A General Strike is for ALL Women
On March 8, International Women's Day, the Trump Resistance is organizing a general labor strike for all women, trans and non-binary folx. The strike mirrors the Women's Strike for Equality in 1970 which celebrated the 50-year-anniversary of the 19th Amendment. This is your general reminder that less than a century ago the civil liberties for the majority of the country were non-existent: women couldn't vote, black people couldn't vote, most Asian people were barred from immigrating. America's long history with ethnocentrism, sexism, racism and xenophobia wasn't really so long ago –– it never really stopped existing.
The general labor strike, currently in the works, is loosely organized through Women's March, the organization that put on Women's March on Washington, and supported by many other high profile, long-time activists like Angela Davis. Francine Prose initially called for a strike in a piece published in The Guardian (linked above). However, like most movements supporting civil rights, there has been quite a lot of confusion and criticism surrounding the strike.
Sady Doyle wrote an op-ed for Elle discussing the complexities of a general labor strike for women. Doyle ultimately calls striking a privilege of the middle to upper-class and wonders if a women's strike will be as powerful, today, because women's labor is generally, more-or-less paid. Doyle voices an issue that I'm sure other's have as well: is a women's strike really necessary, now?
Doyle is right to point out the need for feminism to re-focus and expand from issues about the upper-middle-class white, working woman. Much of the conversation around feminist has focused primarily on white women's issues and easy "lean-in" and "marketplace" feminism that has no real, tangible effects. This is feminism that focuses on profit margins, selling products, sharing articles. It's easy "feel-good" feminism because it doesn't come with risks -- except a few angry Facebook arguments.
Feminism, radical feminism, especially, need to include more intersectional theory to their activism. A simple example: black women experience a vastly different type of sexism because it's also racist. Fortunately, these issues are slowly moving away from classic, white feminism, evident in WMW's fairly progressive platform. (Mini disclaimer, I still have a lot of issues with what WMW did do and what they didn't do but it was historic and powerful. Leftists need to remember that everyone was a liberal before they became a Leftist). But a general labor strike encompasses so much more than just the social issues of the upper-middle-class, white, working women.
Women of color (WoC) and immigrants have almost always been "working women," meaning they've benefited the most from the outcomes of previous strikes. Lower-class, unpaid labor positions went on strike because it was the only way establish unions and advocate for worker's rights. A lot of strikes do come with great risk -- I think this is what Doyle is trying to get at when she talks about the "privilege to strike" -- because strikers could lose their jobs or be blacklisted from their professions. But strikes have, historically, been the only way to consistently show the capitalist class that laborers matter. Strikes have real consequence to the workers involved and their employees. A general labor strike, like the Women's March on Washington, allow for widespread media coverage and a ripple effect in society. A general labor strike is effective praxis.
What does "Women's Work" look like, today?
Doyle almost romanticizes the "sisterhood" of women's rights in earlier waves of feminism. She writes, "Women's strikes have typically succeeded when they have some clear idea of what women's work is, some obvious problem that will become clear through women's strategic withdrawal—for example, a French strike in which women left work early (to symbolize the time of day they stopped getting paid, as compared to men with the same job). Without a specific, labor-related point, after all, a "strike" is just a particularly righteous personal day."
This is where Doyle is wrong. Women's work is very much the same as it's always been.
The Working Mother reports that in the home, housework balance hasn't changed much. Women in heterosexual relationships are still charged with more chores around the house. For many women, in addition to their jobs and career, they also do the majority of the grocery shopping, cooking. Women will also, disproportionally, take more time off work to take care of sick kids and take kids to appointments. Women are still more likely to be sex workers, and houseworkers. The patriarchy has also "gendered" many paid professions. Jobs like teaching and nursing are still dominated by women and these positions are often still paid less than "male" professions, like engineering, that require a comparable level of education. Women's work may be more likely to be paid, but women's work is still not respected.
This is why the general labor strike for women is still relevant and still essential.
Rebekah L. Markillie
a PDX based creative who enjoys reading books, contemplating the oxford comma and rolling for initiative.
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