This post was written by one of our interns, Rachel Newlin.
On March 8th 2017, women across the world are planning to strike in an effort to create an International Day of Action in honor of International Women’s Day.
High schools and college campuses are closing in anticipation of the strike, unable to continue business without their female employees. This international strike is seen as ‘the beginning of a new international feminist movement’ and has been garnering great media attention across the United States. Women across the country are striking from paid jobs, childcare, housework, among other truths of female existence – and it all feels very familiar. That is because this will be the second Women’s Strike where thousands of women rise up and demand equal treatment and change under the law.
On August 26th 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, thousands of women marched across the country for many of the same things.
Second-wave feminist Betty Friedan led the strike, organized by NOW, the National Organization for Women. Friedan was met with a lot of resistance when she first brought up the idea of a strike – older women were scared that the strike wouldn’t turn out and the media would mock, them while younger generations of women were sure that the move wasn’t radical enough. Still, Friedan moved forward with the idea, and across the country, the idea caught on. Studs met with a few of these women in March of 1970, where he parsed complex ideas of oppression and the female experience with them in a fascinating two-part interview.
Studs met with the local president of NOW, Mary Jean Collins-Robson, a feminist bookstore owner (later to become Executive Director of Chicago NOW, and eventually National Action Vice President), along with two other members of Chicago NOW, Naomi Weisstein, a professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago, and Jo Freeman, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and freelance writer. They were eccentric and radical women that challenged Studs on a number of key feminist issues. In this clip, Studs asks what NOW wants and what they hope to achieve, and the response is a vision of feminism that is both inclusive and ahead of its time:
This emerging vision of a more inclusive feminist approach is exactly the one that birthed the first women’s strike, of which Mary Jean, Jo, and Naomi were sure to mention to Studs in their two-hour session with him. Naomi Weisstein explains the motivation behind the strike as one where it was to be seen as the beginning of the future of feminism, where they were ‘picking up where [their] sisters left off’ in ‘the business of the equality’:
As the two-hour session continues, these women make the assertion that their history – the history of women – has been stolen from them, and the need to find stories of incredible and strong women, everyday women – was important to the future of the Women’s Liberation movement. Studs asks about the awareness of history in the Women’s Liberation Movement and gets a response that makes Women’s History Month all the more necessary and important:
As Women’s History Month begins, we look both to the past and the future in remembering these women and the thousands of others who went on strike for labor rights, reproductive freedom, free childcare, and equal treatment under law. After the August 26th 1970 strike, a number of strides for equality were realized. The strike was covered by CBS, NBC, and ABC, along with a string of national and local newspapers – a first for the movement. The next year, President Nixon passed a joint resolution of Congress making August 26th ‘Women’s Equality Day’ to mark the importance of the passage of the 19th Amendment. In addition, Title IX was passed in 1972, which forbade discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal funds. In 1973, abortion was legalized in all fifty states, a watershed moment for the Women’s Liberation movement. Still – a lot of what the women of seventies fought for remain issues in our modern world. Childcare is oftentimes more expensive than state college tuition, and the wage gap is still stunning. These things were the focus of the 1970 women’s strike and remain the focus of Wednesday’s women strike, along with some new goals that intersectional feminism have made a priority: national healthcare, a reasonable minimum wage, an end to gender violence, , as well as a call for antiracist and anti-imperialist feminism.
As we look forward in anticipation of the 2017 Women’s Strike, we also look back during Women’s History Month to bring light to the first women’s strike that began a fight that is still raging on today.