What would happen if all women went on strike?


December 28, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

Nicky Marone is angry. She's tired of the problems women face in the workplace merely because they're women.

Issues such as unequal pay, lack of child care and constantly being passed over for promotion have driven her up -- and over -- the wall.

That's why the human-relations consultant from Boulder, Colo., is calling for a national strike of women who work in the home, outside it or both.

She is gathering details and support to stage a National Women's Strike Day on Oct. 14.

The last such strike in the United States was Aug. 26, 1970, the anniversary of the day women received the right to vote. The strike brought home the idea that women's work is valuable.

Strikes by women are often effective -- even when they are fictitious. One of the most famous was depicted in "Lysistrata," a comedy written in the 5th century B.C. by Aristophanes. It told the story of Greek women who wanted to have peace, despite the military ambitions of the men. The women wanted to end the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens, which had gone on for 20 years.

They decided on an innovative and effective strike: They refused to have sex with the men as long as the war lasted. The men stopped fighting.

Although Aristophanes might have been making a stronger point about sex than about war and peace, his lesson is well-taken: Strikes work.

In 1980, a group of women in Iceland organized a successful strike to get the message across to men that women in that country are treated unfairly in the workplace and at home.

They went on strike for one day. The country was at a standstill for 24 hours.

Men complained more about the "inconvenience" of their wives' refusal to prepare meals for them than about how little business could be done without employed women around to facilitate it.

Lunch or not, sex or not, strikes by women can be effective, but they have drawbacks.

You can lose your job by refusing to go to work. Most women do not have powerful positions that will be eagerly held open for them regardless of whether they show up.

Jeopardizing your job in today's tight employment market is risky business.

Nonetheless, the idea of a National Women's Strike Day has numerous possibilities.

Here are some of the things that men may have to face if Ms. Marone's strike plans are successful and employed women boycott work for one full day:

* Husbands in dual-career-couple families will have no breakfast.

* Because more than half of employed women are in clerical and support-staff jobs, most phone messages will not be taken, no appointments will be made and no details attended to unless men do the work. Men addicted to caffeine will be in serious shape: There won't be anyone to get coffee.

* Irate customers, clients and colleagues will continue to be furious about whatever it is that angered them and prompted them to write or call and complain, because there won't be anyone to placate them.

Men will have to face the complaints.

* No mail will be opened, and none will be sent. Men may find themselves incommunicado -- or actually have to answer their own phones.

* If a man's employed wife is striking that day, he won't have a brown-bag lunch to eat at his desk, because she won't make it. If he has an appointment for lunch, he will also go hungry, because if his female assistant is on strike, he won't know what time, with whom or where his lunch date is.

* Such industries as retail, teaching, nursing, cosmetology and telecommunications will have to shut for the day, because women are the majority in those work forces.

Any consumer business, especially supermarkets, would also be wise to close shop. That is because women make up the majority of consumers.

* Staff meetings won't be held, because men won't know how to reserve rooms or contact people to come to the meetings.

If men manage to get together with male colleagues, they won't have enough chairs and will have no memo paper, water, coffee or overhead lighting, because female employees won't be there to make arrangements.

* No office celebrations will be staged that day. If a man's birthday is Oct. 14, he might as well stay home: There will be no cake -- traditionally women's work in office and factory settings. Unless he bakes it himself.

* Men should not think of traveling on National Women's Strike Day. No one will be around to book the trip, take hotel or flight reservations, expedite cash expenses or contact business appointments, unless men do so themselves.

* Dinner: Men will not have the energy to worry about dinner. They will have lost their appetites from thinking all day of ways for women to get equal pay, promotions and child care. As for sex, forget it. After doing women's work all day, they'll be too tired.

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