Self-Care for Feminist Founders
Being the boss of your business and your life can be all consuming. To fight white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, though, your must prioritize your own care. Here’s how to do it.
By Becky Mollenkamp, PCC
Running a business is demanding. When the buck stops with you, it’s easy to develop a habit of overworking and under-resting. Add onto that the injustices of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, and it’s no wonder why you crave yet rarely practice self-care.
Let’s face facts:
• Women are more likely to start businesses than men, yet women’s companies earned $199,936 less on average than male-owned firms in 2021.
• White-owned businesses average annual sales of $439,579 vs. $74,018 for Black-owned firms, and Black female founders earn an average revenue of just $24,000, compared to $142,900 among all women-owned businesses.
• Women entrepreneurs pay themselves 28% less than men do.
• 82% of small business owners work more than 40 hours a week.
• Women have less support at work, swith an average of 8 employees, while men employ an average of 12 workers.
• Heterosexual women spend 2 hours more per day than heterosexual men on unpaid domestic labor.
• Women do more and earn less—a problem that’s far worse for Black, Histpanic, and indigenous women.
• Women and others with oppressed identities must also constantly manage physical and psychological harm prevalent in patriarchy. All the while they also battle external messaging and internalized programming that they must place others’ care above their own.
It’s a recipe for disaster, and explains why more women than men experience burnout.
And here’s a hard truth: Even feminists who understand all of this, and have worked hard to change these societal norms, can find themselves frequently failing to prioritize their personal needs and desires.
It’s time for change. This article outlines the what, how, and why of feminist self-care.
What self care is not
Self care is often sold as drinking a glass of wine in a bubble bath or spending the day at a fancy spa. While those can be acts of self-care, they aren’t the only ways to care for yourself.
Self-care is not:
• doing whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s about creating healthy and sustainable practices for tending your own needs and desires.
• doing what others think you should do in the ways they say you should. It’s about doing what you need to do, perfectly or imperfectly, to take care of yourself.
• avoiding your problems. It’s about dealing with your thoughts, feelings, and desires in a healthy way.
• punishing yourself for something you did wrong. It’s about taking care of yourself, even when you’ve made a mistake.
• seeking attention from others. It’s about taking care of yourself, even if no one else is there to help you.
• wasting time.
• rewarding yourself for hard work. You don’t have to earn rest or care; you inherently deserve and need it.
• recharging so you can work harder. Capitalism would have you believe self-care goes hand in hand with productivity, but it’s a right untethered from work output.
• spending money. Capitalism has commoditized self-care, making it a product to be sold. But it’s a right, not a luxury, and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.
What is self care?
Self-care is any activity you do deliberately in order to care for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Anything that prioritizes your needs or desires, from setting boundaries to taking a vacation, is self-care.
At its best, self-care is doing things that feed your soul, energize you, and set you up for success. At minimum, self-care is small acts, like taking a deep breath, that gently remind you that your needs matter.
I find it can be useful to think of self-care as a continuum.
• On one end of the spectrum are acts that are nourishing for your mind, body, or spirit.
• At the other end are acts of self-preservation that provide physical or emotional safety even if they aren’t ideal.
• In the middle are self-soothing behaviors that feel great and aren’t harmful, but aren’t necessarily for your highest good.
To determine whether something is nourishing, ask yourself if it’s aligned with your values, if you’ll feel better or worse afterward, if it’s moving you closer or further from your goals, and if it’s serving or harming you.
All points along the self-care spectrum are important and valid. Nourishing care is often the most difficult or draining (like enforcing boundaries or seeking therapy), so it’s impossible to only and always engage in these actions.
The goal isn’t doing self-care “correctly,” it’s about understanding its various forms and giving yourself space for all.
Types of self care
In addition to existing on a spectrum, self-care also falls into a handful of different categories:
Physical: Activities that promote physical health, such as eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, practicing good hygiene, and moving your body in ways that feel good.
Emotional: Activities that promote emotional well-being, such as spending time with loved ones, practicing mindfulness, and seeking therapy.
Mental: Activities that promote mental clarity and focus, such as reading, journaling, practicing stress-management techniques, and setting boundaries.
Spiritual: Activities that connect you to something larger than yourself, such as prayer, meditation, spending time in nature, and volunteering.
Social: Activities that connect you to others, such as spending time with friends and family, volunteering, or joining community groups.
Professional: Activities that foster a healthy relationship with work, such as setting boundaries, joining peer groups, and continuing education programs.
Engaging in self-care in all of these buckets can help ensure you maintain a balanced and fulfilling life.
