Cross-posted to Medium
The Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington made a call to action for women to strike on March 8th, 2017 in honor of International Women’s Day. The idea was to utilize this recognized day as a springboard for engagement through a wide-spread strike. The organizers’ language follows:
“…we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting. We believe in gender justice.
Anyone, anywhere, can join by making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, in one or all of the following ways:
1. Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).
3. Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman”
The systemic discrimination against and marginalization of women and gender minorities are at the root of these matters. Prior to the 20th Century, there were few options that women had for pursuing economic independence, and into the 21st Century women and gender minorities are greatly underrepresented in positions of authority in nearly all fields, and are underrepresented on the whole in many fields. Women and gender minorities’ unpaid labor is difficult to quantify: unpaid labor may describe caring for elder members of family and community, caring for and educating children. Unpaid labor also speaks to the number of women and transgender persons who perform uncompensated labor through internships and apprenticeships as a result of lack of access to paid work due to discrimination. The idea of on principle disengaging from unpaid labor is fraught with symbolism, and calls into question how we identify “work,” what it means to participate in work, and what visibility implies.
The reasoning behind the Women’s March on Washington organizers’ call to action is grounded in truths that need to be dissected further if they are to be used as foundational materials for a broad revolution. According to statistics published by Pew Research in 2016, Asian women earn $0.87 for every $1.00 that white men make; white women earn $0.82 for every $1.00 that white men earn; black women earn $0.65 cents for every $1.00 that white men earn, Hispanic women earn $0.58 for every $1.00 that white men earn. In regards to the Women’s March organizers’ statement on trans and gender nonconforming persons’ inequity, per a July 2011 report from the Williams Institute, “78% of respondents to the largest survey of transgender people to date reported experiencing at least one form of harassment or mistreatment at work because of their gender identity; more specifically, 47% had been discriminated against in hiring, promotion, or job retention.” The inequities between the pay that white women receive versus what women of color receive indicate the ways in which multiply marginalized persons experience exponentially greater levels of inequality, and the disproportionate rates of discrimination and mistreatment that transgender individuals face in the workplace are unconscionable. Movements for gender equity need to recognize and attend to fact that race, ethnicity, gender experience and expression and socioeconomic status overlap and compound the fight for justice. We cannot have a movement for gender justice that does not seek to dismantle these systems of power and inequality that divide us and prevent progress.
In multiple contexts, the ability to “take the day off” is heavy with the privilege it bears: It implies that a person can forego a day’s worth of pay, and will not personally suffer individual, collective, or economic violence as a result of their not engaging in work. It could be perceived, too, as an implication that if all women were to be absent from work today, that systems would not fail, people would receive life-saving health-care, and cities will not crumble into ruin: this indicates a critical devaluation of the work that women perform. The “ability” of persons to take the day off is an ableism that represents privileges that are at the core of critiques of White Feminism.
When organized as a large-scale movement or mobilization, a strike is a powerful tool against oppression that highlights how hegemonic systems are profoundly reliant on marginalized constituencies. In individual corporations, communities, and schools, a well-organized strike can result in enormous benefits for the strikers: new contracts are negotiated, demands are met, and progress is achieved for the marginalized group. Strikes, however, can also be devastating: people may be reprimanded, fined or fired for their absence; when the persons and systems that hold the power are unwilling to negotiate change. A strike, too, by particular members of a marginalized group without a collective agreement that all members strike may then result in the discriminatory policing of strikers who may concurrently be members of the group striking (in this case women), and other marginalized groups subject to greater scrutiny (communities of color, transgender/gender-non-conforming women, and women of lower socioeconomic classes). In theory, a large-scale strike by women and gender minorities would have a profound visual effect, but without a uniform plan of action, insurance for financial and/or job protection, and plan for pursuing recourse to end or following the strike, such an action will not be a successful counter-hegemony.
I question what it means when a person’s presence is meant to be more powerful by their conspicuous absence. A Day Without Women raises ideas of visibility and invisibility, and how these relate to women’s experiences and the value that women provide to systems economically, socially, and culturally. If women, as a whole, experience less prominence and visibility in the work place, and are valued less than male persons in the workplace, I question how their absence makes them more visible: while it may not make the individual more visible, it makes the work that they perform — which is on the whole, devalued — more visible. A coarse example might be what would happen if a municipality were to suspend trash pickups: citizens would be forced to see, smell, and otherwise confront the reality of work and workers that are unseen.
Direct action is visceral, and can have profound effects, but it needs to be a part of a larger and more complex dialogue and series of actions in pursuit of a visionary goal. Building a movement that is mission-driven, sustainable, and has specific outcomes requires persistence, complex and multidimensional organization, and visibility.