In the fine tradition of taking something that worked before and milking it to the point of uselessness or maybe self-parody, a strike has been called for March 8, International Women’s Day, also known this year as A Day Without a Woman. Organized by the groups behind the stunningly successful Women’s March in January, the strike, according to the website, seeks to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socioeconomic system.”
The organizers go on to explain that “anyone, anywhere can join … in one or all of the following ways: 1) Women take the day off from paid or 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.”
Now, you may have noticed that I’ve been away from this column for the last several months. The official reason is that I’m on book leave. Another reason is that for 11 years I’ve had the freedom and pleasure of writing a column that can favor counterintuitive points over predictable ones and resist toeing any party line. In the Trump era, at least in these early days, that approach just doesn’t feel appropriate. These are times that call for a sledgehammer, and I’m just not the sledgehammer type. So I’ve been laying low for a while.
But I’m crawling out of my hole this week, blunt instrument in hand, to say a few words about A Day Without a Woman: I highly doubt that “anyone, anywhere” can or will join this party. That’s because it’s really going to be A Day Without a Privileged Woman.
Make no mistake, March 8 will mostly be a day without women who can afford to skip work and shuffle childcare and household duties to someone else.
I know how overused the word “privileged” has become. The passive-aggressive, pseudo-woke Privilege Accusation Game is now the fastest way to get someone you disagree with to stop talking, especially if you have enough education and free time to sit around thinking about privilege in these terms. (I wrote a column about this back in ye olde 2014.)
Make no mistake, March 8 will mostly be a day without women who can afford to skip work, shuffle childcare and household duties to someone else, and shop at stores that are likely to open at 10 and close at 5. As for wearing red, what is the dress code, exactly? Are you supposed to wear your pink pussy hats, too?
The precursor to A Day Without A Woman was A Day Without Immigrants, a boycott/strike that occurred on a large scale in 2006 in response to anti-immigration measures proposed during the George W. Bush administration. It was repeated, quietly, last month. Galvanizing as these events may be, they are not like union picket lines, choreographed to achieve a specific goal, which is why the question of how much meaningful change was effected by the 2006 protests is still a subject of debate. A Day Without a Woman seems especially poised for unquantifiable results, given the diffuse nature of its platform.
What is guaranteed is media attention, especially the kind that germinates on social media and spawns a flurry of Internet commentary and hot takes about the bedeviled state of the contemporary female.
Some of that chatter will be about Trump-specific displays of blatant misogyny. Some will protest the kinds of rollbacks in reproductive rights you’d see in just about any Republican administration. Or focus on education policies, sexual violence and harassment, LGBT rights, healthcare — anything that can be loosely designated a women’s issue. Along for the ride will be the perfunctory cutesy-ironic Internet memes about gender-based microaggressions like mansplaining and manspreading. Any male who complains about having to pick up the slack left by striking/boycotting women can count on plenty of eye-rolling invocations of the popular refrain “I Drink Male Tears.”
Meanwhile, for the millions of women who have no choice but to show up and meet their responsibilities on March 8 (and every day), it will be business as usual.
Which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of the point, isn’t it? At least it should be. We are nearly half the labor force now. We are just as important in the workplace and to our families’ fiscal welfare as men. All things being equal (which is what we’re after, right?), we are too essential to play hooky.
That’s why the idea that women should take a day off en masse to make a political point is both self-defeating and vaguely insulting. It’s meant to highlight how crucial we are, but its very premise also suggest the opposite: Women are expendable. A Day Without a Woman plays into the idea that we entered the workforce not to support ourselves and our families but to combat boredom or to boost our self-esteem. For all but a very few affluent women, that’s never been the case.
And for all but the most affluent classes, March 8 will be a day like any other day. Except maybe for some serious color clashing when those red clothes are paired with those pink hats. In which case maybe everyone should stay home.
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