When The International Women’s Strike Isn’t a Given

Why some women are opting out of the strike.

Today is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic and political achievements of women. While the day has been observed since the early 1900s, this year, many women are marking the occasion in a different way.

Today, women around the world will be participating in the International Women’s Strike and A Day Without A Woman, which encourage women to stop all work — paid and unpaid — to stand up to violence against women, protest the gender pay gap, advocate for reproductive autonomy, and show our value to the socio-economic system.

It’s well established that there is a pay gap between men and women and that women make less over their lifetimes, so a strike timed for International Women’s Day makes sense.

But many women, from stay-at-home moms to business owners, are struggling with how best to support a cause they believe in without taking an economic hit in the process.

“[T]aking ourselves off of the playing field of society for a day could make [things] even worse,” said Julie Fredrickson, 33, the CEO and co-founder of the New York City-based Stowaway Cosmetics. “Me stepping out of the workforce for the day hurts my chances to succeed, hurts my business — and I’m unsure if it will do anything to make me actually seen by men.”

Some women who feel they can’t realistically strike are supporting the movement by not spending any money today. However, Fredrickson says that has to be done carefully.

“Women-owned businesses are already under-resourced so every day counts for us. A strike, however well-meaning, can hurt our bottom line and ability to stay in business,” she explains.

Rather than swearing off shopping, people should take today to support women-owned business and companies that have family friendly-policies and women in leadership roles, she says.

Beth Schindler is employed at one such business and is happy to be working today.

“[My employer is] on the forefront of social justice and inclusion in our community. I have no desire to strike because I have no desire to hurt them,” said the 41-year-old secretary from Lancaster, Pa. who recently changed jobs. She won’t be striking, but she is bringing in a cake to celebrate International Women’s Day, something she wouldn’t have been comfortable doing at her old job.

“I do feel conflicted about not doing my part for the larger symbolic movement, but ultimately leaving an employer that didn’t match my values to be in a place that does seemed like a larger statement,” she says.

Michelle Horton, 30, a writer from Pleasant Valley, N.Y., echoes that sentiment, and believes that action is the best approach to proving her worth.

“[The strike] doesn’t sit well with me. Even though my employer recently enacted a paid civic duty day off — so I could get paid and strike — I have a job to do,” she says. “I show my value by showing up and getting my job done well.”

Other women feel that their work combats the inequities that strike organizers are hoping to address.

“If I didn’t show up to work here, the clients I’m meeting with wouldn’t have someone to help them fill out their Medicaid applications,” said Erin Heger, 27, a health insurance navigator in in Kansas City, Kan., who will be at work today. “In healthcare, and especially in a community health center that serves poor and uninsured folks, not showing up to work… would do more harm than good.”

However, after work, Heger, a mother of one, won’t be completing any housework and will be taking the evening to talk with her husband about their distribution of labor around the house.

“I’m not sure how that [not doing housework] will go over with my husband, but I’m sure we’ll have a lengthy talk about the unfair distribution of labor between us,” she explains. “ It’s something we have discussed many times and he is open to addressing, but it’s still a work in progress.”

Kathleen Sullivan, 58, of North Reading, Mass., will not be skipping her volunteer work at a hospice today — but she will be supporting the strikers in smaller ways.

“I will probably wear red, and definitely not spend money,” she said. She is also considering donating to organizations that support women.

Others are skipping the strike altogether for deeper moral reasons.

“I question the intersectionality of the movement,” said Andrea S. 26, a work from home mom in Charlotte, N.C., who will not be striking.

“[I]n order to strike, you have to come from a certain level of privilege. Otherwise, your kids may literally starve once you’re out of a job. I feel privileged to even consider striking when I know my cousin [who has] five kids isn’t afforded that luxury.”

For Lauren, a 32-year-old mom who works from home in Portland, Ore., today will be business as usual. She said she doesn’t feel discriminated against and that her husband is an equal partner in the household.

“I know it’s about standing together with other women and not just about my experience, but I just don’t feel super passionate about it when there are so many other worse things going on in our world,” she explains. “I love the idea of women being celebrated and supported, but I really just don’t think this is it.”

Lauren’s ambivalence resonated with me. As a full-time freelancer and mom whose husband is currently gone for work Monday through Friday, the thought of participating in the strike felt like one more thing that I should be doing, but that ultimately would just cause me more stress and add to my workload.

I was hesitant to share that, especially with my colleagues who are passionate about the cause. Someone pointed out to me that strikes are often undertaken by the most marginalized workers and that they’re never convenient. While that’s true, strikes are often made for specific and pressing demands. I fail to see how striking today would have an immediate effect on women’s rights — and to me, the movement feels a bit too disjointed to justify the inconvenience.

Instead of striking today, I’ll be doing what I can to advance women’s rights by writing about issues that are important to women, teaching a class on mental health and raising an empowered daughter. That’s what celebrating International Women’s Day will look like for me, but I respect that it’s not what it looks like for everyone.