On March 8, political organizers have called women around the globe to “act together for equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity” by “tak[ing] the day off, from paid and unpaid labor,” “avoid[ing] shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses),” and wearing red as a sign of solidarity. The goal is a women’s strike.
This event, “A Day Without A Woman,” is the latest in a string of public events and personal efforts organized by the Women’s March folks to ostensibly raise awareness of the value of women. It reaffirms participants’ commitment to the Women’s March Unity Principles and to the principle that women’s rights are human rights.
The point that this movement excludes women while purporting to speak on behalf of all women has already been made. The objection that A Day Without A Woman misguidedly asks women to lean out rather than show up and achieve has also already been made. I intend to point out two other problems with this day of demonstration: it assumes a set of elitist and inegalitarian privileges for participants and further marginalizes an already-marginalized group of women.
Not All Women Can Just Drop Work Without Consequences
Even while doing my best to assume the best of the organizers of A Day Without A Woman, frankly, I think they should be ashamed of themselves. This is a self-indulgent day for academics and professional women who are fortunate enough to hold positions requiring a relatively specific skill set and bear no real risk of harm from taking a day off. It assumes the privilege of being able to pause one’s work at will, and the privilege of being able to shuffle duties like child or elder care to someone else. It categorically demands more risk of women in lower-income brackets, in jobs requiring low-specificity skill sets, and without a support system.
Some women, like myself, are privileged enough to be able to take a single gratuitous day off from work as a “strike” in the interest of promoting unarticulated and vague demands of the government and my employer. I am an attorney; I make more money than I need; I have no dependents. My work product is good, so I think my bosses would suffer through a weekday of me not answering my phone and emails rather than fire me and go about trying to find a new associate.
Some women, like a comical seven of the eight authors of a Guardian article introducing the idea and ostensibly partial masterminds of this event, are academics (here are bios one, two, three, four, five, six, seven). Those women can cancel class with impunity any day of the year. Their students will likely be delighted they don’t have to do their reading for that day, while other students will just be deprived of a day of education. Some of the authors are emerita-status and may not even have to take the trouble of cancelling a class to participate. Women like me, with professional degrees from good institutions, and like the women who wrote this Guardian article, don’t have that much to complain about.
Losing Your Job Is a Risk You Must Take
This is, I submit, one of the more objectionable parts about A Day Without A Woman: this event is tailor-made as a day of sanctimony for women with cushy jobs, no actual duties to others, flexible work schedules, and careers requiring relatively specific skill sets.
Many women, unfortunately, have very different experiences in their workplaces. Some women perform work that another low-skilled laborer can quickly and easily replace. If some women were to take a day off, they would simply be fired. The organizers recognize this and write, “It is possible that some women may be fired, as there were about a dozen instances of firings over the Day Without Immigrants strike. Nothing comes without a sacrifice.” They are right. Nothing comes without a sacrifice, but some women must simply make no sacrifice (see above) and some women would be making a huge sacrifice.
That the organizers so cavalierly say it’s “possible that some women may be fired” nauseates me. It’s galling. They should be ashamed of themselves. For tenured academic women who epitomize the ivory tower and quite seriously cannot be fired to so graciously acknowledge the possibility that women will lose their jobs incenses me.
They are right, of course, that strikes require a sacrifice and a risk, but such a risk needs to be worth it. The one-day disturbance of some women in a company striking is so non-threatening that it is unlikely to spur any company policy changes, but it will likely be annoying enough to get women fired from that same company. Remember, “it is possible.”
Assuming arguendo that the threat is enough to spur change, women putting their jobs on the line should at least have clearly articulated demands to make to their bosses! A Day Without A Woman does not even do that. Nor does it allow bosses the “out” of complying with demands in advance of the strike. There is no upside to instituting policies that favor women, so why would anyone do it?
Stop Assuming Women’s Value Lies In Their Work
The second offense I take to this event is that it reinforces the pernicious view that women are valuable only insofar as they contribute. Back in the day, women were reduced to their abilities to produce children and clean houses. Now we are reduced to our ability to disrupt the economy by being absent.
I am sick and tired of hearing that a woman is worthwhile because she, as a woman, adds something to “the boardroom” or that I, as a woman, am a better investor or that, as a woman, Judy would have been a particularly good doctor. None of these things is why women are worthwhile. If these productive capacities are what make women worthwhile, then some women must be considered worthless. Some women cannot work and do not add anything to the economy.
I am of course not referring to women who work from home, who contribute to their families and the economic community by homeschooling, raising children, caring for the dying, or serving in charitable capacities. Those women play a crucial role in keeping society rolling, which even A Day Without Women recognizes. I commend the organizers for recognizing the work stay-at-home moms do, because such women have long been undervalued.
I am instead referring to the women who actually do not contribute to the economy: the unemployed, the severely disabled, the imprisoned, or the isolated. There are women in this world who arguably only harm the economy. I say this descriptively, not pejoratively. Such women have no productive capacity. A Day Without A Woman reinforces the concept that such women are worthless. They cannot go on strike, and no one would be harmed by their absence. To a degree, that’s true.
But that does not matter. Those women are infinitely valuable regardless of their productive capacity—just as much so as the academics, the low-skilled laborer, and the homeschooling mom. The source of this value is difficult to articulate without a belief in a soul bestowed by a loving God. I assume some atheistic women have an explanation for why the severely mentally handicapped prisoner is worthwhile, but I have not yet heard a coherent one.
All I know is that each woman I discuss in this essay is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore is more valuable than even I can comprehend. A day without them bearing their labors will not change that.