Here’s Why Women Did (And Didn’t) Go On Strike

“My action for today is to declare that I have value.”

I spent most of yesterday in a dark mood but couldn’t pinpoint the cause. It wasn’t until late last night that I realized I was grappling — internally, with my co-workers, with my partner — with what the women’s strike should look like for me. I’d read dozens of compelling arguments; I’d considered the natural hesitancy, the well-reasoned advocacy, and the argument that my role, as a journalist, was to cover what other women were doing with this day.

Strikes are funny political tools: They speak through absence. Which is part of their power, but also, I’d argue, part of why they’re hard for women to wrap their arms around. We’ve been told that the only way to get something we want is to work harder, not absent ourselves. What’s more, most of our labor — especially of the domestic and emotional varieties — is already invisible.

Of course, that’s part of the point of a strike, of absenting: to render that labor visible and, as such, to underline its value. No matter where you stand, feeling unsettled is part of that work, and having conversations that even further unsettle you — that's part of the work too.

Here are a range of women’s perspectives on the strike — but certainly not all of them — to sit with and consider.

Note: Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity. Some women’s names have been changed in order to protect their identities.

I’m a wedding officiant and own a wedding chapel, which I closed for the day. We don't have a courthouse that marries people, so my chapel is busy during the week — and people who need to book a last-minute wedding are usually from a vulnerable population, not the one who is planning huge weddings. I am doing one elopement outside today for two women who booked a while ago and are traveling in from Alabama where same-sex marriage is not as welcome, but that is it. I had mixed feelings about closing. I can only do so because of the women who support me who are not striking, like the woman who takes care of my son when I am working, so it feels false in some way. But at the same time, if someone like me, who has latitude, doesn't close up shop, who can? I just decided to close even if I had not resolved all my feelings.

—Tracy, Georgia

I'm a stay-at-home mom to a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old. This identity in itself fills me with conflict — it's a privilege, undoubtedly, to be able to stay home with my children while also living a very comfortable life on my husband's salary. It's also difficult every day. I feel like I don't do nearly enough, but also feel bone tired at the end of every day. It feels un-feminist not to be in the workforce and un-feminist to limit what feminist means in that way.

Today, I couldn't get up the nerve to ask my husband to take the day off and care for the kids and feed everyone, etc. What right do I have? I thought. I call THIS work? It's just life. And I have a feminist partner who pulls, in my eyes, more than his weight in our home. I fully endorse the choice of other women to strike, but I can't see my daily work in the same light I see the work of all the other SAHMs I know. So I'm having just an average day. And envying those, maybe, who see their places in the world as significant enough to step back and let the rest of the world feel that absence.

—Maggie, Pennsylvania

"What right do I have? I thought. I call THIS work? It's just life."

I feel conflicted about striking because I am severely underemployed — I'm a freelance writer who recently moved to a rural area and have had trouble finding a day job to supplement the writing. So I feel both guilty about taking the day off (especially the housework part, since I do the majority of the housework for our family) and like, "Who are you kidding, did you even have any work to do today?" I'm telling myself to get over it and am striking anyway. I'm spending the day brainstorming and sketching ideas for @protestcakes, a project I'm doing with my best friend, and trying to learn all I can about upcoming bills so that I can call my reps/make cakes about them.

—Tess, West Brooklyn, Illinois

I am proud to be a women in agriculture, a farmHER you could say. I am currently at a meeting for the agribusiness company I work for, BioZyme Inc. And if I wasn't in this meeting today I would be on our farm in Iowa keeping a close eye on our cows that are about to calve. On the farm there isn't the option to walk off for the day. Those livestock depend on you.

In agriculture, women are outnumbered — we have had to work to be heard. I am NOT going to say it has been easy... When I look at the board of directors for agriculture associations, there MIGHT be one or two women involved, and that is frustrating. So I remind myself of these words from Jessica Herrin: "I have never thought I can do anything a man can do — I have just always thought I can do anything."

It is up to me to get involved in my industry and have a voice. And I guarantee there are way more men listening to what I have to say right now in this moment than if I was out protesting. Showing up is half the battle if you are a man or woman. I am not about to miss an opportunity, a seat at the table or seeing that next calf be born, because I didn't show up.

—Crystal, Independence, Iowa

"I guarantee there are way more men listening to what I have to say right now in this moment than if I was out protesting." 

I'm in my last semester of my PhD program and I have a writing fellowship, so my day consists of writing at home. I'm pretty invisible as it is right now, and what does it mean to my goals if I didn't work today?

This is extra difficult for me today because for the past four years I have been very, very, very politically active. I organized to form a graduate employee union and testified numerous times at my state legislature about fair working conditions for graduate students and others. I marched on Washington in January. If I were teaching, I would cancel class and feel really good about it. But I don't see the political weight of me just not writing today. I have to find another way of being visible.

