Don’t Lean In—Stand Up And Walk Out!

Although Women’s Day has been observed in manifestations around the world for the better part of a century, this year is the first time March 8th will mark a unified, global mobilization. Last month eight feminist scholars and activists published a call to the women of America to join a general strike alongside feminist groups in 30 countries. Organizers of the Women’s March have also endorsed the strike, dubbed A Day Without a Woman. Hoping to continue the momentum of demonstrations emerging on the global stage, from Poland’s Black Monday in protest of a proposed abortion ban to Argentina’s successive marches against male violence toward women, organizers promulgate what they identify as a “new, more expansive feminist movement.”

It is a feminism for the 99%. This grassroots resistance is, of course, opposed to a certain brand of feminism touted by Sheryl Sandberg with which we are all familiar by now. Lean-in feminism is problematic because it focuses on self-empowerment for the privileged class while leaving the vast majority of the female population behind in its wake. This individualistic approach pushes women to mold themselves for success in the toxic corporate world rather than challenge the systemic sexism that all women face more broadly. In this way lean-in feminism sharply circumvents addressing the structural inequalities that allow for gender bias to persist. Individual advancement at work and/or home is therefore encouraged in women without regard for collective social action. Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has gone further to suggest that in pursuit of their lofty aspirations, influential women high-up on the socioeconomic ladder may potentially undermine the efforts and concerns of those on the bottom.

Lean-in feminism can also be seen as a mechanism of false consciousness in which bands of women are deluded into modifying their behavior and working harder for personal gain. The real winners, however, are the corporations that back the campaign and benefit from employees clocking in extra hours. And where there are winners, inevitably there are losers. Viewed as a strain of corporate feminism, lean-in feeds into neoliberalism and corporate globalization, which strike organizers identify as complicit in the “attack on social provision and labor rights,” further deepening inequality. While a privileged few aim to break the glass ceiling, other women, namely unemployed, migrant and those of color, can only hope to sweep up the shards. Until lean-in addresses at its core the issues that affect all women, it is nothing more than self-promotion.

Thus, feminism for the 99% champions “policies that defend social reproduction, secure reproductive justice and guarantee labor rights” in order to improve the quality of life for all. Participants will seek to demonstrate “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.” Like the Women’s March and women’s demonstrations elsewhere, the strike planned on IWD also opposes the marginalization of other oppressed groups, indicative of its expanded anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-heteronormative platform.

Despite the strike’s far-reaching agenda, however, many argue that the act of striking itself is a privilege available only to those who can afford the luxury of not working. Organizers have acknowledged that some women are unable to actively strike and have suggested alternative modes of participation. Additionally, an article in The Nation suggests that many underprivileged people have already taken industrial action, pointing to the numerous movements, most recently A Day Without an Immigrant, that mobilized members of the working class to great effect.

Some challenge the efficacy of a general strike in securing the needs of women. Serrin M. Foster is skeptical and illustrates ways in which the strike could be counterproductive. She lists several possible disruptions to society if women in certain positions were to strike. But isn’t that exactly the point? Iceland’s momentous Long Friday in 1975, during which women abstained from paid work, housework and child-rearing, brought the country to its knees. Strikers were successful in illuminating women’s neglected yet indispensable contributions to Iceland’s society and economy, and the forthcoming years saw legislation guaranteeing equal rights and the election of the world’s first democratically elected female president.

Others are on the fence. Sady Doyle, in an op-ed published in Elle, makes a compelling argument that women’s relationship with labor must be re-evaluated if such a strike is going to have the same potency as it did in the past. She suggests that the many different roles women play nowadays may prove to be a hindrance in formulating a collective goal. Any activist would emphasize that diversity is a virtue and that strength is grounded in solidarity. And although women may occupy a range of paid positions, there exists still a number of unpaid functions expected of women, such as domestic responsibilities or emotional labor e.g. always smiling or putting others first. By her essay’s end, Doyle notes her appreciation of fusing feminist theory with revolutionary practice and concedes that the Women’s March was the most unifying and peaceful protest in U.S. history despite lacking a singular, coherent aim.

Striking may not be for everyone, but its objectives certainly are. This International Women’s Day is a day of action reserved not only for striking but for all acts supporting and advancing equality and security for every woman.

Photo by Cezanne Ali

Here are just a few of many different ways to engage:

  • Women take a day off from labor, paid and unpaid (this involves things you are paid to do as well as things you’re expected to do simply because you’re a woman)
  • Women avoid spending money for the day (with the exception of supporting small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
  • Women and allies wear RED in solidarity
  • Donate time, resources or skills to an organization that serves underprivileged women
  • Boycott companies known for their sexist advertisements, business dealings or approach to employees
  • Organize/participate in strike coalitions, local marches, demonstrations, walkouts or other forms of civil disobedience
  • Refrain from social media except to promote awareness of the strike and/or women’s issues

If you plan on striking, please fill out this survey so organizers can calculate the impact of the strike!

By: Frances Lai