Lessons From The Women's Strike
“You should strike,” he said.
We were laying in bed, catching up on the day’s news when I saw an article for a general strike being organized to bring awareness to the contributions of women, both at work and at home. I mentioned it to my husband, Scott, who is also my business partner. Or as he likes to point out, I’m technically his boss as I’m the majority shareholder.
Scott is what I wish all men would be: kind, respectful, generous, and a hard worker. And one of the things that I love most about him is how untraditional his romantic notions are. To Scott, the best way he can show his affection is by helping me reach my fullest potential because that’s what he finds most attractive. On our second date, he shared how he identified as a feminist. This confused the hell out of me. How could a man be a feminist? Wasn’t a feminist an angry woman who was loud, protesty, and didn’t shave? That didn’t fit me at all, so how could that description fit Scott?
“It’s actually easy to be a feminist,” Scott said. “I’m just someone who believes in this crazy notion that all people are created equal and deserve the same opportunities. Our world is better when we have diverse perspectives and I’m sick of being in rooms filled with only white men.” It was around that time that I decided that this was a guy I wanted to be around for the rest of my life and fell head over heels in love.
In the eight years we’ve been together, Scott has been behind the scenes quietly encouraging me and pointing out where I’m selling myself short. For years, he told me I had the talent to learn how to code, he was my cheerleader when I wanted to teach copywriting skills to software developers, and when I decided to bring my ten-week-old to a software conference so I could nurse her. He’s been an earnest ear as I work out my own ideas and perspective, and that gift has been better than any amount of flowers, chocolate, or jewelry.
This was the case with the strike.
“Why do I need to strike?” I pondered. “I have a comfortable life. I don’t have anything to strike against. It feels wrong somehow.”
Scott, in his sage-like way, found exactly the right way to motivate his feminist grasshopper.
“There are many reasons, but the biggest one is that I want you to observe all of the invisible things you do every day. I see them, but I don’t think you do. We’ll act like you’re on a business trip. I’ve got it.”
Talking through the idea further, we discussed how if I took the day off, that meant that the other members of our staff would feel comfortable protesting, too. So I put a message up on our Slack channel, prominently blocked off my calendar, and waited for the day to come.
As the day of the strike approached, I started to get antsy about not working at my job or at home. What would I do? What could I do? Was I supposed to get out into the streets and protest? That notion felt so overwhelming. Was I just going to lay in bed all day and watch TV and eat bonbons? That felt unproductive. I decided to not overthink it and just see where the day took me.
I woke up at my normal time and found Scott already up and getting the kids’ breakfast ready. Normally, I’m the one who has point on the kids in the morning. I felt unsure about what to do. Was I supposed to interact? Relax? I ended up being so paralyzed by anxiety that I stayed in bed until they were all out the door. I felt awful. I felt like I was letting my family down and I couldn’t figure out what my purpose was. As is habit when I’m anxious, I headed over to Facebook. Maybe there was some sort of event or something I could go to.
My feed was a usual wash of politics, but with a gorgeous polish of optimism. A statue of a fearless young girl showed up on Wall Street perfectly poised to face down a raging bull. Inspired, I posted my thoughts on the day and tried to raise money for a cause.
After getting my digital dopamine fix from my friends, I tried to figure out what my next move was. I saw the laundry that needed to be done. Nope. No domestic tasks today. The kids’ pictures came back yesterday. After spending a fair amount of time unsuccessfully trying to figure out how the photographer got both my four and two-year-old to pose perfectly with a live bunny, I decided that ordering the pictures would fall under the realm of domestic tasks and I could take care of it tomorrow. The dishes in the sink? Not today. Organizing those totes I’ve been meaning to get to? Nope. Finally, I caved and decided to check my work email.
There was a meeting on my calendar about my side project, NagLess, which helps reduce office housework, which are tasks that women end up doing most of the time. I decided that since this was a project I wanted to work on, as opposed to feeling obligated to, and because it helped advance women’s careers, it was fair game and I took the meeting.
For the next two hours, I was able to focus completely on a project that had eluded my schedule. I never seemed to find the time to fit this in, no matter how much I wanted to work on it. I felt so energized collaborating and creating, so much so that I decided to keep the momentum going by designing the cover for my book and getting the promotional website up.
The five hours I spent on personal projects were pure bliss. I hadn’t felt this good since I was single and worked as a freelance writer. It was amazing to feel unshackled from the voice in my head that berated me for not being a good enough mom or wife. I could just write. Create. Be. I felt whole. I felt alive. And then it dawned on me… this is how men do it.
Men seem to have this ability to block out the rest of the world and just focus on their work. I used to think this was selfish and I resented Scott for it, but now I realize that the only person I can resent is myself. Scott trusts me. Why don’t I trust him every day to handle the little things so that I can have the mental bandwidth to focus on the projects that bring me joy?
When I looked up from my contemplation, it was dark. I headed downstairs and saw my two kids playing in the living room while Scott cooked dinner. My kids greeted me with hugs and I felt like the stereotypical husband from the 1950’s, minus the correct anatomy. I played with the kids, enjoyed a delicious dinner, and enjoyed the noticeable absence of background chatter in my mind. There were no thoughts of bills to be paid. No dinners to plan. No tables to set or laundry to fold. Although, I was still really stumped on how that photographer got those kids to hold still and smile while holding a bunny. Some things, I think I’ll never figure out.
When we crawled in bed, Scott asked me how my day went. I observed how relaxed we all were. There didn’t appear to be an undue burden placed on Scott. In fact, he seemed more at ease than he did most nights.
“I learned I don’t trust you enough,” I said.
And of course, he listened, helping me frame my thoughts and bounce ideas so that they could become the coherent post that I’m writing now.
As women, we’re taught that the world will crumble if we stop worrying. We grow up thinking our power is in managing it all and not letting anything fall apart. We nag, fret, and stress, thinking that this is the glue that holds society together. But it’s not.
Yesterday wasn’t a strike about work. It was a strike about an outdated mindset. A strike on the misconception that a woman holds more domestic power than a man. Today was the first day, outside of me traveling out of town for business, that I actively decided to trust my partner completely and let go of all the little worries that preoccupy me throughout the day. He had it. I didn’t have to plan nineteen steps ahead. Sure, dinner was different than I would have made it and the laundry didn’t get done today, but it will. Me spending mental bandwidth on a thousand worries crowded out the creative projects I wanted to accomplish. THAT was what garnered the resentment. Me. Not Scott.
So I’ll be striking next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, too. Scott and I have come to an agreement that he’ll have point on the home on Mondays and Tuesdays and I’ll take Wednesdays, Thursdays, and every other Friday. If we want to assert our power as women in the professional world, we need to learn to give up the false notion of power that we claim to hold over the domestic one. Trust and let others help you. That’s the real lesson I learned from my day off.