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It’s Not You. It’s the System.

Just about every woman I know has told me the same thing: “I’m so tired.” Women who are young mothers. Women who are retired. And women in between each of those stages of life, all saying and feeling the same thing: “I am so, so tired.” I feel the same.

And this sentiment is not going unnoticed. Books, articles and podcasts offer similar antidotes to wake us from our communal slumber: Take more bubble baths and naps. Schedule more massages. Demand that your husband/partner/co-worker/boss do more, and/or expect less. In one article offering 50 Ways to Better Self-Care, I found this gem: “Create a ‘Yay!’ List: Every night, write down anything that made you say ‘Yay!’ during the day. Think finding hidden money in your pocket, a surprise call from a friend, sunny skies, or discovering a new local restaurant. This will help you recognize things going right in your life instead of focusing on the negative.Really?

In other words, all women need to do to overcome our collective malaise is to take matters into our own hands by jumping into the tub or checking our pockets for change more often, and then everything will be soooo much better.

Except that it won’t. Because it’s not us. It’s the system.

I am not proud of the fact that it took me far too long to fully recognize and understand this. (Imagine me—gently— thumping my forehead with my open palm.) It’s only after 62 years that I’m just now realizing the problem with which my sex has been struggling for as long as I’ve been alive (and then some) has nothing to do with “burnout.” The challenge isn’t that we’re tired because we take on too much—although we women often do. Or, because we’re weak—because we’re anything but. The real problem is that the system has been set up to make us tired. To make us weak. Because they know that women are strong. They know that if we’re at full strength, watch out.

Think this sounds too much like some kind of bonkers conspiracy theory? Consider then the looming child care crisis in our nation, as well as here in Wisconsin. It’s a pervasive problem made highly visible during the Covid pandemic. Back then, Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers launched the Child Care Counts program, paying out about $20 million in FEMA funds per month, split among child care providers around the state to supplement their income from parent fees. The funding helped about 3,000 child care businesses across the state stay open. Child care providers credited the program with enabling them to raise the wages of child care workers, mostly women, without hiking fees.

When the governor tried to make this child care funding permanent last year, the Republican-controlled WI legislature removed the governor’s funding plan from the state budget, despite protests from small businesses, farmers and producers, school districts, hospitals and healthcare sectors, as well as other key industries, all of them telling legislators about the significant challenges they faced in finding workers to fill available jobs. Child care providers told lawmakers that poverty-level wages and minimal benefits were contributing to high staff turnover, affecting availability and quality of care. And it doesn’t take a college degree to know that if parents don’t have options for child care, they can’t enter or remain a part of the workforce.

A report from the research firm Forward Analytics found that child care can take up, on average, 18% to 36% of a family’s household income. Typical costs for infant care in Wisconsin run $13,572 per year — more than in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And even if you don’t have kids in daycare, don’t think this child care crisis doesn’t affect you. The Council for a Strong America estimates the child care crisis already costs Wisconsin families, businesses and government a combined $1.9 billion every year. That’s because nearly nine in 10 working parents say problems with child care hurt their efforts or time commitment and productivity at work. Lost wages and fewer sales mean less tax revenue for local, state and federal governments, which negatively impacts our state’s general economic prosperity.

We also know that high-quality child care helps young children develop vital social, emotional and cognitive skills. And kids without those vital skills often require extra support that costs their parents, the schools they attend, and thus, Wisconsin taxpayers, money.

So, why won’t WI legislators make a wise investment that will clearly help all industries across our state, as well as parents and kids? Why don’t we invest in our kids the same way we invest in other public goods, like roads or other necessary infrastructure?

Why indeed? We all need it. We all want it. We have the money (a $7 billion dollar budget surplus). Do the guys in Madison believe that women should stay at home, raising kids? That they don’t belong in the workforce? And what would happen if parents had the support they needed? Would parents, especially women, who still bear the brunt of raising kids, be less tired? Isolated? Would more women run for office? Run the world?

It isn’t just child care that proves my point. The U.S. Census Bureau has also analyzed the gender pay gap. In 2021, full-time, year-round working women earned 84% of what their male counterparts earned, on average. And don’t tell me it’s because women tend to make up the majority of the professions that traditionally pay the least: nursing, teaching, etc. Ever wonder why those professions pay so little in the first place? It’s not because they aren’t important. In fact, they’re critical to a well-functioning society. Do we value them so little because women tend to be the ones doing this highly important work?

So, how do we fix this mess? First, we all need to better understand and observe how the system is continuously managing us and keeping us down. For instance, try Googling “why are women so tired?” You’ll see articles on everything from women having thyroid problems, iron deficiency, being out of sync with our circadian rhythms, having poor diets and lack of exercise, too much stress, bad sleep hygiene, etc. I had to scroll far down the rabbit hole to finally come across something that started to get at the real issue, in an article about a study analyzing the “patriarchal capitalist society in Brazil” which requires a low-cost workforce to continue to be viable. The authors wisely noted that, “It is necessary to reduce the total workload, with the assistance of public systems, without reducing wages and further damaging gender equality” to begin to get at the actual problem.

