Closing schools and leaving fellow women in the lurch is no way to celebrate women

Sometimes women with the best intentions end up hurting other women, and today is one of those days. While those who have the freedom, flexibility, and privilege to take the day off for #DayWithoutAWoman, moms in multiple states are scrambling to find child care for their children because their schools have closed, some with almost no advance notice.

Wait, what?

Yup, that’s right. There are schools that had so many women teachers and staff planning on being out that administrators felt they were left with no option but to close for the day. Kids miss out on learning, parents are totally inconvenienced, and some women will lose a whole day’s pay because they have to skip work to be home so that their kids’ teachers can take the day off.

Would these organizers of the “Day Without a Woman” be cool if they had a sick child and their doctor (a woman) decided to blow off their appointment? Should the nurse who administers chemotherapy stay home today? Would these pink hatted ladies be cool as cucumbers when they are rushing to fly off to an important event and the all-women flight crew says, “Nah, we are taking the day off”? If their house catches fire or they are in an accident, should the women who spend their days embracing danger and saving lives ignore the call? Are any of the organizers even being inconvenienced or worse, hurt, by their big plans for this day without a woman?

The whole thing is tone deaf. As often happens with events like this, privileged people, in this case privileged women, will get decked out in their pink hats or their red shirts to protest their victim status while most women will head to work because, simply put, they don’t have a choice. The fact that they are now being burdened by school closures is so wrong that it makes one question what the day is really even about. And it seems that even the organizers are having trouble articulating the actual point of today.

The irony

While pay equity and wage gaps exist in many fields of work, teaching isn’t one of them. Teachers are paid based on their years of service and their educational credits. There is no subjectivity, no gender discrimination in what teachers earn. In fact, the pay scale is so unbiased that even the best and worst teachers get paid the same. In fact, if the really bad teacher has been teaching longer than the awesome teacher, the crappy one earns more. So there is a unique irony in teachers using the day to shine a light on the injustices they face. In their case, if their district doesn’t pay them enough or provide the benefits they want, their male colleagues are in the exact same boat.

Boston Teachers’ Union (BTU) decided to co-opt the day as a bargaining chip in their ongoing negotiations. While they will be in school, they have decided to highlight how bad they have it using the “Day Without a Woman” as a backdrop. Here’s a bit of what they had to say in an email that went out to all their members at 4 am Tuesday:

On behalf of our 76% female teaching force we have been negotiating for 14 months. We have had no success. We have met 32 times in negotiations, for over 200 hours. Both the school department and the city have, frankly, treated us poorly and disrespectfully. We have little doubt that, were the BTU a workforce 76% male, we’d have settled the contract by now.

Boston Mom and education advocate (and my friend!) Keri Rodriguez responded with a blog entitled “Hijacking the Day Without Women.” Here’s an excerpt (emphasis in the original):

Let’s unpack this. First off, I’m pretty sure the name gives it away, but Richard Stutman is in fact, a man. And speaking on behalf of women in this matter is pretty off putting. Secondly, HE is the lead negotiator at the table.

Can I please remind you of the Boston Herald piece just two weeks ago about the average [Boston Public Schools (BPS)] teacher raking in over $90k a year—with 34% making over $100k? And the fact that BPS has had to allocated more than $20 million dollars in this year’s budget to give them even more money this year?

Other perks for BTU members include:

-Only 180 work days per year

-One of the shortest school days in the nation

-Excellent health insurance benefits

-20+ sick and personal days per year

So when you extrapolate the actual compensation for time here, they are actually making a hell of a lot more. (I’m told that breastfeeding rooms are now being negotiated into this year’s contract—another pretty respectful move for women.) So, I think I’m missing it. Where is the poor treatment and disrespect?

I’m trying desperately to understand. What exactly *is* a fair contract? Even LESS teaching time for even MORE money? More sick and personal days? WHAT MORE IS THERE?

I think the fact that they are trying to hitch a wagon to the “Day Without Women” is frankly disgusting. How about a day in recognition of service and support of women earning the minimum wage—women living in the shadows—a day to give back and support our fellow sisters

Do not buy that medicine!

We aren’t supposed to shop either. Lucky for me, my kid’s strep throat came in time so I could pick up his prescription without violating today’s rules. And am I to assume that the thousands of teachers taking today off won’t spend any of their time at Target or scrolling on their phones adding stuff to their carts at Amazon and Groupon? I’m not buying it, pun intended. I have been advised by a couple friends not to shop either, unless I buy from a small business owned by a woman or a minority. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to pick up laundry detergent and Luna bars within their rules for me, but I appreciate their effort. And for women who have limited shopping options because of geography, finances, or time? Too bad. The feminist powers that be don’t seem to care about that.

Missed opportunity

In the end, when it comes to students, the school closures are really a missed opportunity. Just think of all the amazing lessons that could have been taught today to celebrate women and acknowledge the day. Rather than sitting at home and missing a day of learning (which in some districts will not be made up), students could have been learning about the history of the women’s movement, women’s suffrage, or the many women who have quite literally changed the world. Lessons on our female Supreme Court Justices, a discussion of the women in “Hidden Figures,” or a lesson on Malala Yousafzai would have been an inspiring and important use of time that also honors the spirit of International Women’s Day. Instead, some teachers have made the deliberate decision to make it so kids have to stay home.

There will be debate over this for the days and weeks to come, and that’s a good thing, I suppose. But in my view, it is unacceptable that thousands of students are spending the day at home because their teachers decided not to come in to work. And perhaps even more concerning is the total lack of concern for all the women they claim to want to empower; women of privilege today have knowingly added to the burdens of the women who most need our support. The whole thing feels wrong.

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published by the Huffington Post.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute