Men should support the women’s strike – by taking over the domestic work

Enda O'Riordan explains why it's vital for men to provide practical support for the women on strike - to support their activism, and to build future communities of care where the work is shared equally.

March 7, 2018 · 8 min read
Stuart Hall at a crèche at a women’s liberation conference in Oxford in 1970.

On the 8th of March, thousands of women from all over the world will be going on strike to protest issues ranging from gendered social reproduction roles, the criminalisation of sex work, to transmisogyny along with many others. The strike aims to simultaneously highlight the enormous social value that is lost when women refuse to carry out their ascribed roles, whilst also drawing attention to the continuing assault on women’s rights and safety, especially those in marginalised communities. Crucially, this strike is that it is an attempt to specifically allow women to restore a sense of agency that is often lost in the face of oppressive structures and behaviours. It’s a display of solidarity between women of all different backgrounds, recognising that every form of oppression facing women can only be overcome through a combined effort and struggle.

They’re striking not just from paid work, but from the ‘double-shift’ of domestic work. This is the work that make life possible – but everywhere it’s unpaid, underpaid and definitely under-appreciated. The only thing that allows women to stop this work is when men step up to shoulder our fair share of the childcare, the cooking, the emotional labour. So, groups of men are coming together to take over the cooking, childcare and social reproduction – running care centres, cookouts and ‘kids strikes’. And this isn’t just about one day. If we are committed to building a future of equality we need to put step forward to build communities of care which don’t depend on the private, thankless toil of women. Our position of privilege generally gives us more power and platforms than our women and non-binary comrades – and we need to use them to support their struggles.

Supporting the women’s strike isn’t just about staying woke – it’s not just sympathy, it’s about solidarity, recognising that a revolutionary movement which neglects to address the oppression of women is not really revolutionary at all. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that patriarchy privileges the lives and freedoms of men over those of women and non-binary people. But the fact that we enjoy relative benefits does not mean we should welcome patriarchy. Patriarchy is bound up with a system of global violence, and economic domination – a world in which male sexual aggression is the reigning logic of society, and many people feel marginalised and isolated because of the gender they were assigned, or the social roles carved out for them because of that gender. It begets trauma, isolation and feelings of alienation. Who would you be you hadn’t grown up with a gender binary foisted on you?

Moreover, the Women’s Strike demands transformative social and economic justice, in which people are freed from gendered burdens. They strive to promote reproductive justice, open borders, and demand a society in which people aren’t cruelly deprived of basic needs and services. It’s utopian in the sense that it doesn’t just struggle to be  defensive in our attempt to improve the situation. It struggles not just to end suffering, but to promote flourishing. Irrespective of gender, we should all want to live in that world.

So how can we support it? However well-meaning and sympathetic to the objectives of the strike we men may be, it’s important to recognise that our role here is one of support, not leadership. Only women and femmes can lead, organise and orientate the struggle against their own oppression. Political demands or outrage can never be as effective if the voices of those who experience them most directly are crowded out by those who do not.

As a consequence of various historical social and cultural influences, many men are prevented from seeing how their support can be valuable without exerting a domineering influence, or without immediate recognition of the primacy of their causal role in a social movement. Through the dissemination of military propaganda, for example, men have been encouraged to see themselves in the role of a saviour— the only one who can act decisively to make change. It is not only important to recognise the falsity of this ideological position so that women are no longer demoted to support roles and deprived of their agency, but this is also in and of itself a reason to provide the very form of support that the women’s strike encourages: namely responsibility for the roles of social reproduction that have traditionally been consigned to women.

This challenges the very notion that support roles and social reproduction are to be considered as lesser, secondary, or naturally assigned on a gendered basis. When men disavow the gendered division of reproductive labour, we not only facilitate greater autonomy of the women we wish to express care for, but we also debunk the traditionalist idea that childcare and cooking outside of a commercial context are forms of labour which we should want to avoid at all costs.

Furthermore, we reject the notion that men are by their nature ill-suited to these roles, and rather than develop the capacity for care should focus instead on forms of self-development which are rewarded in economic achievement or social power. We open up a space in which men can genuinely articulate expression of love, affection, and care— important human emotional states which we have historically been pressured to suppress, by providing us with the opportunity to support others for their sake, not because it has instrumental value to ourselves, and by engaging in forms of labour that require the development and cultivation of sensitivity and empathy, such as childcare. This provides mutual advantages: men are no longer expected to suppress emotions in the interest of becoming the fully mechanised, rigid economic agent, whilst women are no longer faced with the prospect that they must relinquish any sense of autonomy or ambition because social care and reproduction is understood to be exclusively their responsibility.

Finally, this form of solidarity opens up further possibilities about the roles men might be play in any utopian ecology of care – not just caring for our families or our immediate loved ones, but working towards building a caring society. In this sense, we shouldn’t see our attempts to provide care and support in this strike only as a precursor to providing support to women may be intimately close with, but also to women more generally— especially those who are most marginalised. A community of care should provide the necessary practical support which allows the most marginalised to speak out and be heard, without facing the nagging anxiety that they are neglecting more immediate responsibilities in doing so.

Of course, simply helping out with social reproduction on March 8th won’t be sufficient to bring about all of this change. What is required is a consistent effort and the cultivation of new ritual practices and forms of being which might over time break down years of gendered division and stereotyped behaviours. By starting to build different communities of care, we start to trace a blueprint of the future society in which we wish to live.

If you would like to get involved in helping out, please get in touch here.

If you are unable to commit time personally, you can also donate to the strike fund here. The fund aims to provide a living wage to women who would not otherwise be able to go on strike to do so.

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