Feminist Battle: Are You Privileged Enough to Get Some Sleep?

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Ladies, there’s another battle in this feminism war: Sleep. And who gets it. That’s right, a biological necessity now a luxury.


Earlier this week, Arianna Huffington, the moneyed head of the Huffington Post, announced that women should go to sleep. Initially her words made me think, ‘Hell yeah, sleep!’ But then again: She can afford to. As I drag my ass through this week on less than the eight hours I need, it’s clear, I am not one of the wealthy and rested. But neither are Gayle King, professional conduit to the fabulously wealthy Oprah Winfrey, or the Today Show’s Hoda Kotb.

In a chat held over at Huffington’s house this week, New York Magazine reports the ladies got to talking about sleep and what a luxury a good snooze is when you’re a young woman climbing the career ladder.

"I think when you're first starting out, that's very difficult, but it's something to keep in mind as you climb the ladder, that we might need to start setting boundaries for ourselves," King explained. "I said to her this morning, 'You're Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, so you can say 'Sleep! Don't answer emails!'" When you're starting out, it doesn't work that way."

"It's not until you're older that you can sleep," agreed Today's Hoda Kotb. "You need to kill yourself first."

King and Kotb’s notes aren’t new, but the level to which us younger folks will sidestep sleep for achievement is widening and the economy can’t be helping.

As a journalist, I used to think that “grinding,” “hustling” and foolish, fictitious groups like “Team No Sleep” were badges of honor. My blackberry (I know, I know ... ) was permanently glued to my hand as I dashed around New York for breaking news stories, listening sessions and concerts. Even on vacation I would have to hide my phone in order to decompress, an act that in itself took at least three days. And talking to friends, my experience is pretty normal, throughout every industry. Some in finance have never-ending days, including weekends. If you’re in fashion, you may get calls out of the blue, expecting you to be ready to board a plane at the drop of a hat. And on and on.

But think about it: Who knew we'd grow up and live to see sleep as a luxury, even for those without kids? If you have a child, I get it. Little people wake up early and absorb your personal time for sport, and you give it willingly because you love them and that’s the choice you make when you procreate. But if I don’t have kids, how does Having It All not include a decent night's snooze?

The New York Times recently ran a piece noting that sleep is so elusive these days that a cottage industry has sprung up teaching people how to rest effectively. Seriously?

But in the last year or so, we’ve actually conquered sleep in a more insidious way. We’ve shown that sleep is an element of continuous functioning. Instead of being a strange, wild, mysterious Land of Nod whose purpose we don’t fully understand, sleep has been colonized by our ambition, becoming just another zone of the day to be farmed for productivity, generating new components necessary for performance like serotonin and healthy glial cells. [culture critic Jonathan Crary] suggests that we despise sleep because “the stunning, inconceivable reality is that nothing of value can be extracted from it,” but with our new science and the interventions of folks like Tony Schwartz, that no longer appears to be true. We can now sleep in order to maximize our economic value.


Guys, if that’s true then people are only convinced of sleep’s usefulness because it makes them more effective while they’re awake. If that's accurate, I think we’re missing the mark here both in terms of seeing sleep as a luxury young working girls can’t afford and as something that’s as elusive as a spritely night elf.

We’re missing the importance of self-care. And we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.


There’s an Audre Lorde quote I try to live by: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." You know what that really means? Fuck the hamster wheel, yo. Sure, things happen that ruin your schedule but you are the master of you and what you do. Life will inevitably try its best to suck you dry and your job, if you want to live, is not to let it. But don’t worry, this is even a problem for Oprah, the woman who should be the president of The Wealthy and Rested Crew.

Former Essence Editor-In-Chief Susan L. Taylor told a story during a 2011 speech about how she had to give Oprah, the Grand Dame of Living Your Best Life a reality check. In the tale, Taylor had emailed Oprah about something ethereal people talk about and when one of wealthiest women in the world replied, she was a mess. Oprah wrote something like, "I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, I haven’t slept in three days. I’ve got drama at my school in South Africa." Taylor replied, ‘Girl, all that money and you can’t delegate so that you can get some sleep? You better recognize your own worth and take a nap." I am paraphrasing but you get the point.

Sleep should not and can not be just for the wealthy. We have to make the choice to take care of ourselves. If that means something else doesn’t get done, then we just have to prioritize and manage our time more effectively to, if you're like me, squeeze in that hot bath and cold drink at the day's end. Hell, I'm taking my own advice today because it's no one else's fault that I'm dragging ass and it's my job to fix it.


Image via Tom Davison/Shutterstock



Huh. This article didn't end up being about what I expected. I thought you'd point out the millions of low-income women who have to work two or three jobs just to pay the rent—on top of caring for children, going to school, etc.

If you're a college-educated young professional woman running around on your Blackberry all the time, sorry, but I don't know I think you're as poor as you seem to think you are. You may not be Oprah-wealthy, you may be living paycheck to paycheck right now, but I assume you have a college degree and that the hectic life of a journalist (which of course means having to deal with poorly-timed deadlines) was one you chose. You're building a career. That is a huge privilege right there.

[Also I may be a freak because I'm in my 20's and work in a high-pressure industry (PR), but really have never, ever feel bad about not checking email late at night or getting enough sleep. Maybe I am just lazy? :) ]