Women Strike — But There’s No Spark
A reflection on the current state of the women’s movement.
Leaders of January’s Women’s March organized a national strike yesterday called “A Day Without A Woman.” Strikers took off work, skipped school, or chose not to spend money in order to try and show what kind of impact women have on the economy. This event will likely cause further division in our country, division that could perpetuate a growing sense of frustration for many Americans.
The strike may have energized participants, but it will do little to make moderate or conservative lawmakers who weren’t involved before listen and suddenly feel a change of heart around controversial topics.
The strike is stirring resentment in some people, given that not every woman has the economic or social luxury of being able to take off from work without losing her pay, or worse, jeopardizing her position at work. Worst of all, school districts where teachers went on strike forced working parents to scramble to make child care arrangements or stay home from work to take care of their children.
The very women who strikers were trying to defend may have been the ones hardest hit by yesterday’s strike — for example, working, low-income minority single mothers who can’t afford to miss a day’s worth of wages but had to watch their children who couldn’t attend school because it was closed.
Additionally, because the strike’s mission is characterized by anger in its “us versus them” mentality, it will not unify a broad spectrum of Americans around equal rights issues. It will fragment us. Given the kind of language that the organizing group, National Women’s Liberation (NWL) uses, the tone comes across as hostile.
According to their website, NWL is a group for women who want to “fight back against male supremacy” and the strike language encourages women to abstain from daily activities including: “Paid jobs, emotional labor, childcare, diapers, housework, cooking, sweeping, laundry, dishes, errands, groceries, fake smiles, flirting, makeup, laundry, and shaving.”
As a woman engaged in politics, I value anger because it informs me of where I stand on a given issue. But I also recognize that anger has its limits to being effective as a catalyst for change. According to a recent study, 77% of adults view America as divided when it comes to the most important issues.
Peace, not anger, is what we need to strive for as a nation. Taking action such as making calls to legislators, running for office, campaigning, writing letters, having conversations on hot-button issues, and sharing a personal story are all ways to move our country forward without abstaining from work.
When anger is used blindly it can be hurtful, destructive, and isolating. If the rhetoric of the strike or future women’s events is anything similar to what we heard leaders like Madonna say at the Women’s March in January, then non-supporters will be cursed at and ostracized while hypocritical chants of “We choose love!” abound from the same mouth.
There is a more constructive approach to furthering women’s equality than going on strike.
Rather than holding the economy hostage for a day and preaching open resentment towards men, how about, in addition to taking individual actions mentioned above, we create a major national event that serves as a forum for conversation among citizens and political leaders regarding the complex issues we’re facing?
Such a conference could result in the coming together of Democrats, Republicans, and other political parties, with the collective goal of furthering equal rights by generating productive conversations. Participants would collectively outline tangible solutions and next steps, seeking to establish common ground amidst a plethora of different perspectives. The tone would be one of inclusivity, peace, and hope.
As feminists, we can maintain our progress by working to preserve laws like Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act that protect women’s rights. Again, making direct contact with legislators and building bridges — not burning them — is the best way to act.
Appealing to lawmaker’s sense of reason and compassion, reaching across the aisle, and writing new legislation are all ways to bring about change related to issues like childcare, a $15 minimum wage, or paid family leave. The greatest way we can advance the women’s movement is by working together with individuals who oppose these measures — not by fighting against them.
The idea that we can inspire people to change by getting angry and yelling at them doesn’t work. This kind of fear-based authoritarianism is the same style of leadership that has been perpetuated by our current presidential administration at times, and which, ironically, the organizers are claiming to oppose.
If progress is what we really want, than we have to be thoughtful about how we go about generating change. Dr. Martin Luther King was successful in catalyzing widespread change in the Civil Rights Movement not simply because he organized activists — which he did very well — but because when he gathered people together, he spoke graciously, civilly, and with respect. King led with love.
Leaders will achieve far more if they speak from a place of respect for all Americans. What we’re witnessing as a nation, instead, is extremism growing stronger on both sides of the political spectrum. The strike may further polarize us, pushing moderates towards the conservative right, while motivating liberals to move away from the middle ground.
As turn-out for the strike today was far smaller than the women’s marches that took place in January, it appears that mass demonstrations may not be the sustainable way to carry the women’s movement right now.
It becomes harder to remain united in self-governance, which is ultimately the goal of our democracy, when extremism is used to get a point across. In the quest for women’s rights today, we have to find ways to compromise.
Original version of this article published at www.huffingtonpost.com on March 9, 2017.