A Day Without a Woman: Intersectionality, Instrumentalization, and International Women’s Day

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Credit: AFP/ Getty Images/ Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

The organizers of January’s Women’s March are calling on women to strike in economic solidarity on March 8, International Women’s Day – or as they call it: A Day Without a Woman.

The website reads as follows:

In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women’s March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting. We believe in gender justice.

Anyone, anywhere, can join by making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, in one or all of the following ways:

1. Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor

2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).

3. Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman

But CAN anyone, anywhere, participate in such a demonstration? For a campaign that claims to recognize the value of women and gender non-conforming people across various axes of inequality and vulnerability, A Day Without a Woman is surprisingly un-intersectional and appears to cater to relatively privileged women.

1. Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor

Indeed, the very first directive – taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor – is loaded with assumptions and detached from the realities of many women. In the US context in particular, women account for more than half of workers earning minimum wages or less, with women of color disproportionately sharing the burden. Many women cannot afford to spend $25 on a A Day Without a Woman t-shirt, let alone take the day off and forfeit their wages for a strike that – by its very nature – excludes them. Low-wage jobs typically have few benefits, irregular hours, and intensive work environments, leaving millions of women with little flexibility to take the day off in protest.

By encouraging women to avoid unpaid work for the day, the strike further fails to acknowledge the complexities of unpaid care responsibilities and the structural inequalities that prevent many women from being able to simply ditch their children, the elderly, or others without help to hire a babysitter or care worker for the day.

Indeed, when faced with the option of either attending the strike or going to work and avoiding the burden of arranging for their unpaid labor needs to be met, it would be unsurprising if many women choose the latter.

2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses). 

The second directive seems a little less exclusionary, but the message it is supposed to send is unclear. By encouraging women to only shop at small, women- or minority-owned stores, as opposed to larger establishments (presumably owned by men or other racially or economically privileged groups), the strike fails to acknowledge the fact that women and other oppressed groups, too, are embedded in broader capitalist systems. Women, too, work in large commercial establishments – often depending on these very organizations for their day-to-day earnings. Women are not merely passive consumers of capitalism, but also producers and active subjects of it, which complicates the simplistic assumptions underlying the second directive.

Indeed, the very goal of the strike – to demonstrate the economic power of women in order to bring attention to the injustice they face, is problematic. Recent years have seen an increase in the strategic use of women’s economic contributions to make a case for their equality. The instrumentalization of women’s economic contributions – both in terms of labor as well as purchasing power – places a dollar value on equality, thereby dehumanizing women and playing into dominant neoliberal discourses that view equality as contingent on economic productivity.

3. Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman

As for the third directive, to wear red in solidarity with A Day Without a Woman – I think I’m going to go with green, or blue, or black instead. Attempting a general strike is tricky, and A Day Without a Woman fails to effectively capitalize on the momentum gathered through the countless Women’s Marches that occurred around the world in January. Exclusionary, instrumentalist, and lacking a compelling objective, A Day Without a Woman will, for most women, be business as usual.