This Is What Feminism Really Looks Like
Women of color, trans women, working women—the International Women’s Strike brought feminism of the 99 percent into the streets.
By Michelle Chen
Mar 9 2017
On Wednesday, women around the world gave themselves a day off… from the system. Not that a woman’s work is ever done. But for one day, to mark the International Women’s Strike, women in dozens of cities in the United States and across the world redeployed their productive energies to fighting for gender and economic justice.
Women downed their tools on multiple fronts. Mothers outside the waged workforce restructured their schedules to share the burden of care work. Others refrained from shopping, or participated in local direct actions, or undertook the challenge of starting provocative conversations with neighbors about the real value of women’s work.
Reviving the spirit of the event that inspired the original socialist International Working Women’s Day—the massive garment workers’ strike led by immigrant women in New York—women yesterday found creative ways to rupture the patriarchy. They also showed that, contrary to dismissive claims that taking action for women’s rights is just for the privileged, activists in 2017 come from all walks of life, including nannies, fast-food and retail workers, teachers, and “unorganized” microtaskers.
No woman was left out at the march in New York City: Professors pushed for a “sanctuary campus” for immigrants at regional colleges and universities, and sex workers and bodega owners marched arm in arm for environmental, gender, and racial justice under the banner of “feminism for the 99 percent.”
Organizer and Arab-American Palestinian-rights activist Suzanne Adely said the rally upheld a “tradition” of women “using their economic power to build a social movement that declares that the liberation of women can only come…when we stop wars, when we stop violence against black women and black people, [and] come together to learn how to work together towards building real liberation for women and for all people.”
Octavia Kohner, a trans worker who recently launched a union at the Babeland sex toy boutique, spoke about the need for intersectional resistance instead of establishment feminism. Her fellow workers struggled for a contract that would strengthen the staff’s civil-rights and labor conditions, she recalled, against vocal resistance from nominally liberal (but profit-minded) bosses.
“Boss feminism is denial, it is deception, it is self-interest over solidarity,” Kohner told the crowd at Washington Square Park. “That I am a woman did not matter…. What did matter is that the workers came together, we agitated, we educated…. When we are united as an intersectional workforce—when the sex workers, when the trans women, when the women of color, when the disabled women…when we center those most marginalized in our community [and] put their voices forward, when our goal is not only to help them survive but thrive—is when our feminism is a success.”
Rabyaah Althaibani, a Yemeni-American family-business owner, highlighted the link between feminist success and racial justice in the bodega strike, in which local grocers closed shop for a day to protest Trump’s original Muslim travel ban, right before it was suspended by the courts.