By: Ally B.
When you think about Labor Day, you probably don’t think about feminism. Perfectly situated at the start of September for one last end-of-summer hurrah, just exactly how the holiday fits into social justice work is likely the last thing on your mind.
But Labor Day is a feminist holiday, and it should matter to you.
The roots of the holiday can be traced all the way back to the 1800’s and the growing labor movement thriving at the time. Although who actually started the holiday is oft-disputed, it was originally conceived by unions as a day to honor and celebrate those whose work often goes unnoticed but provides the backbone of the country- laborers.
We’ve come along way in protecting our workers and laborers since the 1800’s— but not as far as you might think. Those in the Labor Movement and beyond are still fighting for the basic rights of many workers, and that is why today and everyday Labor Day and all it represents should still matter to you.
This Labor Day, here are three reasons why these things should matter to feminists:
1. Low-Wage Workers Are Disproportionately Less Likely To Receive Benefits From Their Employers
Health insurance, retirement benefits, paid sick leave, vacation days— you name it and low-wage workers are less likely to have access to them.
Part-time workers have it even worse. Take healthcare for example: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23% of part-time workers have access to health insurance through their employers.
With little flexibility, low-wage workers struggle to care for their families, take time for themselves and make ends meet.
Many with privilege may not even know that these benefits are something not everybody receives. We often think about things like healthcare and paid time off as necessities and overlook that many don’t have access to them.
Access to these benefits should be a right, not a privilege, and that is why the Labor Movement continues to work to protect these benefits.
2. Minimum Wage Is Not A Living Wage
Many laborers and low-wage workers are only making the federal minimum — and that is hardly a living wage.
And the workers who make the minimum wage are likely not who you think they are. Although the media frequently portrays low-wage earners as teens or lazy people, this is far from the truth. The Economic Policy Institute found that 88% of minimum wage earners are over age 20, 56% are women and 28% have children.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that if the federal government were to implement the proposed minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour, about 16.5 million Americans would see a rise in income which would pull at least 900,000 people out from beneath the poverty threshold.
Not making a living wage has serious consequences. It means not being able to afford housing, food, healthcare, or just about anything else. It means not having the ability to care for yourself or your family.
Not making a living wage impacts low-income workers’ ability to simply live, and if that isn’t a feminist issue, I don’t know what is.
3. Wage Inequality Is Still Running Rampant
Although the Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963, the fight for equal pay for women is far from over. In fact, women are paid just 77% of what men in the United States are paid.
It is even worse for women of color: Black women make 64 cents and Latinos 55 cents to a white man’s dollar.
You’ve heard all of the myths about the gender wage gap: That this gap can be attributed to different occupations, age, experience, or women taking time off to care for children, but these excuses just don’t pan out.
In reality, this gap exists throughout occupations, at all ages and experience levels and for women who don’t have children.
But the Labor Movement is on it. In unionized work places, the gender wage gap shrinks to just 9.4 cents and shrinking.
Now that is something to celebrate.
Nicki Minaj is not a woman who easily slides into the roles assigned to women in her industry or elsewhere. She’s not polished, she’s not concerned with her reputation, and she’s certainly not fighting for equality among mainstream second-wave feminists. She’s something else, and she’s something equally worth giving credence to: a boundary-breaker, a nasty bitch, a self-proclaimed queen, a self-determined and self-made artist. She’s one of the boys, and she does it with the intent to subvert what it means. She sings about sexy women, about fucking around with different men. She raps about racing ahead in the game, imagines up her own strings of accolades, and rolls with a rap family notorious for dirty rhymes, foul mouths, and disregard for authority and hegemony.
While Beyoncé has expanded feminist discourse by reveling in her role as a mother and wife while also fighting for women’s rights, Minaj has been showing her teeth in her climb to the top of a male-dominated genre. Both, in the process, have expanded our society’s idea of what an empowered women looks like — but Minaj’s feminist credentials still frequently come under fire. To me, it seems like a clear-cut case of respectability politics and mainstreaming of the feminist movement: while feminist writers raved over Beyoncé’s latest album and the undertones of sexuality and empowerment that came with it, many have questioned Minaj’s decisions over the years to subvert beauty norms using her own body, graphically talk dirty in her work, and occasionally declare herself dominant in discourse about other women. (All of these areas of concern, however, didn’t seem to come into play when Queen Bey did the same.)
If celebrities want to cement their feminist bonafides, they should educate themselves on the work that’s already been done and move forward with the intention of creating change, not just good PR. Because as exciting as it can be to see our best-known celebs talking about feminism, walking the walk is a lot more interesting.
So let Beyoncé lead the way with her hat tips to Adichie and tangible support of gender justice.
Obviously, feminism can’t hang its hat on celebrity endorsements – it’s a movement for social and political change, not a popularity contest. But successful movements need support, be it in the grassroots or in Hollywood. And there is no debating the hugely powerful cultural message sent last night as Beyoncé sang about feminism, while her husband looked on lovingly, holding their daughter. It was, without a doubt, flawless.
Ohhhh, good question. Anybody have any thoughts on this?
If you’ve got a feminist-themed tattoo, let us know about it!