On “Strike”

It’s March 8th. It’s International Women’s Day. And it’s A Day Without a Woman. If, like me, you’re in New Zealand, you are quite likely only aware of one or two of those things. The Day Without a Woman hasn’t really made it big here. But in spite of that, I decided to participate and go on strike. 
It was easy for me to strike. It is my rostered day off work. My husband and I had no solid plans and he is more than capable of looking after our household. In fact, he is more often the one who does. Because of this, I actually asked him whether there was a point in me striking. But he quickly replied “yes, you should strike for everyone who can’t.” And so here I am, striking for everyone who can’t.

I know that many people genuinely cannot participate for any number of reasons. I’m not questioning that. But a lot of the objection to this movement that I have seen has focused on the fact that “it would cause a disruption.” And while I don’t claim to know the details of anyone’s individual situation, I would encourage anyone who sees the disruption as a reason not to strike to consider the fact that the disruption is exactly why we should strike. Without disruption, people will continue to ignore the facts. Without disruption, people will continue to ignore “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system, while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Without disruption, there will be no change.

The organisers gave three suggestions as to how women could participate in this action:

  1. Don’t participate in paid or unpaid work
  2. Avoid shopping, except for at women or minority owned businesses.
  3. Wear red in solidarity

I decided to give all three a go. There are no rallies or meetings or anything near me (rural New Zealand is not big on this kind of stuff, and I didn’t have the time to organise anything), but I didn’t want my version of the strike to be sitting around watching Netflix in my PJs all day, so I made my own plan. 

I fudged it a little on the first point of the plan. I feel like the mass non-participation in work of all forms is only truly effective when there is, you know, mass non-participation. Without the mass alongside me, I felt like there was an argument for doing a little bit of unpaid work helping other women and our community alongside some self-care. So my “strike” included:

  1. Sleeping in. I’m not doing this selfishly, I swear, but this part was pretty good. 
  2. A bit of Facebook slacktivism in the form of sharing links about the gender pay gap and the women who came before me in New Zealand feminism.
  3. Looking after my reproductive health by getting a check-up, and reminding myself how fortunate I am to have this care readily available and easily accessible. 
  4. Cooking and delivering a meal to a mum who needed a break, and who asked on a marvellous Facebook Page called Meals for Mum. (If you’re in New Zealand, you should join! You don’t have to be a mum to participate.)
  5. Cooking an extra meal, and dropping it at a community centre for them to pass on to a family in need. Campground Papa and The Campground Kid helped with the cooking and preparing too.
  6. Shopping at a lovely female-owned-and-operated gift shop (I got a pastry brush and some lovely cards, if you were wondering).
  7. Picking up a volunteer recruitment pack for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, who provide an excellent service all over NZ. I’m looking forward to getting involved with the organisation, provided my application is successful. 
  8. Wearing red 
  9. Writing this blog post while my husband prepares afternoon tea and dinner for us all.
  10. Giving myself a haircut (this one’s not really strike-related, just a bit of self care!) 
  11. Doing yoga while he puts our kid to bed and tidies the house.
  12. Reading about International Women’s Day and listening to the stories of women all around the world.

    In many ways, this isn’t too different to an ordinary non-work day for me. My husband often does the bulk of the house stuff. I’ve delivered meals a few times, and I’ve read about feminism and shared links many many many times. Because I’ve been home most of the day, there have been times that it’s hard to tell what is “unpaid work” and what is “spending time with my family.” I haven’t been strict about the delineation, and my contribution has definitely been imperfect. I also recognise that the movement as a whole is imperfect. Then again, I am imperfect and everyone is imperfect, so to expect anything different would have been foolish. 

    And even in imperfection, International Women’s Day and the strike have made me feel more intentional about my actions and more considerate of the ways in which I can both help and hinder other women. I have made new connections in the community. I have helped other women. I have taken the first steps toward being involved in a female-dominated and valuable community service. My husband has stepped up to the plate and considered the part he can play in feminism. My daughter has been well cared for while I did other things.

    So, personally, I’m calling this a big ol’ win. (And also a really lovely day!) 

    And, although I have some doubts, I will be following with interest as to how the larger movement plays out when the USA catches up to us here in New Zealand and gets to Wednesday. I hope that there is enough participation to make an impact. I hope that men and women both stop to consider the contribution women make to our society and whether they are fairly valued/recognised/rewarded. I hope that we, as a global society, see that while great strides have been made in women’s rights, our work here is far from done. I hope that people realise that we all have a part to play in creating a fair and just society. And I hope that we continue the conversation about how we can do that, whether or not the Day Without a Woman lives up to its name. 

