Today, millions of American women will exercise their right to protest by participating in “A Day Without A Woman” — a strike aimed at highlighting the “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” as is noted on the Women’s March website.
I will not be counting myself in that number. Not because I don’t believe in economic, social, and political equality for my gender. (Not for nothing, but next on my book list is Chimamanda’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, after all.) It’s also not because of the current and very valid discussion around how many of the women this protest is intended to uplift are not in the position of privilege to take a day off, paid or unpaid, or refrain from consuming and retain their jobs or provide for themselves or their families.
It’s not even because of the oft-revisited talking point of White Feminism needing to do the work the Black Women have already done time and time again. I discussed it after the election; many people touched on it just six weeks ago around the Women’s March. I’m sure that continuing to call out the toxic ignorance of White Women will be a frequent exercise, especially in the light of all the post-Get Out Allison Williams memes.
The real reason I am tapping out of this moment is because I am tired of couching my humanity in the value I provide to the others around me. It is wearing and insulting, and just the latest in a wave of activist moments that are well-intentioned but ultimately embed people’s empathy as a condition of what I have to offer to society-at-large.
First there was the #WeAreAllImmigrants moment, which is not only a remarkably silly edict considering the history of Native American/Indigenous People’s genocide and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but also completely trivializes and minimizes the current fight faced by millions of immigrants every by acting like everyone’s lived realities are one and the same.
Then there was #IAmAMuslimToo, a misguided attempt at solidarity by co-opting a faith system and linking it to some ass backwards patriotism to a nation that has historically marginalized the community you are claiming to defend or advocate for. You do not need to insert yourself into a community to empathize or advocate for their rights, nor should their narratives need to be tied to some sort of longer arc of American nationalism to provide validity to their humanity.
I’d be loathe to forget #ADayWithoutImmigrants, another well meaning but still personally frustrating exercise of people patting themselves on the back for going without stopping by their favorite tapas restaurants for a day and not complaining too much about it. Ignoring the troubling underlying narrative of immigrants being most directly tied to the service work industries of America (which runs contradictory to the never-ending “stealing our jobs” story that is pushed ad nauseam by MAGA hat owners), it is again tying advocacy for underrepresented and misrepresented demographics in America to the value they provide for others and not simply promoting their inalienable civil rights without condition.
For me — an immigrant, a Muslim, and a woman — this is all a precursor to the strike planned for International Woman’s Day, the most recent in a series of initiatives that are meant to advocate for me but seem to intentionally or unintentionally base my right to participate in American society in the quantifiable worth I provide to the people around me or in their ability to empathize for various parts of my identity, by not only walking a mile in my shoes, but claiming those shoes for themselves. Neither of those circumstances are ones that I am interested in participating in.
By no means does this mean that participating in these moments makes you a bad person — there are millions of immigrant, Muslims, and women who have been active and personal participants in these initiatives, and have chosen these paths for themselves as their preferred route to the ultimate goals of rights and equality in the United States and worldwide, and I understand the choice, even if I don’t agree. For me, however, civil rights shouldn’t be measured by manufactured camaraderie. And in celebration of International Women’s Day, I will continue to advocate for the communities I am a part of and amplify the voices that I can, but with strong reservations on continuing to quantify my value as validation for empathy.