has understandably riled up the nation—in particular, millions of women who, as usual, find themselves disproportionately threatened under the leadership of men.
In the mere 48 days that have passed since he was sworn into office, much has been said and made of a new spirit of protest, activism and general resistance to this administration. We’re in both recycled and uncharted territory, including with the ways we engage with and discuss resistance in 2017.
Several articles—in Elle, The Cut, N+1, among other places—examined the merits of the strike, while emphasizing that despite its flaws, action is always better than inaction. But Jezebel also received multiple emails from conservative-sounding women admonishing us for participating in the event and arguing that those who chose to strike were lazy and didn’t care enough about their families.
And then there were some like Meghan Daum for the Los Angeles Times, who argued that while A Day Without Women does have value, said value is undermined by the inherent privilege of the women able to participate.
Make no mistake, March 8 will mostly be a day without women who can afford to skip work, shuffle childcare and household duties to someone else, and shop at stores that are likely to open at 10 and close at 5. As for wearing red, what is the dress code, exactly? Are you supposed to wear your pink pussy hats, too?
Meanwhile, for the millions of women who have no choice but to show up and meet their responsibilities on March 8 (and every day), it will be business as usual.
Which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of the point, isn’t it? At least it should be. We are nearly half the labor force now. We are just as important in the workplace and to our families’ fiscal welfare as men. All things being equal (which is what we’re after, right?), we are too essential to play hooky.
Though Daum claims to understand the philosophy behind the strike, I’m not convinced she has a firm grip on the purpose of protest or the history of resistance in America—as evidenced by the fact she wrote this op-ed at all.
You cannot assume “all things being equal,” because all things are not equal. The suggestion that “we are too essential to play hooky” ignores the leverage of essentiality necessary to a boycott or strike. It is precisely because we are needed that we should strike. Similar sentiments are found in a Quartz piece called “The ‘Day Without a Woman’ strike is going to be mostly a day without privileged women,” in which writer Maureen Shaw offered suggestions on how to make the strike more inclusive. The Washington Post also posed the question: “Is the ‘Day Without a Woman’ protest elitist?”
Indeed, being able to take the day off from labor may signal a certain kind of privilege. I don’t have children or a household to run which made it easier for me to participate. Still, even with the option of striking on Wednesday, I, as a black woman, am without so many other kinds of privilege. I wonder, then, exactly what kind of privilege are we prioritizing here?
While A Day Without Women may have been easier for some, we must be careful to avoid the reductive conflation of protesting with privilege. The notion of protests as an option only for the elite simply doesn’t jibe with history. Looking back at past strikes and boycotts, the individuals involved don’t quite present as the most fortunate circles of society—coal workers, female textile workers, UPS employees, and public school teachers, to name a few.
Jezebel received a note from a woman scolding us for noting that one of the ways to participate in A Day Without Women included avoiding shopping for the day, except at businesses owned by women and minorities. Because she is a retail worker, she felt this action might hurt her, and if it hurt her and other commissioned retail workers, it must be bad. What the author of that email and so many others have curiously forgotten—or, more likely, never knew in the first place—is that often, resistance movements require that type of discomfort and sacrifice.
When black people in Montgomery, Alabama decided to boycott the city’s bus service due to segregation, they did so at a great inconvenience and burden to themselves. Boycotters who did not own cars had to walk to work or find some other mode of transportation. People hitchhiked and black cab drivers slashed their rates to support those boycotting. The demonstration cost them time, money and energy but the alternative—unequal treatment under the law—was simply no longer an option.
The 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike—which included perhaps, ironically, some of the most privileged people to ever go on strike—resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages for Guild writers, production workers and revenue for Los Angeles County.
Today, many people of color understand showing up to a demonstration against police violence or for immigration rights opens them up to the often physically abusive whims of law enforcement.
Those who find it so urgent to yell, “Don’t forget this is a privilege!” strike me as people who first started seriously engaging with activism sometime between November 8 and January 21. And that’s fine, sort of, but you don’t get to shift the narrative of resistance and peddle ahistorical arguments because your personal experience and understanding are limited.
On March 7, the day before the Women’s Strike, Los Angeles held local elections with the ballot including a mayoral election, school board appointments, measures on marijuana regulation and a tax to help homelessness. I won’t pretend I’m someone who rigorously engaged in local politics in the past, but I recognized that this year, in these times, voting is literally the bare minimum I can do as a concerned citizen.
It was disappointing, then, to learn the election yielded a voter turnout of slightly less than 12 percent—an improvement from the year before.
Where were the marchers on Tuesday? Where were the women and men who trekked downtown and knitted their pussy hats and crafted their clever signs and snapped their #resistance Instagram shots? Where were they when they were called on to show up for one of the most vulnerable classes of people and to help determine the leadership of a flailing public school system that’s 73 percent Latino?
In a perfect world, I’d hope those who felt compelled to take to the streets in January would bring that same energy to issues that may not directly affect them, but have the potential to change the lives of others. Of course, nothing is perfect. One action does not always beget another and no matter how noble a cause, it will undoubtably be ideologically imperfect or inconvenient for someone. The sooner we all get comfortable with that dichotomy, the sooner we can truly tackle the work at hand.
No one is saying A Day Without Women doesn’t necessarily exclude some women—we can all understand that simply by considering the parameters of the day. But just like the January Women’s March, that doesn’t negate its value. We can and should debate the merits and drawbacks of a movement—I certainly have—but we cannot afford to discourage action. Imperfect progress with noble intent is still ground gained.