On October 24th, 1975 women all throughout the small island nation of Iceland dismissed their children and their jobs and went on strike to demand equal rights, as at that time women earned less than sixty percent of what their male counterparts earned. This strike garnered international attention first because ninety percent of the female population participated in it and second because it essentially shut down the nation for a day. Children went to work with their fathers because daycares and schools had closed due to the insufficient staff, and flights were cancelled because there were no flight attendants, newspapers were not created because there were no typesetters, and telephone lines and theaters were all shut down because no operators or actresses showed up to work.
What was the result of this strike? Well, in 1976, a law guaranteeing men and women equal rights was passed. One could also make the case that this strike create the social environment that enabled the world’s first democratically-elected female President to be elected in Iceland in 1980.
The women who celebrated ‘A Day Without a Woman’ on March 8th, 2017 wanted similar results — but there are two crucial differences between Iceland’s general strike in 1975 and our ‘A Day Without a Woman’ celebration:
- The women who participated in the strike in 1975 actually had something to protest. When the strike took place, there was nothing in Icelandic law that guaranteed equal rights to men and women. American women, however, have had this legal guarantee since 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. The Equal Protection Clause, which is located at the end of Section 1 of Amendment XIV, states that no State can “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws“. (Yes, that sentence is actually italicized in the Constitution.)
- Iceland’s population in 1975 was ~217,000. The population of the United States, in contrast, is 324,641,000, according to an estimate from earlier this year. I will assume, for argument’s sake, that the gender ratio for both countries is 50/50 and say this: it is much easier to convince 166,264 women to participate in something than 162,320,500. When we crunch the numbers, we can see that ~149,638 Icelandic women participated in the strike in 1975. If American women wanted to achieve the same traction that the Icelandic women did, the leaders of the ‘A Day Without a Woman’ celebration would have needed to persuade 146,088,450 women to participate. It is virtually impossible to convince that many people of anything, much less to do anything. ‘A Day Without a Woman’ was, therefore, destined to fail.
I’ll act, again for argument’s sake, as if it could have been successful, though. It still would have been counterintuitive, for skipping out on one’s responsibilities is not conducive to the promotion of gender equality.
It is true that women are invaluable — after all, without us, civilization couldn’t exist. We gave birth to mankind, and so without us, mankind would not exist. We gave birth to the children whose school in Alexandria, Virginia closed down for the day because there weren’t enough teachers who believed that their job of educating the new generation is more important than some ridiculous politically-charged movement. It’s likely that the majority of the students at that school don’t even understand the concept of an ‘oppressive patriarchy’ — and in that case, their teachers unjustly punished them. In addition, since their school had to be shut down for the day, the only lesson those children learned is that we can take off whenever we want, for whatever reason we want, so long as we believe that the reason is legitimate — and what kind of lesson is that?
I don’t know what the women who participated in the ‘A Day Without a Woman’ celebration wanted — a ribbon with the words ‘I’m important!’ written on it, perhaps; which is ridiculous because important people are valuable people, and valuable people take their responsibilities seriously and do their duties for the good of the community or the industry, not for recognition.
The truth is that our employers — male and female alike — don’t care about our feelings; they care about their work and about the employees who contribute to the success of their business. It is because of this that workers who perform poorly get fired while workers who perform well get promoted. If you don’t do good work, you’re destined to be considered expendable and replaceable — but you have to actually show up to work to do good work!
I’m all for gender equality (as a woman, I have to be), and I understand the desire to make a difference. However, in order to make a difference, you have to be present. You cannot make a difference if you’re absent — and that is why ‘A Day Without a Woman’ made no difference.