This International Women’s Day, Wednesday March 8, organizers urged women to abstain from the workforce (both formal and informal) to make a point about the invaluable contributions that women make to the American economy. “A Day Without A Woman” asked strikers to make a point: that women are essential—both for our labor and our monetary participation.
The intention was to draw attention to women’s issues like fair pay and reproductive health by abstaining from engaging in a capitalist system that is inherently exploitative. The Women’s March website explains: “The goal is to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the U.S. and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.” It continues, “We play an indispensable role in the daily functions of life in all of society, through paid and unpaid, seen and unseen labor.”
When a general strike was announced as the course of action, it became immediately evident that this was not necessarily the most inclusive approach. It had the potential to alienate and exclude those women who simply could not miss work for a variety of reasons, one of the most pressing being because they could not afford to (hourly workers are, of course, not compensated for time they are not at their workplace).
With this reality in mind, my female coworkers and I nevertheless decided that we would not be attending work on Wednesday. Our decision-making process to do so was, of course, acutely influenced by the fact that we are salaried workers who have the luxury of missing a day of work without repercussions, be they financial or punitive.
My coworker Elena Childers put the conundrum nicely, saying “the march is a little privileged…I mean, it’s in the middle of the week in the middle of the day, not everyone has the ability to just dip out of work.”
Despite checking in with this privilege, and understanding that we were in a position to take advantage of and leverage it, I personally still felt as though my absence at work needed to be explained or excused. It’s difficult to say whether this is indicative of my socialization to appease others and be non-disruptive, a larger culture at my particular place of employment, or simply my inclination to write about things that I experience. But it’s worth noting.
So I pitched a story idea: that we BTR girls would attend the women’s march, and collaborate on a piece for the site that explained the atmosphere, and our experience participating. We got permission from our boss, and spent the day ostensibly striking, yet also technically collecting content for our jobs.
This created yet another paradoxical mental hula-hoop through which we then tried to metaphorically jump. Childers explains, “My boss let me out today, and I’m writing about the march,” she continues, “I feel like it defeats the purpose of supposedly being ‘on strike.’”
We wondered: Were we really striking? Did our absence have its intended effect? Did covering the event for work defeat the purpose? And, furthermore, did the strike itself fail to stand in solidarity with those who could not participate?
Wednesday’s strike came on the heels of the larger Women’s March, which saw incredible turnouts of demonstrators protesting President Donald Trump all across the country. Impressive participation aside, both the strike and the Women’s March clearly had shortcomings.
One of the most salient criticisms levied against the Women’s March organizers is that their platform, actions, and larger rhetorical framework do not engage with intersectionality in a deliberate enough way.
The phrase intersectional feminism is pretty buzzy at the moment, but it’s not a new concept. Since it’s inception, white feminism has often overlooked the unique yet intertwined struggles intrinsic to women of color. Where “Lean In” feminism entreats women to put themselves at the table and advocate for the same opportunities as their white male counterparts, intersectional feminism is more interested in navigating the ways in which overlapping yet discrete forms of oppression affect women differently, based on their sexual and gender identities, race, class, or religion.
Rather than encouraging women to climb to the top of the ladder, intersectional feminism seeks to dismantle the framework that insists a social hierarchy must exist. Because such distinct stratification depends upon the subjugation of some at the hands of others, Wednesday’s strike wasn’t entirely successful in addressing this.
This wasn’t the only problematic aspect of the strike that we encountered. There was also the glaring fact that, naturally, the capitalist machine didn’t come to a screeching halt due to the strike. My coworker Taia Handlin comments, “There was a guy selling red Women’s Day t-shirts for 15 dollars each and I thought that was stupid and fucked.” Clearly there were those who attempted to profit from the enthusiasm of the day, and there were women participating who failed to realize that buying a personal memento went against the tenets of the strike.
Handlin elaborates, “Technically, the strike involved not participating in capitalism as much as possible. Which I realize has classist issues up the butt, but right now that’s not the point, the point is that he was a dude who clearly did not really care about the strike or Women’s Day but more about seeing an opportunity to sell some shit.” She concludes, “he wasn’t making a nuanced argument about the failings of white feminism.”
In all honestly, Wednesday’s strike left me with more questions than answers. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As we all move forward under the Trump presidency and choose what type of political action we will engage in, it’s important to keep examining what failings we might have in doing so, and at least attempt to reconcile them.