This Wednesday, on International Women’s Day, many activists are calling for a women’s strike, using the #daywithoutawoman hashtag on social media. As some of our writers have already noted, it’s interesting that this observance comes right before Purim, a holiday in which Jews think about Esther and Vashti’s resistance (you might say Vashti went on strike, right?) against dictatorial male authority.
So how does one participate in the strike, and what about the rumors that some Jews are uncomfortable with the organizers’ backgrounds? We’re here to give you all the info you want on how, or how not, to participate.
1. What’s the historical significance here?
International Women’s Day has many origins, but most historians feel it started right here in the U.S. (on a different date in March) to commemorate the women (many of whom were Jewish) of the International Ladies Garment Workers Unions who went on strike for better pay and conditions in the aftermath of the horrible Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. So it’s a women’s holiday, but it’s also a workers’ holiday. And the organizers of the strike want you to think about those historical origins. As several strike organizers recently wrote:
“Our present situation is in some ways closer to the situation in 1908, when the first women’s strikes were led by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Unions were virtually nonexistent then, to say nothing of the brutal working conditions that resulted from their absence (146 people, mostly women, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911). Union membership today is at a historic low (10.7 percent and decreasing in 2016). Was it a privilege for garment workers to strike then? Would it be a privilege for us to strike now?”
2. Who is organizing the strike, and what are they asking people to do?
This year, an independent group of radical organizers decided to call for a Women’s Strike on the date. Later, the Women’s March (you know, the people who took over every city in the country with pink pussy hats and awesome signs) endorsed the event. They’re asking people to rally, abstain from as much work (both at home and at the office) as possible, and show up at marches wearing red.
— Women's March (@womensmarch) March 5, 2017
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) March 6, 2017
3. Why are some Jews upset about the organizers?
The march is controversial among Jews because one of the organizers of the original action is Rasmea Odeh, convicted of a terrorist act in Israeli court several decades ago. The niece of one of the murdered students wrote about her dismay at the Huffington Post, as JTA reported.
In an op-ed published last week on the Huffington Post website, Terry Joffe Benaryeh said she commends the goal of the strike, a push for women’s equality. The strike is planned for March 8, the official observance of International Women’s Day.
“But, explain how my family is supposed to reconcile the reality that the woman who stripped my uncle of his life is now deemed a hero by many of my fellow Americans. What justification is there for Rasmea Odeh, a woman who killed two people (with the intention of killing more!) to lead a peaceful fight for human rights?” Benaryeh wrote.
Some Jewish women are not participating or still feeling ambivalent because of Odeh’s participation.
Odeh’s name is not on the offical list of organizers.
4. What are people planning to do?
Nonetheless, many Jewish women are planning to participate, even those who are registering their dissent about Odeh’s inclusion. For instance, one Jewish writer asked her followers for their plans on Twitter and got dozens upon dozens of responses from people doing everything from working while wearing red, to taking the day off entirely, to giving their employees the day off, to coming in an hour late, to refusing to spend any money, to talking about resistance at home and work and school.
— Talia Lavin (@chick_in_kiev) March 5, 2017
Personally, I find the plans for Wednesday’s strike a little bit confusing, but also fascinating (and funny!) to think about. If women are supposed to neither do work at home or at their offices, having men pick up all the slack certainly shows how difficult it is to work and do childcare at the same time (Like, are male partners supposed to do their female employees’ work and the childcare at the same time? CAN MEN REALLY HAVE IT ALL?).
Also, what about families with two moms, or only one mom? Or female-heavy workplaces? And where do childcare workers fit in? Presumably, they should also not work, but that likely means that many women can’t strike. Just thinking about these dilemmas really illustrated to me how interdependent we all are, especially women. And in turn, this made me realize that a lot more could be done to ease the societal burden on women who work, particularly low-wage workers in service jobs and childcare and domestic workers. These are the women whose social position is a lot like those garment workers of yore, and who likely cannot afford to strike themselves.
At the very least, I’m glad to be doing the thought exercise that the strike demands: What would my little world look like if I decided to spend the entire day on the streets marching for the issues that I hold dear, rather than doing any childcare at home, or running this website? And what would happen if I also gave my female babysitter the day off, too? How many people are dependent on my labor, and hers? How much of that could we change with better laws and rules, or more flexibility?
I haven’t fully decided how I’m going to honor the day on Wednesday, but just the act of thinking it out has been eye-opening, to say the least.
Planning any kind of strike-related action on Wednesday? Want to write about it for Kveller? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.