Will women go on strike on Wednesday?
It’s the kind of statement women make regularly, whether in loud, idle threats to their children or in whispered declarations behind their bosses’ backs: “Tomorrow, I’m going on strike.”
Now, they’re being called to follow through.
Women everywhere are being urged to make a collective political statement by taking part in Wednesday’s International Women’s Strike, or A Day Without a Woman, which encourages women to skip work, ditch domestic duties, and flex the muscle they showed during marches around the world on Jan. 21.
What are they striking for? An array of issues, from reproductive freedom to free child care, from paid family leave to national health care, from an end to racist and sexual assaults to respect.
Like the women’s march on Washington in January and its sister marches across the country, the event aims to wrap in a panoply of concerns of women in the Age of Trump. With planning just as diffuse and even more hastily arranged than the women’s march, it’s unclear what kind of impact it might have.
In North Carolina, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools have to shut down Wednesday, since so many teachers and faculty members plan to skip work. In Boston, plans came into focus just Monday, with organizers announcing they would spend the morning lobbying legislators at the State House on bills and policies that affect women. At late-afternoon rallies, women will show support in Copley Square for undocumented female immigrants, and will boycott unfriendly businesses in Downtown Crossing. Throughout the day, a roving, flash mob in pink hats will descend on various spots in Cambridge and Boston.
Governor Charlie Baker said he was not aware of any women in the executive branch who are planning to strike, but that they can do so, assuming they coordinate their plans ahead of time.
“You know, I’m enormously proud of the women who work in state government and the women who serve in leadership positions in our administration, the women who run with people like me for higher office,” he said. “And I think if they want to make their case on their own time, they are free to do so.”
The strike was conceived by international activists and women’s march organizers as a statement of women’s worth — a way to show the importance of their presence by their lack of it. To many women, though, a day off presents a much bigger challenge than a day of demonstration. Should they risk skipping work — possibly losing a day’s pay — to make an abstract political statement? Will the surge of sisterhood they felt in the streets a few Saturdays ago sustain them through a Wednesday without work?
Many were still deliberating.
“Economically, I’m trying to decide if it makes sense for me to miss work,” said Pam Montes, a Dedham mother who works as a contractor for state government and is uncertain how much effect her individual absence might have on the larger cause. “Since this is more about solidarity, I will most likely not go to work and lose out on that payday.”
The fledgling feminist movement of 2017 finds itself at another inflection point, as women consider the personal implications of a gender’s call to action. The notion of a general strike was greeted last month with howls of outrage from some women themselves, who noted that skipping work is not an option for women in many fields and lower income levels.
As a result, organizers made it clear that women who lack vacation days or flexibility could take other symbolic steps instead. They could wear red as a symbol of solidarity and wield their wallets to effect change, for example, shopping only in women- or minority-owned businesses that day.
“We’re not encouraging anyone to just throw caution to the wind and be the lone individual who walks out of their jobs,” said Magally Miranda, a member of the New York City coordinating committee for the strike. “But we are encouraging people who can’t walk out to have those conversations with their co-workers and family members, that we do all kinds of labor that’s not recognized.”
The reality is, though, that even many of the women who could skip a day won’t.
At InkHouse, a woman-owned public relations agency that offers flexible schedules and champions equal pay and paid leave, employees are free to choose how to mark the day, but the top female executives will be working — while wearing new, red T-shirts that read “WOman,” with the company’s logo inside the O. The agency, which has offices in Waltham, Providence, and San Francisco, plans to mark the day by donating to a nonprofit for young women, ordering lunch from women-owned restaurants, and celebrating female employees’ accomplishments on social channels throughout the day.
Other organizations are encouraging women to work only 82 percent of the day — to reflect the 82 cents on the dollar that women make compared with men.
“The idea is pretty simple: Withhold the part of our labor that we aren’t being paid for and see what that looks like,” said Gillian Mason, an organizer for Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. “Whether or not people are able to do that is largely contingent on where they work and how much they work.”
Jobs with Justice is organizing a late-day rally in Downtown Crossing where women will be encouraged to boycott companies whose decisions diverge with their values.
“The primary strategy is divest first,” said another event organizer, Monique Nguyen, executive director of the Matahari Women Workers’ Center, a Boston group that organizes women of color, immigrants, and families on social justice issues. “We don’t want people to lose their jobs if they don’t feel there’s a critical mass for a general strike.”
Other women have been trying to decide what they’ll do with an unencumbered day. While some local demonstrations are planned around the country, there’s no singular message or action the women are expected to take.
Montes admitted she would “probably stay home and do something I never do, which is watch TV.”
Jennifer Izzo, an Acton lawyer, hates the idea of taking the day off without making a point. “It’s not a pedicure day,” she said.
Izzo recently tried to brainstorm for meaningful activities with a group of women with whom she’d ridden a bus to the women’s march on Washington.
“The problem is, I’m not sure what we would spend our time actually doing ,” she wrote in an e-mail. “If we had a group dedicating a good chunk of time to doing something concrete and tangible, what would that look like?”
Originally, the organizers urged women to shun all kinds of labor — paid and unpaid. They also encouraged women to forgo “reproductive labor” — everything from sex to child care — and “emotional labor,” which could be construed as the application of Band-Aids and kisses.
But it’s unrealistic to think that women who have young children will go on strike, noted Lauren Duncan, the Smith College professor who teaches the psychology of political activism.
“There’s no way women would let their children fend for themselves to make a point,” she said. “That’s just not going to happen.”
Still, the call to action may open some women’s eyes to how much they are doing, both at work and at home, said Duncan.
“This is a thing that all women struggle with,” Duncan said. “Women are socialized as little girls to take care of other people, starting with dolls and little siblings. . . . All of that is reinforced in school.
“Something like this,’’ she said, “can make you just more aware of, ‘Wait, you don’t have to do everything.’ ”