"A Day Without a Woman": A Look at Intersectionality

March 28, 2017

I’m writing this on March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day and the day of the national protest called “A Day Without a Woman.” Today, women across the United States are asked to strike—to take the day off of both paid and unpaid labor, including childcare. We are asked to not shop at all—or if we do, to stick to local and small businesses, preferably women-owned. We are asked to wear red in solidarity with one another.

 

When I first heard about this event, I thought, “Great ideas—let’s keep the spotlight on women’s issues. Let’s build solidarity in our communities. Let’s show the country that our absence has real consequences for our employers and the economy. Let’s show big-box stores that our money makes a difference to them.”

 

But another voice in my heart countered with two words: exclusion and invisibility.  

Before I continue, I want to give you a few particulars about my background. I am a 42-year-old, white, heterosexual, cisgender, upper-middle-class woman who was born and raised in New England’s WASP culture, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m married and don’t have children. I’m a self-employed psychotherapist, an interdisciplinary artist, and an independent book publisher. I have regular income and get paid well for what I do, and I have a partner who also has regular income and gets paid well for what he does. I’m a vegan Monday through Friday and a registered Democrat. I’m also an activist and feminist moved by intersectionality, although I feel I’m at the beginning of my learning about what it means to be intersectional and how to embody it.[1] I am privileged in innumerable ways.

 

In January, I attended the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., which was another real privilege. I am very grateful for what I learned during and after my participation in that historic event.

 

Why am I telling you all of this? Because when a white woman of relative privilege speaks about an event involving a massive group of diverse women, we should consider that her words are informed by a particular societal background—one with blind spots and limitations that have contributed, with or without her awareness, to the oppression of her sisters.

 

I recognize the critical historic advances that strikes by working women have afforded us—and in that spirit, I support the strike. However, I also take serious issue with the call for women to take the day off of paid and unpaid labor. And that’s what I want to write about today—the underbelly of A Day Without a Woman.

 

White feminists, who may call themselves simply “feminists,” have historically both unconsciously and intentionally excluded and rendered invisible those women who fall outside mainstream, white supremacist, capitalist, heteronormative, patriarchal culture. In addition to this exclusion within the feminist movement, it is my opinion that too many women in my demographic are ignorant (both unconsciously and willfully) of the systems of oppression that intersect with the lives of so many “other” women outside this privileged group. I hope to help educate women like myself about how our beliefs and actions may be harmful to more marginalized women and why we should take notice and change.

 

Regarding the women’s strike, there are critical class and racial disparities that must be addressed before we give our unflinching support to this mass event. Taking a day off from paid and unpaid labor is an enormous privilege, one that is arguably much easier for white middle- and upper-class women to enjoy. Think about it. Who can actually afford to take the day off from work? Those with sufficient resources to cover the loss of income from their paid work, those who do not live in fear of losing their job, and those with partners who can care for their children today while they are not participating in that form of unpaid labor. And then there are those women who have sufficient resources to not have to work at all and, therefore, aren’t in a position to decide whether or not to strike.

 

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to shame any of these women. I am one of these women. I could take the day off work today because I can afford to do so. I am self-employed, so I’m not at risk of losing my job. I have a partner who would feel the financial consequences of my day off but would be willing to support me. I don’t have children to find alternative childcare for. I don’t currently have animals in my care either.

 

Many women are not so privileged. And many of our sisters are likely to be excluded from participating in A Day Without a Woman.

 

In terms of class and racial disparities, consider the following:
 

  • More than one in eight women are poor.[2]
     

  • In 2015, 9.6% of white, non-Hispanic women lived in poverty. Compare that to 23.1% of Black women, 22.7% of Native American women, 20.9% of Hispanic women, and 11.7% of Asian women. Of women with disabilities, 31.6% live in poverty.[3]


I think it’s safe to say that the majority of our black/brown/red/yellow sisters and sisters with disabilities who live in poverty are excluded from participating in today’s strike.[4]

 

This exclusion troubles me deeply. Because when, according to exit poll data, only 43% of white women vote for Hillary Clinton for president[5] but 94% of Black women and 68% of Latinas vote for her—a wealthy, white, heterosexual, cisgender woman—we have a serious problem with solidarity among women in this country.[6] Think about that: A significantly higher percentage of women of color voted for a white woman to be elected to the most powerful office in the world than white women themselves did! We cannot ignore this fact in favor of fantasizing that women across this country are united today, that we stand in solidarity, and that white women are not standing on the backs of our sisters of color.

