Self-Care Won’t Heal America

On behalf of women everywhere, we don’t need to calm down or relax. 

Self-Care Won't Heal America
Peaceful protesters hold up signs in Washington, D.C. in May 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)

Stop telling me to take a bath to relax. 

Self-care, defined as intentional acts one takes to improve physical and emotional health, is typically targeted at women who face chronic stress and pressure due to home and work-related demands. Sure, a bath can be relaxing, but the problems that drove a person into the tub will still be there when she steps back onto the bathmat. 

On behalf of women everywhere, we don’t need to calm down or relax.  The superficial advice we get in response to an imbalanced, misogynistic and racist system is insulting and placating. If you want to make us go away, you’ll have to do better than telling us to get more sleep, as if that’s easily done. My slumbering hours clearly have no effect on police brutality in communities of color anyway.

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What do women want instead of journaling to address rampant bigotry and even out our domestic obligations?

We want a school day that’s compatible with the work day.

We want to be able to send our children into school without worrying they’ll come out of body bags.

We want our husbands ignored, not exalted, when they do child care and housework. There’s no such thing as women’s work or men’s work; there’s only work that needs to be done.

We want to live in a world where we can confidentiality tell our children that Nazis, the KKK and other forms of white supremacy are a thing of the past so we can focus on addressing the quieter forms of racism. 

We want to work in an environment that gives us the same pay, treatment, opportunities and information as our male colleagues. 

We want to be able to walk alone without having mace or car keys as readily available weapons. 

We want the freedom to live in a world without sexual harassment and assault. We don’t want to hear “don’t get raped”; we want boys and men to be told not to rape. 

We want women, who have plenty of money and hired help, to stop acting as though they’re on equal footing as women who do not. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a nanny, but side-by-side comparisons become asinine when there’s the safety net of round-the-clock staff to do anything parents don’t want to do.

Most importantly, I have to be able to tell my child that there are consequences for bad actions and calls for unity and healing mean nothing without justice. I cannot do that.

To be sure, I’m confident self-care is a useful coping mechanism for personal issues such as anxiety or depression.  But that’s where self-care should start and end: with the individual, not the collective. If a woman needs to negotiate with her husband to get him to change a diaper or vacuum, all the massages in the world will not dismantle the sexism in a man who believes that the house he lives in and the children he fathered are not his responsibilities.

Telling me to look at pictures of cute animals to alleviate my fears brought on by the current state of politics is like asking me to take a walk when I have a ruptured spleen: The solution is pitifully disproportionate to the problem.

Self-care puts the solution on the individual rather than the people, the systems, and the reasons the January 6 insurrection, for example, was allowed to happen in the first place. Such toxic positivity is undermining, insensitive and manipulative. It’s nothing more than a distraction designed to protect the status quo that serves a privileged, lazy few at the cost of everyone else’s sacrifices and hard work.

Women, especially women of color, everywhere deserve better from our country, our families and our peers, starting with system-wide reforms, such as paid parental leave and universal child care—not a healthy diet most of us can’t afford anyway.

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Maria Reppas lives with her husband and son in Virginia. She has been published in the Washington Post, New York Daily News, Scary Mommy, Ms. Magazine, The Lily, and the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at