Lucille Ball Meets Lysistrata

Ladies who don’t like the president, and who can afford to skip a day of work—”paid or unpaid labor,” according to the organizers of January 21st’s Women’s March—aren’t showing up on Wednesday. It’s in alignment with a global labor strike, but the domestic “Day Without A Woman” is more closely a spin-off from the teeming post-Inaugural Women’s Marches spliced together with last month’s “A Day Without Immigrants,” when restaurant workers lost wages in protest of the newly seated president.

Marches and rallies will crop up, but skipping work is the big ticket item. Strategically, asking people to skip work in solidarity is probably a strong choice for the Resistance movement’s momentum-maintenance. Not showing up is easier than making yet another picket sign and joining the throng. Nobody’s ever been too bored with protesting to not show up someplace.

Coverage and planning for the “Day Without A Woman” has also brought about a mini-renaissance in gender stereotyping. The organizers helpfully clarify that, “We believe in Gender Justice and the protection of the human rights of gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans, Two-Spirit and gender nonconforming people.” But still—preparation for progressive ladies’ dereliction has been refreshingly gender conformist.

Online campaigns remind us gals to forego all shopping excursions that won’t directly benefit a fellow female’s small business or a #resistance ally. We’ll show them! “Women drive 80% of all consumer purchasing,” the feminist Representation Project blared on Twitter, alongside its fetching logo, “Not Buying It” block-lettered in red and white, that might look good on a distressed tee paired with skinny jeans and ankle boots. (They’re specifically campaigning for women not to make purchases via Amazon, which advertises on Breitbart—but should we also boycott the Washington Post, which is sort of an Amazon subsidiary? And what if I’ve already paid for Amazon Prime, can I watch Mozart in the Jungle, or, say, Transparent?)

School cancellations force us to face the fact that, even now in the age of gender fluidity, women disproportionately choose caretaking professions. Go figure. Women’s planned absences have forced the preemptive closure of dozens of public schools. North Carolina’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school district will shutter its nineteen elementary, middle and high schools, having designated Wednesday a paid “teacher work day” for faculty, enough of whom planned to protest the day’s work that the district superintendent called it off. And Alexandria, Virginia, neighboring Washington, D.C., announced on Monday that its eighteen schools would only open to offer kids two hot meals. Otherwise, enough teachers planned to boycott that they too had to make it a “workday.”

“Teacher workday” is educationese for a paid faculty training or any other type of non-teaching work. “Aside from professional development, these days can be used for planning meetings, parent meetings, curriculum meetings, report cards, etc.,” the Chapel Hill school district’s executive director for community relations, Jeffrey Nash, told me via email. But, of course, Wednesday’s an unconventional “workday”—set aside not for work but due to the avoidance of it.

The chairman of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board, James Barrett, informed me that local churches, museums and day camps were “offering childcare support” for students who would need a safe place to pass the day: “We were fully aware of the public debate that would accompany the decision,” he said, “but we did as we will always do—we made student safety our number one priority.” Students’ needs primarily motivated the district closure; an understaffed school would not be safe. “In fact, it is my determination that we will not have enough staff to safely run our school district,” said Jim Causby, the district superintendent, in a statement last week.

Alexandria’s making the same decision this week only further proves, per the Huffington Post, and to paraphrase Beyoncé, that the world depends on women’s work. Indeed it does.

“This is a teacher work day. There will still be an off-site teacher work day on Friday. Teacher work days are paid days,” per school district spokeswoman Helen Lloyd. But Alexandria’s eighteen public schools will open to offer hot meals, breakfast and lunch, to students. And, Lloyd said, “Social workers are always in touch with families of students who may need additional support to ensure they get the services they need.” Social work, like teaching and apparently shopping, is disproportionately women’s work. According to the Department of Labor, 81.5% of social workers are women—as are, presumably, a decent plurality of public school lunch ladies, whom the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not cleanly categorize. Anyway, let’s hope they all show up for work on Wednesday.

Before it became a refueling station for the Resistance, March 8th was merely International Women’s Day, a UN-sanctioned opportunity to celebrate, rather than withhold, women’s many and indispensable contributions.

And before the world body salvaged it from the wreckage of the Soviet bloc, it was Working Women’s Day, twenty-four hours to break up the monotony of late winter and honor the fruits of utilitarian feminism. Like the overlords of the early Church who swapped in holy days for harvest festivals, the Bolsheviks owed the proles a politically-workable reason to rally during their transition toward a godless, sexless socialist paradise. Socialists had already turned delightfully druidic May Day into a celebration of the worker (what other countries and midwestern partisans still now call “International Workers’ Day”). So, they collectively asked, how about adding a ladies’ labor day to the Julian calendar? In 1917, it was a Working Women’s Day strike in then-Petrograd that ignited the Russian Revolution. Tsar Nicholas abdicated exactly a week later.

The “Day Without A Woman” is looser in its stated goals. It’s an effort to prove women’s importance—while also “calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.” It’s opposed to exploitation but stands in solidarity with movements to decriminalize prostitution.

Women’s work, in most forms, merits celebration, as does women’s freedom from oppression. But “The Day Without A Woman” boycott is not much of a celebration. It’s an I Love Lucy episode scrubbed of its charm: Lucy and Ethel’s shift at the chocolate factory in the famous (you’ll recall the scene at the conveyer belt) was partly to prove to Desi and Fred how their homemakers’ absence would sting, that men who gripe about their wives’ spending can’t manage without women’s unpaid work. It was also, possibly, a critique of joyless factory work, technology that cheapens human life and begs to be laughed at.

This year’s plan for March 8th, for women to skip work and avoid commerce, is less Marxist-utilitarian than Lucille Ball meets Lysistrata (another comedy we can take too seriously). But, unlike Lucy and Aristophanes, it’s pointless and unfunny—a labor strike without an endgame, a setup without a punchline. Whatever it is, it’s a lousy reason to leave a kid with nowhere to go for a day.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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