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.

Join the Discussion

13 Responses to “When The International Women’s Strike Isn’t a Given”

  1. Jessica K

    I’m not a big fan of the tone of this article. I am also a woman, however I am not fortunate to be married, or work for myself. I work in a very male dominated industry, and I am at work today. This is the reason for the demonstrations this past year: “there are so many other worse things going on in our world.” Correct. And only women are looking at that. Our cartoon president is crying on twitter that stores won’t carry his daughter’s merchandise. He’s not focusing on better family rights, mental health, or any health for that matter. International Women’s Day is a BIG DEAL especially this year. I’m so over women belittling each other’s efforts. Let’s support each other as best we can. We, now more than ever, need to have each other’s back and stand up for human decency.

  2. stopspending4

    She ‘ Feels privileged to be able to strike while her cousin with five kids can not afford to strike”. That is not “privilege – it is being responsible and taking care of yourself. The laldy with five kids chose to have five kids even though she obviously was stretching to care for them. Personal responsibility is needed.

  3. Lincolnite

    These people compare the wages of a female social worker with a male investment banker and cry “injustice” – the male earns more over his lifetime. They never explain that the dishonest “77 cents” b***sh*t is not an apples-to-apples comparison. When payment for the same job is considered, they mythical payment gap disappears completely.

  4. hellowrldimyrgrrl

    When I clicked through to this article comma I thought that there might be a presentation of both sides around the strike today. That was interesting to me.

    I was a little disappointed to only read a bunch of opinions that add up to solidarity not being terribly important. And to gloss right over the fact that, historically, strikes ARE lead by the most marginalized workers, who stand to lose a lot, is mildly offensive.

    To then boil it all down to a lack of specific demands is missing the point, imho. Strikes are a disruption in the status quo. Strikes depend on solidarity. They’re not an easy organizing tool. They can cause friction and debate. But disrupt we must, until we have justice (more than equality).

    So while l can appreciate this article is a result of the friction caused by diversity of tactics (taking the day to march vs taking the day to say “I’m not supporting this unjust structure — even if l myself, am not feeling the immediate pressure, l know many women are”)…l wish it’d been posted days ago so a real dialogue could have maybe happened. Instead of a post that reads a little more like a free pass for not participating.

    • mcspencer

      DW wrote a piece on the other side today (the pro strike side).

  5. AvailableFacts

    So glad this opinion was shared, there are many ways to advocate. Being an advocate in the way you’re able is the important part. Advocate for yourself and others, that requires empathy, knowledge, and courage (start small then be bold). A bystander who stays quiet gives permission to injustice. We can better state the facts. One issue with available stats is persistent pay inequality which has economic consequences (not just impacting women). Read here https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/

  6. hellowrldimyrgrrl

    Oh and here’s a great article about why to participate — with a great list of specific demands (Equal pay. Paid parental and medical leave. Universal child care. Universal health care. Freedom from sexual abuse. Freedom from deportation. Freedom from racism. Freedom from violence.) https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/while-the-iron-is-hot/

    And if the link didn’t come through it’s called “While the Iron is Hot” in N+1 magazine. #adaywithoutawoman

  7. grace_abounds

    This event is not something I can support. I do support and respect varied opinions across the board (something that seems rare in today’s politically charged climate), as no two women’s experiences, priorities, or preferences are the same. We have lost sight of the freedom in this country to have a difference of opinion on many of these issues without somehow being labeled, which is a shame and shuts down freedom of speech. Having said that, you can be a feminist and not adhere to every prescribed mainstream feminist agenda item or issue or agree with every event that is labeled to support the causes of women (who are those deciding what those prescribed items/issues are anyway?! Each person should think it through for themself). I appreciate that this article did attempt some balance by portraying differing viewpoints. Never could I personally support a strike/march organized by a Palestinian terrorist (Rasmea Yousef Odeh — look her up) having spent time in prison for being responsible for the death of two people, and a “faux grassroots” effort that is funded by George Soros to the tune of $245 mill. That is NOT a statement against Palestinians, by the way, but against murder and murderers — they don’t represent me — terrorism and murder of any kind committed by any one is not the way to further any cause, and I am suspect of anyone who has actively engaged in it. The connection to this woman and Soros are contrary to the cause of women in my eyes. Women are being played and used by such as these no less than those who work for lower wages than men in the work force — but in this case, they are being exploited to expedite a political agenda that, depending on their personal viewpoints, may or may not represent them. I work in a high level position in our small organization of 2 FT men, 2 PT women, and 1 FT woman (me). I understand the “equal pay for equal work” lag, actually in my case I would unabashedly have to say “LESS pay for MORE work”. Though we are all well-paid in some respects, when looking at levels of production and contribution, commitment, time, experience, education, etc. and factoring salaries not amount but in compensation for work and achievements, I am underpaid when compared with the men in the office. Our field is traditionally filled by men. It’s a hard wall to climb. Our board respects and values me, but despite over 25 years of working very well together, they don’t question and step-up unless pushed, and I have experienced the disappointment of having a male boss who, though overall thoughtful and respectful and not vindictive or consciously ill-meaning in any way, nonetheless clueless to the the inequity and discrepancy in the way he goes to bat with gusto to increase the (recent hire) male staff person’s salary at every opportunity, as opposed to how he has not done the same for me (quite the opposite — recommends stagnating my salaray in order to increase the other male employee’s, and admitted to it), despite the fact that I am senior in years, position, and have loyally served the organization for my entire adult life. He would tell you in a heartbeat he couldn’t do this job without me and sees my contributions and value on the one hand, but inherently takes advantage on the other. I have numerous evidences that have convinced me the past couple of years since the new person came on board that this has everything to do with gender and his identifying with the young male. I have to fight for myself — and I do (after many years of not doing so). Like an earlier commenter, I am a never-married female who has supported myself with no help from anyone else for many years and am totally reliant on my salary. This inequity and being valued in substance but undervalued in compensation is definitely frustrating at times. So I am not without understanding of the challenges women face in the workplace, and am personally impacted by the pay inequality that can still exist, yet I refuse to be a victim. “Striking” for a day from my job would only put me behind and would not impact the situation in a positive way. Frankly, I think these efforts create more discord and difficulty for us, rather than communicating directly with the offenders, as I have done with my boss. If all else fails, we are free to leave. I know of men who have faced such challenges as well. It’s not fair, but it’s life.

  8. K.A. Brown

    People have a right to protest for a cause they believe in. After all, that is the beauty of living in America. We enjoy many rights and freedoms as American citizens. But at the end of the day, it’s reality that matters. Many women couldn’t simply not show up for work. Every time I look at the TV, there is a protest. Why not protest for LIFE and FREEDOM. Everyone seems to have a personal agenda.