—Madelynn, Connecticut

As a disabled person, I’m very sad I can't participate. For those of us who don't go to work, rarely go shopping, who have no kids and can manage few family responsibilities, who are very dependent on our caregivers and are so grateful that we would never stand down on what we can do, there are no suggestions, not even on the Disability March page (started for the Women's March). It is either confirmation that we are invisible to the able-bodied activists or that they don't know what to do with us.

This is just another indication that my political power is extremely limited and that our disabled community is neither invited nor, perhaps because of our disabilities, valued. The one thing that I can sometimes do (and what is often suggested to me) is to make phone calls. The last few weeks, however, have made it clear that my senators and representative do not pay any attention to phone calls.

—Laura, Idaho

"This is just another indication that my political power is extremely limited."

I’m a non-tenured assistant professor at a small liberal arts college, and I agonized over what I would do. I want to strike in solidarity with women around the world who know the horrific effects of racist and sexual assaults, gender-based harassment in the workplace and at home, a life without adequate health care or wages, and many more painful realities that many women, myself included, face on a daily basis.

Yet, I am working today. I will teach three courses. I will have multiple meetings with students and fellow faculty that involve not only time but also emotional labor. I will go to the Washington State Penitentiary tonight to teach a course that brings together 15 incarcerated men and 17 students from the liberal arts college where I teach to explore questions around race and mass incarceration. I am working today, in part, for them.

I’m also conflicted about whether to talk about my decision with my students. I have students in my courses who, like other figures in our national discourse, have openly critiqued professors on my campus for “liberal bias.” If I tell them that I was conflicted about whether to work today, that I stand in solidarity with all women around the world who are fighting to be recognized as people, will I simply confirm those students’ understanding of “bias” in some sort of liberal/conservative, rather than human, framework?

—Heather, Walla Walla, Washington

Many of us take care of others (human and/or animal), manage offices we feel already do greater good, and/or live in places we already feel very recognized for our roles in a very gender-neutral fashion. The thought of vacating these positions, even for a day, does not seem logical. It is not to belittle others or make their plights seem less important, BUT we must remain true to what we feel is important as well. I celebrate being a woman today by working my job, taking care of my family, and helping others through my work in a less abstract sense.

—Anne, Montana

"I celebrate being a woman today by working my job."

I'm not on strike today, and feeling really conflicted and pretty disappointed about that. I work in a tech company in a customer-facing role, and I'm scheduled to lead several different meetings today. Going on strike today would have brought some ramifications, and I'm already struggling with/against the patriarchal, Trump-voting attitudes of my company, and my manager specifically.

—Brenna, Pittsburgh

I couldn't strike today because my job (public television producer) involves scheduled time with so many other people (editors, directors, etc.). I was talking to my son's day care teachers this morning (they didn't strike either), and we all agreed we were going to work today because so many other people rely on our labor. That feels very gendered to me — do men think about their work as much in relation to those around them? Are they encouraged to do so? My feeling is no.

—Kelsey, Portland, Oregon

"Do men think about their work as much in relation to those around them? Are they encouraged to do so? My feeling is no."

I'm an attorney for a six-attorney law firm that practices Native American Indian law. After chatting with the two women partners in the firm, we decided that we can't take the day off, because our clients will suffer (and our clients are among the most marginalized and disadvantaged in this country). So instead, we're wearing red, donating to our favorite causes that support women, and not spending a dime.

—Christy, Oakland

I hustle for myself in the food world: part-time cooking job in a majority-women kitchen, part-time sales and marketing for local women cheesemakers, brand repping for a woman-owned snack food company, freelance writing for women editors — all entrepreneurs and workaholics that I can't imagine will be taking today off, but who express solidarity. I also love to overcommit and have been struggling to be functional in terms of depression and anxiety over the past few months. I'm at a place where I’m only hurting myself if I don't take some time today to earn; taking time off today will also fuck up my schedule, which is a delicate balancing act to please several masters. I'll be working today, but I'm letting myself have a leisurely morning and eschewing housework.

The main thing I’m taking away from considering my role as a woman who works for herself, just barely getting by, is that I rarely think of work in terms of what I contribute; it's all about what someone else has given me the chance to earn. When you're on some form of public assistance that is in immediate danger of being eliminated, it's really easy to feel like a powerless victim. Refocusing the way I think about working — as something I'm doing and contributing thanks to my experience, education, and agency, rather than something that feels like a desperate effort to stay afloat — may help.

—Alexandra, Philadelphia

I don't know — there are lots of things to feel. Most of my students are female, from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and I teach diversity courses and a course in climate change in the humanities — who benefits from me not going to work? Not my students. And there is no one around to hear my absence, except those who are more vulnerable to the patriarchy than I am.

