Advice Violence

Words Matter: Cheers to the FBI for Recognizing How Much

Heather Corinna

The FBI finally changed its defintion of rape, and while that may seem small, it has the capacity to change things for the better by quite a lot for a majority of rape victims and survivors.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains candid discussion of rape and sexual violence.

I experienced two different sexual assaults when I wasn’t yet in my teens within just one year of one another. The second time I was assaulted, my experience ticked all of the boxes there currently are in our culture for what is so often — now, anyway, easily considered a “real” or “bonafide” sexual assault, or what Whoopi Goldberg, to my great disappointment, would call “rape-rape.”

I was a girl, and one with body parts universally recognized as “girl parts.” My attackers were guys. Even worse when it comes to the rape cliché all too often (misre)presented as universal truth, I was a white girl raped by guys of color. I did not know any of the perpetrators: they were all strangers. It was violent. It was forceful. I said no, I yelled, I tried to run, and I fought, but I lost. I was conscious until I was knocked unconscious. I hadn’t been drinking or doing recreational drugs, nor had I ever even tried either. I sustained physical injuries. I wasn’t a sex worker. I didn’t have mental illness or a developmental disability. I wasn’t dressed “provocatively,” (despite a police officer’s notion that any length shorts were provocative), I wasn’t wearing lipstick or high heels, I wasn’t on a date or at a bar, and beyond some very rudimentary, fully-clothed juvenile fumbling, I hadn’t been sexually active.

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The first time around was different: I was much more confused about what had happened. I knew the person who assaulted me: he was the “sweet old man” who cut our hair. I froze in fear and shock: I wasn’t able to move or utter a sound, including “no,” despite feeling no loudly in my skin. I was wearing, that day, an outfit I thought was a “pretty” outfit. My attacker told me I liked what he was doing, and he said “nice” things to me, rather than calling me names. He told me how pretty I was. I didn’t get any injuries. It wasn’t violent. I threw up several times when I walked home: I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know it was wrong, or why. Nor did I know it was sexual violence. I didn’t even try to tell anyone.

But shortly after the second assault, it was clear what had happened, both times. I still didn’t have and wasn’t provided any sound words (nor help) for it at the time, but I knew that first incident was just as wrong as the second; knew they were the same at their core. Once I tried again to tell someone about the second assault a couple years later, I got the information and words I needed to better start to understand I had been raped, and all that could mean. I then realized what should have been obvious: I was raped that first time too, not just the second.

If that second rape had been more like most rapes, and if I had been anyone but someone with a vagina, given so much of the messaging out there then, and, though to a lesser degree, still out there now, I might not have figured out what happened to me until many, many years had passed, something which would have set me back immeasurably, and to my great detriment, in my healing process. I meet survivors like that, any of us who work in support for survivors do: it is so, so much harder for them to heal than it could be, than it should be.

This should all be so far past obvious to anyone by now. Even though some folks still lazily, callously, dangerously and sometimes even maliciously cling to and broadcast myths about sexual violence — plenty will likely do so in reaction to the terminology change I’m going to talk about — this should all be clear by now, especially from federal justice agencies who are supposed to support victims, not render them invisible.

There’s a lot that’s changed for the better around sexual violence and victim advocacy since I was assaulted in the early 80s, and plenty that’s changed since I started actively working with survivors over the last ten years. The mere fact that what happened with my second assault would now so readily be classified as assault, and most likely treated so differently than it was by police and everyone else around me speaks volumes. But one thing that really hasn’t changed, especially in lowest-common-denominator attitudes, attitudes which were very unfortunately still reflected in the longstanding definition of rape from the FBI, is the notion that only assaults like the second one I experienced were or are “real” rape; that only victims like I was then are “real” victims. That’s a strange and hurtful notion for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that that kind of assault is the LEAST common way rape occurs, not the most common. And that’s not late-breaking news: data and information has been gathered which makes that clear for decades: millions of survivors have bravely told their stories over the years which illustrates this clearly. And yet.

At the very least, our justice departments should be clear and inclusive about what rape and other kinds of sexual abuse are, and at the very least, those definitions should include and privilege the most common ways and contexts per how rape occurs, not just the least common to the exclusion of all else.

And now, we’ve finally got some of that important, needed clarity. The FBI finally dumped a definition of rape which had over eight decades of dust on it, and adopted a new, far sounder definition. To say I’m elated and deeply grateful is a pretty serious understatement.

Before you look at the new definition, take a look at the old one: The previous definition was “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” “Carnal knowledge” is a term that expressly and exclusively means penis-in-vagina intercourse.

Who didn’t that include? Often, people assaulted by those known to them, even closest to them, which accounts for the majority of sexual assaults of all people and most commonly doesn’t involve physical force, but coercion and other kinds of manipulation. Men and boys. Women who were not assigned female sex at birth. Women sexually assaulted by other women. People whose assaults did not involve vaginal intercourse. People who were assaulted sexually in such a way that did not involve a penis. People who were not conscious or fully conscious when assaulted. People who did not give their consent, or whose nonconsent was ignored. All of these victims and survivors and more were not included in the previous definition. That old definition didn’t include the majority of people who have been raped.

