Why the 'Day Without Women' Strike Is Impossible for Moms Like Me

Jeanne Sager

female worker
iStock.com/Martinan

The Day Without Women planned to coincide with International Women's Day sounds luxurious. Could I really step away from it all? Wash my hands of all I do for 24 hours along with the rest of the females of the world and our allies to show how much we really matter? I'd love to say yes. There's just one problem. 

Women and gender-oppressed people don't just matter. We matter so much that even a day away from it all causes some of our worlds to shatter. 

If it sounds hyperbolic, consider this: I'm the sole breadwinner in my family of three. I've always worked a full-time job plus two more on the side, but since my husband lost his job, I've had to throw myself fully into my "second shift," picking up side gigs that will keep us afloat and that keep me tied to my computer late into the night. 

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If I don't work all of my jobs on Wednesday, we will be forced to play a game of pick and choose. Which bill can we go without paying?

Should I let them turn off my electric in order to prove to the world that I, a human being with feelings and a pulse, count? Or maybe I should fall behind on my car insurance in order to be "taken seriously"? 

This is the dance the organizers of the Day Without Women expect women across the country to play, women in a nation where 40 percent of households have a female breadwinner at the helm -- a figure that includes includes 8.6 million single moms who do all the heavy lifting for their families and another 5.1 million moms in two-parent families who are either the primary or sole earner. 

Nyssa C. has two kids. Until two months ago, when her partner went back to work, she was her family's sole earner. And while leaving the house to do something other than drive directly to work no longer sends her into a panic over whether she can afford the gasoline to make the trip, the family is still facing the little-discussed aftermath of unemployment: debt. 

Skipping work is something she only does if her youngest child is sick and cannot go to school. That's it. There are no other days off. She's one of the four in 10 private sector workers who do not have paid sick days. If she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid. 

"Me missing out on work would be like a punishment to my family," Nyssa told me.

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Mesa G. shared a similar story. While her husband makes more money, her salary as a teacher's aide is crucial to paying their bills. But even stepping away from family obligations as a form of protest would leave their child hungry. Her husband works until late in the evening, so it's not that he doesn't prepare dinner because he thinks women belong in the kitchen. It's because he simply can't, timing-wise. And their son still needs to eat. 

Overall, Mesa supports the idea of a day without women to drive home the points the movement stands for, but she can't help but notice its tone-deaf presentation. 

"The idea of this strike is great, but it's definitely white privileged feminism," she says. "Maybe not just white, but income-stable feminists, which leaves out a lot of people of color, since many of them are working low-paying jobs without personal days or sick leave. In some places they could be fired for not showing up." 

She's right. Employers can't punish you for using paid sick time, but only 33 percent of earners in the lowest wage bracket in America get paid sick days. It's perfectly legal to fire people for calling out sick if they don't have sick time to protect them. 

That's a risk most women can't take while their sisters are enjoying a day in bed with a book or even out marching in the streets, basking in the camaraderie of the sisterhood. 

A Day Without Women is a movement meant to empower women, but for women like me, for women like Nyssa and Mesa, there's a disconnect. We can't participate for the very reasons the movement exists. 

And so we are left out in the cold. 

To be fair, the movement has made efforts to mention us -- a FAQ on their website notes:

We recognize that some of the 82 percent of women who become moms, particularly single mothers, may not have the option of refusing to engage in paid work or unpaid child care on March 8th. Many mothers have always worked and in our modern labor force, almost half of all households are women-lead, yet motherhood remains the number one predictor of poverty and a woman's earning potential is diminished further with each child. We strike for them.

But there's something disquieting about the notion that they're charging forward with something that so clearly shuts out so many, many women in the name of equality. They tell us we count while counting us out in their method of planning. 

Sure, we can wear red that day or we can "support female businesses" instead of taking an actual day off. But the movement is predicated upon the concept of "unity," all the while leaving hundreds of thousands of people behind. 

Well-intentioned as the strike may be, there remains an undercurrent of exclusion, splitting those of us who cannot from those who can. 

Even as I say this, I recognize my own privilege. I can step away from my home responsibilities for the day and leave them to my husband. In that sense, I'm luckier than countless women who aren't just sole breadwinners but sole caregivers. I can see them, and I salute them.  

I just wish we were all seen. 

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