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The Upcoming Women’s Strike Has a White Privilege Problem. Here’s How to Fix it

The Upcoming Women’s Strike Has a White Privilege Problem. Here’s How to Fix it: Noam Galai / Getty

Noam Galai / Getty

The Women’s March on Washington on January 21 will get a follow-up on March 8 in what is being called the “The Day Without a Woman” strike. Eight prominent feminists announced the strike last week in an op-ed for The Guardian. They’re joined by the organizers of January’s Women’s March, who earlier had stated they were planning a similar event. Strike organizers are now calling for participants to “abstain from domestic, care, and sex work” and “boycot and strike in educational institutions.” Their aim is to create a “grassroots anti-capitalist feminism—a feminism in solidarity with working women, their families, and their allies.” Allies in some 30 countries have pledged support.

As I have written before, targeting businesses is one of the most effective ways of gaining the attention of politicians. A strike that undermines businesses that support President Donald Trump and his administration, for example, would hit them where they’ll feel it the most: their wallets. But there’s also an uncomfortable reality that comes with this: the majority of such business leaders are millionaires and billionaires. One day without profit likely won’t make a dent in their bank accounts.

The majority of women this campaign is speaking to—domestic workers, babysitters and other caretakers—work in places like schools, hospices and child care. A lot of them are surviving on median or even low wages. Participating in this protest, then, equates a day without pay for the people who need it the most. Thus, there seems to be a contradiction in the mission of the strike: organizers want to create a feminism that is “in solidarity with working women,” but encouraging “working women” to not show up is a classist—and in some cases even racist—tactic. In fact, participating in the strike could threaten the livelihoods of poor women across the country. Even if a woman can’t afford to strike, her child care worker might, forcing her to stay home to care for her children anyway. It takes quite a bit of privilege to participate in a protest that requires playing hooky.

That’s not to say the merits of the strike aren’t noble: it will prove just how dependent the American work force is on women. Women run every facet of our daily lives, and watching cities shut down in protest of the misogynistic policies peddled by Trump and those lawmakers emboldened by his presidency would prove that we women have the power to make the world stop—and that we aren’t afraid to activate that power when necessary. If women can revoke their labor to destabilize the economy either by not going to work or protesting in the streets, it may be possible to “make visible the needs” of women that feminism often ignores: those in the working class.

Nevertheless, it’s important to ask who benefits from this strike. Yes, it sends a powerful, unmissable message to Washington. But the organizers specify that they want women to abstain from “domestic” work. It’s conceivable that even some women who are able to skip their paid jobs will still be doing work of another kind. That is, taking care of their own children, cleaning and cooking. Only some have husbands who can afford to take the day off too so that their wives can get a break. Meanwhile, the women who fear for their job security or who live paycheck-to-paycheck will pick up the slack of their fellow women who were able, for whatever reason, to participate in the strike, ultimately saddling them with more work. In fact, the very people that strike needs to participate for maximum impact—women who work in the service industry—are the very people who can least afford to do so. Not to mention the fact that this strike does not account for stay-at-home and single mothers, whose family’s depend on them alone for care.

A better option may be to abstain from any type of consumerism on March 8, even if you have to go to work. Don’t go shopping. Pack your lunch and bring it to the office. Make your coffee at home that day. Ride your bike to work if you can. More importantly, if you are privileged enough to take a vacation day or work from home, volunteer to babysit the child of a working woman who wants to strike, take over cooking duties so that she can attend a protest, even ask if you can help her with the laundry or the dishes, so that, even from home, she can fulfill the stipulations of the strike.

If you want to show your support for women’s rights, staying home from work on March 8 is certainly a powerful symbolic gesture. But the lives of the women that we claiming to fight for won’t change unless we remember to take concrete action, too.

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