Editor’s note: Sara Stewart is a film and culture writer living in western Pennsylvania. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. See more opinion pieces on CNN.
A bold manifesto urges us to learn to rest as an act of political and cultural self-preservation. “Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto”, by Tricia Hersey (founder of The Siesta Ministry), makes the important argument that “grind culture,” or our addiction to 24/7 commotion, is a product of white supremacy and dead-end capitalism.
Hersey argues forcefully that stepping off the treadmill to allow the mind to dream and imagine is the key to becoming more fully alive. As a theologian, she also posits that it is a God-given human right. And yet, she writes in her introduction, “the whole culture collaborates so that we do not rest… We are sleep deprived because the systems consider us machines, but the bodies are not machines”.
A recent New York Times article about the book drew reactions from readers, who complained about everything from its over-obviousness (“I know how to nap!”) to the unrealistic nature of the solutions. Hersey. And it’s true that many people have jobs and financial situations that simply don’t allow for the luxury of saying no to extra tasks or demands from the boss.
If you need to pay the bills and are worried about losing your job, toying with the practice of checking out or “quietly quitting” may be too risky.
But it’s equally true that we live in a time of unprecedented exhaustion that hasn’t diminished, as some have theorized, as most of us are drifting away from our mindsets and our way of life. pandemic. A staggering number of American workers report being overwhelmed by the demands of their jobs. And with a possible recession looming, people are even less likely to feel empowered to voice those concerns. We therefore continue the milling, at our own risk.
One of the main reasons why people are so exhausted from work, but so unable to reduce their expenses, is the responsibility of providing for their families. When you have children at home, money and time are dedicated to them, as it should be. But not every woman wants to enter into this arrangement, and since it’s her body that will be involved in procreation, it’s basically her decision to make. (At least, that was until recently.)
Writing these words seems too obvious. But they are at the center of one of the most important questions about the ballot in this election.
Even before Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it has always been controversial for women to talk about Choose not have children. (If not, why do we still have to walk around carrying signs that say My Body, My Choice?) The most acceptable traditional arguments for reproductive rights routinely revolve around the worst-case scenario: medical emergencies. Grated. Incest.
But we rarely talk about the positive possibilities that open up when women make the informed choice not to be mothers – or choose not to anymore. We also don’t speculate enough about what reasons our cultural arbiters (too often, again, old white men) might have for trying to keep many of us engrossed in childcare matters and everything that comes with it – and don’t see child-rearing aid is the business of the state. Ask any mom and she’ll tell you that it’s a grueling full-time job, which often accompanies a literal full-time job.
What if, on the contrary, it was just as acceptable to imagine the possibility of a different job, of a less energy-intensive way of life? What if we spent so much time praising the childless women who chose to dedicate time to community care, anti-racism work, environmental protection? Or do you just want the time and space to sit quietly and contemplate being human?
These are not new ideas. My favorite cheerleaders for them are in the 1974 collection of essays “Pronatalism: The Myth of Mom & Apple Pie.” The book features such marvels as early feminist Leta Hollingworth, writing, in 1916, of “social devices to induce women to have and raise children.”
Food critic Gael Greene, writing “A Vote Against Motherhood” in 1963 in New York magazine, explained how she and her husband “enjoy the time and freedom to pursue potential talent…to pick up and disappear for a weekend or a month or even a year… to slam a door and be alone, or alone together. And NBC News correspondent Betty Rollin, who writes in a witty and scathing 1970 essay about how “for women, personal development is seen as selfish.”
You will have a hard time reading this book because it is out of print. I wish I could say it’s because it raises points that have all been settled now. Ha. Almost half a century later, women must once again fight for the same rights that were so recently hard won when this book was first published.
But in those voices from the 1970s, you can hear an insistent echo of what Hersey is trying to tell us right now: It’s a human right to choose to walk away from constant work, whether you’re a mother or not. For American women, who have historically been tasked with the vast majority of this parenting work, I suggest that withdrawal, in the current extremely misogynistic factional environment in this country and around the world, is nothing less than a radical act. That is, if we can retain our right to do so.
So I’d like to suggest a corollary to Hersey’s idea: childlessness as resistance. I’m not saying any of this to denigrate mothers or motherhood. On the contrary, in a society that was not so dangerously close to taking away the right to Choose motherhood, it might be possible for many more women to care for the children of relatives and friends, for the community as a whole. Would it then be possible for everything of us to rest a bit?