What Happens When You're A Mom Who Can't Afford To Strike?
By now, you are probably aware that a whole bunch of ladies are striking on March 8 which is International Women’s Day, this year. As news of the strike gets around — dubbed "A Day Without a Woman" — the most common response I hear from friends, family members, and complete strangers, is “Well, what happens if I can’t afford to strike?” This concern comes from all different directions, but it packs a particularly emotional punch coming from moms. After all, moms aren’t only concerned with taking care of ourselves — we're also responsible for tiny little humans who depend on us for food, shelter, care, and basically everything in the universe. For those of us who also happen to be low income, as well as single moms, or otherwise marginalized moms, the idea of striking, even for one day, can be overwhelmingly scary. It might even be impossible. I’m a mom who can’t afford to strike too, and I’m here to tell you, it isn’t as cut and dry as everyone thinks.
I’m a low-income mom in a queer family. My wife happens to be non-binary, but most of the world reads her as a woman and she’s affected by many of the same issues that affect women. To put it simply, if both of us were to strike and lose an entire day of work, it would be disastrous. My wife works in a restaurant, and I’m a freelance writer (which means I’m self-employed). In 2016, the income we managed to cobble together still put us below the federal US poverty line. It’s possible that in 2017, we may be able to make a bit more (and that is very exciting!) so that we're not in the worst financial shape we've ever been in. But we’re still living paycheck to paycheck. In addition to that, we live in an at-will employment state, which means that my wife’s boss can fire her for almost any reason, including missing one day of work. If we can’t afford to lose one day of work, we really really can’t afford for her to lose her job.
In addition to that, we don’t have childcare, so whenever one of us is working the other one is caring for our 21-month-old kid. Taking care of our growing toddler is a joy, but it's also a form of work, and it's not exactly one we can just opt out of. Simply taking the day off isn't a real option, yet I’m still finding ways to participate. In fact, all it took was a couple of clicks to realize that I had considerably more options than one might assume. I’m not striking in the “refuse to work” sense of the word, because that’s impossible for me and my family right now. But I’m still recognizing and participating in the strike.
Trying to distill direction action in support of women down to who can afford to take the day off work is disingenuous, and it derails the real conversations we need to be having. We should all be aware of the tough choices low-income parents have to make each and every day, and do our best to support them to make those choices easier.
Despite the impression that many seem to be under, neither group has called for taking the day off work as the only way a woman can participate in the strike.
Here are some suggestions from International Women’s Strike:
- total strike – stopping work or housework and social roles as caregivers for whole workday
- part-time strike – stopping production /work for 1 or 2 hours
- in case you can’t stop your work use black elements – black clothes, black ribbon or any other element decided
- boycott of companies using sexism in their advertisements or approach to workers
- boycott of chosen local misogynists (to be selected by you)
- sex strike
- shopping strike
- blockage of roads and streets
- demonstrations, pickets, marches
- install auto-reply “out of office” and explain why
- public acts of apostasy from the Catholic church
And here is a smaller list the Women’s March page on the strike:
- Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
- Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
- Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without a Woman
The strike happens to fall on a day when my wife will be at work and I’m at home with our kid. I can’t exactly take the day off from the unpaid labor of caring for my child, and I don’t know what point it would make if I tried to.
None of that means that striking is a simple or easy thing for each and every woman — and each and every mother — to do. Participation will likely be easier the more privilege you hold, and which items on either list we’re able (or feel comfortable) doing is going to vary from person to person. But what does that mean for me, a mom who very much cannot afford to strike, and my little family? Well, the honest answer is that we're still deciding what to do on A Day Without a Woman. The strike happens to fall on a day when my wife will be at work and I’m at home with our kid. I can’t exactly take the day off from the unpaid labor of caring for my child, and I don’t know what point it would make if I tried to. I can make a conscious decision not to do other work that day (a couple of times a week I steal some work time in the evening, after my kid goes to bed). I’ll definitely put up an automatic email response in support of the strike, and I’ll be sure not to spend any money. As far as our local march, I’m still undecided. I’ve taken my toddler to protests before, and he loves them, but it’s hard to arrange.
And in case you were wondering, I'll be wearing black.
The bottom line, for me, is that the strike, and the options for participation, are far more complex than a simple matter of who can and can’t “afford” to strike. Trying to distill direction action in support of women down to who can afford to take the day off work is disingenuous, and it derails the real conversations we need to be having. We should all be aware of the tough choices low-income parents have to make each and every day, and do our best to support them to make those choices easier. But you aren’t doing poor moms like me any favors by co-opting our struggle to talk crap about something as important as the International Women’s Strike.