The Power of Practical Solidarity
by Katie Tesseyman
LSE SU Women's Officer
On the 8th of March, women in 50 countries across the world went on strike. We went on strike to realise the power we already hold. The strike was about solidarity between women; women of colour, indigenous, working class, disabled, migrant, Muslim, lesbian, queer and trans women.
We went on strike for every woman tired of coming home from her paid job only to start another shift of unpaid cleaning, cooking and care.
We went on strike for the decriminalisation of sex work.
We went on strike for women who encounter homophobia, biphobia and queerphobia.
We went on strike for all the women who said Me Too.
We went on strike for our sisters in detention centers, locked up like criminals because they sought asylum in the UK.
We went on strike for every woman of transgender experience whose womanhood is repeatedly denied by her family, her employers, her doctor and the state.
We went on strike for every woman who has faced violence at the hands of friends, family, partners, employers and who has not been believed when she spoke up.
We went on strike not only from paid jobs but from unpaid reproductive labour and it is the latter action that I aim going to write about. As we well know, capitalism can only thrive because it relies on people doing the work required to reproduce the labour force for free (big up Marxist Feminists for bringing that to people’s attention). These people are usually women. Reproductive labour includes cooking, cleaning, childcare and emotional labour. These activities are dismissed as housework, not real work. It is simply expected that we do it for free.
Men who engage in reproductive labour full time are considered somehow emasculated. Men who occasionally partake in it are valorised for doing the bare minimum - how many times have we heard a man be praised for “babysitting” his own children whilst his partner is out? Clearly, there’s something wrong with this picture.
It wasn’t until I got involved with organising the Women’s Strike Assembly that I realised how powerful practical solidarity can be.
On a day which puts women at the forefront, some pretty amazing men stepped up to support us. They did not try to take on a leadership role, they did not try to “save” us or dominate the conversation. They provided practical solidarity. They offered to take on reproductive labour. Some of the men felt that it was “politically, the right thing to do”, almost all of them did it with the aim of empowering women and ensuring they could be at the forefront on the 8th of March. They also acknowledged that capitalism is bad for all of us and is predicated, in a lot of ways, on patriarchy; women striking thus tackles one of the structures capitalism most heavily relies on.
At the meetings and talks leading up to the 8th of March, men were on hand to look after children and provide food for the women in attendance. This allowed women to focus on discussing what feminism means to them, how to ensure the movement is inclusive, what the strike meant and how to actually organise the assembly on the day. The dominant ‘Patriarchal Man’ was missing from these events but men were present and they were important. Their support with reproductive labour meant that women were able to give more energy in doing some incredible organising.
Men supporting women’s movements in this way is not only important for women. It is important for men. We must destroy the idea that reproductive labour is inferior and to be avoided if possible. We will never create a more compassionate and caring society if we continue to see childcare and cooking as inferior work. Reproductive labour is caring labour, it requires compassion and empathy, traits that we are continuously told are “feminine”. The patriarchy works incredibly hard to confine men to a model of masculinity which suppresses emotion and equates empathy to weakness.
No one benefits from this.
As anthropologists we know there are cases which fly in the face of the idea that men are innately bad at childcare - we also know that gender is a social construct but that’s worthy of a whole new piece-. For instance, among the Aka, who live in Brazzavile region of the Republic or Congo, fathers have extremely close relationships with their children, often taking on the primary caretaker role. Among the Beng teenage boys are not overlooked as potential babysitters. In our own lives we may know men who are good with children, who want to have children and enjoy looking after them. The stereotype of innately brutish men completely unable to look after children not only harms both men and women, but it is also false. We do not need to go against some innate natural state to learn how to share reproductive labour equally; we need to un-learn the harmful patriarchal norms which tell us that reproductive labour is women’s work. For many of us, this is not a surprising statement. However, there is such a big difference between accepting something in theory and actually putting it into action.
That is why, to me, the 8th of March was such an occasion for joy. Russell Square was full of people who were unlearning and actively subverting patriarchy. The stage saw countless strong women speak up about the issues facing their communities, their dreams, their struggles and their victories. Women were front and center, realising the power they already hold. The kid’s corner was run by men painting with young children, playing around in the flower beds and finding all available puddles to splash in. They adapted beautifully to working outside rather than indoors - shout out to the sun for shining on the 8th of March! Sixty litres of vegan chilli with rice was prepared by men to ensure no one had to go hungry because they were striking. Together, we worked to ensure the day had women at its heart and it was a huge success.
So next time you find yourself wondering how you can support those who are less privileged than you are, try reaching out and offering them practical solidarity.
O'Riordan, E. (2018). Men should support the women’s strike – by taking over the domestic work. [online] Redpepper.org.uk. Available at: https://www.redpepper.org.uk/men-should-support-the-womens-strike-by-taking-over-the-domestic-work/ [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018].
Women's Strike Assembly UK. (2018). Women's Strike Assembly UK. [online] Available at: https://womenstrike.org.uk/ [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018].