I love the cutting-edge female panel discussions that remind us it’s OK (i.e., human) to be fallible, freeing me from Impostor Syndrome. I gladly attend numerous women-focused skills classes in my community (think “Present presence in any boardroom" or “How to build sustainable female support teams"). I feel classy title-dropping film screenings such as Suffragette or Miss Representation. On International Women’s Day each year, I call friends; I gregariously hand out business cards; I feel the surge of female power.
But this year, I feel dread.
This year, International Women’s Day 2017 has an added element: The women’s strike evocatively called “A Day Without a Woman.” The organizers, the team that spearheaded the January 21 Women’s March on Washington, describe the strike as a means to “recognize the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Perhaps you're on strike right now, as you read this. Or maybe you're witnessing the impact of others striking.
I wholeheartedly support the socio-economic equality and safety of women. I know the devastation of finding out I’m paid less than a colleague in an identical role merely because I’m female and he’s male. I know the emotional turmoil of filing a sexual harassment case against an abusive supervisor. I continue to advocate, hoping that others will know these trials only from what they read in books. But today, I'm standing in my office. Does that temper my commitment to these worthy causes?
After the Women’s March on Washington, word started to trickle about the strike. As friends and colleagues declared their future civil disobedience, I hesitated. I wondered, “Am I a fraud?”My stomach dropped every time someone said, “No women should be in the office that day.” Because I privately knew that I would be.
Six weeks into a new job with a new organization, I’m still navigating the culture, learning whom to trust and whom to just smile and nod at in passing, who will have my back and who will stab me in the back. I feel shame saying it, but I care about what the team thinks. I don’t want to be known as the token female who doesn’t prioritize women’s rights nor the insubordinate one taking a day to rebel against the stereotypical Man.
For weeks, anxiety burdened my brain. I didn’t want to tell anyone—What would they think? How disappointed would they be?—until finally I just blurted it out.
“Mom, I don’t want to strike.”
My declaration was immediately followed by a flurry of interior worries ranging from being less of an advocate, to being shunned by my peers, to being responsible for enabling backward-thinking in the world, to facing workplace discrimination, to losing my job, to being a hypocrite. (Did I mention women report more self-doubt than men?)
God bless my mom. Her response was simple: “This isn’t your fight.” Oh, and “Breathe.”
Simple (although I’m still working on the breathing part). The strike didn’t have to be my fight. It just doesn’t feel as simple.
The truth is, standing up for women is not just a one-day thing. Excelling in my job and prioritizing my personal goals are not actions that fail women. They are ones that serve me, ever a woman, very well and I hope open opportunities for other women. They will continue to fuel the work I do, lifting up my sisters in the workplace and beyond.
There have, and will continue to be, opportunities other than this strike to take a stand. Every day. That includes caring for ourselves. Today, I already reserved “me time” for an early morning run. In the evening, I will welcome guests at a female-founded yoga studio to ensure my community has access to affordable self-care. And during the day, I’ll be at my office, ensuring women always have a presence at our decision-making table. Especially on International Women’s Day.
There are moments I feel insecure about not striking. Knowing my mom—who experienced pay discrimination, who knows what it feels like to be the only female leader in a male-dominated field, and who is the woman I most admire in this world—supports my decision, helps. But external validation only carries us so far. I have to let my insecurities wane because they are poaching energy I should dedicate to the greater causes.
Am I a fraud for not striking? Am I less strong-willed?
No. Going to work when many women weren't was my choice. It isn’t right or wrong. It is not passive or submissive. It doesn’t mean I’m nonchalant or weak. It hits at the core of what the strike stands for: Ensuring all women have freedom and equality.
The challenges before us require women to support one another regardless of political affiliation, marching status, and other factors. I believe we should support each other simply because we are women, because we are humans.
The 2017 International Women's Day is important—for strikers, for everyone. It is one of many fights en route to eradicating gender discrimination. After March 8, our long-term battles will still be here. And for these many days, my fellow women, I’m in.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Trahan