 

Here’s another sobering statistic:
 

  • More than one in three single-mother families are poor. We have nearly 10 million single mothers in the United States, only half of whom are employed full-time. About a quarter of single mothers are jobless for the entire year.[7]


So it’s safe to say that the majority of our single mothers are either unemployed or can’t afford to take the day off today and are therefore excluded.
 

  • Our Black sisters, who earn only 64 cents on the dollar compared to men, and our Hispanic and Latina sisters, who earn only 56 cents on the dollar compared to men, are more likely than white women to be excluded from participating in today’s strike.[8]
     

  • Our Native American sisters, who earn 58 cents on the dollar compared to men, are also much more likely to be excluded today.[9]
     

  • Furthermore, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “two out of three Native American women are mothers and the primary breadwinners for their families, meaning that the wage gap these women experience has serious consequences for children and families across the country.” In fact, 13 states have wage gaps for Native American women that amount to more than one million dollars in losses for each woman over a 40-year career.[10]


Another important question we must ask is, What happens to the children of the women who choose to strike? If a white woman decides to take the day off from her childcare responsibilities, her partner or family may be able to help—but all too often, childcare gets relegated to low-income women and women of color. So we must ask ourselves, on whose backs are we standing in order to strike? Who is invisible today, as they are most every day?

 

And what about the women teachers who aren’t working today—who will teach those children? Who will care for the children who can’t attend school today because they have no teachers? What if those children are from single-mother families or low-income families? Who takes the day off to care for the children who are left behind?

 

Let’s also reflect on the topic of invisibility as it applies to some other populations of women including justice-involved females.[11] Our incarcerated sisters, who are all but forgotten in this country, don’t have the luxury of deciding whether or not to take a day off from their life today. Consider these alarming facts:
 

  • Though containing just 5 percent of the world’s population of women, the United States accounts for 30 percent of the world’s incarcerated women.[12] The incarceration rate for Black women is more than twice that of white women—a racial disparity that has persisted even as the overall rate of incarceration has declined.[13]


And, while we’re addressing invisibility, let’s not forget transgender women:
 

  • A whopping 42% of our transgender sisters have attempted suicide. In addition, 69% of all trans women and men have experienced homelessness, and 50–59% of trans women and men have experienced discrimination or harassment at work.[14]


If you’re a transgender woman who is having suicidal thoughts, striking from work is probably far from your mind. If you are a transgender homeless woman, the women’s strike obviously doesn’t apply to you; and if you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, you may be at a higher risk of losing that job.

 

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge those readers who do not identify with our current binary system of gender and recognize that you have your own unique and largely unseen relationship to today’s events.

 

On a personal note, my psychotherapy practice is all women, which is not uncommon in the world of therapy. If I were to strike today, my women clients would be the ones who would suffer that loss. This does not seem like a good way to celebrate women or to support our overall well-being.

 

Finally, I would be remiss if I left out violence against women and why that’s relevant to the protest today.

 

What about the staggering statistic that globally, 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime?[15] This adds up to one billion women and girls worldwide.

 

Domestic violence, sex trafficking, and the ongoing harassment, abuse, and murder of women is a global epidemic. What does that mean for A Day Without a Woman? It means there are women who aren’t with us today because they were murdered by a boyfriend, partner, husband, relative, or stranger. Others have been kidnapped. Or sold. Or drugged. Others are fleeing their homeland, seeking safety and protection and opportunity. As activist Quintan Ana Wikswo powerfully wrote on Facebook, “I know days without a woman. They love days without women. What don’t we understand? They kill us without consequence. They silence us and erase us without consequence. I am devoted to days WITH women. To days with ALL women not just rich women or white women or job secured women. And I’ll spend this one being aware—as I already am constantly aware—of my Life Without Women—of the loss of women and women-identified people who will never have a day of their own.”[16]

 

