The organizers behind the Women’s March scheduled a “Women’s Strike” in which women throughout the country were encouraged to forgo paid or unpaid work. Many have critiqued this strike for being privileged or inaccessible.
Yet, calling it a “privileged” or “white women’s strike” because only wealthy or non-poor white women can participate is only partially true.
Strikes are not supposed to be convenient. You are not supposed to participate in them only if you can “afford” to. The labor organizers of the early 20th century didn’t strike because they could afford to, they struck because they couldn’t afford NOT to. Scattered throughout our history are a multitude of examples where some of the nation’s LEAST privileged struck because it was their last option (or their most powerful weapon.)
I think the women’s strike missed the mark because a labor strike does not speak to the needs or fears of American women. THIS is where it is privileged. One of the primary goals of the 60s/70s feminist movement was to allow mostly white women to work. Black women had already been working for centuries. As had immigrant women. Thus, from one perspective, this “strike” responds to the historical needs and fears of mostly white, middle-class women.
Strikes are powerful, but they need to be used in appropriate situations. Even the current fears among white women do not seem to coincide with issues related to paid work. Most white women I know are fearful of losing access to birth control. Of getting raped or sexually assaulted and never getting justice. Of losing healthcare for themselves and their families.
Women of color’s fears seem to be different. Immigrant women right now are terrified of being ripped from their families and being deported. Black women, who started Black Lives Matter, laid out their needs and fears for us perfectly in a list of policy demands. Muslim women may be scared of hate crimes. All of these women, probably, are also deeply fearful of rape/sexual assault.
Thus, a conversation needs to be had among diverse groups of women (diverse in terms of race, class, and sexuality) to determine what their fears really are and what policies we can push to address them. A “day without an immigrant” made sense because immigrants often provide undervalued and underpaid labor. It also uncovered the vastness of an often unseen or ignored population. A “day without a women” via a labor strike does not have the same power because it does not speak to real needs (except for, perhaps, the pay gap.)
So, moving forward, if we are organizing our movement around the identity “woman,” we need to do the real work of discovering the needs and fears of ALL women. Then, when we protest, demand laws or policies, or yes, even strike, they will be strategic and purposeful, rather than sweeping and empty.