Women: stop working!
Across the world, women are refusing to participate in all forms of labour on Friday 8 March. The point is to draw attention to the centrality of women’s work to our social and economic lives.
This kind of action is particularly important now as neoliberal models of feminism – an approach that prioritizes the individual’s relationship to market consumption above all else – occupy the mainstream and there have been forceful attempts to pit the fates of transgender and cisgender women against one another.
The strike, which is supported by a number of feminist groups across the UK, including Sisters Uncut, Feminist Fightback, The English Collective of Prostitutes, SWARM and Brazilian Women against Fascism provides a clear example of why this kind of politics will never succeed in breaking the women’s movement. It recognizes that we do not organize from a shared starting point but against the structures that organize our lives.
When women refuse the work, even if only temporarily, we shatter the gendered expectations that keep exploitative structures in place. Across the world women are expected to perform unpaid work in the household – raising children, cleaning, buying ingredients and cooking. When this stops, it’s a reminder that capitalism depends on women’s unpaid work to function. By imagining that there are other possibilities and ways that work might be performed, this kind of activism births a theory for a transformative society.
Across London the strike will manifest as marches, workshops, parties, child-care spaces for mothers, symbolic protests against austerity and anti-fascism. Its outward focus shifts the conversation beyond individual choice to structural transformation. There is an explicit focus on the different kinds of violence women experience: from Islamophobia to police brutality to queerphobia.
The most marginalized women are calling the shots. Sex workers are calling for an end to violent criminalization and they are doing this bolstered by the voices of their sisters. While forcefully reclaiming narratives about equality and independence from NGOs, the strike also calls into question gender relations on the left.
Because women’s thoughts, ideas and approaches are questioned in every space, their visions for the future are rarely taken up as collective models. In the public imagination, there is little to no understanding of how a feminist future betters the world for all. Neoliberal framing has marked feminism as a project for those wishing to transform the self and not the starting point for social transformation or the beginning of a radical overhaul ushered in by critical consciousness.
The Women’s Strike is evidence of what is possible when a more holistic approach is taken up. Perhaps most crucially, it provides a point of reflection for men who have downplayed the centrality of feminism in their organizing, or refuse to engage with the ideas of feminist thinkers and activists. At home, at work, the Women’s Strike proclaims that a revolution is coming and it would be unwise to ignore this call.
Men are being called upon to witness the affective labour that is invisible to them. This means the intense and often invisible work that is crucial to the management of our emotions – caring, listening, smiling, reassuring. The Social Reproduction Assembly is encouraging men who have traditionally neglected care roles to come together and think about the political consequences of their silence on this issue.
Leftwing organizing spaces can often reproduce the same harmful structures that they seek to escape and under calls for ‘unity’ feminist principles and ways of imagining are subsumed by the urgency of the task at hand, a task that often makes little consideration for women.
But the robust, well-planned nature of the strike and the strategic demands that it makes are evidence enough that women do not need to be led or instructed – they have historically been the drivers of world-building. That care and attention to difference do not threaten movements, but rather, constitute them.
It is important to keep in mind the many women who cannot afford to strike and the women who the strike has not reached. Suffice it to say, the struggle continues and no movement is immune from the pitfalls of collective endeavor.
In a different world, perhaps women would not be pushed together under this specific grouping to bargain for and organize for their freedom. Perhaps our collectives might look and behave differently, our priorities shift. But while exploitation underpins our lives, the Women’s Strike provides a space to coalesce, to think about how we might resist.