A Note on International Women’s Day and Mothers

This morning I got up, worked out, and put on a red skirt. I walked to the office, because even though I’d put in for today off a few weeks ago, we had an important event from 8–10, and I did not want to essentially screw over the woman who oversaw it. So, I came, I participated, and I left.

On my way home I read a message from a friend of mine who is a mom. The details are not important — maybe she has a job outside the home, maybe she works from home full or part time, maybe caring for her child(ren) is the primary focus of her time — what matters is that she pointed out how it was bullshit how little anyone seemed to have considered mothers in the discussion about the strike.

And she’s right.

I’ve looked back through the official items from the Women’s March, and while they all do discuss the import and value of ‘unpaid labor’ and ‘care giving,’ (which is what I noticed in my decision to take action), they do not explicitly talk about the unpaid labor of being a mother. And considering how many women are mothers — and how much work mothers take on (by choice, circumstance, necessity, or a combination) — this is a huge oversight.

I do not have children, nor will I be having children. I think this accounts some for the fact that I saw the discussion of unpaid labor included and thought ‘oh good, they are recognizing not only that striking from work is not an option for many, but that so much of our work doesn’t involve a paycheck.’ Instead, I should have been saying “That’s not good enough. Can we have a more nuanced discussion that really talks about the challenges that come with asking people who care for their children to stop for a day?”

I’ve done some searching, but all the coverage I can find either focuses on the arguments about striking and privilege from an ‘I work outside the home’ perspective, or claims that women who strike are ‘punishing the wrong people.’ I’ve tried a few different permutations of searches, but I cannot find anything focused on women as mothers and what the strike could mean to them. Which is bizarre. Folks, a really large number of women are also mothers.

Today could have looked differently for our friends who are mothers and who either work from home or do not have paying jobs. Their male partners (if they have them) or their male friends (if they don’t) could have taken the day off work. Those partners and friends could have offered to take on all the myriad tasks mothers perform daily, from getting the child ready for school, to grocery shopping, doing laundry, buying birthday cards, scheduling appointments, making dinner. Sites could have published articles about what a strike from unpaid childcare and managing a household looks like.

We all could have recognized that there are many types of labor we perform, and that yes, all women perform unpaid labor, but that there are components of what women as mothers do that should be acknowledged separately. My friends’ children need to be fed today. They need to be taken to and from school today. They need help with their homework today. And yes, there are other care-giving jobs that need to be done every single day, but those too could have been discussed separately.

What is so frustrating is that this is the whole point, right? That women do so much that it can be literally impossible for them to stop without significant ramifications personally and to the community. That all of us play integral roles, whether it is by running policy discussions or running to the store, but that the impact of the work we are expected to do affects us all in different ways. Not every mother is going to agree with every other one about how unpaid labor affects them, and how much they feel rests on their shoulders to keep their household running, but it is a situation that deserved more discussion before and during today’s action than it is currently getting.

As we learned from the Women’s March in January, not every movement is going to be able to address every individual’s perspective in the same way. Women are not a monolith, and women can and do disagree on many things. But that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse to be so generic that we forget about some of the unique aspects of our community of women, including mothers. Thanks to my friend who pointed this out.

So, to my friends who are mothers: thank you for the work you do every day. You are raising awesome children, you are supporting partners, you are taking care of so much that is important. You might also leave the house for office work, or close yourself off in a room for a few hours while the little one is at school, or all your energy may be devoted to making sure everyone stays alive and thriving. Whatever form it takes, that is special labor, and it deserved more than a passing mention.

You matter, your concerns matter, your labor matters.