As someone who educates, counsels and supports a wide range of rape survivors every week, I all too often hear from survivors who can’t even get started healing because they feel they have “no right” to call their assault what it was, mostly either because they fear they’ll invalidate the experiences of “real” survivors and victims, because they do not want to hold someone else responsible for something they are not responsible for, and/or because one or both of those concerns dovetail all too nicely with victim-blaming, rape-enabling mentalities the world is plastered with. I’ll sometimes pull out my own experiences and say that I believe them, that I don’t feel invalidated because we did not have the same experiences with rape, and as someone who has experienced rape in different ways, I know all too well rape is rape is rape. But I shouldn’t have to do that, and no one should need me to, especially when I’m saying what I am to counter not just what they hear from uneducated people, but from justice agencies, who know all of this better than anyone.

Now it seems I just might need to have discussions like that a lot less, or have them only when backing up what our federal justice bureau says themselves.

Here’s the new definition:

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

As the FBI explains (bolding mine):

The revised definition includes any gender of victim or perpetrator, and includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age. The ability of the victim to give consent must be determined in accordance with state statute. Physical resistance from the victim is not required to demonstrate lack of consent.

“The revised definition of rape sends an important message to the broad range of rape victims that they are supported and to perpetrators that they will be held accountable,” said Justice Department Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Susan B. Carbon. “We are grateful for the dedicated work of all those involved in making and implementing the changes that reflect more accurately the devastating crime of rape.”

The new definition is more inclusive, better reflects state criminal codes and focuses on the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape.

“These long overdue updates to the definition of rape will help ensure justice for those whose lives have been devastated by sexual violence and reflect the Department of Justice’s commitment to standing with rape victims,” Attorney General Holder said. “This new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes.”

Police departments submit data on reported crimes and arrests to the UCR. The UCR data are reported nationally and used to measure and understand crime trends. In addition, the UCR program will also collect data based on the historical definition of rape, enabling law enforcement to track consistent trend data until the statistical differences between the old and new definitions are more fully understood. The revised definition of rape is within FBI’s UCR Summary Reporting System Program. The new definition is supported by leading law enforcement agencies and advocates and reflects the work of the FBI’s CJIS Advisory Policy Board.

It’s still not perfect, but it is so, so, very much closer then we have ever had before, and fine-tuning it from here should be a lot easier than it was getting from the old definition to this new one.

Not knowing something has happened to you when it has is often awful, especially with something like rape where feelings of confusion on the part of a victim are so often used to dismiss or deny assault. Feeling like you can’t even voice what happened to you or express what you’re feeling because your assault, compared to the rarest kind of assault so often seen as the only “real” kind is a horrible way to feel. Healing from abuse and assault is often a long, demanding and challenging process, but you can’t even really get started until you have some basic words for and sense of what was done to you, a clarity that what someone chose to do to you was a serious crime, a crime where you were a victim.

I really cannot express how grateful I am for this change: grateful to FBI Director Robert Mueller and to the many individuals and initiatives (like The Feminist Majority Foundation, Ms. Magazine and Change.org) who pushed and kept pushing tirelessly for more than ten years for this positive, important change.

Thank you. Thank you.

By all means, how the FBI defines sexual violence can’t control how everyone does, nor magically erase myths and misrepresentation of perpetrators and victims. We’re still going to all have to keep doing a lot of work to turn around the dangerous and damaging mythology about sexual violence, its perpetrators and its victims. We’re still going to have to do a lot of work to keep holding the line when it comes to consent and the necessity of real consent, and for everyone, not just certain individuals or groups: for everyone. We still have a lot to do to address and change bystanding and victim-blaming and a whole bunch of other stuff that’s going to take time and the efforts of everyone, not just one big agency or advocacy organizations, but absolutely everyone, to rid our world of rape culture.

However, I think having a standard set like this is going to make all of that much easier. This change is powerful for those who will report and seek justice. It’s powerful even for those who do not, but can know that if they choose not to report or press charges, it’s not because a crime wasn’t committed, but because they are making a choice not to pursue justice for that crime. Powerful because survivors can see, in clear language from a major justice organization, what what has happened to them as exactly what it is, not what those who want to deny it would call it. They can have a sense of what rape is which is current and based on all we know now, not an archaic relic from an era decades before the civil rights movement, and a time when women had only had the right to vote for less than ten years (and when raping a woman you were married to — including violently — was legal in every state of the union and not acknowledged as “real” rape at all, because wives were very much considered, legally and socially, the sexual property of their husbands). It’s powerful when it comes to doing a better job collecting data on sexual assault so that everyone can begin to have a very real sense of how big a problem rape is and what we need to do to most effectively keep working to end sexual violence. Powerful for anyone, as well, who needs to know how very important and integral consent is, and how very much harm it can do to suggest it’s irrelevant, or say nothing about it at all.

And having these words from an authority as powerful as the FBI? That has serious power. The power to answer statements like, “But I didn’t say no,” “But I didn’t fight,” “But I was drinking,” “But she didn’t have a weapon,” “But it was my boyfriend/coach/teacher/parent,” “But I’m a guy,” “But I was wearing a short skirt,” “But I froze and didn’t do or say anything,” and other common statements reflective of a wide range of victims and survivors with a so-about-time definition that makes perfectly clear how none of those things mean that someone who was raped was not.

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”

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.