The concept behind the Day Without A Woman strike is powerful: For one day, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce ceases to come to work. Sales plummet unexpectedly as a result of a nationwide boycott. Men are forced to do double the work, to do their own domestic labor, to provide childcare, and at the end of a miserable, chaotic day, they will look around and realize how much women are taken for granted.
It’s an incredible concept, one that, if actualized, would likely live up to the energy and impact of its predecessor, the Women’s March. But as with so many things – communism, fat-free ice cream, bangs – turning the perfect ideal into a reality just isn’t very realistic. To me, A Day Without A Woman seems to fall prey to the most insidious problem facing feminism: It’s only really feasible for privileged feminists.
Taking off of work for the sake of a protest is not easy, especially when said protest is not directly related to your job. When transit workers or nurses or screenwriters go on strike, it’s to slow down the system, to make a stand and demand attention for all that they do. They understand that they risk their livelihoods, but their strength is in their numbers and unity. But such a unity isn’t feasible for a women’s strike, especially for women who work hourly jobs, who don’t have PTO or can’t afford to waste their PTO, or women who would lose their only form of income if they missed work. These are the women who need feminism the most, and yet they will be unable to take part in this demonstration.
It’s also important to remember that although the strike is specifically designed to make things difficult, areas such as education and childcare will be heavily impacted by the strike. Schools across the nation have closed due to understaffing, which is unsurprising, considering how teachers are largely female. But while some kids may celebrate the day off, keep in mind the difficulties the closures will have created for other families. In some states, public schools provide underprivileged children breakfast and lunch, which means that shuttering the doors for a day could possibly deprive children of two of their daily meals. Working mothers – especially single ones – will have to find ways to care for their children while off of school, which means a choice between possibly paying for daycare or taking off work.
Labor strikes have a long history of forcing change, and creating better conditions. But the key is that these strikes are done over long amounts of time by collective units of workers who are prepared to lose their livelihoods. These protests have always been life or death – they stay on the line until change comes, or they get replaced. They have clear demands, and are prepared to muck up the system until they get them. The women’s strike isn’t like this. Those taking off work are doing so easily, and those who can’t, simply won’t. The directive is unclear, and employers are unlikely and possibly unable to respond in any cohesive way. The majority of American women will not be participating, which decreases the efficacy of the strike. So for one day, affluent liberal women will effectively play at a labor strike.
That’s not to say that taking off is a bad thing; if you’re privileged enough to do so, you should. But you have a duty to spend your day responsibly, by protesting, making donations to progressive organizations, contacting your representatives, or volunteering. And I’m not alone in advocating this; feminist websites Bustle & Romper are going dark for the strike, but are offering to pay their writers their usual hourly wages if they choose to volunteer somewhere instead.
The organizers of the strike have recognized that it’s not feasible for everyone to take off of work, however, and combatted the problem. Can’t take off work? No problem. Show solidarity in other ways – wear red, abstain from any purchases, and if you have to shop, support minority and women owned businesses. These are easily accomplished, and (aside from your outfit choice) are likely to send a truly impactful statement.
But I would argue that some women can make just as much of a statement by continuing to come to work, regardless of the strike. Our actions, our dedication to our jobs, our determination to work can be showcased. We can stand in solidarity with women who can’t afford to take off work. We can bother our coworkers and showcase our red t-shirts and put our message out there. I, for one, will be at work – not because I don’t support the cause, but because I love my job, because I respect my female coworkers who can’t take off, my female manager who relies on me to do my job, and our female editors who depend on the many women in my office to get our publication to print daily. Abstaining from work would, in fact, put stress and difficulty on many women who I respect and support.
I understand that revolutions are not considerate of working hours and kid’s schedules. Change is messy and chaotic, and does not stem from politeness. But more than anything, whether you stay home on your couch or go out to protest, whether you show up for work or stay home with your kid, it’s important that we don’t get swept up in the idea of the strike and pat ourselves on the backs as we post our social media solidarity. The strike is merely a catalyst, urging women to do something active that will send a loud message. Actions and education are the root of feminism, and if we allow ourselves to filled with righteous feminist pride for passive activities (like not going to work) we lose sight of the larger endgame. So as you prep for your Day Without A Woman, just ask yourself: Is this a true show of the power of feminism, or is it another tool of #feminism – something that looks great on a ‘gram, that will fill our timelines, and make us feel good about empowering our fellow women despite the fact that we didn’t really do anything?