The late activist Audre Lorde wrote the now-famous quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
That is absolutely true – and wise words for the growing army of feminist activists who are taking to the streets in pursuit of equality with energy not seen since the height of second wave feminism.
But beware the rise of corporate “feminist wellness”, selling you a soothing balm of tea and scented candles – a kind of faux feminist Prozac to get you through the backlash – instead of real liberation. According to the 2018 Global Wellness Trends Report, “feminist wellness” was one of the top 10 global wellness trends of the year.
How about we give woman a balm for what really ails them? Credit:Stocksy
Acknowledging the side eye such a proclamation was likely to elicit, the creators of the Global Wellness Summit, which issued the report, said “given the wellness movement has been largely pioneered and dominated by women, one needs to ponder how much of the wellness bashing is misogynistic." What rubbish.
The rise of faux feminist wellness is, in my view, indicative of how Neo Liberalism infected feminism in the '90s. No structural inequalities to tackle collectively here folks. This is an individual problem.
If you work on yourself, your “wellness”, how you individually respond to abuse and discrimination through faux feminist wellness (ie “pilates in a pencil skirt” workshops for women at medical conferences, or the suggestion a national women’s organisation should co-brand yoga classes to help victims of sexual violence recover from trauma.. these actually happened), all will be right with the world.
This is “feminist wellness” or self-care offered up as a kind of escape, not as Lorde intended: a restorative practice to give activists the energy and the resilience to persevere. This kind of feminist self-care is at best devoid of meaning in its attempt to move product, or at worst a cynical attempt to divert women from the task at hand.
No one ever said, “Nevertheless she persisted…with her daily regime of yoga and essential oils”. (However tempting it may be to think that Gwyneth Paltrow, the high priestess of wellness nonsense, might have once uttered those words.)
'Feminist wellness' was one of the top 10 global wellness trends of last year.
If women heed the call of faux-feminist wellness, the implicit hope is that they will not heed the call to go back to the metaphorical barricades of more “militant” collective feminist activism because they are otherwise engaged faffing about with their bath bombs and scented candles.
You may recognise the hallmarks of this kind of neo-liberal feminism from the era of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or more recently Ivanka Trump’s Women Who Work, which, as UK academic Catherine Rottenberg so brilliantly put it, conceives of women as “completely atomised, self-optimising, and entrepreneurial.”
There’s now a tipping point of evidence suggesting women are more likely to experience stress and burn out than men.
A 2016 study in the journal Brain and Behaviour found that women in the United States and Western Europe have twice the levels of daily stress that men do. In the United States, another study by the Centers for Disease Control found that women between the ages of eighteen and forty-four are nearly twice as likely as men to say they feel “exhausted” or otherwise worn out every day. And a meta-analysis of almost two hundred studies conducted in more than fifteen countries found that women are more physically and emotionally exhausted than men, accounting for higher rates of burnout in most sectors.
Rather than pitching women a bunch of wellness to “address” the problem, perhaps we could diagnose its origins and see if there’s a better balm for what ails them.
The women of Australia, for example, might like a salve delivered in the form of proper funding for the many services that respond to the epidemic of violence against women – with equally healthy funding for a preventative regime in the form of respectful relationships education in schools.
The mothers of Australia might appreciate an injection of a truly supportive partner — you know one who doesn’t just claim a “woke” label, but actually carries half the practical and mental load at home.
And we can’t talk about wellness, and women’s wellness, without talking about the need to swallow the pill of decriminalising abortion whilst also making proper women’s reproductive health services readily available.
These are just a few suggestions. Maybe it’s just me, but I would certainly “feel” a whole lot better if we saw some real change on those fronts.
Yoga, pilates, candles, essential oils are all well and good, but they are no substitute for real equality.
Kristine Ziwica is a Melbourne based writer. She tweets @KZiwica
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