I am not taking the day off. I am working today, not only because I can’t afford to do so (I unfortunately don’t have enough Paid Time Off in my leave bank) but because I don’t want to. I’ve thought a lot about this and what strikes me is the unfair amount of privilege one must have to be able to participate in the A Day Without a Woman strike.
First of all, I think it’s pretty clear that we didn’t learn much from our mistakes. As much as the Women’s March in January was celebrated, it was also criticized for being a celebration of white feminism and an event that was not very inclusive to the transgender community and women of color. I thought everyone got the memo about the importance of intersectional feminism after that, but it’s pretty clear I was wrong.
I get the overall intention of the strike. I really do. It’s a powerful thing to be able to strike in solidarity with other women and make a tangible impact on the day-to-day operations of the world. In Alexandria, VA, the attendance rate of female teachers was so abysmal, the Alexandria City Public Schools were forced to close for a day. When you look at it like that, feminist strikes like these are kind of cool.
But when you look at who is not able to participate, the coolness factor seriously declines. As much as today is a show of solidarity, it is also a stunning display of privilege, leaving those who are in an economic or social position to take a day off in an enviable position of defining what feminism is or what it ought to be. It also cuts stay-at-home moms and women who, for whatever reason do not work, out of the narrative. There’s an implicit argument here that good feminists are women who work and who care enough about advancing feminism that they are willing to take a day off. This unapologetic performance of privilege is more than simply unproductive for advancing feminism as a movement. It’s dangerous.
I also think it’s unfortunate that the way we have chosen to show our value as a whole is by singling out the small portion of the population that can literally afford to take a day off.
I should not have to take a day of paid or unpaid leave to demonstrate that I am valued. What’s worse is I am surrounded by women who do not have that choice. We all are. They are our servers, nail technicians, bartenders, and janitorial staff. They are also our business owners, executives, and teachers, who feel as though taking a day off would hinder their ability to run their business and leave themselves unavailable for their employees. Whatever the reason, they shouldn’t be forced to choose between being a good feminist and not showing up to work and…someone else that, by implication, is “less-than.”
What’s sad is that even my male friends and colleagues have made this point. My friend Greg had this to say in a Facebook post this morning:
I can't help but wonder if the International Women's Day protest is not a sign of privilege just as much as it is a show of solidarity. A woman would have to be in an economically privileged position to have the ability to take a day off of paid and/or unpaid labor. While we should celebrate peaceful protests as healthy to democracy, I wonder if this one inadvertently tells underprivileged women that they aren't welcome.
Never mind that he is conflating International Women’s Day with A Day Without a Woman. We will get to that issue later. For the most part, it's hard for me to argue with him and I am more than annoyed that he was so quick to point this out while so many of my female friends did not. The thing is, women who identify as feminists should never have been put in this position in the first place. It’s not like a strike was our only option. There are countless other ways to demonstrate women’s strength and economic power that are truly intersectional.
It appears A Day Without a Woman has more than an ideological problem. It also has a branding problem, and that’s the second thing that seemed “off” about today. A Day Without a Woman was scheduled on International Women’s Day. That may seem like a logical fit for some, but for me it was a terrible idea. From a branding perspective, A Day Without Women was competing with a tradition that is over a century old and whose origins are credited with sparking the 1917 Russian revolution. It’s hard for #ADayWithoutaWoman to compete with #InternationalWomensDay. When you think about it, it’s pretty awful, not to mention ironic, that two feminist movements, however closely related, would have to compete against each other at all.
From a branding perspective, it’s also a bad idea because you run the risk of the two events becoming conflated, as evidenced by Greg’s Facebook post. The idea that A Day Without a Woman and International Women’s Day were the same was a sentiment also echoed in my office. More than once today, I heard multiple female colleagues lament that they were “still in the office, despite it being International Women’s Day.”
So, like my colleagues, I spent the day at work doing lots of “work-y things” and going about business as usual. I am trying not to feel guilty or feel like I subscribe to a feminist-lite approach to living but it is hard. I respect those that chose to take today off. I really do. However, I also recognize that because so many women did not and could not, we are again facing another moment where we must recognize that the version of feminism represented at A Day Without a Woman is not intersectional.
Although well-intentioned, the next national act of feminism might want to shift its efforts away from organizing a strike where only some can participate and instead create opportunities that are inclusive and maximize participation for women on a wider scale. I’ll also suggest that it not take place on the same day as another women focused event. To capitalize on the success of the Women’s March takes effort and a clear strategy. While grand displays of feminism at protests and strikes sometimes make for good photographs and news clips, developing a sustained social movement is also about creating smaller, more manageable every-day and every-month opportunities for activism. I think it comes down to encouraging women to donate time, money and change consumer habits, all different strategies depending on who you are and how much time and money you have.
There are many opportunities for everyday activism. Women can run for office or lend their skills to supporting a campaign, volunteer with school aged girls in a mentoring program, shut down sexist talk even when it's not convenient or welcome, or support women owned businesses. When thinking on a local and national scale, we need more dialogue between feminists of all different backgrounds and levels of privilege. Reaching out across comfort zones, engaging with those who don't look and live like you, and asking for input when planning events is probably the best thing that we can do next time.
Although we have again fallen short of a version of feminism that is truly intersectional, we will have another chance to get it right the next time. I am not sure how long it will take to get there, but the stakes are too great not to keep trying.
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