In a tweet heard round the world, organizers behind last month’s massive Women’s March on Washington floated the idea for “a day without a woman” strike — at the time of this printing, the date has yet to be determined.
What would that even look like?
For some context, we can look to history. On Oct. 24, 1975, an estimated 90 percent of Iceland’s women refused to work inside or outside the home, hoping to raise awareness about wage inequity and the low value placed on their contributions to society.
Around 25,000 women hit the streets in Iceland that day, leaving their paid jobs vacant and leaving their unpaid jobs — child care — to the men.
“Most employers did not make a fuss of the women disappearing but rather tried to prepare for the influx of overexcited youngsters who would have to accompany their fathers to work,” the Guardian writes about that day. “Schools, shops, nurseries, fish factories and other institutions had to shut down or run at half-capacity.”
The day is widely credited with elevating Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, to Iceland’s presidency in 1980. (She was the first woman in the world to be elected head of state in a national election.)
“What happened that day was the first step for women’s emancipation in Iceland,” Finnbogadottir told the BBC in 2015.
Last October, Polish women went on strike to protest a proposed ban on all abortions, even in the cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s life or irreparable damage to a fetus.
That strike “caused widespread disruption to businesses, traffic and to government offices,” NPR reported at the time. “In addition to the strike and marches, there were blood-donation drives and book readings, and some teachers taught classes while wearing all black.”
Polish legislators rejected the ban.
Strikes pop up in the arts, as well. In “Lysistrata,” the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, the women swear an oath to withhold sex from their husbands until a treaty to end the Peloponnesian War has been signed. In Spike Lee’s 2015 “Chi-Raq,” the women withhold sex in hopes of ending the street violence that plagues their neighborhoods.
I’m not a fan of the no-sex narrative, as it sets up sexual intimacy as something that women engage in begrudgingly and out of duty, rather than something that women crave and enjoy in their own right.
Then again, the website Broadly writes about a 2011 sex strike in Barbacoas, Colombia, where the women refused to have sex until the government paved the main road, which was in such disrepair that food and medical care were barely accessible.
“The protesters from Barbacoas connected sex with procreation and the lives of their future children,” Broadly writes, “explaining that it was irresponsible to bring a child into an unsafe world.”
We have no indication what exactly the Women’s March organizers have in mind for their upcoming strike, but I’m encouraged that they listened to the 3 million voices raised at women’s marches Jan. 21 and are working to amplify them further.
Off the Sidelines Chicago, an organization that encourages activism among girls and women, held a luncheon the week after Chicago’s march where Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer led a discussion about how to build on the march’s energy.
“We don’t want to be like the gym on New Year’s Day,” Gainer told the group.
Fired up and filled with intention one day, complacent and back on the couch the next.
The Women’s March organizers’ strike tweet was liked 42,000 times and retweeted 21,000 within 24 hours. Complacency is a relic. People are ready and waiting for their marching orders.
Heidi Stevens: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @heidistevens13