International Women’s Day is a once-a-year acknowledgment of what women do every day of the year, which is to keep the world afloat with our labor — paid and unpaid.
March 8 fell on a Wednesday this year. Here in the U.S., some of the organizers of January’s Women’s March encouraged women to wear red and take to the streets again. In addition to protesting, we were to avoid shopping — except at female-owned businesses — and boycott our jobs to show the impact of “A Day Without a Woman.”
An admirable cause, no question, but it’s one that brings out the crankiness in me, I confess. One of the challenges of showing support for women in America is how to do this without excluding most of the women in America who need it most.
Many women who take care of patients, for example, couldn’t take the day off without potentially harming those they’ve committed their lives to helping. My friend Amy Johnson responded to my post about this on Facebook, and she said it better than I ever could:
I am a nurse in an OB/GYN office completely run by women. The only males are two of our physicians who are amazing advocates for women, having devoted their entire careers to their care. There can be no ‘Day Without A Woman’ day-off here because we would not be able to serve the 60 women we will see today for prenatal care and GYN-related issues like Pap tests, breast exams, and STD treatment if there were. We will consider our work serving the healthcare needs of women to be our contribution to the cause — today and every day.
Women who take care of children, such as teachers and day care workers, very likely added an additional burden to the lives of other women who had to scramble to find alternative child care, often at extra cost, if they chose to boycott work. Some of these school communities reportedly organized volunteers for alternative child care, but I understand why some parents would balk. For 10 years, I was a single mother with a job and no family nearby. Safe, reliable child care was a constant source of stress and worry, but I would never have entrusted the care of my child to strangers. Now a seasoned grandmother, I know that for all of my outdated ways, I am still in sync with most of today’s parents on that one.
Now let’s consider hourly wage earners, who are the backbone and the beating heart of labor in this country. They cannot take off work without fear of losing their jobs. After years of interviewing such women and writing about their lives, I thought I understood the full burden of their work. It took only 10 minutes today in a national chain store to discover a new depth to my cluelessness.
I approached three different female employees to talk about Wednesday’s protest, and each balked at the sight of my notebook. One of them told me, “I know you think you’re helping, but if corporate finds out I talked to you without permission, I’m fired.”
Think about that. They couldn’t even describe what it means to be a woman right now without fear of reprisal from their bosses. Never have I felt more privileged for getting paid to say whatever’s on my mind.
Also, let’s keep this in mind: A high percentage of hourly wage labor is performed by women who are not white. Optics matter here. When public protests are populated by mostly white women who have control over their schedules and their lives, even the most honorable of causes can come off as a lucky hobby.
I have been thrilled by the throngs of women marching in the streets of America for the women of America. Makes me feel the weight of my years, in a good way.
But if there’s one thing age hasn’t cured in me, it’s my impatience.
Let’s figure out what comes next.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.
IMAGE: Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque