There’s a new word on the internet. It appears to have started, as many of these things do, on American university campuses, and has spread to the UK like wildfire – bringing with it a host of strange new problems. I’m not talking about intersectionality. I’m not talking about cultural Marxism. I’m not even talking about the word ‘kyriarchy’.

This post is about self-care. And, in a way, I’m a pretty staunch advocate. Looking after yourself is vital. Vulnerable people must be able to defend themselves. It’s important to realise that you may always have your detractors, and running after them with flowers won’t make anybody happier. Trying to make reality kinder, and safer, is no bad thing: to say otherwise is at best a dick move, and at worst both selfish and dangerous.

But there’s a difference between trying to make reality kinder and burying your head in the sand. And the massive growth of self-care culture is getting weird. There’s the harmless and good, like the Oxford Women Self-Care Facebook group, where women post their feelings and things they need cheering up about, and other women oblige. It’s actually very lovely. But there are also other things.

For instance, self-care culture is all-forgiving: you fuck up? No problem. You do something awful? Not your fault. You hurt someone? Don’t beat yourself up.

The thing is, sometimes we should beat ourselves up. Not the constant, vicious self-flagellation that comes with low self-esteem and other problems, but human, moral guilt. When we hurt others, we should feel bad about it. Fucking up doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it means you did something wrong. Perspective is vital. But this urgent, reactionary desire for mutual absolution has a sinister side. Cheap pronouncements of forgiveness from strangers don’t fix anything. They just make us feel better about our own failings.

And the better we feel, the more we deny responsibility, the less likely we are to change. The more likely we are to fuck up again. So we’ll be back to the internet begging for pictures of cute animals, for positive vibes from well-meaning people who don’t have a clue. It’s the kind of escapism seen in America’s terrifying new fetish for adult play centres.

Michelle Joni Lapidos, creator of a Brooklyn 'preschool for adults', and honorary member of my increasingly serious kill list

Michelle Joni Lapidos – creator of a Brooklyn ‘preschool for adults’, and honorary member of my kill list

And, as women, it’s trampling all over our own progress. How do we expect to be taken seriously if our idea of ‘looking after ourselves’ is finger-painting? Refusing to see the world as it is means refusing to change it. Constantly retreating to ‘safe spaces’ filled with facile platitudes and flowers is about as mature as covering your ears and humming in the face of criticism.

There is absolutely a time and a place for relaxing, for being kind to yourself, for escaping the tedium of being a woman on the internet (or anywhere else for that matter) and blocking out the noise. But it shouldn’t be the default option. It shouldn’t be normal.

Or, apparently, neither

Or, apparently, neither

Because, shock horror, we can’t develop if we’re not challenged. We can’t grow if we don’t listen to criticism. And we certainly can’t change the world through writing ourselves love-letters(!) and painting hearts everywhere. Infantilisation isn’t revolutionary; obsessive self-love isn’t radical, and curling up in a ball with Disney films isn’t going to fix the gender pay gap.

‘Safe space’ is a synonym for ‘comfort zone’. It is right to be proud of what you’ve achieved – even if it doesn’t look like much to others; even when, some days, getting out of bed or eating a meal is an achievement. But setting up camp in your current situation and refusing to move, claiming that it’s ‘just who you are’ and that sticking there is somehow radical or empowering – what’s that about? Take some responsibility. Society isn’t to blame for everything. Or, as a friend phrased it more cynically, “Society invents standards? Well it also invents jobs and money, so accept it.”

If you want to talk about solidarity and self-care, talk about the change you’re making in the real world. Tell me how great you felt after producing that play, or asking that person out, or getting that First. Tell me how proud you are of the tangible things you’ve achieved.

Finger-painting? Group hugs, and puppy rooms? Is being nice to ourselves really the pinnacle of female achievement? Is that really what you want our generation’s legacy to be?

Whatever our struggles, we’re extremely privileged to be here. Many would die to have our lives. For God’s sake, aim higher.

This article has 15 comments

  1. Criticising other women for the way they choose to deal with their problems doesn’t seem very feminist to me.

    • There’s nothing wrong with reasoned criticism, especially when it’s polite and constructive. How else are people meant to grow? As far as I am concerned, it can only be wrong in this context if there are no reasons for thinking that there are good and bad ways of dealing with problems.

    • I’d rather be an independent critical thinker than a feminist, but I didn’t know the two were mutually exclusive.

  2. Can everyone be nice to each other and lovely please I don’t like fights 🙁 🙁

  3. I feel this article belittled, shamed and betrayed everyone who feels they need self-care in order to write this sensationalistic piece.

    Most of the article is very off-mark about what self-care is about, which makes me wonder if you are really sure what it entails…

    • I think that was the point? Proper self-care is radically different than some of the practices discussed in this article.

  4. I’m sick to the back teeth of these reactions. How does she belittle people who participate in self-care? She was on that group, she advocates that group – she specifies her support for it, but highlights aspects of it – ASPECTS – that could seem odd considering its feminist context such as the tendency to ‘infantilise’, for example, which has been used religiously by feminists to denounce the patriarchy. Can we not have any openness? Any perspective? Enter into intelligent debate – the article isn’t flawless – but don’t gag anyone who digresses from the robotic and rigid discourse of *some* militant feminists. Women’s voices need to be heard; that includes this one. Then we can have progress.

    • Cmon, did you read the article? It certainly does belittle those who participate in self-care. Entirely and completely unnecessarily –
      As if looking after your own mental health stops you from ‘fighting the patriarchy’ (news – it doesn’t and for some is essential before they can fight anything else). Just seems an incredibly mean spirited article given that this hurt literally no-one ever and just because the author doesn’t think it ‘necessary’ doesn’t mean self-care is not very useful for those that need it. Typical ‘I don’t need this so why should anyone else!!!’ article; with the added bonus of picking a target that definitely doesn’t deserve the flack.

  5. Why even involve womcam in the tags? It isn’t endorsed or set up by womcam. Carolina did an amazing job setting it up with Rowan and your pathetic article has created a backlash of lurkers wanting to be involved so to indulge in the drama created rather than wanting to contribute or have some kind of benefit from it. This is hateful, tasteless, and ridiculously badly written. There was no tension in a group which was focused on mental health and on wellbeing until you wrote this piece of shit. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • “This is hateful”

      Is it more hateful than going on someone’s blog and telling them their work is a “hateful” “piece of shit” and they should be ashamed of themselves?

      You appear to have a very low threshold for what constitutes hatefulness in other people and a very high threshold for what constitutes hatefulness in yourself, unless you’re of the opinion that hate is the best antidote for hate.

      I don’t see any personal attacks from the author here, only relatively mild critiques about what might be some downsides of all that is labelled “self-care”, even when the author starts of by saying they’re a staunch advocate of it in general.

      Of course people you disagree with deserve to be told their work is shit and hateful and they should be ashamed of themselves. They’re obviously bad people with bad intentions if they disagree with you.

  6. Posting that screenshot which you’ve now thankfully deleted was the worst part of the article itself, actually.How it can escape your mind it may be disrespectful is beyond me.


  8. Whilst I can see myself agreeing with some of the points you make, and whilst you label yourself intersectional, there is a degree of thinly veiled ableism in this article which I don’t know if anyone else has picked up on.

    Not everyone is capable of picking themselves up and going – I’m sure they would if they could – and this group is to remind people to take care of themselves first.

    Secondly, by targeting “infantile” activities, you are also shaming those who may need them, such as people on the Autistic Spectrum who can benefit and take joy in participating in those activities. Why belittle that because it is what they enjoy doing? It may not be your cup of tea, but I don’t think it is right to criticise, or make fun of those people just because it isn’t what you like or what you would do.

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