I want to close with a quote from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.”[17]

 

* * *

 

I want to thank Taylar Nuevelle and her work to build a trauma-informed justice system to end the trauma-to-prison pipeline for women and girls called Who Speaks for Me? I want to thank Judith Stephens for bringing my awareness to the historically exclusionary tactics of white feminism and to the statistics around how white women voted in the presidential election compared to women of color. I want to thank Eve Ensler and Cecile Lipworth and everyone at One Billion Rising for the incredible work they do. I want to thank Quintan Ana Wikswo for bringing my awareness to so many aspects of the underbelly of this event today, as well as the particulars of gender violence and racial gender violence here in New Mexico. I want to thank my dear friend Katje Wagner for first talking with me about intersectionality, and I want to thank the late Black lesbian radical feminist writer Audre Lorde for opening my mind and heart to what it means to be an intersectional feminist. And I want to thank all of you out there who are on the front lines doing the heavy lifting as activists and feminists both inside yourselves and outside in the world. You make the world a safer and more equitable place for me and for everyone.

 

 

 

[1] “FAQ,” Intersectional Feminism for Beginners, accessed on March 23, 2017, http://intersectionalfeminism101.tumblr.com/faq.

 

[2] Jasmine Tucker and Caitlin Lowell, “National Snapshot: Poverty Among Women & Families, 2015,” National Women’s Law Center, published on September 14, 2016, accessed on March 8, 2017, http://nwlc.org/resources/national-snapshot-poverty-among-women-families-2015/.

 

[3] Ibid.

 

[4] Sometimes in my writing and speaking, I use the words “women of color” (WOC) or “people of color” (POC) and at other times I use the words “black/brown/red/yellow sisters.” I also sometimes use the phrase “marginalized women.” None of these word choices are without pitfalls and potential offense to those named especially when referred to by a white woman. I have chosen to follow the lead of some particular Black leaders in my word choices, namely Dr. Cornel West and Audre Lorde who both have used “black/brown/red/yellow” as well as “Black” and “White.” I have also followed the lead of many Black women activist friends of mine from Facebook who tend to use the words “women of color” or “people of color.” Word usage matters to me and I consider learning about word usage a work in progress in my awareness.

 

[5] Dahleen Glanton, “White women, own up to it: You’re the reason Hillary Clinton lost,” Chicago Tribune, published on November 18, 2016, accessed on March 8, 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/glanton/ct-white-women-glanton-20161118-column.html.

 

[6] “More white women voted for Donald Trump than for Hillary Clinton,” Women in the World, The New York Times, published on November 10, 2016, accessed on March 8, 2017, http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/11/10/more-white-women-voted-for-donald-trump-than-for-hillary-clinton/.

 

[7] “Single Mother Statistics,” Single Mother Guide, accessed March 8, 2017, updated March 13, 2017, https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics/.

 

[8] Ibid.

 

[9] Cassie McMaster, “This Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day, We Need to Close the Gap,” National Women’s Law Center, published on September 15, 2016, accessed on March 8, 2017, https://nwlc.org/blog/his-native-american-womens-equal-pay-day-we-need-to-close-the-gap/.

 

[10] Ibid.

 

[11] Taylar Nuevelle, Who Speaks for Me? Project, Facebook page, accessed March 8, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/whospeaksforme/.

 

[12] Aleks Kajstura and Russ Immarigeon, “States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context,” Prison Policy Initiative, accessed on March 8, 2017, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/.

 

[13] “Fact Sheet: Incarcerated Women and Girls,” The Sentencing Project, updated November 2015, accessed on March 8, 2017, http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Incarcerated-Women-and-Girls.pdf.

 

[14] Ann P. Haas, Philip L. Rodgers, and Jody L. Herman, “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults,” Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, The Williams Institute, published January 2014, accessed on March 8, 2017, https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf.

 

[15] “What Is One Billing Rising?” One Billion Rising, accessed on March 8, 2017, http://www.onebillionrising.org/about/campaign/one-billion-rising/.

 

[16] Quintan Ana Wikswo, Facebook, quote used with permission, posted on March 7, 2017, accessed March 8, 2017.

 

[17] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 133.

 

 

 

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