I believe in activism. I marched with Black Lives Matter and against Donald Trump, and I brought my kids with me to the Women’s March. But I didn’t participate in A Day Without A Women because we won’t smash the patriarchy by excluding women from the public sector or silencing our voices.
I get it. Strikes can be effective. Other countries have had incredible success with similar tactics. But the difference between their causes and ours is that theirs were very narrowly focused on the wage gap. Without that single unifying message, A Day Without A Woman asks women ― many of whom are living in poverty ― to risk their livelihoods for a disconnected (and often tone deaf) cause. Symbolic action feels good when it doesn’t cost you much, but it’s putting the burden of activism squarely on the shoulders of the women who need it the most.
Not all women can afford to risk their jobs by striking. Many can’t pay their rent or keep food on the table if they lose a day’s wages. Others are single parents, raising children alone. And some, like me, rely on medical care that goes straight into the pockets of big businesses. An inclusive movement doesn’t ask these women to risk their survival in the name of feel-good activism. It highlights their struggles and creates a movement that’s inclusive. If all that’s left for the most marginalized women is to go silent on social media, it sends the message that our silence is more valuable than our inclusion.
Even so, I’m not convinced that more privileged women best serve the cause when they exile themselves from the public sphere and go silent on social media. Men have been trying to do exactly that to women for centuries, and not very long ago Elizabeth Warren was given the same treatment on the Congressional floor. “Nevertheless, she persisted” became a rallying cry, and for good reason ― there’s not a woman alive who doesn’t know what it’s like to be silenced by a man. Does anyone really believe women will gain equality by disappearing?
We don’t live in a day and age where women have an equal voice or equal power. Choosing to withdraw from the dialogue, even for a day, isn’t moving us one step closer to equality, it’s pushing us one step back. Our greatest power is in our voices. It’s in the stories we tell, the opinions we express, and sometimes even the chants we scream together at protests. Silencing ourselves is taking away our power in the name of misguided activism, and it’s the last thing I want to teach my daughters.
I will never tell my daughters to step back or be quiet, and I won’t pretend that doing so is a feminist action.
I watch my daughters struggle to speak out, even in spaces that should be safe like their classrooms. I see how difficult it is for them to find their voices and feel strong enough to use them. I know their male peers talk over them, patronize them, and dismiss them. The older they get, the harder it is for them to carve out that space for their own voice and I’ve spent their lives helping them push back and be heard. I will never tell them to step back or be quiet, and I won’t pretend that doing so is a feminist action. Real feminism centers real women and girls ― it doesn’t silence them.
A Day Without A Woman is well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic. It’s possible to appreciate the commitment of its organizers without agreeing with their tactics. I support activism in almost every form, and this is no different. But I choose to devote my efforts to activism that resonates with me, and A Day Without A Woman isn’t it.
Make no mistake, women need days like this. We need feminism like we need air to breathe and clean water to drink. We need to focus on the biases and policies that hold us back and fight for our rights to fair pay, reproductive and sexual freedom, and equal rights across the board. But we won’t achieve any of that by going quiet. We will achieve it by fighting like hell.
Yesterday I celebrated International Women’s Day by wearing red, flooding my social media with the voices of strong and powerful women, and donating to Planned Parenthood. I used my voice and my words to speak out, and I encourage other women to do the same. We’ve sat down and shut up for far too long. International Women’s Day should be about amplifying and highlighting our voices, and the voices of the most marginalized among us, not ceding our place at the table.