Page Three: How the Sausage Gets Made
A few words on the Day Without a Woman strike
I'm putting the finishing touches on this column on Tuesday, the day before a planned mass strike by women scheduled to coincide with International Women's Day. In the model of last month's A Day Without Immigrants, the strike is meant to demonstrate the essentialness of women – in the workforce, in the home, as economic drivers – by dramatically lessening or stopping altogether the functions we perform every day. A fine idea in theory, but a lot more fraught in practice, which is why strike organizers have encouraged women to show solidarity any way they can: in a full stoppage of work, a day off from shopping, a shifting of parental duties to a partner, or simply wearing red to mark the day.
Locally, the call to action has been muted, for good reason. Texas is an "at-will" state, meaning employers can fire workers without cause or warning. There's no protection for protesting for women's rights. Even sympathetic employers will likely expect women to make sure their duties are covered, either by doing them in advance or training male colleagues to do them in their stead. Most mothers can't actually take a day off from the care and feeding and general making-sure-nobody-loses-a-limb required of child-rearing. Further, there are millions of women in, well, let's call them the extra-essential roles – in emergency services, in schools, in mass transit – whose wide-scale absence could trigger real chaos. Frankly, from my perch on Tuesday, the strike seems doomed to failure.
Which is precisely the point: If all women sat the day out, well, we'd be screwed.
This strike – how to participate in it, and how that participation might impact our daily operations – has been a source of discussion, and some tension, in the Chronicle office. If this strike day had been held any other time than during the lead-up to SXSW, our busiest time of year, we might have put it on the cover, turned our website dark for a day. It's awfully inconvenient, the timing. Couldn't we put off acknowledging the important work women do 'til April? Or May – we'd have to juggle a few things, but May looks good for us.
In truth, there's never a convenient time – or even, arguably, a responsible time – for a news organization to hobble itself for 24 hours, or for a small business to scale back its operations. Those practical consequences weighed on us as we weighed what to do about the Wednesday strike.
Traditionally, we go to press on Wednesdays. As on every other day of the work week (also: weeknights, weekends), women are intensely involved in every aspect of press day: editing, writing, fact-checking and proofreading for errors, production design, classifieds and ad sales, sending out our weekly Promotions newsletter, swiping credit cards, manning the front desk, answering phones, sorting mail, bagging up the trash and recycling, and preparing lunch for a staff of 50. Hell, more often than not, it's a woman taking Chrondog Hank out to pee on a tree and play fetch for a few minutes.
In our in-house discussions, there were points of agreement. Yes, as a progressive newspaper, we should absolutely support any female staff that want to participate in the strike, and no, we wouldn't be able to produce our paper on a Wednesday, business as usual, if almost half of our workforce didn't come to work. There were points of disagreement, too: Couldn't we cram as much work as possible in on Tuesday and train male staff on the Wednesday essentials, get by with a skeleton crew on press day? Sure, probably yes, but as symbolic gestures go, that's pretty thin soup.
And besides, there's no way for that workaround not to have a chilling effect. It's not that we think the guys we work with are idiots or incapable of picking up the slack; we just have jobs we do – jobs we take pride and pleasure in – and we know we're the most qualified to do those jobs. The suggestion that someone male do those jobs for us – cover us in a pinch! – rubbed a lot of us the wrong way.
This has been, to use the cuddly vernacular of our times, a teaching moment.
And that's a good thing. I admit, I've never wanted to be defined by my gender, a dangerously naive stance; just as naive is the assumption that a proudly progressive organization with women running multiple departments wouldn't benefit from the occasional hit-pause for self-examination. Indeed, it was only in discussing this Day Without a Woman that I realized that something I presupposed – my worth – was itself a topic for discussion. Whether or not one woman or all women take part in what is, yes, a largely symbolic gesture, this strike has inspired some at times uncomfortable but ultimately productive conversations between the many women who work at the Chronicle and the men who value our roles here.
In the end, and with the full support of our employers, we decided to make it easy by making it hard: We're sending our paper to the printing press on Tuesday, and distributing the paper as usual on Thursday. (Distributing on Wednesday would have only raised the same opt-in-or-out question for our female delivery drivers.) So here's the caveat: This gap between printing and distributing means the print issue runs the risk of being incomplete and out-of-date. You'll have to go online to find our review of Kong: Skull Island, for instance, or any breaking news that went down on Wednesday. If something's missing, if the regular workings of the paper have not run as smoothly as usual, well, then that too is the point.
The issue you're holding in your hands right now is one of our largest, most labor-intensive of the year. Two issues, actually: We produce in one week's span both our regular issue and, as the official print sponsor of SXSW, another 60-page SXSW supplement. It's a stressful production cycle, made even more stressful by shaving a day off the week. In addition to the print product, we put on three major events in quick succession – this past Monday's Austin Music Industry Awards, this coming Saturday's Austin by Austin, and Sunday's Austin Music Awards. Then we do it all over again next week, producing an even larger SXSW supplement covering the second, music-heavy half of the Festival, plus our annual SXSW day party and enough online daily content to fill another 60 pages in print.
Every year, we get through this stretch by the skin of our teeth but buoyed by a communal spirit. We are exhausted. We are electrified. We are in this together.