In Boston, the International Women’s Strike looked less like “A Day Without a Woman” and more like “A Day With Fewer Women in the Office” or “A Day Spent Conspicuously Wearing Red.”
Following on the power of the Women’s March on Washington and similar events in January, women’s organizations had urged women to show their solidarity on Wednesday by avoiding all labor, paid or unpaid.
But many women couldn’t — or wouldn’t — forgo their obligations. Instead they opted for less militant options: wearing red in solidarity and spending money at small, female-owned businesses to recognize women’s contributions to the economy. Or they attended after-work or lunch-hour protests where they called for unity against President Trump, who was chosen over the nation’s first female major-party nominee last November in an election cycle fraught with sexism.
“Our country is under attack. Women have lost ground. We have a president who’s misogynist,” Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center, told a late-day rally of about 300 in Downtown Crossing. “And now more than ever, we, my sisters, we need to cross boundaries and we need to strongly stand together against sexism, racism, fascism.”
The day was heady with symbolism, celebrated largely on social media, with hashtags and color. Women delighted in the timing of a power failure in New York: The Statue of Liberty had gone dark, as if the nation’s most iconic woman was taking the day off, too. Later, the news broke that a new sculpture had landed on Wall Street. The famed roaring bull is now being stared down by a “Fearless Girl.”
Protests and marches took place across the country, with pockets of impact: At least three school districts in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland closed for the day because so many teachers went on strike.
Many parents who had to make alternate child-care arrangements were not amused by the sudden decision. Nor were some employers, who dealt with last-minute requests for days off.
“When I told my principal about it,” said Lowell middle school teacher Bridget McNulty, “she said, ‘Well, if we all did that, then the country would shut down.’ I said, ‘Yeah. That’s the point.’ ”
Still, McNulty, 29, a Somerville resident, attended the Downtown Crossing rally with her two sisters. Since teaching staffs are overwhelmingly female, she noted, a walkout can have a huge impact on people’s understanding of women’s impact on their lives.
“That’s the kind of disruption that causes change,” she said.
When Dale Mitchell, executive director of the Jamaica Plain elder-care nonprofit Ethos, found out Tuesday about the strike, he panicked: “I was like, ‘Oh my God, how many people are not going to be at work and do I need to make contingency plans?’ ” When it became clear that none of his 90 female employees were planning to ditch work, Mitchell’s team decided to celebrate the day instead, taking and distributing two dramatic staff photos: one with the women, one without. And on Wednesday, they wore red, led by Mitchell in a red sport coat.
Writer and bed-and-breakfast owner Jessica Ullian was also unsure how to mark the day. She couldn’t take the day off and leave everything for her husband (and inn co-owner) to handle, and just wearing red and frequenting women-owned businesses didn’t seem like enough. Then on Wednesday morning, her neighbor suggested staging a walkout. Ullian quickly printed up fliers and got a group of women from her co-working space in Coolidge Corner to join in a lunchtime demonstration, along with a few women from the Dellaria salon next door and a woman walking by whose mobile app company had given her the day off.
“Doing it by myself didn’t feel like participating in the movement,” Ullian said.
Eveline Buchatskiy, director of the Boston program for startup accelerator Techstars, gave her three female staffers the day off, although one showed up anyway. “She thought it was a joke,” Buchatskiy said.
Gianne Doherty shut the doors of her Organic Bath Co. in Charlestown at 2 p.m. to give her female employees half the day off, but Marianna Clark of Waxing the City near North Station could not do the same for her all-female staff. Closing for the day would have cost her at least $1,500, she said, and would have cost her staff valuable commissions and tips. Instead, she planned to order in lunch and dinner for her staff from women-owned restaurants in the North End. She also offered chocolates and complimentary lip waxes for customers, though she wasn’t sure if she would get a bump in business from women taking the day off.
“They might have other plans that don’t involve being waxed,” she said.
For Sonya Green, figuring out what to do was a struggle. Green, who lives in Cambridge and works remotely for a Seattle-based tech firm, wrestled with the idea that only privileged women could afford to go on strike.
But she finally decided it was about standing up for those who couldn’t. At midnight, she messaged her coworkers about her plans and spent the day promoting local events on social media and attending a rally at Downtown Crossing.
Still, Green wasn’t entirely sure how much of an impact she was having.
“It’s a weird day,” she said.
On Beacon Hill, female legislators wore red in a nod to the day’s symbolic color. And women lobbied their legislators on bills of interest, including requiring Massachusetts insurers to cover contraception, even if Obamacare is replaced.
As with the Women’s Marches, organizers sought to emphasize the intersectionality of issues, to address a host of concerns women now have.
An International Women’s Day rally in Copley Square that drew about 400 people was focused on the plight of undocumented residents.
There, Jernine Collin, a 19-year-old from Hyde Park attending her first rally, held a homemade pink poster-board sign that said “Black Women’s Lives Matter.”
Written in black magic marker on the back were the names of black women who have been the victims of police brutality.
“I believe that black lives matter, but I also believe that black women’s lives matter,” said Collin, who is black and a senior at Boston Prep.
Sometimes, concerns crossed. Jean Kahill, who is white and from Worcester, came to the Downtown Crossing women’s rally motivated mostly by her concerns for immigrant families being separated for deportation. “It’s got me so choked up that I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “These aren’t my people. I’m not related. And yet I cannot imagine that happening between parents and children. I’m so ashamed for our country and what we used to represent in the world.”