Recently I came across a luscious post by a friend on Instagram. It was a close up of a crystal clear glass filled with a generous pour of a robust red wine. It sat on her granite counter in her beautiful kitchen, the wine glowing, as if lit from within.
My mouth literally watered. I could practically taste this wine, which I guessed was Italian and a decent vintage given that my friend is an accomplished chef and foodie. I’d had a rough day, juggling work and the details of an event I’m planning with too little sleep and a husband out of town. I imagined my cross-country friend had had a similar 16 hours. She has three energetic kids, volunteers, teaches cooking classes and never misses a protest march. She’d captioned the photo with just one word:
The word threw me off. I couldn’t argue with it. I’m sure the wine and all it implied – kids finally in bed, to-do list put away for the night, maybe even a good book or Netflix in the wings – were completely deserved. In fact, I was thinking that I, too, in that very moment, deserved my own big glass of wine. Still, there was something about that word that made my skin bristle, something so stealthy in the meaning of the word that we women don’t even notice it anymore. Something that smacked of patriarchal bullshit.
Why must we wait until we deserve something to have it? Why do women feel we must earn our pleasures and luxuries? Why must we justify our glass of wine to the world?
Now, I know my friend was simply sharing her quiet, much appreciated moment with us. I love this woman and her fierce words and strong actions. She definitely walks the walk. There is no way she’d use a word to describe her circumstances if she thought for one moment it challenged her feminism.
And yet, for me, it did.
Women have been told over and over again what we do and do not deserve. We deserve to be raped if we wear short skirts or come off as a tease. We don’t deserve to be paid as much as men for the same job simply because we have vaginas. After dating for a year, a woman deserves a ring. In this patriarchal society, women deserve to be treated violently and unfairly through no doing of our own. As for deserving the good things in life, these things we must “earn” first, either through time spent or dogged effort. In other words, we must pay our dues.
The alternative to earning our way is to be in debt. Think of the women who thank their spouses for “letting” them go to the gym or get a freakin’ haircut. “Thanks to my DH who took the kids this morning so I could shower.” It’s fine to be grateful to a supportive partner, but framing it in a way that clearly puts women in debt to those who “allow” them to take personal time is demeaning and perpetuates gender inequality. We talk in terms of women’s desires, be they as mundane as showering or as intimate as an orgasm, as though they are not available to us in day-to-day terms, but gifts to be had on special occasions only.
When we do, finally, take that break or pour that glass of wine, we call it “self-care.” We’ve gotten to the point where basic human activities are now considered self-care. Taking a shower is self-care. Eating a meal uninterrupted is self-care. Getting our legs waxed is self-care. Reading, taking a walk or, OMG, going to Target without the kids are all considered acts of self-care. And in case you didn’t notice, the word itself – self-care– puts the onus on us. We must care for ourselves as well as all the people around us – but only as long as we deserve it.
I’ve never come across a post by a man declaring his fishing trip or golf outing is “deserved” or using the hashtag #selfcare. The posts are the look-at-me sort and the captions more along the lines of, “Check out the catch of the day!” and “Woah, another hole-in-one!” There’s certainly no explanation about why the dude is deep-water fishing on a Tuesday or golfing for the third day in a row. There’s no “Thanks to my DW for taking over the running of our entire life so I can hang out with my buddies on a boat, drink beer and not shower all weekend.”
For men, there’s no need to validate an outing or object with the word “deserved.” Many women, though, aren’t as comfortable taking what we want or need. Instead, we think of our glass of wine as something we deserve for a job well done. Is it wrong for a woman to want to enjoy a glass of wine for the hell of it? Is it so terrible for an exhausted mama or a well-rested one to want to stop for a few minutes and not do anything? Must we earn every shower, every girls’ night out, every Sunday morning sleep-in?
You know what women really deserve? Equal pay, reasonable maternity leave and access to safe, dependable childcare. We deserve quality healthcare, the right to choose what we do with our bodies and not to be assaulted when we walk home alone or into our boss’s office. Women deserve respect, no matter what kind of job we do — caring for children or aging parents, running companies or running errands. Oh, and yes, we do deserve a glass of wine whenever we damn well please and not because we somehow “earned” it. We don’t need to justify ourselves, ladies. Deserving isn’t part of the equation because who we are and what we want are enough.
We are enough.
Let’s not forget it.