Last week I made what might look like a reverse-resolution: to aim to go to the gym just twice a week instead of three times a week. I’m not a compulsive calorie-burner; in fact, my relationship with exercise is quite healthy and positive. I enjoy working out because it feels good and helps disperse mental stress and physical tension. I just don’t have time for all the self-care routines I’ve taken on to balance my life and keep myself happy, healthy and whole. At this point I’m managing stress that’s partly caused by the stress of stress-management routines.

The notion of self-care – that it is not just OK, but radical to take time to look after your own physical, mental and emotional needs in a world that is not always built for human well-being – originates in activist and mental health communities. The message was originally espoused by and directed at individuals most at risk of burn-out: people who daily navigate and resist heteropatriarchal, white supremacist , capitalist social structures designed to oppress, marginalize and stigmatize them. In the hands of white feminist social media personalities, self-care has morphed into a trendy aesthetic: a variety of the performative vulnerability that is so often rewarded on Instagram. Crying selfies, face masks, hydration, and unapologetically cancelling plans in favour of staying in bed are all #selfcare.

I don’t want to suggest that white privilege precludes the need for self-care or that selfies, face masks and napping are not legitimate tools of self-care. At its heart, self-care is about making a more loving world by starting with self-love and that is a worthy message for everyone. But as is its nature, social media has both contributed to the propagation of a positive idea and blunted its critical edge. Self-care contains an implied critique of the capitalist imperative of productivity, but it has been easily subverted to sell Band-Aid solutions for the symptoms of burn-out without addressing their root causes. It is a way to market everything from $5 face masks at the drugstore to expensive yoga retreats in Costa Rica.  Self-care is no longer about surviving and thriving despite capitalism, it is about maximizing one’s use of capitalism by maintaining productive functionality. And that is problematic for so many reasons.

Like a lot of millennials, I’m an overworked non-profit employee doing creative work on the side, but I’m also healthy, childless, dog-less and have a 15 minute commute to work. I have no reason to be as tired as I am, but maintaining an exercise routine to keep myself energized and relaxed, meal planning and packing lunch every night to stay healthy and on budget, tidying clutter to keep a pleasant space to come home to, pursuing hobbies for the satisfaction of making something, keeping a journal for mental clarity, etc., etc. is too much to fit in alongside a full-time job and basic domestic chores, let alone real leisure. When I inevitably fail to keep up with my checklist of self-care because I’ve been actually resting I get… stressed out! I’m driven by the feeling that if I don’t keep up on all these good habits, things will be much worse down the road. I’ll turn into one big knotted muscle or something. Worst of all, my time and energy for more fulfilling creative work dwindles as it is repeatedly postponed to the end of the night, and then the next day and the next.

Consumerist self-care is marketed at women (it meshes well with existing gendered complexes that marketing capitalizes on, such as body image) and women have been at the forefront of espousing self-care in all its varieties. There’s good reason for this. Women have historically been care givers, and that legacy continues to inform the expectations placed on women by themselves and others. Self-care can be an antidote to the toll of all that other-care. Real self-care as it was originally conceived is not pretty or cute. It can look like taking medication, or setting boundaries in relationships, or making genuinely difficult and rewarding life changes. But it is always work and the mainstreaming of #selfcare obscures the work and the mess and conflict that come when people who are routinely and systematically expected to care for or accommodate others center their own needs in a meaningful way.

As self-care eats into my leisure hours, becoming a source of pressure itself, I wonder if #selfcare is just another way that women are pressured to have it all, and be it all. As delayed (or foregone) parenthood, house ownership and career stability are increasingly accepted parts of millennial adulthood, perhaps the balanced lifestyle promised by self-care is just a new form of unrealistic feminine perfection that conveniently keeps us busy and keeps us buying.

In comparison “Treat yo’self”, a motto popularized by characters on Parks and Recreation, so transparently invites indulgence and consumption that it resists the same insidious subversion of message.  If not taken in moderation, “Treat yo’self” may lead to debt before balance but at least it promotes a self-love based on giving yourself permission to enjoy life, rather on grimly doing things for your own good.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Intersectionality is a critical concept that has grown out of individuals’ lived experiences of how complex privilege and discrimination can be and how different strains of discrimination and oppression interact and compound each other. Intersectionality is often cited as a necessary tool to combat racism (overt and implicit) in feminism, or transphobia/exclusion in LGBTQ activism, for example. But it is not just about improving and bringing justice (or ideological purity) within activist and progressive circles, it’s more importantly about gaining a clearer understanding of how power operates in real life – which is at the intersections of misogyny, white supremacy, heteronormativity, ableism etc –  in order to more effectively dismantle oppression and inequality. No person’s identity is just their gender, or just their race – so it makes sense that social activism cannot be so single-minded either.

freestyling-feminism

Black Muslim women in North America and Europe provide an example of how intersected, plural identities are impacted by intersected, compounded discrimination. Black Muslim women report experiencing anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, and misogyny both in society at large and within their own communities, whether Black or Muslim. Although one third of American Muslims are Black, anti-Black racism and erasure of Black Muslims exists within Muslim communities. Similarly, Islamophobia and failure to recognize Islam as a presence in African American history, culture, and communities occurs among Black folks.

