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Nine Notes on “Gender Strike”


In the journal Blind Field, Madeline Lane-McKinley offers “Nine Notes on 'Gender Strike,’” a piece that was originally delivered as a talk at the Historical Materialism conference in New York last weekend. Building on Claire Fontaine’s concept of “human strike,” the piece suggests that the general strike has never been general, insofar as been blind to the unwaged, reproductive work of women. Here’s an excerpt:

  1. The “gender strike” is a practical question.

For much labor conceptualized under the rubric of social reproduction, the strike form presents a structural problem. In many instances, such as care work, the strike is criminalized — it is simply not possible to refuse the work of caring for a dependent who is incapable of self-care. If not a form of suicide, to strike from such labor is a matter of homicide or abuse. Whereas the “strike” has been imagined as a form of resisting labor and collectivizing against managerial power, to refuse certain reproductive labors only worsens the already impossible situation of the laborer. In this sense, the “gender strike” — as a description of the gendered labor conditions of social reproduction — brings us to a set of practical questions.

Rather than attempt to imagine social reproduction through the rigid formalities of the strike, as precisely a collective refusal and stoppage of labor, it may be more helpful to ask of the conditions of possibility for collectivizing the otherwise atomizing, isolative, and individuating labors to be understood as reproductive work. This is to moreover understand the estrangement of these labors, precisely as labor: as Arlie Hochschild explains, “Beneath the difference between physical and emotional labor there lies a similarity in the possible cost of doing the work: the worker can become estranged or alienated from an aspect of self [that] is used to doing the work.”

What do different kinds of labor entail to become recognizable, and even weaponized against forces of exploitation? How can unwaged, invisibilized forms of reproductive labor become collectivized, without that collectivization becoming merely a quick remedy for austerity measures? There is of course the risk of fetishizing and romanticizing “autonomy” in an era of compulsory precarity. For these reasons, attention to questions of caretaking and mutual aid will be deemed beside the point, not political, or even countereffective.

The focus on collectivizing care must be recovered from this logic, somehow. Throughout radical milieu, we have lost many to this failure to politicize a focus on care. Anti-capitalist critique takes a psychological toll, as we recurrently see in deaths within our political and intellectual communities.

The practical question of a gender strike is not only to collectivize — rather than withdraw — these issues of caretaking, but to put forth an enduring concept of radical love.

Image from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, 1968. Via Blind Field.