As I stood in front of my closet yesterday, searching for the brightest red garment I owned, I suddenly had a bit of a breakdown. One week prior, I had been the one encouraging friends and family to forego a day of work to essentially show America what the country would look like without the significant presence of women, but then the practicality of this whole “Day Without a Woman” came into full view. I started to think about what attempting to take a day off would look like in reality for me and for thousands of other women. I spoke with the receptionist at my office, and she was unable to take the time away from work because there were strict rules about phone and door coverage, and if not her, then another woman in the office would have had to take her post. One administrative assistant would be taking a day off of work later this month for personal reasons and could not afford to take another. One friend’s supervisor told her that she would surely be fired if she did not show up for work. In light of these experiences and many others like them, including my own, I couldn’t help but wonder what solidarity actually meant in this context. Did it mean exercising the luxury to call in sick while others in the female community worked with no reprieve?
The official website for A Day Without a Woman addressed this issue of privilege by saying the following:
It is evident that the intersecting identities of women mean we experience widely different degrees of privilege or lack thereof. Everyone has a role to play. Women and allies with greater privilege are called to leverage that resource for social good on March 8th. However, everyone’s involvement signifies an equal commitment to the day, especially those who experience greater vulnerability to discrimination and exclusion. Even wearing red may be a great act of defiance for some uniformed workers.
It is possible that some women may be fired, as there were about a dozen instances of firings over the Day Without Immigrants strike. Nothing comes without a sacrifice, yet we also recognize that women of color, women with disabilities, LGBTQIA and gender nonconforming individuals, Muslims and other vulnerable groups are at a much greater risk of employer retaliation. We must be diligent and look out for each other, using our privilege on behalf of others when it is called for.
My inner conflict was not truly about whether to wear my red sweater or my red tent-dress. It was about the idea of privileged feminism missing the mark when it came to the intersectional concerns of underrepresented women. While it is true that feminists with privilege, otherwise known as white feminists, can and should use their positions of power for social good, I am not convinced that wearing red or sacrificing a day of work will do much by way of addressing the needs of all women. In fact, it most definitely serves to display the great divide between those with privilege and those without. Standing in solidarity suddenly looked like a day where privileged feminist women could step away from work with little to no consequence, while the individuals who experience the effects of not just sexism, but sexism in combination with racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and myriad forms of discrimination were forced to continue working, often picking up the abandoned work of their more privileged colleagues.
Solidarity should instead look like equity, even before equality. In a world viewed from a lens of equity, A Day Without a Woman would have looked like women of privilege creating space for women with intersecting experiences, even at the expense of their own positions. It would have looked like women of privilege taking on the work of others so that underrepresented voices could be heard on the steps of city halls and at rallies nationwide. It would have looked like those with means sacrificing their own daily wages to cover the cost of an underrepresented female colleague’s day away from work. Using one’s privilege for social good does not mean speaking on behalf of those who cannot. No, it means sacrificing of yourself in order to build a platform for less privileged individuals who indeed have voices of their own.
I am a black Congolese woman, and in some ways, I hold quite a bit of privilege. At the same time, though, I live at the intersection of multiple “isms,” and a white feminist speaking on my behalf isn’t going to fix that problem. I went to work yesterday. I wore jeans and a striped T-shirt, and I clocked in an 8-hour day. I scrolled through photos of women in red on my news feeds, and I did feel pride in the idea of women taking a stand for women. I also worked hard to hold the hope that maybe someday—five, ten, twenty years from now—these women would no longer feel the need to stand for me, but rather, sacrificially create space for me, boldly pull me up, and humbly provide amplification to the voices of the underprivileged many.
Photograph by Kevin Banatte