On October 24th, 1975, something extraordinary happened in Iceland; 90% of the country’s women refused to work. They walked out of their homes, into the streets, leaving behind their jobs, their housework, their children, and all other responsibilities. For that day, the only work done by 90% of the women in the country was demonstrating for equal rights. Many workplaces, including schools, were forced to close. With no other options, men took their children into work with them. There’s a full history available at The BBC, which wrote it up for the 40th anniversary of the strike two years ago. In 1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, became the first woman to be a democratically elected head of state. She was the President of Iceland for 16 years.
Tomorrow, March 8th, a similar protest is planned in the United States. It’s unlikely we’ll see the same level of participation (if for no other reason than the vast disparity in population and uniformity of culture) but we could send a powerful message. Despite what some people would like us to think, the labor of women has ALWAYS been an integral part of our culture and vital to the continued economic success of our country. Whether that’s in the form of paid work in stores, schools, factories, businesses, and the government or unpaid labor in the home, women provide innumerable services and contributions to this country. Unfortunately, those contributions are frequently overlooked, denigrated, excused as a preference, or simply waved away as somehow unnecessary. It may be that the only way for our labor to be properly seen and valued would be to remove it entirely and see how many parts of “normal” life are left crippled.
For those who can’t take off work, or people who are not women who want to show their support, it’s being suggested that you should wear red and avoid shopping or shopping just at small, women and minority owned businesses. There have been suggestions that the strike is elitist, given that many women do not have the option to take an unapproved day off work or refuse to care for their children or homes without serious consequences. This is true, and I don’t think anyone should be denigrated for not taking part in the strike, and those of us who can should also take time to reflect on the privileges we have that let us take off for the day. In my case, it’s that I don’t have children to arrange care for, my office offers paid time off, and both of my bosses are supportive of women’s rights and encourage participation in political efforts related to them (thanks, Dustin!). I will also remember that this effort is not just for women who can strike, but for recognition and support of all women and their labor, and look for how best to advocate for a broad range of women’s rights.
Are you planning to participate in the strike? Have any local businesses announced closures, like some school districts have? Are there any further actions you’re planning on taking, like contacting your representatives about how the ACA replacement hurts women, or in support of the rights of women who are immigrants, or Muslim women hurt by the travel ban, or transwomen whose protections are being stripped? Let us know! And if you have other ideas or suggestions, feel free to share them.