Lena Dunham Reacts to Sick-Shaming With Impassioned Message

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
Yahoo Beauty
Actress Lena Dunham arrives at Glamour Women Of The Year 2016 at NeueHouse Hollywood on November 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Actress Lena Dunham arrives at the Glamour Women of the Year event on Nov. 14, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

While many Americans were sleeping off their turkey dinners and Black Friday shopping bonanzas, Lena Dunham took a sick day over the weekend, canceling a book signing due to illness. A fan, however, was having none of it, and took to Twitter to tell Dunham as much — leading the actress to share the tweet, and her personal reaction to it, on Instagram.

In it, the fan attempts to sick-shame Dunham, undermining her for not feeling well by asserting that illness is no excuse for canceling a book signing, especially since the fan herself was back at work, she claims, a mere six days after giving birth via C-section.

Dunham shared an image of the tweet and commented that it made her really think about “how dark it is that our culture prizes these speedy recovery narratives” — especially since, Dunham asserted, heralding such narratives is nothing more than a token gesture that helps perpetuate a cover-up of the fact that women in the United States “don’t have proper maternity leave or medical and family care resources.”

The Girls star continued, “We may not have an imminent policy change on the way,” referencing President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed policy, which proposes just six weeks of maternity leave and affords family leave to biological mothers, while ignoring parents who did not birth their own children, “but we can change the way we talk about this stuff, and treat childbirth (or fatherhood! Or illness!) as the serious and personal journeys that they are.”

Unfortunately, it’s hardly news that the United States is a major outlier when it comes to both paid family leave and paid sick leave. More than 41 million Americans lack access to even one day’s worth of paid sick leave and only 13 percent of all American workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. Polling done last year found that 73 percent of all voters, of all party affiliations, say they believe that the government has a responsibility to ensure that employers treat employees fairly by providing things like paid sick days and equal pay for equal work, with 81 percent of those surveyed adding that they believe such policies are “good for our nation.”

The United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not guarantee paid family leave, meaning that, indeed, many parents, such as the one who tweeted Dunham, are forced to return to the workforce after incredibly short periods of recovery following childbirth. And the lack of guaranteed paid sick leave only makes things harder for those who are forced to return to work, unable to afford to take the time to heal and recover after surgery or an illness.

Many policy experts note that when it comes to making change in American labor policies pertaining to paid sick leave and paid family leave, not only is change needed in federal government and private company policies, but change is perhaps needed most critically at the sociocultural levelAs the Center for American Progress’s Sarah Jane Glynn told Yahoo Beauty this summer, “Paid family leave is a fundamental, basic labor right to which all people should have access. As a society, we need to provide that. Leaving it fully up to the market is not the best mindset to understand this issue.”

Paid sick leave, as Dunham mentions by repudiating those attempting to shame her over needing to cancel an appearance due to illness, is a critical and complementary policy to paid family leave: The Center for American Progress reports that flu rates have decreased in cities with paid sick leave. In other words, when people know they can afford to take time off from work to recover when they’re sick, everyone stays healthier, and this further strengthens workforce productivity. Similarly, the organization noted in a separate report that American families are also losing out on $1.7 billion in wages annually because of a lack of paid parental leave.

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