Looking for some specific ideas for self-care activities? Here are 20 to get you started…
1. Take a walk in the fresh air.
2. Listen to music and dance around your house.
3. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
4. Unplug completely with scheduled tech-free time.
5. Practice positive affirmations.
6. Say no to things you don’t want to do without feeling guilty.
7. Write down your wins each day.
9. Take a power nap.
10. Ask for help.
11. Self-soothe with some great-smelling lotion.
12. Drink a glass of water.
13. Give yourself permission to do nothing for an hour or a day without guilt.
14. Watch a movie that makes you laugh out loud.
15. Take time for your favorite hobby.
16. Have a meaningful conversation.
17. Try something new.
18. Declutter an area of your home or workspace.
19. Take a long, warm bath.
20. Cook yourself a delicious meal from scratch.
Why is self care important?
Studies have shown self-care provides benefits in several areas:
Productivity: Low levels of self-care increases the likelihood of emotional exhaustion and burnout, while high levels increase focus and efficiency at work.
Energy: Self-care has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce fatigue, which also translates into higher energy levels.
Mental health: People who engage in regular self-care activities experience less stress, anxiety, and depression. They’re also less likely to engage in negative coping behaviors, such as alcohol or drug use.
Life expectancy: Low levels of self-care is associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body, which is linked to chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Regular self-care reduces these risks, and improves overall physical health and wel-being.
In short, self-care is important because it helps you be the best version of yourself, both physically and mentally, and enables you to live a more fulfilling, satisfying, and lengthy life.
Is self-care selfish?
Self-care is often seen as a selfish act, but it’s actually an important part of taking care of others. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to show up for others in a healthy and supportive way. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
What really matters, though, is that self-care allows you to be the best version of yourself. It allows you to feel safe, valued, and loved.
Patriarchy perpetuates the message that self-care is selfish to make women feel guilty about tending to their own needs. It’s a great way to ensure they prioritize others and fulfill their role as caretaker.
Self-care isn’t selfish, but it would be okay if it were. You deserve to be concerned about yourself and take care of your own needs and desires.
Self love and self care
Self-care is an important part of self-love. When you tend to your needs and desires, you prove to yourself that you’re worthy of love and respect.
Viewed this way, you can see that any act of self-love is self-care. That means self-care activities also include things like:
• Not beating yourself up for mistakes.
• Forgiving yourself for past mistakes.
• Saying positive things to yourself.
• Setting realistic expectations.
• Being assertive.
• Asking for help.
• Letting go of grudges or anger.
• Recognizing and playing to your strengths.
• Doing things that you enjoy.
• Noticing your progress and effort.
Feminist self care
Self-care is self-love, which is a radical act of liberation. In a patriarchal system, people with marginalized identities are conditioned to believe their own needs don’t matter, and that their worth depends on what they do for others.
Self-care is a way to resist these messages. By prioritizing self-care, you challenge societal norms that prioritize productivity and work over rest and self-care. Every individual act of self-care by someone not in the oppressor class has broader political implications.
It’s also important to recognize that individuals have different experiences. Self-care needs may vary based on race, gender, sexuality, ability, and other intersecting identities. One-size-fits-all approaches to self-care are not feminist and are not helpful.
Finally, caring for oneself is not just an individual responsibility but a collective one. It’s important to find spaces and communities where you feel safe to seek out support and where the members provide mutual care for one another.
How to start self-care
If you are new to self-care, start small. Try adding one or two self-care activities to your routine each week. Experiment with different activities and find what makes you feel good. There’s no one right way to do self-care, so what works for your friend may not work for you.
It’s important to make self-care a priority. Schedule non-negotiable time for each day or week, just like you would schedule any other important appointment.
If you struggle to find ways to take care of yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend, family member, therapist, or other trusted person. Asking for help is itself an act of self-care.
It’s also crucial to be patient with yourself. Self-care is a journey, not a destination. It takes time to learn what works for you and to make self-care a habit. Don’t be discouraged if you slip up or have a bad day. Just keep going and be kind to yourself.
Self care journaling prompts
Ready to explore self-care in greater depth? If you need help prioritizing self-care or identifying self-care activities you’d most enjoy, try these journaling prompts.
1. What are some things I’d like to start doing to take care of myself?
2. What are some things I’d like to stop doing to take care of myself?
3. The last time I felt really great about myself, what was I doing? How can I incorporate more of that into my life?
4. When was the last time I felt really relaxed? How can I do more of that?
5. When was the last time I felt connected with my inner self? How could I make that happen more often?
6. What are my favorite ways to connect with others?
7. What self-care activities have I always wanted to try but haven’t yet? What’s holding me back?
8. In what areas of my life am I feeling particularly depleted? What would help address those needs?
9. What are some small, simple activities that would help me feel grounded and centered?
10. When I’ve felt overwhelmed or stressed, what helped me manage those feelings? How can I incorporate those activities into my routine on a more regular basis?
Self-care is essential for feminist founders. It keeps your energy up, your passion high, and is a critical act of resistance against the norms of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
Audit your time and note how much (or how little) is dedicated to restoration. Begin adding more spaciousness to your calendar, devoted to whatever activities make you feel cared for and loved. It’s okay to start small, as long as you start.