My body declared a general strike this morning. As it has many mornings recently, it declared that today would be best spent in bed, in and out of consciousness, not trying to achieve very much. My brain is not communicating well with the left side of my body, making walking and other tasks (including parenting) difficult. Such strikes are increasingly common in my life, and the best thing to do is just ride them out and accept that not much will get done.
Today is not just any day. It is International Women’s Day, and there is a larger strike going on. The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have organized A Day Without a Woman, a national strike designed to call attention to issues of “equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people.” Women throughout the country are calling out of work, refusing to spend money, or wearing red in support of these efforts to show that we are a vital part of the economy of this country and that our labor – both paid and unpaid – makes the country run.
The staff of my children’s school is participating in the strike, meaning my children are home for the day. I fully support the staff in this decision, and was happy to keep my children home and use the opportunity to teach them about feminism. But my body’s aptly timed strike meant that I, too, had to call out from my unpaid position as caretaker. My husband had to take the day off from work to take care of the children, since I could not count on my ability to do so. Me not performing my unpaid labor as a parent is causing inconvenience for my husband’s employer – which is, of course, the whole point of a women’s strike.
Consider the following:
- Women are more likely to suffer from many chronic illnesses – in particular, they are more likely to have both rheumatoid arthritis and hemiplegic migraines, which are the two things I am dealing with.
- Doctors tend to take women’s pain less seriously thanks to stereotypes
- Women spend more time, on average, doing household chores than men.
- Whether or not they are in the workforce, women spend a fair amount of time caring for young children if they have them.
When a woman’s body goes on strike repeatedly, day after day, it is chipping away at the weight of expectations that the housework will get done, the children will be bathed and dressed and emotionally cared for, the dinner cooked, the job (if she is still able to work) accomplished, the social calendar managed, and the adult relationship tended to. On top of that there is the work of managing the illness itself – the doctor’s visits, the health insurance, the researching of new treatments.
Some of us have husbands who are equal partners in all things, who care for children and do housework and always have. Some of those husbands have employers who understand illness and family and the needs of both. Many do not. Even with all the support in the world, it is hard to let go of gender roles and your own expectations.
For all of these reasons and many more, we need feminism now more than ever.