The “Day Without A Woman” Strike Will Close Schools Across The US

What's it like when women don't show up? America may be about to find out.

On March 8, women will unite in solidarity by taking the day off from work, avoiding shopping, and wearing red. March 8 continues the tradition established by the Women’s March on Washington, which became the largest march in American history. The strike has gained attention on social media and has even implicated school districts across the US to close.

In Alexandria, Virginia, all 16 public schools will be closed. The superintendent defends “This is not a decision that was made lightly. We have been closely monitoring requests for leave on March 8, including communicating with school leaders and our education association.” The Maple Street School in Brooklyn extended this effort further by sending “a letter to parents last week explaining that the preschool supports the political statement teachers are making by staying home.” It’s wonderful to see fellow teachers being supported by their schools, but what does March 8 have to do with schools, in the first place? Education politics is already in a bad way: won’t these teachers be adding to that?

Not at all. Consider the statistics. In 2011–12, 76 percent of public school teachers were female, yet “male teachers earn a median of $1,096 a week, whereas women earn $956 — about 87 cents to the man’s dollar.” Clearly, teaching hasn’t escaped the wage gap. So when female teachers unite in solidarity on March 8, they aren’t just exemplifying their rights as Americans. They’re also raising the issue of pay, once again. Lest we forget, teaching began as a man’s profession that started recruiting women for mostly one reason: employers could get away with paying female teachers less. The same pay differences still exist today. The core of this problem is labor injustice, whether in education or not.

While I foresee outrage over closing 16 schools for the day, the outrage over the fact that female teachers are continually underpaid should override this.

But what about less affluent districts whose students may be struggling economically, socially, and academically? It seems selfish for teachers to refuse to do their jobs all in the name of women’s rights? Again, not at all. In fact, I don’t think they are refusing to do their jobs. Arguably the best teaching happens through experience — students who see their teachers uniting for a cause they believe in won’t just learn to do the same. They’ll also be reminded that expressing one’s rights isn’t something to be ashamed of. In an ever more turbulent political and social climate that seeks to silence minorities of race, gender, and social class, everyone needs that reminder. Further, the fight for women’s rights has become a cornerstone of this country’s democracy. Contemporary America is defined by — not in spite of — these fights; they can’t be ignored any longer.

In response, Fox & Friends Weekend interviewed Mary Lopez Carter, a resident outside Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina, a district that decided to make March 8 an “optional teacher workday.”

To Carter, “The irony is that these teachers supposedly care about our children and families and community, yet they’re inconveniencing parents, especially those who have young children who legally cannot leave their children at home.” She cites how tax payer dollars are funding this protest. Abby Huntsman quickly clarifies how “We can all be for protesting — I mean, that’s what this country is all about… But on your free time.” But the message sent by striking on “your free time” is always weaker than that sent while striking on other’s time. According to the interview, the overwhelming definition of protest in general is one devoid of time, place, or logistics. Protest isn’t good or productive, they seem to argue, without telling us what is.

Huntsman also asks if Lopez is “worried this might spread to your district?” as if the act were the flu: “Absolutely… these things have legs. And they will grow… It will spread like wildfire.” Both describe March 8 as if it were a disease or a bug infestation. Though I’m not sure where this diction comes from, it’s necessarily damaging to its cause because it persuasively misrepresents it. These movements should spread, but not as infestations. Using this rhetoric only misrepresents women and the cause we’re all fighting for. And after all, Huntsman reminds that protest, in general, is “what this country is all about.” As usual, Fox is arguing against itself, which may be the beauty of this network in the first place. It’s entertaining, but insofar as it’s also damagingly persuasive.

Huntsman and Lopez paint “Good teachers” as complacent ones, evidently, who wouldn’t strike for their own rights. But this move takes all agency away from a profession that’s already fighting for it more than ever before. Over-administered schools, along with state and federal regulations, have increasingly pushed teachers to preform and outperform with depleting resources. DeVos’ recent confirmation only adds to these tensions. It seems to me that “Good teachers” are anything but the complacent ones mentioned in the interview. They aren’t only self-advocates for themselves — as if only could do my point justice. They’re also deeply committed to teaching their students to become the same.

The strike maintains a set of Unity Principles that contemporary America should adopt, prefacing how “We must create a society in which women — including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women — are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.” Those are the ends. Tomorrow, the means.

George Goga is a writer and teacher from Buffalo, NY. Twitter @GeorgeOGoga

News // Education / Feminism / Politics / Womens March