Throughout American history, strikes have been used as a powerful negotiating tactic, forcing employers to recognize workers’ value and building public awareness of harsh working conditions. Organizers of the post-inauguration Women’s March want women to strike tomorrow, on International Women’s Day. They’ve called on women to take the day off from labor, paid and unpaid, and to shop only at women- and minority-owned businesses. This is supposed to raise awareness of discrimination, sexual harassment, and the low wages women allegedly endure.
Before joining the picket line, American women would do well to ask: Who, exactly, are we striking against? Given the targets, it seems clear the organizers see men, particularly white men, as the equivalent of management, ruling America’s economy, and therefore meriting a boycott.
Yet that’s a gross mischaracterization of the modern economy, belittling the prominent role women play. Yes, women remain less likely to be CEOs or board members of the largest companies, but, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account for 51.5 percent of all “management” positions. Three-quarters of human-resource managers are women.
This reality is often overlooked in discussions of the infamous “wage gap” — the statistic generated by the Department of Labor showing that full-time working women earn about 80 percent of the wages of a working man. Today all but the most dishonest politicians acknowledge that this number isn’t a good proxy for discrimination in the workplace. It doesn’t compare two equally situated coworkers, failing to take into account differences in industry, specialty, job history, and number of hours worked. Control for such factors and the wage gap shrinks to just a few unexplained percentage points.
The strike organizers might point out that if women’s lower average wages largely are attributable to the different choices men and women make, sexism is still to blame because women shoulder the lion’s share of society’s unpaid work, in turn forcing them to accept lower-paying jobs. Regardless of why women do most of the housework and care-giving — whether they are reflecting society’s assumptions about sex roles or are expressing innate preferences — it’s true that women often sacrifice earnings to prioritize their families.
That’s why the strike’s organizers want women to stop working for their families and communities tomorrow as well. Disruption is, after all, the goal. It’s a classic sitcom gag: Just see what happens when Mom stops doing the underappreciated tasks she thanklessly performs! The house ends up a mess, the kids eat nothing but chips and ice cream, everyone is late for school and misses important deadlines.
Women outside university campuses and upscale progressive bubbles know recognize that such a strike would be impractical and potentially cruel.
Families and society in general should appreciate women’s contributions to home and community life. And far more than in eras past, they do. In the sitcom, Mom’s absence teaches everyone a lesson — particularly the witless husband, who finally recognizes how much work his wife does and resolves to help out more. But today, 21 million American women live alone and another 15 million live in families without a husband. If they take the day off from “unpaid labor,” no one is coming to change the diapers, care for aging parents, make kids’ lunches, or clean up the mess.
Women outside university campuses and upscale progressive bubbles know this. They recognize that executing such a strike would be impractical and potentially cruel. That’s not who women are. The labor they perform can be challenging, monotonous, and even unpleasant — but it’s mostly done out of self-preservation or love and isn’t fodder to make political point.
In the end, the fundamental premise of the “Day Without a Woman” is flawed. It pits men and women against one another. It suggests that women drudge along while men take them for granted, slack off, and are showered with undeserved riches. That’s naïve and deeply insulting to men, hypocritically overlooking their critical contributions to society.
Doubt this? Just imagine if men went on strike. The bulk of law-enforcement officers would disappear, putting everyone in jeopardy, particularly women and children. Power, basic infrastructure, and transportation systems would shut down, as would factories and most construction. Trash would literally pile up. The truth is, men do most of the county’s dangerous, dirty, and physically unpleasant work. They are killed on the job far, far more often than women. Compensating them for these risks is another reason, incidentally, that the wage gap exists.
Of course, a men’s strike is as unthinkable and as impractical as a true “day without a woman.” Men and women’s fates are inexorably joined and both work to make society and the economy function. Most Americans know this, even if the strike organizers do not.