This Wednesday is International Women’s Day, and women around the world will participate in a one-day strike. Led by prominent feminist activists and scholars, this Day Without a Woman calls for women to abstain from working however they are able to (from both paid and unpaid labor).
We turned to our own MTV Campus Ambassadors to have them weigh in on what A Day Without a Woman looks like at colleges across the country. Will they be participating? On a larger scale, how are their campuses and communities recognizing Women’s History Month (if at all)? Which women’s narratives are still excluded and, specifically, what experiences of women would they like to see reflected in media? In an MTV News roundtable, our Ambassadors discuss representation and the work that still needs to be done.
Taylor Vidmar, Richland Community College
The Day Without a Woman strike happens to be right in the middle of my midterm exams, so unfortunately I won’t be able to participate. However, I’m really excited about what my campus is doing to celebrate Women’s History Month. We have a huge display for WHM in our student center. It’s interactive, so students can go up to the wall and pick up quotes from women like Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey and take selfies in front of a WHM background. Our student engagement office is also doing a “Women Who Have Made a Difference” poster contest with a $100 gift card giveaway (yay to feminism and free money!). These might seem like little things, but it’s so important that these stories are shared. Also, it’s pretty impressive that a small campus like mine is doing what it can to educate students about amazing women throughout history.
It’s especially necessary that these stories are told on campus, since students probably don’t hear them elsewhere. Portrayals of women in media are improving, but the stories of real women who have actually changed the world aren’t told as much. I want to see more films like Hidden Figures that portray the women who history has traditionally ignored, especially those of women of color. Moreover, I want women in general to be shown as complex and serious individuals, not flat, stereotypical punch lines.
Mariah Woods, Temple University
I think it’s really cool that Taylor’s campus does that. I’m in the process of organizing something for A Day Without a Woman, so I may steal this and tweak it somehow!
I did not participate in the Women’s March on Washington for self-care reasons (I got a haircut instead), but also because I feel like things like this are all about white womanhood, and as a woman of color I cannot put one part of myself to the side for another. I know the march was about positivity and empowerment, but I feel that there wasn’t enough of an effort made to be inclusive. There was a poster that said “I’ll see all you nice white ladies at the next Black Lives Matter protest, right?” It spoke to me because it’s true. I can’t fight this feeling that even though you are marching next to me, can I trust you? White women voted for Donald Trump in numbers larger than any minority group, so I’m having major trust issues right now. Does anyone have any thoughts about this? Have you felt the same way? How is everyone being inclusive in their Day Without a Woman activities?
Kamrin Baker, University of Nebraska at Omaha
I love hearing from you all. I will definitely wear red or a shirt with an empowering message on the day of the event, but I don’t have a job, so I can’t just not show up to work. I’m also in college so I don’t do a lot of shopping, unless it’s for groceries or the occasional laptop sticker, so I can easily avoid that. I just checked my university’s website and it doesn’t look like we have any events centered on Women’s History Month, which is really disheartening. I’d love to get more involved in the next few years to actually make something happen to celebrate intersectional feminism and spread awareness about women’s rights. I’m going to speak with my peers and resource centers on campus to get that moving this week. As for what you said, Mariah, I definitely agree that white feminism has become a huge toxin in the movement. As a white woman, it’s often hard to acknowledge moments when I don’t reach my full potential as an advocate and talk louder than women whose voices must be heard before mine. Intersectionality has become a huge priority for me, and it’s strong and persistent women of color like you who remind me to keep double-checking myself and to hand over the mic.
Emily Tantuccio, Rutgers University
I have to second what Kamrin said. This year, one of my top priorities was to become a more effective and well-informed activist, and a vital part of that is to be mindful of intersectionality and making sure others have the same opportunities to be heard. I won’t be taking off from my job on International Women’s Day because I have a lot of work right now that I can’t afford to turn away from, so I’ve just been trying my best to pay close attention to firsthand accounts from other women about the experiences and adversities they face, while learning how I can be there to better support and empathize with them. For example, earlier this week one of my friends retweeted this post by Kerima Çevik about crimes against disabled victims, and the way our media and society both have a tendency to decide whether they refer to crimes against disabled individuals as hate crimes depending on what the race of the victim and assailants were. This was not the first time I had read about the tragedy outlined in the post, but it did present new points to me that I had never had to consider because I am a young white woman.
I do also hope to eventually see more representation of women with disabilities in the media. In the past, when I have watched films or television shows with female cast members who were supposed to have a disease or disability, I usually would feel frustrated because that's either the entire focal point of the character’s story line and their only defining characteristic, or worse, the show just gives completely false information about the disability that perpetuates false stereotypes and ideas. I hope we can get to a point when it’s totally normal for a character on a show to be in a wheelchair, deal with bipolar disorder, or have type 1 diabetes without it being the most defining trait the character has.
