Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The Jan. 21 Women’s March organizers have called for an international women’s strike (paired with women’s groups in more than 30 countries) in which women refrain from paid and unpaid labor.
Since the Women’s March on Washington made such a splash, an observer might assume it was in front of the current surge of left-of-center organizing. But efforts have continued more or less removed from the national spotlight. The movement has launched two main follow-up campaigns: a large-scale campaign to write and call Congress, and the formation of more than 5400 “huddles” — small groups of women and men from a given area who come together to build community and sustain action.
The strike promises the first large-scale, public signal of whether the movement has been successful in countering early critiques that it was a one-hit wonder without staying power.
In a letter printed in the Guardian, some of the Women’s March leaders proclaim that this is a strike for the “99 percent.” In the letter, movement organizers call this strike and this brand of feminism a response to “male violence,” which they define as not “only” domestic violence or sexual violence, but also violence of the “market, of debt” and “of discriminatory policies,” including lack of access to health care, anti-LGBT legislation and mass incarceration. In doing so, they continue to push toward an intersectional feminism that challenges what mainstream culture thinks of when it thinks about racism or sexism.
But many observers have pointed out that strike participants will probably be the more privileged women rather than those working at the economic margins. Less-privileged American women are less likely to be able to afford to strike. That includes women who will be fired for failing to report to work on Wednesday, homemakers who wish to strike but do not have access to alternative forms of child care, or women whose budgets will be sunk if they miss one day’s work.
U.S. labor law doesn’t protect workers during a general strike. During last month’s “Day without Immigrants” strike, some workers who failed to show up were fired. To acknowledge this, organizers encourage women who can’t strike to avoid buying anything and to wear red in solidarity, though many don’t think this goes far enough.
Will the Day without a Woman strike be a success? That depends on how we define its goals. A one-day strike will not bring about lasting policy change — but that isn’t the organizers’ goal. This is a “strike as protest” rather than a strike for a specific political aim, like the 2012 anti-austerity general strikes in the European Union. This is a demonstration to flex political muscle and keep building support and solidarity against the Trump administration. Success or failure of this strike is probably best measured in its visibility and — as intersectionality is becoming an anthem of this movement — in its diversity.
In response to the march in January, many within-movement critiques pressured organizers and marchers to think about how and whether they had dealt with issues of race and the implications of defining feminism or womanhood based on the presence or absence of female genitalia.
But contrary to what some predicted, the Women’s March self-critiquing seems to have engaged rather than alienated its base. Indeed, this is part of the organizers’ intent. Gloria Steinem argued that the uncomfortable and charged conversations around intersectional issues are a “good thing.” March organizer Linda Sarsour stated that the “contentious dialogue is by design,” an effort to engage and push feminism into a new era. If this is the goal, then all those critiques are a fight for the soul of feminism and a discussion of what women, broadly defined, want that to look like, rather than the dismantling of the movement itself.
The Women’s March movement’s goal is radical inclusivity. Its mission statement specifically includes groups not usually mentioned in feminist discourse, including “immigrants of all statuses,” “Muslims and those of diverse faiths,” “LGBTQIA people,” Native people, black and brown people, people with disabilities, and trans people.
Even if some groups feel marginalized within the movement or excluded, this inclusivity seems to be the nexus of the movement’s strengths: This broadly defined base counters the more exclusive vision of “American” promoted by the Trump campaign and administration. The discussion may work to increase understanding and social trust, which social science tells us increase civic engagement.
Viewed through this lens, this strike has already moved the Women’s March movement forward. What was slated as a one-time sensation may generate a second large-scale, one-day action with at least some impact on regular day-to-day function.
But more important, it has brought renewed attention to and debate around feminism, what women’s work means in our society, and what an intersectionally aware world might look like. In doing so, it has again put feminist issues — and discussion of which kind of feminism is best placed to help women — into the mainstream, which itself seems to be part of the movement’s broader goals.