There has been much criticism of the Women’s Strike that took place on Wednesday, March 8—some calling it elitist, another example of privileged white women whining about a lack of rights they secured long ago. After all, feminism in the 21st Century is irrelevant, right? We have achieved equality. Women sit on the U.S. Supreme Court and in Fortune 500 boardrooms. In January, the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, at Camp Lejeune welcomed the first three women infantry Marines.
You’ve come a long way, you privileged, whining babies.
We have indeed. And yet 70 percent of the world’s poor are women. According to the most recent data collected by the U.S. Census, women earn 20 percent less than men. Even in the 21st Century, gender pay inequality exists in this country, although the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution still does not. Other reasons women fall below the poverty line include low-paying jobs; lack of affordable housing, childcare, and healthcare; inadequate or nonexistent maternity leave; and gender-based violence. To denounce the Women’s Strike based on the logical fallacy that because my life as an American woman is good, the lives of all American women must also be good—or good enough—is far more indicative of white privilege and narcissism than the actions of those who chose to protest last week.
Yes, there were many women—namely working-class women and women of color, both of whom fall further below the poverty line than white women—who could not afford to take a day off work to protest gender inequality. That is precisely the reason why women who could strike did. Those who can are duty-bound to fight for those who can’t. Not out of charity or some skewed sense of altruism. We all benefit when we all rise together. But progress must begin by acknowledging truth and injustice.
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The root of inequality is multifaceted and intertwined: racism; classism; xenophobia; homophobia; misogyny; and the root that sprouts them all, Capitalism, which guarantees the oppression of a large segment of the population, especially women. Recognition of this intersectionality elevates the fight for women’s rights far beyond identity politics. Strikes and marches are acts of empowerment, an acknowledgment of the verity that women from all walks of life have been and continue to be victims of discrimination of one sort or another. The fact that three women don Supreme Court Justice robes and three more wear the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment uniform, or that a whopping five percent of all of those Fortune 500 companies are run by women doesn’t negate the existence of systemic discrimination. Demanding justice is not a plea for alms. It is not a declaration of war on the rights of others or a self-indulgent exercise in bellicosity. It is a battle cry for what is right.
So I say to all those people who fulminated against the privileged, whiny white women who took to the streets and kept their debit cards stuffed snugly inside their wallets on March 8: Keep marching, sisters. Keep fighting for yourselves and for our sisters and brothers who can’t join us in the trenches and for those who choose not to. In the words of Malala Yousafzai, “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard . . . we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” I’ll go a step further: We cannot succeed if we refuse to reach beyond our limited purview and embrace a greater reality.
Forward together, not one step back.
Christy Hallberg is a teaching associate professor of English at East Carolina University and an assistant editor of North Carolina Literary Review.