Tomorrow, I’m not going to be here. I’m not going to be online working, as I have pretty much every single day for the past 10 years, because tomorrow, I will strike. I will strike with the rest of the women who have the ability and the financial means not to work. One important issue in the dialogue about the strike is about motherhood as labor, and what a strike means when you “can’t take the day off” as a mother. These are crucial and confusing topics, but they’re only unanswerable if we’re unclear about what both “motherhood” and “a strike” are.
Motherhood is not a job. It feels like one, it looks like one, and God knows it’s harder than many jobs. But ultimately, caring for your own child is simply part of life. The problem is that for many women, life generally feels overwhelming. The American system is structured so that parenthood has the most impact on those with the least, meaning that being a poor mother makes motherhood feel a lot more like a job than if you are a middle-or upper-class one. You have less help, fewer days off, less money to pay a babysitter. What do you do if your baby gets sick and you have to work?
Middle- and upper-class feminists have wrung their hands for years over “having it all,” and we’re not going to solve that dilemma without full health care, equal pay, a higher federal minimum wage, guaranteed maternity leave, access to birth control and health services, and more paid days off. But these are life-and-death issues for those with less. There are, of course, many other countries in the world where they have at least made attempts at providing these types of resources, and it’s unsurprising to read that the result is happier parents, happier marriages, and less stress all around. This is one of the reasons we should strike: Our children shouldn’t feel like jobs. They should feel like a part of our lives.
Our children shouldn’t feel like jobs. They should feel like a part of our lives.
Still, I have heard many of the women I know who are able to strike tomorrow wonder what they should do about their kids: If we are striking, should we care for them? What does “striking” mean for mothers, who are never truly free from labor? Again, kids are life, not jobs. But “life” is often laborious, and the reality is that women do a lot more unpaid labor here in the U.S. (and really, most places) than men do. How do we strike effectively when we have kids? Calling the strike “A Day Without a Woman” is confusing because tomorrow, the women striking don’t simply cease to exist. They still have their lives, and the complexity of each of those lives won’t vanish.
That’s where our concept of what a strike is matters. A strike can mean many things. We don’t all have to strike in exactly the same way. We are women, we can figure it out. If you can afford not to work tomorrow, don’t do it. But the more of us who strike, the more it will be felt.
But there’s not one right answer for how to strike if you’re a mother. If there’s a dad or a friend around to dump the kid off on so that we can go out and protest, do that. If not, bring the kids along. Send them to school with the full knowledge that their teachers probably don’t have the same opportunities that we do to strike, and support teachers when they go on strike. Strike for others. If we stay at home all day, watching Doc McStuffins with our kids instead of going into our office jobs because the thought of going out to protest is just too exhausting, that’s all right too.
There are more women who cannot strike or will not strike tomorrow than there are who will. There are many, many women who do not know there is a strike. Saying that striking is for the privileged is fair, and not meaningless to say, but it also misses the point. That it is doesn’t make a strike less important, it makes it more important, and we should be striking for those who can’t.