This set off a flurry of “What is self-care” articles, including here at The Post. And, of course, there was the usual right-wing ridicule:
Note: Ocasio-Cortez just ran an intense campaign for Congress, and is now prepping to serve in it. She’s hardly unemployed. Another note: Her employment status is irrelevant information. As it turns out, even a self-proclaimed socialist such as Ocasio-Cortez needs to turn to jargon to justify a few days away. No one should need to do that.
While the concept of self-care goes back to ancient Greek philosophers, the iteration of it we use now traces back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the term gained currency in medical circles to help people recover from illness and injury. From there, it migrated to the civil rights movement and second-wave feminism. It was best summed up by novelist and activist Audre Lord, who wrote in 1988, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
But because this is the United States, self-care soon became subsumed by corporate culture. It turned into an opportunity to sell everything from spa vacation to candles to make-up to yoga. At the same time, people — frequently women —- began to use the term to explain why they were doing something that would otherwise seem self-indulgent in our judgmental American culture.
The United States is the only first-world country that does not require employers to offer employees paid vacation days or sick days. Workers can be required to work on major holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. We put in more hours on the job than the famously hard-working Japanese, and we seemingly demonize anyone getting by on government remittance programs as a slacker, be they single mothers unable to afford health care or healthy retirees who could take paid work but would rather not. Instead of recognizing this belief system as all but pathological, we accept this state of affairs as normal.
American culture is forever suspicious of what’s perceived as frivolity, particularly when it’s practiced by people who are traditional caretakers or who are without monetary means. That number currently includes Ocasio-Cortez, who has talked about how she can’t afford to rent an apartment in Washington until she begins to receive her congressional salary. (For that honesty, she received plenty of conservative ridicule.) As she pointed out Monday on Twitter, we call people out who do what seems like a self-indulgent thing while experiencing money woes, or when we think they should be caring for someone else. She used the example of a face mask, but you can substitute all sorts of bugaboos, from avocado toast to lattes to owning a smart phone.
Burnout is a real thing. Vacations and breaks, even coffee breaks, make us more productive and more engaged with both our work and our day-to-day life. However, to say all that already plays into the dominant narrative that we need to rationalize our time away from work as good for the work, and our desire that we not live on scraps alone as something bigger than a simple desire to relax and enjoy our life. It’s a set of beliefs so dominant even Ocasio-Cortez felt impelled to make a nod to it. So let me say this: It is the holidays and the end of the year. We can all rest and enjoy ourselves — for any reason we want.