WASHINGTON, D.C.--The response response “A Day Without a Woman” organizers had planned for March 8th, 2017, was very different from the response they received. While the protest had been outlined as a unifying effort against the divisive and sexist attitudes espoused by the Trump Administration, the protest’s efforts ironically served to exemplify rather than rectify the kind of divisiveness they aimed to rally citizens against. The guidelines for participation outlined on the movement’s website included taking the day off from labor, abstaining from shopping, and wearing red in solidarity. Despite the supposed simplicity of such goals, many have come to criticize the protest as one limited to the privileged and waged at the expense of and to the exclusion of the socioeconomically challenged.
While the sentiment behind the protest is the right one—band together to fight sexism—it is also once which becomes fogged in application: given that women who hold lower or minimum wage jobs do not have, like their better-paid or greater benefit-wielding counterparts, the freedom to take time off from work in order to participate in such an event, the protest which was intended to help dismantle class distinction among American women effectively, and ironically, worked to uphold it.
That the organizers, the same group responsible for this January’s historic Women’s March responded to the concern of patronizing culture with the patronizing response that they can march for other women has stricken a nerve with many. “Many women in our most vulnerable communities will not have the ability to join the strike, due to economic insecurity,” reads the site, “We strike for them.” Some have been unforgiving in their response to the protestors explanation to the obstacle of working women to participate, but while the criticism might have been unnecessarily harsh, it is difficult not to treat the event with any softer a hand. For a protest that aims to combat a patronizing attitude to speak so patronizingly to women of lower socioeconomic standing is, for many, too large a pill to swallow.
QZ.com writer Maureen Shaw was one of such critics, writing, “As a mother whose husband works long hours away from home, how am I supposed to stop taking care of my very young children?” and citing the Women’s Strike for Equality March of 1970 which she noted as having commenced “at 5pm in order to be more inclusive of workers” as an event which the “Day Without a Woman” organizers would have done well to have looked to. Tamara Yajia, who tweets at @DancesWithTamis, voiced similar concerns, writing, “I cannot attend the day without a woman strike because I count on each day's wages to make ends meet.”
Despite the validity of the criticism that has come in response to the protest, it is undeniable that though it may have been a smaller event—with the Chicago Tribune stating that crowds around the country often numbered in the hundreds instead of the vast thousands of the same organization’s January Women’s March—that a strength in theory, if not in number, succeeded in escaping the day. The value of the photographs and artwork captured during and created for the protest cannot be overlooked.
A striking photograph from a New Orleans newspaper attests this fact: a woman wearing dark hair, wide tortoise sunglasses, a red polo coat and a determined gaze holds a Shepard Fairey poster of Trump with a backdrop of French Quarter balconies behind her like a receding Dali staircase; a singular hand aloft a crowd outside Apple 5th Avenue’s glass box asks in simple black text on white poster-board, an apparent nod to journalism’s austerity, that we “KEEP REPORTING.” With carmine lipstick and one hand holding a sign that reads “GIVE ME YOUR TIRED YOUR POOR YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE,” a resolute-eyed woman stands firm beside a man in an Under Armour fleece the color of roasted tomatoes, her other hand providing proof of the relevance of the passage, a cardboard square emblazoned with the words, “THIS IS WHY I MARCH,” in reference to Trump’s Muslim-discriminating bans.
In Salt Lake City a woman is captured singing in a garnet colored shirt and black sweater, her mouth ajar; another speaks to State Representative Logan Wilde holding a poster mock-up of his face, the red fringe of her open cardigan sweater hanging in two panels over her chest like dayroom curtains or folded fish fins. In Washington, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, dressed in stealth black and a long Maraschino colored scarf, flashes a peace sign beside a honey-haired girl who might have been her 21st century double. Back in New York, an elderly white women shakes hands with a Muslim protestor who wears a “Day Without a Woman” pin affixed to a red apple colored hijab.
A temporary sculpture entitled “Fearless Girl” by sculptor Kristen Visbal is another visual representation of the protest on March 8. Erected by State Street Global Advisors, the world’s third largest asset manager and a company which houses offices on the nearby 6th Avenue Visbal’s “Fearless Girl” stands opposite the 28-year-old Wall Street Bull in a defiant stance. Like the hours and terms of the protest it served to accompany, however, the sculpture also came to serve as a reminder of our nation’s divisiveness. Since the statue was planted opposite the bull on March 8, men, women, and children of both sexes have flocked to the statue to stand beside its small metallic frame, but that which surrounded the bronze girl on the night of March 9 was a much different kind of company.
This kind, namely the transgressions of a young financier who passerby Alexis Kaloyanides, in the accompanying Facebook message she posted with the man’s picture, described as “some Wall Street finance broseph . . . showing his entitlement, defiling the statute.” Many, Kaloyanides among them, were quick to repudiate such behavior. “He pretended to have sex with the image of a little girl,” wrote Kaloyanides, “Douchebags like this are why we need feminism,” continuing to state that it is dangerously “perpetuating mentality of ‘boys will be boys.’” Others picked a fight with alarmists, pointing out the wedge between liberals and conservatives which has come to define this year and this election. “People need to get real,” commented John Gormley on the Inside Edition which ran the coverage of the statue incident, “It’s a statue made of bronze. It doesn’t have feelings or emotions,” persisting to scoff at what he sees as, “Delicate snowflakes who get upset at the slightest things.”
While divisiveness may seem like a small issue when compared with the alarming rhetoric served from Trump’s White House, the fact is that that the word ‘snowflake’ has entered the American lexicon as more than a term representative of the Styrofoam bits floating in Empire State Building snow globes or the printer-paper origami affixed to second grade classroom windows is an alarming one. As a country, we’re prone to disagreement: Red Sox vs. Yankees, the Oreo stuff vs. the Oreo cookie, that strange debate which surfaced on Instagram last year over whether a dress too ugly to merit second glance in the store was, over millions of i-Phone screens, striped in either blue and black or gold and white.
While such divisiveness may seem like good natured banter, it is also the very kind of disunity which, when pulled to its extremes, works to drive our world’s wars. In other words, if the team hatred we saw in the last election, and which we see manifest in the protest of March 8, is at all predictive of future sentiment, it is a development to worry over. Lincoln said that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” His warning is both relevant and troubling; if a day in our calendar cannot stand divided, as November 8 shows, neither in its current trajectory can our newly chipped-at nation.