If we’ve learned anything during the great COVID crisis of 2020, it's how to market online with an amazingly vague message. Midway through the month of March as we collectively began to crane our necks towards news of the virus spread, companies and their marketing managers felt compelled to reach out to their patrons and supporters to let them know that despite these “unprecedented times” we are living in, that they would each be here for us. They pledged to continue working hard to ensure our safety and that of their employees, and signed off with copy-paste commitments to “get through this together.” While I appreciate the sentiments and warm regards of some of my favorite brands, I personally feel as though the responsibility of safety and security should fall on the shoulders of individual communities. Furthermore, I believe that if we mobilize the community with an agenda that is intentionally feminist at its core, we will be able to remedy many of the ills that plague us due to the impact of the coronavirus. Throughout this text, I will attempt to exemplify a few issues that are traditionally close to the heart of many feminist organizers, (in effort to perhaps shed light on deeper troubles), and open the discussion as to why we cannot afford to have these issues ignored in the midst of a global pandemic.
When we think of safety in this moment, what comes to mind for most are all the ways in which we can protect ourselves from the virus. Social distancing, gloves, masks, and antiseptic products are all a part of our concentrated arsenal to stay well and keep safe. I am somewhat pleased to see however, that there are also those giving consideration to the fact that concerns for safety are also being highlighted in the rising number of cases of domestic violence being reported throughout the U.S. and beyond.
Imagine living in fear for your safety or for the safety of your children on a daily basis, and finally working up the courage to leave. Then imagine the world as you know it shutting down, threatening the stability of your income, your childcare, and your roadway to freedom, leaving you boxed in with threats far more severe.
For some women, though they suffer abuse at home, they are at minimum able to find a day’s worth of relief granted by employment, as well as the opportunity to interact with others they may be otherwise isolated from. With a government mandated order to stay at home, these women are pushed back into unsafe environments for indefinite periods of time, and are at greater risk of encountering violent threats, and even death at worst.
The majority of police departments nationwide report higher calls reporting domestic abuse, some even doubling their weekly average. As a community, we must work to ensure that these women have steady access to information, resources, and advocates at the ready to assist them with whatever their needs may be. As data continues to trickle in as the impact of the virus spread widens, we are sure to see an uptick in intake at women’s shelters. Whether these women are seeking shelter due to domestic violence issues, eviction, or for other reasons, my hope is that they find more ease than trepidation in their transitions. What we do know is that for women in transitional programs, securing stable housing and economic resources for stable housing are among the most acute problems they face. Many of these programs have employment requirements that could certainly affect their housing status should they be let go from their jobs without pay. From domestic laborers to retail workers, bank tellers to administrative personnel, school staff to medical professionals, almost every industry has suffered tremendous economic loss due to corona related closures, most of which economic experts say we have yet to see the worst of. The types of workplaces forced to close first however, (restaurants, childcare facilities, hotels and the like), are more likely to employ women workers. In fact, 62% of all minimum and low wage workers are female. Additionally, 70% of households with children rely on the income of women to provide for basic living expenses, and yes, these samewomen continue to earn eighty cents to every dollar earned by a man. I suppose we should celebrate the ten cent increase over reports from 2019, only there’s not enough time to do so. Because even if a woman is fortunate enough to have kept her job up until this point, (given that her employer has not yet extended paid leave), she may have had to sacrifice her income either way if she has been left without childcare. Not only are 80% percent of single parent households headed by mothers, but even if expenses are split between domestic partners, women are much more likely to be the ones to remain home in order to care for children or elderly family members.
Sensibly, day care centers and K-12 schools were among some of the first businesses and public institutions to announce their closure. And whether women are providing care at home, or heading to work leaving behind children to fend for themselves throughout the day, there is now a hole where peace of mind once existed for some women, in knowing that their children were receiving up to two meals a day. Without the aid of school provided meals, some children will be deprived.
Up until its eradication, hunger will remain an overtly feminist issue. Most mothers would rather go without eating than to see their children starve, and thus the truth of the matter is that if we see a child suffering from hunger, there is almost guaranteed to be a mother or grandmother suffering just the same, or worse.
State and federal programs such as TANF or WIC aim to bridge the gap between financial lack and ensuring that families are fed. With the focus for many programs being proper nutrition, there are various restrictions put in place as far as what recipients are able to purchase. These restrictions however become even more limiting when the public resorts to panic buying. From the moment talk of self-quarantine hit the airwaves, people rushed out to stock up on groceries in fear that at some point they would find themselves without access to food, even when it has been stated from the very beginning that grocery stores would remain open. Most grocery store shelves are left bare leaving low and no income mothers either struggling to find food at all, or having to make multiple trips when resources like money for gas or access to public transportation are already scarce.
Proper nutrition, med management, and emergency medical care are easily identifiable as essential. But what about access to mental health experts, birth control and abortions? To be clear, this pandemic will affect major decisions made by pregnant women. Whether it’s a birthing plan she will now have to reconsider, coming to terms with the fact that she may have to give birth alone as hospitals restrict partners and doulas on delivery floors, or facing the fact that her legal right to an abortion has been stripped away.
As recently as Monday, March 30th, federal judges in Alabama, Ohio, and Texas have blocked orders to ban abortion as an essential medical procedure, but the battle is sure to resurface. Ohio attorney general David Yost is quoted as saying, “The only reason for the Health Department order” was “to save lives in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency.” In other words, the plan was to push the anti-abortion agenda under the guise of doing what’s best during the pandemic. What history has taught us however, is that outlawing abortion does not prevent abortions, it only prevents safe abortions. Women will seek out alternative ways to terminate unwanted pregnancy even if there is a high risk of self harm attached. According to the World Health Organization, 70,000 women die annually from unsafe abortions, with one of every four being an adolescent between the ages of 15 and 19. If the spread of the coronavirus is used as an excuse to trivialize access to affordable and safe abortions, we are sure to soon face a health crisis of another kind.
Make no mistake, in times of turmoil, be it health related, economic, or political, women will always be hit the hardest. As we await relief extended by way of government stimulus checks, I wonder just how long folks are expected to stretch $1,200. I think of the female professional health workers that make up 76% of the industry at large, and over 80% of nurses specifically. I think of the trans community on this 31st day of March, the day of trans visibility, and of all the barriers they already face in accessing proper health care.
My ask of you dear reader is twofold. Firstly, I ask that you lend a great amount of consideration in this moment to the women in your life. If you are woman identifying, then I ask that you bring the voices into the room of the women less frequently acknowledged. I want you to keep in mind that for every plight mentioned here, that Black women, and other women of color are living through that same trauma to an even greater degree. Remember that wherever there is oppression present, Black, Latina, and Indigenous women will always suffer more severely.
Secondly, I ask that you challenge yourself to think critically about the affects of this crisis through a feminist lens, and then to dig deeper to give thought to the women centered effects that even feminism does not address. If we are pressed as a society to convince our neighbors, our churches, our community partners, co-workers, employees, clients and friends that we are all in this together, then let us show and prove our sincerity.
Alexandra Jane, also known as A.J. is an essayist hailing from the Queen City of Charlotte, North Carolina. Her current writing topics are woven from personal experiences dealing with Black femininity, pop culture, and motherhood. You can find her in your local coffee shops taking up more space than necessary.