Musings on privacy and self-care

Today marks my first week back to Feministing after a month (mostly) off to take care of a health problem. It was a weird time, in large part because breaks aren’t really my thing. I like work. It sustains me, fits me; a friend once told me my spirit animal is an overcommitted pit bull. And while I’ve always understood the importance of self-care in theory, I’d also seen the idea invoked to shirk commitments and knew how that could burden others. But the month was necessary, and I’m extremely grateful to the people with whom I write and organize for stepping up so I could step back (I see you Maya, Dana, Suzbob, Kate, etc.).

It was also a weird time because I didn’t really have any model of self-care that felt right for what I needed. I started my mini-hiatus during “Self-Care September,” and was delighted to see images and stories of people I love taking care of themselves. There’s something so radical about a woman insisting her needs are important, and I liked every Instagram photo of a friend treating herself to a Oreo milkshake with a coworker or taking a break from online organizing to enjoy the early fall air. Some people planned group events with fellow organizers — fully stocked with DIY manicures and feminist rom coms — to be good to themselves all together. I want to be explicitly clear that those sorts of self-care are awesome and essential and in no way less real or valuable because they are public.

But the whole point of my break was to do and be less. I’m a full time law student with two part-time jobs and a book manuscript deadline in two weeks: between all that, there isn’t a lot of time to have a body. (End of whine.) And part of taking care of my health, I felt very strongly, was reclaiming a sense of privacy. For reasons I can’t fully articulate, I needed my self-care to be solitary and unseen, a project to reclaim space for myself and value my health on its own without external feedback. I didn’t want to Instagram pictures of my medical paraphernalia. I can non-judgmentally imagine someone finding comfort in broadcasting health care, but I didn’t. I don’t. I feel pretty weird writing this right now (more on that later).

Without someone else’s story, I had to make up what caring for myself would mean. In some ways that was nice, but it also took a lot of time and mistakes. Figuring out exactly which pieces were important to me to keep close to the chest was harder than expected, as was reaffirming the legitimacy of drawing any such line at all. I didn’t know how to explain what was going on to people who were curious or justify my time away without exposing more than I wanted. I could still use some guidance.

Forgive me for a “no, duh” moment, but we have access to narratives about public self-care because they’re public. In some ways this reminds me of the new-ish narrative of the aftermath of sexual violence: you get raped, you’re a sad victim, you “tell your story” (to the press, to Take Back the Night, etc.), and then you’re a survivor. That’s a super legitimate progression, but far from representative – it’s just that (again, duh) we don’t have lots of stories of people not telling their stories. (For one example of a writer who manages it, check out my friend Emma’s essay “On not telling rape stories” at the bottom of this page.) It’s easy to think everyone “goes public” when you’ve only, definitionally, heard from the people who have. Yet while the public survivor narrative and public self-care are both 100% valid, neither is right for everyone. And it’s hard to find the other options.

It’s true that privacy has for so long been an awful weapon used against women, invoked to justify public tolerance for intimate partner violence and to silence those who tried to speak up about trauma. By problematizing compulsory confession, I in no way mean to discourage or criticize those who want to share. That the idea of privacy can be abused, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t also valuable.

I also understand the obvious irony here: I’m writing publicly about choosing privacy. But I’d like to think members of our communities and movements could support each other in what we ultimately have to do alone. I’d like to think we could find a way to share what we learn about building and surviving in a way that reinforces, rather than threatens, the boundaries we set up not out of fear or distrust but out of love for ourselves. We could tell stories about not telling stories.

Here is my first try.


Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing, a founding co-director of Know Your IX, and a student at Yale Law School.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at

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