Why You're Not A Bad Feminist If You're At Work Today

by Alexandra Svokos

I'm a card-carrying feminist who marched in the Women's March on DC and talks a lot about the importance of abortion access.

And I'm also sitting at my desk at work today.

Wednesday is the "Day Without A Woman" strike, organized by the Women's March. In celebration of International Women's Day, women are supposed to stop working as a form of protest.

The Women's March instructs women to take the day off from both paid and unpaid labor (like housework and childcare), in order to recognize the large amounts of work women do to keep society functioning, all while facing discrimination and making lower wages.

It's good reasoning.

Economic arguments are loud, and striking shows how vital people can be. Additionally, women do a vast majority of housework and care-taking without pay, so taking a day off shows the men who must step in how much work their female counterparts do that goes economically unrecognized.

But while the idea of the women's strike is sound, reality distorts it.

There's a huge number of practical, logistical and emotional reasons why women can't just take a day off from work.

You could have limited sick and vacation days. You could have just started a new job. You could be a professor and it's the week before midterms, or you could have a huge deadline coming up that you've been working toward for months.

We care about our work: It's true.

You could be a politics writer covering the strike.

When it comes to unpaid work, you could be the only person who could help... unless another woman steps in.

You could just want to clean your apartment and make dinner without feeling like a failure to the cause.

There are other ways to demonstrate, if you can't miss work for whatever reason.

And then, there's the question of privilege.

As Maureen Shaw detailed at Quartz, the idea of a Day Without A Woman is great... if you're someone who can afford to take a day off.

The original Woman's March was such a success (at least in part) because it was constructed so the most people could participate.

It was held on a weekend, when a large number of people aren't working (which also means more men were around for care-taking).

Sister Marches were organized around the globe, so everyone could participate in the same way.

But the Day Without A Woman strike doesn't have those same inclusive constructions.

The Women's March did create the strike with alternate ways to demonstrate, including wearing red and avoiding shopping.

While avoiding shopping could work, wearing red is more difficult for women who wear uniforms to work.

Bob Bland, a national co-chair of the Women's March, told Elite Daily,

The people who are striking, we are striking for them, too. We've given folks a lot of different ways they can be involved besides walking out of work.

But that concept of "striking for them" strikes me as patronizing. It puts women on unequal footing, and it's a reminder that privilege structures exist within genders.

Low-income women are disproportionately black and Hispanic. Statistically speaking, saying the women who can afford to strike are striking for those who can't sets the stage for white saviors.

As Jenna Graham wrote,

Many white women claim to want equality, yet fail to acknowledge that there is a hierarchy amongst women alone that they sit on top of. You can be well-intentioned and still be detrimental to the growth of a movement if your intent is clouded by ignorance.

By not creating an equal way to demonstrate, the Women's March is at risk of falling to the same stratified problems feminism has had.

"Feminism" as a movement was pushed by educated, privileged white women, and it prioritized the causes that most benefitted them. (Well, us: I'm an educated, privileged white woman.)

Over the course of the late 20th century, this prioritization pushed less privileged (by income and race) women out of the center of the movement.

Younger generations and the Women's March have been working to right the wrongs of the previous movement. Women of color are in leadership positions, and the March's principles are intersectional.

Bland said,

When [historically disadvantaged people] are put in leadership positions, it makes everything much more inclusive. That's what we've done with the Women's March.

But it's one thing to support, and another thing to actually include.

The founders of the March can talk all they want about how the strike is inclusive for all women, but at the end of the day, it's overwhelmingly privileged women who are most able to fully participate.

Let's be honest: It's uncomfortable to criticize the Women's March.

I stand by all the causes they support. I like seeing women in action.

But, especially as someone prone to white guilt, I'm uncomfortable with the structure of this particular demonstration.

In-fighting has long been a problem within liberal causes. We want everything to encompass everyone and every problem.

While that's noble, it can slow activist work down and form cracks in movements that would benefit from togetherness.

Ultimately, we need as many people as possible pushing for women's equality in order to make it happen. And that includes people of privilege: white women, rich women and men.

In fact, their participation is often vital. We need people in power to push for change, use their privilege for purpose and step aside to let change happen.

Other strikes have worked, it's true. But strikes historically have roots in those with less privilege.

A 1975 women's strike in Iceland arguably led to some change. But there are more working women and single mothers now than they were in 1975. And Iceland is a small country.

A strike in Poland this past fall arguably helped an abortion ban not get passed. But that was organized around one specific, pressing issue.

It's unclear at this point what the Day Without A Woman will achieve, but at the very least, it has spurred these conversations.

The efforts since the Women's March have been encouraging.

Arguably the best outcome of the Women's March is its ongoing inspiration for activism. Local groups have continued organizing, hosting card-writing parties to representatives, going to town halls and figuring out solutions at that vital local level.

So, maybe you can't strike today. But you can go to a meeting later. You can donate. You can call your representative.

Missing this one demonstration doesn't erase your legitimacy as part of the movement for women's equality. There's a lot more work to do.

Citations: Quartz, New York