This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.
By Rida Vaquas
One of the key concepts in modern feminism, especially in the student movement, has become “self-care”. The succinctly articulated explanation of self-care as an act of political warfare by the black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde has been repeated to the point of becoming cliché and under its name we have advice columns advocating everything from basic survival (drink water, eat three meals, get enough sleep etc) to buying relaxation (via coffee, puppy walks, colouring books). Self-care is now seen as activism in itself, and feminist practice has become centred upon individual comfort as opposed to collective struggle.
This is very far away from Audre Lorde’s conception of self-care as political warfare. The purpose of self-care as “self-preservation” is not posed as an alternative to collective political activity but rather the crucial means by which we ensure we are able to carry out political activity. When we individualise self-care and detach it from a collective framework, it loses its radical nature: it becomes a method of withdrawal from society rather than a method of engagement. Remind yourselves of what else Lorde said, that women are powerful and dangerous. Remind yourself that she was active in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, that she had known black women who were beaten and arrested for their participation in these movements.
Making self-care dangerous means not accepting it as enough, it means recognising that the same University that offers mindfulness sessions will also be failing victims of sexual violence. It means recognising that we can survive within an oppressive society but our pain cannot be resolved in its framework.
When self-care becomes an end, and not a means, it becomes an act which is “lacking courage, lacking a certain fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised fist, the sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra” (Judy Grahn). When self-care is what enables us to connect with the struggles of other women and becomes what enables us to fight for them, as well as us, that is when it is truly political warfare.