It's time for feminist men to start practising what they preach and do 'women's work'

Sophie Hemery
Getty

I regularly attend meetings where a group of women talk politics while a group of men look after our children. They cook and serve us a meal, and do the washing up, too. The meetings are of the Women’s Strike Assembly, a collective that – as part of a growing international movement – is struggling towards a red feminist horizon, “dismantling the capitalist patriarchal systems of power that oppress us all.”

The global women’s strike movement calls upon all women able to refuse to work – we’re building a strike fund to support those who otherwise couldn’t – to do so on 8th March, International Women’s Day. Our strike won’t look like traditional industrial action, because most of the work women do is unpaid: preparing kids’ food (and picking it up when they spill it), washing bedsheets, remembering appointments, keeping husbands happy. Where “women’s work” is paid, it is often performed by women of the Global South, and therefore underpaid and undervalued.

Our strike comes at an apposite political moment in the UK. For those striking are the same Priti Patel calls “economically inactive”, the same who will be penalised by her new points-based immigration system: women who work, for little or more often no money, to keep our society afloat. Our strike demands that women’s labour is respected for what it is: vital work under capitalism. With the strike, we hope to demonstrate that when women stop, so does our society.

Women are not going on strike because we don’t care, but because we do. We know our work is at the heart of our society, and that no political change can happen without it. Too often, women are left to keep the world running, whilst men lead political organising. The women’s strike movement believes women need to be leading the fight for our own liberation.

We are building on the work of our feminist forebears. In the 1960s and 70s, women met in consciousness-raising groups to discuss their shared experiences of oppression, and the Wages for Housework campaign was born. The movement was founded on class solidarity, and demanded that “women’s work” be recognised as labour under capitalism. Their rallying cry: “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work”.

For us, feminism entails questioning what it means to be a woman. We refuse to be divided as “good” or “bad” women; we reject the categories of “natural” and “unnatural” women; we do not respect state borders that divide us from our sisters. We are struggling for a world where womanhood means whatever we want it to mean, where we control the destiny of our bodies, where we decide how and when we work.

The idea that housework and caring come naturally to women is part of the patriarchal capitalist system that seeks to shut us away and shut us up. A central part of the strike, therefore, are “Stay and Play” centres, which will provide free childcare and food for mums and other carers on strike. Crucially, these centres will be run by men – so as well as providing respite for women, will help us imagine the kind of world we want to create.

On 8th March, women on strike will be able to take a break as men care for their kids and cook their food. Mums will be able to chat, uninterrupted, over a cup of tea – maybe about their shared struggles, maybe about the kind of lives they’d like to build together. By having men do “women’s work”, we are inviting the question: what would it be like to live in a community where everyone shared this work? What would communalising care look like?

Sometimes, at Women’s Strike Assembly meetings, it strikes me as strange and beautiful, to plan the revolution whilst being cared for by male comrades; how unusual it feels to see a man gently whisk away a crying baby so their mother can keep participating in the group. In the world we build, this will be the norm.

Many leftist men are loudly feminist, but few are practically so. We call on these men to show solidarity with our struggle by taking on “women’s work” on International Women’s Day, whilst we strike.

Sophie Hemery is a journalist and organiser with the Women’s Strike Assembly.