I consider myself to be an advocate for young people with chronic illness, but I also am well aware of the fact that I need to learn more if I want to confidently say that my advocacy efforts are inclusive to all young women dealing with all sorts of disabilities and illnesses, regardless of whether they are mental or physical, and regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic background. I want to try to bring more focus to stories and situations like this so that we can be more educated on how to prevent such terrible outcomes in the future.
Emma Havighorst, Fordham University
I love that you have all brought up intersectional feminism, because I’ve also tried to prioritize learning about intersectionality and working to become more aware of the unique problems faced by women of color, differently abled women, and trans women, among others. I think it’s also important to learn to help as a white woman without muting the voices of those who really need amplification right now.
That being said, I think Mariah’s point about the Women’s March being majority white (and middle-class/upper-class) has a large place in this discussion about A Day Without a Woman, because asking women to take off of work as a method of protest is not as simple as it seems. As a student, it would be impossible for me to take off of classes — and frankly, because of the disgustingly high price of tuition, I feel pathetic if I miss class for any reason other than illness. I feel like many students are in that position too. Moreover, there are countless people who need to go to their jobs every day. Not every woman can opt out of work for a day and not only be comfortable missing a day of pay, but also be assured that her job will be waiting for her when she gets back. Skipping work is obviously not perceived as positive in a manager’s view, and that could seriously harm any workers who want to be supportive of the feminist cause via the Day Without a Woman. I think that the decision to strike from work seems like it was made within a bubble, where people who can afford to skip a day without concern thought it was a good idea and did not think about women less fortunate than them.
Since I can’t afford to skip class and I have no work to skip, I will be wearing red and actively trying to find local businesses here in the Bronx owned by women, because I’ve realized that I don’t know of any and that’s fairly upsetting. So that will be my mission on A Day Without a Woman.
Isabel Song, UC Berkeley
My student group was originally planning to organize a rally for A Day Without a Woman on campus, focusing on progressive and intersectional feminism. Our idea was to highlight inclusivity and to feature transgender women and genderqueer speakers to discuss our reservations not only about the Trump administration but also the Republican and Democratic Parties. We also wanted to explore what it means to identify as a woman of color and speak about systemic, gendered violence within the University of California, partially in light of the recent revelation of at least 124 reported cases of sexual misconduct by UC employees over the past three years. Our timing was off, though, because it turns out that the main part of our campus that usually hosts events like this was already booked for a rally by the Undergraduate Workers’ Union. But we’re definitely keeping our concept on the table for a future event because it’s so important that we advocate for intersectional feminism, largely because intersectionality has long been missing from traditional feminism.
Feminism is founded on this idea that everyone should be equal, but it’s historically deeply rooted in white feminism and cisgender feminism, which leaves out some of the people most at risk of inequality, violence, and more. I appreciate all that past and present feminists have done in making strides for women, but I can also acknowledge that their brand of feminism has often been limited and problematic and that we need to work toward making feminism more inclusive and intersectional. I vividly remember an event last year during which Gloria Steinem suggested that young women were supporting Bernie Sanders just so they could meet men, to which Madeleine Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” implying that I should support Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman. I remember feeling so demeaned hearing those comments, particularly Steinem’s misogynistic suggestion. Here were these women who were touted as these great feminist figures, but all they did was make me realize that I didn’t recognize their brand of feminism. I don’t want to be part of that “insular, upper-class white feminism,” as one writer put it.
I want to be part of a feminist movement that fights for young advocates and intersectionality. I want to be part of a feminist movement that supports people not just because they identify as a woman, but because they are also willing to fight for all female-identifying individuals, whether cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, or more, and of varying experiences, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. It’s very clear that there’s a lot of work to be done to achieve this goal, but the fact that we’re having conversations like this about representation and intersectional feminism gives me a lot of hope that things are starting to change.
I identify as a feminist, but I am also highly critical of it and conscious of my place as an Asian-American cisgender woman. I went to the Women’s March in San Francisco, but the entire time I was there, I was also painfully aware of the various ways in which it was problematic. I have quizzes in the classes I have tomorrow and don’t work shifts on Mondays, but I plan to find some way to participate or attend a rally while being conscious of the ways in which we need to change what it means to be a feminist.
I was recently at a coalition of student activists, many of whom represent minority or at-risk communities. As we were participating in a traditional ritual for closing out meetings, someone talked about how, in order to be better allies and advocates, we need to be aware of the ways in which we have hurt, co-opted, or appropriated the communities we seek to serve, while also celebrating the people who have come before us, the legacy and traditions we’ve inherited, and our power to make change happen. And that, I think, is the the key to how we change what it means to be a feminist.