the women’s strike: bad takes and unresolved issues
Firstly: “striking is for people with privilege” is a very bad take, for reasons that have already been articulated by many others. Low-wage workers regularly strike for important labor goals, and that is historically something that has garnered workers as a whole (and thus society) many crucial and necessary gains.
Secondly: There are many practical reasons why I cannot strike tomorrow. I do plan to act in solidarity. I am down with the idea of strikes in general and a lot of the women I know and love are striking for important reasons, and I am in solidarity with them always and forever.
Thirdly: I am not a woman. I am an intersex AFAB person who loosely gets lumped into the category most of the time. A good amount of my perspective comes from this position at the margins of womanhood.
Which brings me to the fact that there are some things that make me uncomfortable about this particular strike, its messaging and its organization, which has its lineage in actions like the Women’s Strike for Equality of 1970, pictured above.
I am not a particular fan of the “strikes from makeup/shaving/etc” messaging. What of trans women? What of those of us who find ourselves using makeup as a way to negotiate gender and body dysphoria? Nor the “no fake smiles” messaging—what of those of us who have deployed such tactics to get away from physical, potentially life-threatening danger? (It was a tactic I often used when I was in an abusive relationship. I also had to protect my own life through physical defense with the same partner. Tactics vary even in one situation.) Nor the focus on a certain kind of reproductive politics—what of those of us who have legacies of state sterilization to contend with? What of those of us without (or with non-functioning) uteruses and ovaries? Our healthcare needs are different. Our relationship to our employers looks different because of that. Labor laws vary by locality as well as state and nation and are enacted in classed and raced ways. What of the variety of urgent needs and demands due to our varying interactions with the states we live in? As well, the demands seem very, very heterosexually oriented. What of those of us whose partnerships are on the Homo Spectrum?
This strike, like the Women’s March, assumes a sort of lateral flatness across the varied experiences of people who fall, perfectly or loosely, into the category of ‘woman.’ It fails to account for all of this variety. And in doing so, it risks shaving away those marginal voices who often are saddled with larger burdens under capitalism than those who do fit more perfectly into the category, risks discarding us in the service of a presumed “unity.”
As well, as someone with their roots firmly in labor history, the history of general strikes contains both promise and danger. (I personally tend toward a more historically confined definition of a shop/demand-based strike when thinking about strikes as a strategy, as I have seen them work functionally far more often.) When organized around a strong core of immediate and workable demands, even general strikes have been useful. But when hinged together around a category as loose and diffuse as “womanhood,” and without material and achievable demands, I question the utility. What I hope is that women will consider solidarity during this day—what it means to strike in concert with people they don’t necessarily share material conditions with, and will use that as a basis for further coalition and resistance. I hope that they will question what it means to be a woman. Who is included? Who is not? Whose central concerns are reflected in the Women’s Strike manifesto? I hope that men will consider the depth and breadth of the work they are taking on. I hope that we will all take a minute to assess our relationships with capitalism and with one another under it (something that I feel like I am constantly doing to a perhaps-annoying degree). I hope that we will reflect on labor history and the history of strikes both general and shop/demand-based. I hope that those of us who are bosses and managers will think about our own labor practices, including the often-heartbreaking experiences of working for social justice organizations, especially in the nonprofit-industrial realm.
This is to say: if you are striking, I support you.
But we need to think about the necessity of continually challenging the flat and assumed universality of womanhood. And we need to think about myriad strategies for resistance, all the time. Of course no movement is perfect; to expect perfection for such immense and complex things would be ridiculous. That also doesn’t mean it’s immune from critique.
No one solution or ideology is the answer here. It will be in coalition and respect for differences in necessary tactics, strategies and experiences that we find liberation.