    Love and justice and action

    This morning we went to run errands in our nearest biggish town, followed by sushi for lunch, as requested by The Campground Kid. We kept her awake for the drive home (we’re working on dropping her naps) and then we all watched a movie. It was a ridiculous family movie about puppies who play sports and get up to hijinks. It was terrible and amazing and happy-endinged and exactly like a million other family movies. Now Campground Papa is reading a story to The Campground Kid while dinner is in the oven and I am writing on the couch. Our little family is cosy and comfortable and familiar.

    Our little bubble: Toddler football in the sun.

    Our little bubble: Toddler football in the sun.

    But when I look outside of this little bubble, the world feels anything but comfortable and familiar. In the run-up to the election in the USA, I dismissed Trump as a possibility at all. Once he was elected, I thought that surely all the checks and balances in the system would keep him… well… in check.

    I was wrong.

    I never like to be wrong, but this is one time that I really really don’t like to be wrong. The change in leadership in another country may not have a direct impact on my daily life, but even way down here in small town New Zealand, it’s disconcerting to see such toddler-like behaviour in arguably the most powerful office in the world. Thalia over at Sacraparental has a good list of why New Zealanders might care about what’s happening in the United States, but the two points that sum it up best for me are #3: New Zealand is not exempt from the fascism and selfishness that is infecting the world in a new wave right now (in fact we have a leader who is doing nothing to stand up to it) and #11: I need to choose a side. I’m choosing love and justice and action.

    In the short term, there are lots of ways to choose love and justice and action and to protest the shocking changes we’re seeing right now. There are lists all over the internet of how you can get involved and make your resistance known. And those are important. SO important. (I mean, come on, when breastfed babies are being separated from their mothers for hours at a time against their will and five year old children are being handcuffed as security threats, we have to DO SOMETHING).

    But as well as the immediate actions in response to immediate threats, it’s important for me to consider the long term ways in which I can choose love and justice and action. Because it’s these longer term actions that will (hopefully) prevent this being repeated in future generations.  I recognise that being able to focus my thoughts on long term actions is a HUGE privilege, and I don’t at all mean to imply that everyone should be thinking long term at this time, but it’s what I need to do right now to ease my anxiety about the state of the world.

    Unrelated Beach Scene, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

    Unrelated Beach Scene, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

    Over the last few years, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and the way I see the world. And in the wake of this election, I am reinvigorating my commitment to a few of the concepts that resonate most strongly and that I believe are powerful forces against the trend towards right-wing, nationalistic thinking (which is not just a US problem – not even close).

    The first is Non-Violent Communication (NVC)NVC is a communication strategy that “begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.” NVC is not easy – it’s a huge shift in mindset for me, and it’s a lot of work to understand and apply the principles consistently. But for me it’s been life-changing (even without doing it anywhere near consistently), and I really believe it has the potential to be world-changing. I don’t claim to be anything like an expert, so if you want to know more, check out the link above, or ask me and I’ll link some resources.

    I came to learn about Non-Violent Communication through some respectful parenting circles, which brings me to the second thing that I believe can be world-changing: respectful parenting. I’m not linking a particular resource here, because there are so many different types of respectful parenting, and I don’t wish to be dogmatic or specific as to what respectful parenting involves. For me it’s about developmentally appropriate expectations of our kids, empathy, and seeing children as fundamentally good. For others it’s about different things, but the important linking thread is that respectful parenting is about respecting both children and the role of parenting.  My views on parenting and the way we as a society value it have shifted greatly over the years; I’m not going to share it all, but the conclusion I’m currently at is: the way we think about and talk about and value parenting is really fucking important.

    Last on my list is radical acceptance. In a world that constantly preys on our fears and doubts about the way things could and should be, accepting the way things are is, I believe, a radical act. Of the three things I’ve mentioned, this one comes the least easily to me. In fact, it’s really fucking hard. But in my experience, things that are really fucking hard are often hard because they’re also really fucking important. There are resources out there, but one of my favourite pieces about radical acceptance is this lovely story about radical acceptance in parenting. But the concept spreads far wider than just parenting. The more we see ourselves, other people, the world, not as a collection of problems to fix but rather as complex and valuable and worthy, the more we learn and understand and the more we are able to move forward and live in ways that fulfill us.

    I do not intend this list to be exhaustive, nor to necessarily apply to anyone else.  We all change the world a little bit each day, through every interaction, and (like most people, I’d imagine) ideally I want the little bit of change I make to be positive. These strategies are the ones that work best FOR ME at this stage of my life to achieve that, and even though I fail at them all constantly, they have all been life-changing for me. Maybe your ways of choosing love and justice and action look completely different to mine. That’s okay (of course it is; you don’t need me to tell you that!)  But whatever love and justice and action look like to you, I hope you’re also choosing them at the moment. Because if anything good is to come out of this election, it’s going to be achieved by a groundswell of people on the side of love and justice and action.