Why Is It Always up to the Women?

By

Women are on the front lines of the whims and arrows of this outrageous administration. Mexican women with children and livelihoods to protect are the most vulnerable to the immigration raids. Women and children seeking asylum from war are the most vulnerable to a travel ban. And it’s the bodies of women—over-legislated and underfunded—that are the biggest target of changes in the health care laws. And so, it is with our bodies that we resist these policies—standing on the Washington Mall, marching in our own cities and streets. And today, many women are on strike. The Women’s Strike is a grassroots movement created “as a response to the current social, legal, political, moral, and verbal violence experienced by contemporary women at various latitudes.”

Endorsed by the organizers of the Woman’s March, the strike is a point of resistance in the face of the current administration’s aggressive and discriminatory policies toward the bodies of women. And yet, as so many other writers have pointed out, the strike is not without its problems. It’s only the privileged few who can afford to take the day off, and even then, who’d miss us? If I didn’t answer writer emails, you probably wouldn’t notice. If I failed to edit a few stories, who’d care? Except maybe my boss, who is also a woman, because she just bought this literary site. It seems futile to take a day off from the matriarchy to resist the patriarchy.

And the people who would miss my labor are perhaps the ones who appreciate it the most, my children who are now six and three. What am I supposed to do, tell them, “Sorry, mommy can’t pack you a lunch today because she’s making a political point”? That’s the real tangle of women’s labor; it’s too deeply ingrained to the way our lives work for us to properly strike from it.

Our lives are a web of women, who care for our children, who clean our floors and offices, women who deliver our mail, cash our checks, cut our hair, check our IDs when we stumble into the grocery store at night to buy NyQuil and whiskey. This is the power and problem of a strike. If we could all strike, it would be a powerful statement. If we did, people would starve.

In her book It’s Up to the Women, Eleanor Roosevelt writes, “Women, whether subtly or vociferously, have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world.” Her book is a an exhaustive and almost condescending list of ways women can be better. There are also surprisingly modern reminders, such as the observation that sometimes children are better taken care of by childless women—just because women used their wombs “does not mean that they are wise disciplinarians or can carry out the proper daily routine to give a child a healthy body and a disciplined character.”

But perhaps her most prescient observation in a book is that “there have been other great crises in our country and I think that if we read our history carefully, we will find that the success of our nation in meeting them was very largely due to the women in those trying times. Upon them fell a far heavier burden and responsibility than any of us realize.”

A few pages later she adds: “The present crisis is different from all others but that is, after all, a kind of warfare against an intangible enemy of want and depression rather than a physical foe. And I hold it equally true that in this present crisis it is going to be the women who will tip the scales and bring us safely out of it.”

Roosevelt was writing to the women caught in the grip of the Great Depression. But her words echo across time. It is up to the women. But as we stumble forward, resisting, always resisting, it’s important to realize that white women also caused this mess. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for the president. For contrast, ninety-three percent of black women voted for Clinton. And for however many of us don red in honor of the strike or take the day off, there is that other percentage of women wondering what the fuss is all about. For those who don pink pussy hats and give our babies some super woke signs to hold, there are others at home rolling their eyes. This has always been the way. Not every woman wanted suffrage. Not every woman wanted family and medical leave. And yet, so many others, usually the most vulnerable, push forward, bearing the weight of the change with their bodies and tired hearts. And perhaps that’s the hardest part of all of this. How do I tell the Trump supporter at the grocery store, who asked me to buy her formula, that his policies are going to hurt her the most? It feels self-indulgent and frankly, ridiculous, to ask the underpaid cafeteria workers at my kids school, who are all mostly moms and Trump supporters if they voted, to make them lunch because I was trying to strike.

I don’t know the answers to the questions I just posed. But I don’t think the answer is to do nothing. Because as Jia Tolentino writes in the New Yorker, at their heart, “[h]er concerns, regardless, are my concerns too.” And I don’t think the answer is to be so paralyzed by hopelessness and futility that we just collapse on the couch and watch Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix again, or wring our hangs with think pieces lost in a kind of existential crisis of wokeness.

The answer is never to disengage. The answer is to never stop hoping. Maybe the pink hats were silly, but they were something. Maybe my phone calls to my senator went unanswered, but they were made. For Roosevelt, the answer was to fight on every level of our lives—in the way we budget, the way we raise our children, the way we walk into our work. Peace and change, Roosevelt argued, came not from big actions but from the deep abiding will for it. “I think,” she writes, “before we eliminate wars between nations we probably will have to learn to eliminate the desire that individuals have to force other individuals through physical violence to do their will.”

And that, of course, begins with the women. The women on the front lines of raising humans to value peace and kindness and goodwill. Today, for some women, that looks like a strike. For others it looks quite different. But whatever it looks like, it should be something more than withdrawal.

I was raised in a conservative Evangelical home. My seven siblings and I were homeschooled and set apart from the rest of the world. In the grocery store checkout line, my mom flipped over magazines so we wouldn’t be corrupted by those images. Every lesson centered around understanding and how to fight the “liberal” influences of a godless culture. I learned how to reject messages from books like Frankenstein, which taught (I was told) than man is inherently good. This contradicted the Bible, which taught man was born with original sin.

Those messages became so rote that I still find myself reciting Bible verses in my head when I hear a scandalous pop song. But these days, I wonder how powerful would it be if I fought xenophobia and oppression with that level of diligence and faithfulness? So much so that it changed how I made sandwiches.

Roosevelt wrote in the end of her book, “I think we shall have fulfilled our mission well if when our time comes to give up active work in the world we can say we never saw a wrong without trying to right it; we never intentionally left unhappiness where a little effort would have turned it into happiness, and were more critical of ourselves than others.”

The very reasons I think my strike would be ineffective—my children, my underemployment, my super-white middle of America privilege—are actually also the reasons I shouldn’t disengage from it. So, for better or worse, now more than ever, it is still up to the women.


Lyz Lenz is Managing Editor at The Rumpus. Lyz's writing has been published in the New York Times Motherlode, Jezebel, Aeon, Pacific Standard, and others. Her book on midwestern churches is forthcoming from Indiana University Press. She has her MFA from Lesley and skulks about on Twitter @lyzl. More from this author →