Feminism Needs to Take a Day Off

The upcoming Day Without A Woman is a Western feminist conceit.


I got a lot of pushback from my lefty sisters when I wrote back in early January that the Women's March in Washington to protest the Trump inauguration was a

UN Women's Gallery via Foter

"feel-good exercise in search of a cause." I noted that the Trump presidency posed a grave danger to a whole lot of people, but women were not among them. In fact, despite Trump's disgraceful personal treatment of women, his policy agenda contained much of what feminists want (a point reinforced by all the boondoggles he promised, including paid maternity leave, in his joint-address to Congress). Therefore, feminists were only muddying the water by engaging in this unseemly solipsism.

As it turned out, the protest became a vehicle for channeling general angst and anger at Trump, especially after his dreadful inaugural address, and therefore not as "pointless" as I'd originally thought.

But the organizers of that march haven't given up on their original silliness. They have now declared March 8, International Women's Day, "A DAY WITHOUT A WOMAN." As per their press release, the point of the exercise is to "highlight the economic power and significance that women have on the U.S. and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women face." Besides encouraging businesses to close for the day or give women workers the day off, and audit how their policies impact women and their families, they recommend the following actions:

  1. Wear RED—the color signifying revolutionary love and sacrifice—to show solidarity with A Day Without a Woman
  2. Only spend money at small, women and minority-owned businesses for the day
  3. Women take the day off from paid and unpaid labor

Setting aside the cheesiness of these actions, they demonstrate the truth of Sayer's Law, namely, that as the stakes become pettier, the politics become fiercer. American – indeed, Western – feminism over the last century and a half has made a great deal of progress in tearing down political and social barriers holding women back. The reason a show like MadMen lampooning the sexist treatment of women in the 1960s office was even conceivable at this point was precisely because we have overcome such regressive attitudes. This progress was neither automatic nor inevitable. It required constant struggle and "consciousness raising." Nor is it over. There are plenty of "women's issues" still left to be tackled. Indeed, workplaces even in the 21st Century very much tend to be arranged in accordance with male needs and norms. (You can't take the availability of sanitary pads for granted in many office bathrooms, for Christ's sake.) But that is just the stuff of everyday life that requires localized personal activism on the part of individual women, not necessarily a full-blown organized movement constantly drawing attention to itself by throwing pity parties.

When it comes to non-Western women, however, it is another story. One does not have to look at the Taliban or Saudi Arabia, where a backward understanding of sharia guides civic life, to witness gender oppression. Patriarchy is intact in many parts of Asia and Africa where women face basic abrogation of their freedoms and rights. Even in a country like India, which is by no means the worst, public spaces are not entirely safe for women and genuinely cramp their ability to move freely. Street harassment is a fact of life.

So if we are going to have an International Woman's Day, then it needs to focus where the real problems are. But a Day Without A Woman that calls for a mass strike on behalf of women who have cushy jobs in plush Western offices is just plain obtuse. The women who really need a day off—day laborers on construction sites in Inida, rice pickers in paddy fields in Bali—can't afford to give up a day's wages. Hence, all this holiday will do is impose the Western woman's understanding of women's problems—and their solutions—on all women. Just like with the Washington Women's March, it will only further marginalize the marginalized.

That said, I'd love an extra day off.