The XX Factor

How Activists, Newsrooms, and #Brands Are Handling International Women’s Day and the Strike

A woman in Seoul joins an International Women’s Day march on Wednesday.

Jean Chung/Getty Images

Well, here we are! It’s International Women’s Day, and here in the U.S. of A., it’s “A Day Without a Woman.” That means, at the urging of the organizers of January’s Women’s March on Washington, thousands of women are on strike and withholding patronage from all but minority- and women-owned businesses. Strikers and allies are also wearing red, creating a fun game by which we all get to guess whether people in red are feminists or victims of coincidence, forced against their will into solidarity with women worldwide.

Red is more in-your-face and less cloyingly connected to traditional markers of femininity than the pink of the march’s pussyhat uniform. It also calls back to the leftie labor-movement roots of the first Women’s Days in the U.S. and elsewhere. In America, the inaugural 1909 National Woman’s Day was equal parts socialist and suffragist. This year is the first in a long time that has seen widespread, organized Women’s Day observations in the U.S.; the holiday is usually a far bigger deal in other countries, where men buy flowers for their moms and women get discounts on beauty supplies.

Wednesday’s actions are trending far more radical, as many women who’ve never gone on strike before—especially white-collar women in traditionally ununionized industries—are taking the day off from both paid and unpaid labor. The organizers of the Women’s March have offered boilerplate out-of-office messages and notes women can send to their employers, and several news websites have published pieces explaining employees’ rights in strikes. Some critics have questioned the strategic efficacy of a general strike and boycott, since it’s not directed at any one employer or company. Others have wondered what women with the capacity to take an unpaid, unplanned day off work should do to make their free day worthwhile. In New York City, strikers are gathering at an official rally; in D.C., there are more specific policy-centered actions. One is a White House protest against the global gag rule, a foreign aid block that will contribute to women’s deaths outside U.S. borders. Another D.C. rally will demand rights for working women, including equal pay, freedom from workplace harassment, paid leave, and a living wage.

Elsewhere in the world, women are protesting on a variety of issues unique to their own respective countries. Irish women are on strike, pushing to repeal the amendment that bans nearly all abortions in the country. The Guardian reports that women in Montenegro are rallying Wednesday against recent rollbacks in financial assistance for mothers with three or more kids, about half of whom are unemployed. In Argentina, where International Women’s Day is always a big deal, women headed outside at noon to bang pots and pans. Later today, many will join a march for women’s equality and rights, particularly an end to gender-based violence.

Here at Slate, employees were told to discuss the strike with their managers if they wanted to take a personal or vacation day. The vast majority of us came to work. Many other news outlets, especially women-focused sites, opted to strike as units. The Cut isn’t publishing anything on Wednesday. Neither are Bustle and Romper, where people organized employee volunteering opportunities. Ditto the women of Jezebel, though the site will be taken over by Jezebel men and men from other Gizmodo Media Group properties. The site’s editor posted a nice explanation of employees’ strike, remarking that readers should notice and speak up if and when the men inevitably fall short. At Fusion, staffers explained their “mixed feelings” on the strike: Some went on strike “in solidarity”; some came to work to report on the strike and other important things women are doing; some came because they felt the strike isn’t inclusive of all women, especially since striking is least possible for people who have the most to lose under white patriarchal capitalism. (Six of the blurbs mentioned the authors’ “privilege” as a reason to strike or not to strike.) Employees at the Verge and MTV News tweeted photos of nearly empty offices, demonstrating the visual power of not showing up.

The right-wing Federalist took a different tack: “Our gals did not take the day off today,” the site tweeted. “Every single story on our front page this morning is written by a woman.” This is truly what every woman wants on Women’s Day: to be worked harder, tokenized, and called a diminutive slang for “girl.”

One of the most visibly affected industries on strike day seems to be education, a field dominated by female teachers and male superintendents. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school district in North Carolina closed down for the day after many of the district’s 75 percent female employees indicated their intent to strike. In Alexandria, Virginia, the school district’s 16 schools closed after 300 teachers asked for the day off. Officials wrote an apologetic note to parents: “The decision is based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction. It is not based on a political stance or position.” The nearby Prince George’s County district, the second largest district in Maryland, announced a last-minute closure on Tuesday after a reported 1,700 teachers and nearly a third of school-transportation employees said they were striking.

In the corporate sector, #brands are #branding as usual. Bumble sent users of the dating app a push notification to announce that “Today we celebrate all women who #MakeTheFirstMove.” The weirdest, thirstiest tie-ins are coming from the animal sector. PETA is urging “solidarity with females of other species,” especially “sexually exploited cows and hens.” Dog food company Cesar posted a YouTube video of women doing things that I think are supposed to be masculine—camping, farming, lifting weights, being police officers and auto mechanics—alongside their “woman’s best friends.” It’s all very corny, but if you’re liable to blubber over commercials that include both dogs and sentimental string arrangements, it might—completely hypothetically, I swear—squeeze a tear out of you.

The best responses to the “Day Without a Woman” have come from ad executive Cindy Gallop, who tweeted that people should “substitute words like ‘support/empower’ women with words like ‘hire’, ‘promote’, ‘pay’, ‘bonus’, ‘fund’, ‘reward’, ‘enrich’”; Lady Liberty, who extinguished her lights on Tuesday night as if in protest of racist immigration bans; and this little girl, who dutifully notified her principal that she was taking the day off from school on Wednesday to do political advocacy work.