Six Congressional Races Where Birth Control Is Front and Center

Cristina Page

This year candidates who formerly fell victim to a caricature of being "pro-abortion" are returning fire. Some have turned the tables by exposing their opponents as not only anti-abortion, but, more radically, anti-contraception.

During the last two election cycles, the social policy agenda was
almost solely about "abortion-on-demand-and-gay-marriage" as if it were
one key on a political reporter’s keyboard. Charts in the mainstream
media comparing the positions of the candidates in 2004 did not include
a host of women’s rights issues, as had been the case in the 1990s.
Women’s rights issue were reduced to a single topic: abortion, as if
that was all women voters cared about.

This year, the picture is
changing. Yes, abortion is being discussed but along with it other
women’s issues are getting attention, like equal pay and a broader set
of reproductive health issues including birth control. For the first
time ever, sex education has gotten attention. In the wake of Bristol
Palin’s abstinence-only outcome, even the main-er than mainstream Parade magazine asked readers whether abstinence-only programs should continue.

year candidates who formerly fell victim to a caricature of being
"pro-abortion" or more likely pro-"abortion on demand" are returning
fire. Some have countered that their opponents are the true extremists.
They have turned the tables by exposing them as not only anti-abortion,
but, more radically, anti-contraception.

According to research done by Moving Forward,
the percentage of voters who are opposed to a host of issues being
hijacked by abortion including birth control, stem cell and sex
education are only 9% of the electorate. Polls taken by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
found that even 80% of self-described "pro-life" voters support access
to contraception. Opposition to contraception is the mark of extremism.
Yet, to appease their fundamentalist "pro-life" base that vehemently
opposes contraception, many elected officials Members of Congress have
voted against access to contraception.

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And so in 2008 pro-choice
candidates have begun to paint those who oppose contraception as
extremists. This election cycle marks the first time since the
legalization of contraception that access to birth control has become a
campaign issue. In tight races, the issue may prove decisive.

The following is a snapshot of how contraception is being used as an issue in House, Senate and Gubernatorial races.


has become an issue in the tight Markey-Musgrave race for Colorado 4th
district House seat in part because of Amendment 48. The proposed
amendment would alter the state constitution to grant fertilized eggs
equal rights, the same as a human being, and pave the way for a ban on
birth control as well as stem cell research, IVF and abortion. Democrat
Betsy Markey opposes the amendment as do many moderate "pro-lifers"
including Democrat Governor Bill Ritter. Republican Marilyn Musgrave is
a lead supporter of the ballot measure, along with many other anti-contraception ideologues.


a woman has a right to get her prescription for birth control filled
has become a campaign issue in the Washington gubernatorial race. The Seattle Times
reports that Republican challenger Dino Rossi opposes requiring
pharmacists to fill birth control prescriptions. Incumbent Democrat
Governor Christine Gregoire followed up with this ad:

In September, reported on how access to contraception
has become an issue in the 8th Congressional District Race in
Washington as well. Democratic candidate Darcy Burner organized and
submitted over 900 comments to the Department of Health and Human
Services on the proposed regulation that will allow health care workers
to deny women birth control. reported

campaign also tried to make a campaign issue out of the move [proposed
HHS regulation], saying in an accompanying release that [Republican
Dave] Reichert is "too extreme" on abortion issues for Washington
state… "The people of this district strongly oppose these proposed
restrictions on access to birth control, which are nothing more than
the President Bush’s parting gift to his social conservative base."
said Burner campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik. "So where does
Congressman Reichert stand on this issue? His track record is not
encouraging. He supports giving pharmacists the right to deny ‘birth
control’ to women, voted to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, is
rigidly anti-choice, and has a zero rating from women’s reproductive
rights groups. Congressman Reichert is too extreme for Washington State
on all of these issues. That is not a record the people of this
district will support."

Here is the ad Burner’s campaign ran against Reichert:

Recognizing how damaging the label "anti-contraception" could be,
Reichert’s campaign quickly worked to bolster his pro-contraception
credentials. Amanda Halligan, Reichert’s Communications Director, went
on the defensive pointing out Reichert was a cosponsor of H.R. 4054,
the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act which corrects the
escalating birth control prices at college health centers caused by the
2005 Deficit Reduction Act. Halligan stated,

Reichert is for women’s health. He also believes that women should have
access. This is being trumped up for political reasons and it speaks
volumes about their campaign and about Darcy Burner. They want to muddy
the waters. They reference the debate, but that is a different issue.
If they are talking about birth control, then he supports women’s
health and he wants to provide access to birth control."


