Lena Dunham was criticized online earlier this week for canceling a book signing at an indie bookstore in Los Angeles after falling ill. Rather than just brush off the (needless) hate, though, she used it as an opportunity to point out a major way women are prone to hurting each other professionally. And it's scarily accurate.
What that line of thinking contributes to is the idea that women must always "power through" and work — no matter what.
Recall the media frenzy that occurred when Hillary Clinton, after pushing herself tirelessly on the campaign trail, was finally forced to leave a September 11th event early due to illness. She was soon after diagnosed with pneumonia, adding fodder to the public's field day asserting that her "poor health" disqualified her as a viable presidential candidate. Donald Trump capitalized on the opportunity to question Clinton's "stamina," while her defenders took the approach of claiming that of course Clinton had continued to work while sick — she is, after all, a woman, as one headline put it.
But there's a serious problem with both of these approaches — the first, claiming she worked while ill because she's weak, and the other claiming she worked while ill because she's strong. She became ill because she's a human being, and unfortunately these flesh sacks we were born with aren't infallible. As women, it's time we stopped furthering the idea that powering through illness is a sign of strength, because self care is not weakness.
In truth, it's like Audre Lorde said: "(Self care) is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." And we should be supporting not only ourselves in that right to self-preservation, but our female coworkers, too.