This Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. It has also been proclaimed “A Day Without A Woman.” The idea is that women should engage in “a day of striking … abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions.”
When I heard about this, my first thought was, “Oh hell yes. I am all about disruption of institutions that don’t recognize the value of women’s labor — both paid and unpaid! I’m going to take the day off.”
And then I thought, “And do what?”
This is when I recognized that my initial enthusiasm stemmed directly from my privilege: I’m an employed, middle-class, white, college-educated woman in a heterosexual marriage to a supportive spouse. I have access to paid time off, should I decide to take it.
But there are women who can’t take the day off, because their lives and the lives of their families depend on their job and their work — many of whom are disproportionately women of color, queer women and trans women.
What about women who can’t take the day off from domestic labor, because they care for their small children? I, for instance, could take the day off from changing my 10-month-old’s diaper and feeding her, but who benefits from that? And what point would I be making? (Not to mention that we both would be very unhappy.)
What about women whose work involves issues of social justice, women who work to create policy and cultural change to better lives in their communities?
I have no doubt that A Day Without A Woman will be somewhat effective — it already is. I’m not questioning the potential ends. I’m questioning the means. If a political action is only accessible to those who can afford it, we need to change our approach.
I want a movement that lends a voice and enables participation for everyone, not just (mostly) white professional women who can take a vacation day.
If our goal is to disrupt the economy and give voice to people who don’t have privileges like mine, we can’t continue to do it on the backs of — and at the expense of — women who can’t participate.
I am all about calling out sexism and harmful policies. I have marched, organized, written op-eds, left countless messages for Maine’s congressional representatives and devoted much of my life to social justice. I believe in a movement to better the lives of people.
I’d be there for political action that includes anyone who wants to participate. And I plan to take part in the alternatives that A Day Without A Woman organizers have suggested for those who can’t take the day off. But I can’t support action that only includes people like me — those who can, by virtue of their privilege, take the day off.
Cara Courchesne is a communications director for a statewide nonprofit. She lives in Hallowell, Maine.