Because the humanities are now the lowest-paying of the fields in higher ed, they tend to be staffed by females. And the tenuousness of our jobs in Wisconsin means that most of my male colleagues, or even my female colleagues in the sciences, have left for other, more secure jobs in other states. If I stayed home today, there wouldn't be a single male colleague who could (or would) take my place. It would only increase the burden on the adjunct faculty or the chair of my department, who are all female. And I can't be sure that I wouldn't lose my job if I sent an email explaining why I am not answering emails or going to meetings today, as I am a state employee in a state that has demonized state workers and made tenure "tenure" with no real protections.

—Teresa, Wisconsin

"If I stayed home today, there wouldn't be a single male colleague who could (or would) take my place."

I didn't strike today because even though I've been teaching here in the same job for 10 years, I'm still on contract, still contingent. The class that I teach today is one in a program specifically for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students to help them transition into university, so I also felt that I would be doing them a disservice by canceling the class. For them to be here at all is an achievement made against tremendous odds, and I feel like I need to honor that by being here for them.

—Rhiannon, Ontario, Canada

I had a mighty, somewhat irrational struggle trying to decide what to do and have felt sort of ashamed of it all day. I’m a visual effects artist; on the technical side, it’s an incredibly male-dominated field. As a woman, I’ve come to feel very exhausted by having to participate in a tech-ish culture where I feel so marginalized, and exhausted by working on the films I work on.

I’ve come to believe that the American monomyth blockbuster films perpetuate has been incredibly damaging to our culture. It’s getting harder and harder for me to absolve myself of the part, however small, I have in producing these films. But we still have a trailer deadline for the film I’m working on on Friday, and I had promised to do something important by this morning and was feeling incredibly guilty at the prospect of not going in today.

I lay catatonic on the couch this morning for a really long time, unable to make up my mind. I started trying to find things to read about the philosophy of striking to see if it would help, and found an article that referred to it as a sacrifice that women who could should make. Before, I was thinking about the strike as a privilege that I had — but to have it framed as a sacrifice, a thing that you might not necessarily want to do and in fact would probably rather not do, that helped me to feel like I had to do it. I remain anxious about how I will be greeted tomorrow by my superiors, but I think I feel good that I didn't just do what felt easiest.

—Sonya, American expat in the UK

 "I feel good that I didn't just do what felt easiest.”

I ultimately decided not to strike for multiple reasons, but the foremost being that the people I would affect most by striking would be the other women I work with. The company I work for is a small, family-run business, and they treat all their employees well. Our head engineer is a young, female engineer, which is rare in our industry (construction). So, in many ways, the company I work for is not part of the problem, and being so small means the effects of my absence would be deeply felt by people (mostly women) who I respect and value.

The people I work for/with are all also socially conservative. I am confident there would be no retaliatory action taken against me as an employee, but I am equally confident that my boss and other work peers would not understand it, respect it, or condone it. I know that activism sometimes requires discomfort and I have questioned my decision to come to work today in the face of that: Am I looking out for my fellow employees or am I just avoiding discomfort? In truth, it is probably a bit of both.

Only this morning did I consider how powerful it would have been had I been able to convince all the women in my office to strike, or even just to have the conversation with them. In the end, striking is a deeply personal decision and there are many reasons the other women in my office would likely not strike, their social conservatism being only a piece of that. I am hoping to have some conversations with the other women in my office as the day wears on. But I am feeling sort of ineffective and like I could have planned better and done more.

I do feel like the conundrum I and many other women faced today is in many ways representative of women's place in this world. I am aware, at all times, of the impact I have on others and I act accordingly, whereas I feel like many privileged men act only with their own needs in mind, assuming someone else will come along after them to pick up the pieces and make sure shit gets done.

—Allie, Portland, Oregon

I'm an academic librarian. I’m a strong believer in unions and workers' rights and am in theory 1000% behind a women's strike, yet I'm still finding it hard to act today. I applied for a HUGE promotion on Monday; I worry that my vocal participation in a strike would negatively affect my chances of getting that promotion. I've wondered if I would strike if it weren't for this looming promotion; I think I would feel a lot more free to, although many of my female colleagues who also have tenure are not striking.

I have been really hard on myself for my self-perceived lack of backbone in following this strike to the letter; if a childless white lady with tenure can't, who can? I'm compromising by "working" from home, quietly following the guidelines of work-to-rule, going to campus for a demonstration held at noon, and then showing up for my reference desk shift, where I will wear red.

—Rachel, somewhere in the Mountain West

If you took me out of the economic system — if I went on strike — it would be a net gain for other people. This is my reality as a chronically ill woman. My action for today is to declare that I have value — to remind you that a human's worth is not predicated on their ability to produce paid or unpaid labor in a capitalist society.

—Darcy, San Diego

"My action for today is to declare that I have value."