Within White and mainstream discourse about Islam and Muslims in the West (including progressive conversations), Muslims are often imagined mainly as Middle Eastern, and often as relatively recent immigrants – not as African American, or as African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants. Mainstream discourse on Black issues and anti-racism similarly gets grouped under the umbrella of #BlackLivesMatter or anti-racism. This isn’t to criticize activism which focuses on Islamophobia or on racism so much as it is to point out that Black Muslims make up a large population who are simultaneously affected by both anti-Black and Islamophobic violence and discrimination. It makes sense to look at how the two forces interact and how resistance to one can and should be united with resistance to the other. It is in fact, a powerful opportunity for unity against multiple oppressions.

Misogynoir is the term coined by Moya Bailey to describe the specific strain of racist-sexism/sexist-racism experienced by Black women as the result of various racist constructions of Black womanhood, such as hypersexualization, exoticism, and the “Angry Black Woman” trope. It is also no surprise that misogyny and Islamophobia have a complex relationship. Spontaneous Islamophobic attacks in the West frequently seem to victimize hijabi women, probably because of their visibility as Muslims. Sikh men have been victim to similar attacks by Islamophobes who equate “bearded man with turban” with “Muslim.” Muslim women who veil are thus vulnerable as women and as Muslims, and the two vulnerabilities are brought together by their outward expression of these joined identities with the hijab. While Muslim women bear the brunt of Islamophobic harassment, of course, they are also the subject of liberal-Islamophobic trolling about how Muslims treat “their women”…. No wonder Muslim women are growing as voices against both Islamophobia and patriarchy!


liz

Liz Hill came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Liz received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Liz works at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

In case you missed it, France’s recent ban of the Burkini or modest Islamic swimwear for women has caused massive outrage online from those opposed to secular extremism and anti-feminism. Critics, rightfully, argue that social homogeneity always leads to oppression (particularly of vulnerable minority groups) and that the policing of womens’ bodies (whether it be in how much or how little they are wearing) has deep roots in oppressive patriarchy.

The Burkini ban has sparked economic backlash, with sales for the item soaring online among Muslims and non-Muslims alike – because frankly, who doesn’t love SPF 50 fabric that prevents skin cancers, helps you avoid slathering on chemical-laden sunscreens all while dressing as modestly as you feel because people can do whatever they want with their bodies?

Now plenty of rich businesspeople have kindly stepped up and said that they will pay the fines of whichever women decide to wear the Burkini and get caught by the French police officers who are now being sent to the beach to literally check and make sure women are wearing as little clothing as the law now dictates. That’s great but the laws which treat Muslim women as second class citizens remain unaddressed. Maybe France should have thought about how much they don’t like seeing the hijab while they were busy fetishizing it at the height of colonialism. And don’t be telling me #notallFrenchpeople because I don’t see anyone shouting #jesuisMuslimah in the streets at this atrocious affront to civil liberties.

I feel like this entire blog should be in italics or caps lock because I just.cannot.control.my.rage.today.

Not only is it horrific that the reasons cited for the Burkini ban are concerns around the womens’ “hygiene”, but the fact that this is being celebrated by French secular so-called feminists is atrocious. This is not a win for oppression against women because: IT IS OPPRESSION AGAINST WOMEN.

I know this because I see some sexist men online celebrating the ban because they claim that the Burkini isn’t modest enough anyway. And even more insanely, when a Muslim woman was forced to disrobe under the threat of being pepper-sprayed by armed police officers in public on a beach in Nice, these extremist fools had the audacity to question why that woman was even on the beach, asking sarcastically if swimming is obligatory in Islam.

Are you people kidding me?

As my dear friend and colleague, Liz, pointed out, we also need to look at whom these laws serve. Do these laws serve the minority of women who may be forced to veil, or worse, women who are kept at home (banned from the beach) by abusive husbands or male relatives who are then free to go where they like? Do they allow women freedom of movement or restrict it? The answers are clear.

Why is it that extremists obsessively unite around women’s bodies to either clothe or disrobe them?

Muslim women are at the apex of extremism on all sides: the anti-religionists, the Wahhabists, the anti-Feminists and unsympathetic Muslim women who fail to realize that violent assault is the next step in this program.

Secular and religious extremists share the target of the female body, maiming her together by tearing at her clothes, one stretching them to make them longer, the other ripping them to take them off. And these misogynists are cheered on by women who believe themselves to be both liberated and liberators. The same women who bare their breasts (which they are free to do but #notinmyname) and claim that veiled Muslim feminists might think they are free but they don’t know just how oppressed they are. God forbid that a Muslim woman should also be a person of colour and have white supremacists on her back too.

Seriously, people.

Back off.

And what is it with other Muslim women shaming the woman forced to disrobe? This woman was assaulted by armed police officers with the force of the law behind them in broad daylight on a crowded public beach. She was forced to undress under duress. We don’t even know if she was given the option to leave. Would it be different if she was wearing a bikini to begin with and they made her remove it entirely? Why the sudden lack of empathy and strong judgment for your coreligionist?

Empathetic, feminist women (you know who you are): this is a trying time for all of us.

Stay strong and know that whatever happens, as long as you get home safe in the face of assault from all sides, you did the right the thing. And if you don’t, you do not have yourself to blame. It is not in your head and it will only get worse as long as this behaviour is permitted to continue.

I believe you are a victim of many perpetrators.

I believe it is getting increasingly difficult for you.

I believe that you feel suffocated and overwhelmed sometimes

and that those times are multiplying in number.

I know just how angry you are.

I will say this as long as I can,

even if my voice quivers from fear or from rage.

I will stand with you,

even if my covered knees shake.

I believe you.

We will fight for justice together, insha Allah.