In September, The Washington Post
reported that contraception had become an issue in Virginia’s 11th
House race between Democrat Gerry Connolly and Republican Keith Fimian.
The Post article quotes Connolly accusing his opponent of having
extreme views on birth control because he serves on the board of
Legatus, a foundation for Catholic Businessmen founded by Domino’s
Pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, a staunch opponent of contraception. In the
article Connolly is quoted as saying,

"Mr. Fimian’s
views on social issues are relevant because he has pretended in this
campaign to be a moderate in the mold of Tom Davis. Tom Davis is
pro-choice. Tom Davis is pro-stem cell research. And Tom Davis
certainly supports the availability of contraception in the United
States. My opponent belongs to an organization that opposes these
things. I assume when you belong to an organization, you subscribe to
the tenets of this organization. If he wants to disavow the tenets of
this organization, now’s the time to do it."

The Legatus mission
is to find "what ways can we as Apostles bring Christ into our
businesses." Political bloggers in Virginia picked up on the issue. The
blogger Left of the Hill
added a new wrinkle to the anti-contraception charges made against
Fimian, focusing on his days as a CEO. Left of the Hill wrote,

the health care plan offered to employees from the mid 1990’s to about
2003 of US Inspect and InVision Technologies (the companies that Keith
Fimian was CEO and Chairman of), it explicitly says that "oral
contraceptive[s] used for birth control" were not covered. This is
despite the fact that over twenty states have laws that basically say
oral contraceptives have to be covered if the plan covers other
prescriptions or outpatient procedures."

Connolly’s "Too Extreme" ad:

New Hampshire

In the New
Hampshire U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and
Republican John Sununu, contraception has become a campaign issue as
well. NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire
has highlighted Sununu’s votes against contraception including voting
against funding international family planning programs and
contraceptive coverage for federal employees. Shaheen has used the
issue to portray Sununu as extreme.

(scroll forward to 1:24 to hear Candidate Jeanne Shaheen compare
herself and her opponent, John Sununu, on the issue of birth control.)


the OH-15 open House seat between Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy and
Republican Steve Stivers. Emily’s List, the national group that
supports pro-choice women candidates, highlighted Stivers’s opposition
to requiring insurers to cover contraception when he served as a state

Emily’s List writes,

true swing seat. This Columbus-area seat has been in GOP hands since
1967, and they won’t give it up without a fierce fight — especially in
a presidential year, when Ohio’s 20 electoral votes are up for grabs.
Republicans have coalesced behind Steve Stivers, a right-wing state
senator and former lobbyist for the banking industry. Stivers has
repeatedly opposed legislation to protect consumers, including efforts
to curb predatory lending. He has consistently earned "0" ratings from
Ohio NARAL and even worked against an amendment requiring insurance
companies to cover contraception."

New Jersey

race for NJ’s District 7 open House seat has also taken on the issue of
pharmacy refusals. Democrat Linda Stender has hit challenger Republican
Leonard Lance on voting against a bill, that Stender sponsored, that
would ensure women can fill birth control prescriptions at any pharmacy
in the state.

Democrat Josh Zeitz, the Democratic candidate in NJ’s 4th district is
challenging incumbent Republican Chris Smith, well-known for his
anti-contraception activities. In a campaign ad, Zeitz focused on
Smith’s opposition to contraception.

In a blog on the Huffington Post entitled "Rep. Chris Smith Wants to Criminalize the Birth Control Pill" Zeitz wrote,

twenty-two separate occasions, Chris Smith has introduced legislation
to criminalize the common, everyday birth control pill and IUD… I
believe that access to basic birth control and family planning services
is a fundamental right. By attempting to criminalize the pill, Chris
Smith’s policies increase the number of unintended pregnancies."

anti-contraception movement is well-funded and very active, as Birth
Control Watch documents. In the races reviewed above, the discussion of
social issues has expanded to include birth control, sex education,
stem cell and more; all the issues that get stalled in Congress once
the "abortion" label is applied. This is the first election year that a
candidate’s anti-contraception position has come under public scrutiny.
If birth control gets on the radar of our very pro-contraception
electorate, and some of the more extreme anti-abortion,
anti-contraception legislators are edited from Congress, "Prevention First"
policies should find a spot on the first 100 days agenda. Maybe it is
time to move from being just pro-choice to being pro-choices.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.