What society wants women to believe is that being tired is our fault, that some of us are simply not fit enough or strong enough or even smart enough to figure out what’s really going on. We need to reject this bull, and we also need to stop comparing ourselves to other women, because that’s what they want: “to divide and conquer.” They want to pit women against one another and then stand back and watch/encourage the fight. Because they know that if we’re fighting each other, we’re not fighting the system, which is the real problem. It’s a system designed to keep us separate and fearful of one another based not only on our gender, but on our race and income and class and age, and on and on, a system purposely created to increase their power and keep us under their control. And when we finally see it, it’s impossible to look away. Isn’t it?

When we begin to recognize how we’re being managed, perhaps we can better notice when we’re feeling “unmanaged.” We can better notice when we’re feeling energized, seen and understood, comfortable and most like our authentic selves. Then we can encourage and create more of those moments, in order to build resiliency and strength. When I’m feel stronger, I can also pitch in until my sisters (especially those who don’t have the generations of white privilege that I do) can build their own agency to join me.

Which leads me to this: Women need to come together more often. We can’t change the system alone. So once we’ve charged our batteries, we can come together to collectively figure out ways to upend the system that’s keeping us down. Yeah, I know. One more thing added to the to-do list. But if we don’t do it, who will? I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them continue to manage and control my life, and that of my kids, grandkids and friends.

What advice and/or encouragement do you have to help women become more energized so that we can take on and dismantle the systems that have caused our fatigue in the first place? How do we begin to create new, more fair and inclusive systems to ensure a better future for all of us?

Photo by Isabella Fischer on


  1. Great research and advocacy, Jill. Thanks!

  2. We come together and persist. Love your essay!!

  3. What a powerful, profound lens, Jill. Thank you! I appreciate needing the reminder. It’s so much easier to sleep walk. And. Yes. The ONLY way that we will have systemic change is by coming together to rewrite our future.
    I am in!

    • Believe me, I’ve been sleepwalking for far too long. No more! Thanks Karen!

  4. Beautiful and thought provoking words as always! I certainly have felt this tiredness. When my kids were young, I remember when my husband got lauded for doing a “mom thing” once, but I never got those accolades for doing that same mom thing every day! We women have to lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. I am making such an intentional effort to do this. As a woman of privilege (white and middle class) I need to continue to work on addressing the barriers for those without my privileges.

    • I hear you Karen. I never could understand why, when my husband was with our kids, he was “babysitting.” And yet, when I was with them, no one would ever describe it as “babysitting”–because I was the mom. WTF? And yes to lifting each other up, especially those women who have so much less, and have to deal with so much more BS than I do, and only because my skin is white. Great comments–thanks for sharing!

  5. I started writing a comment- twice, and had to stop cuz I was too tired to put a few sentences to together. Seriously. I’M tired because of all the animals that I manage, not just my three dogs and cat, but a foster cat brought in from living in my front yard and a really REALLY geriatric dog that our shelter has no room for and there are legal issues around this dog that was owned by a homeless person and she is in fact “impounded” and her lumpy deaf skeletal body is a mere few steps from the finish line, and a cell at the shelter a final prison sentence of a life dedicated to taking care of her mentally impaired person.
    I’ve been doing animal rescue for over 35 years and I swear I look for no kudos here, but want to get to the point that taking care of these animals in any community, PET animals, never mind the other creatures of nature, is just some job that is relegated somehow, to old ladies that VOLUNTEER their time to clean up all the cruelty, abandonment and injuries that mankind can bestow. Yep, childcare gets sidelined, not just despicable but short-sighted. However community animal care is not even on anyone’s docket! Sure, hire an animal control officer or two that will drive around in their truck and do the best they can daily, knowing they didn’t accomplish anything, and usually both of them are women sent in to harrowing conditions and situations. I’d say that about 95% of animal rescue is done by women, with the 5% being “good sport” husbands of these ladies. To be truthful these rescue organizations mainly come in two flavors: super screwball folks that absolutely cannot deal with humanity and think that hoarding critters, a.k.a. “saving them”, with no long term game plan or know-how in running it as a business, which it most certainly is. The other faction is intelligent, fearless, think-outside-the-box gals whose motto is “it all washes off”, that brave encounters that I dare not give details of, warriors that I would go into battle with any day. We take turns being the consoler and cheerleader for one another, knowing some day down the pike it ‘ll be my day to lose it when I couldn’t save the innocent soul and I’m defeated. This is my pack.
    I spend a lot of time actually studying other species, their languages, interactions and hierarchy and I must say, the matriarchal species, (lions, elephants, orcas, lemurs, hyenas, naked mole rats! and of course bees), run a well oiled machine, with logic, compassion and efficiency. We need testosterone out of leadership- ya know, the ones who think WAR is a good idea, which if it such a good solution why do we have to do it over and over and over again? Get out and vote, or RUN for office, or at least recommend strong female leaders to others. Do it before you’re too tired.

    • Preach!!! Honestly, it’s almost always women who dp the work (and almost always for low or no pay) of caring for those (two- and/or four-legged beings) who are marginalized, demonized, or in the most need of help. Goddess bless you Mand for your (mostly thankless and excruciatingly difficult) work with our furry/feathered/shelled friends, to which you’ve committed yourself for decades. But why does the work have to be so hard and so female-dependent? Why was Caprice, the angel-on-earth nursing aide who cared for my mom in the hospital, and in ways that I couldn’t imagine myself doing and thankfully didn’t have to, paid less than what we’d pay a kid to mow our lawn? Our values are effed up. We need to elect leaders–or better yet and to your point, BECOME leaders–who create policy and pass legislation AND budgets that better reflect what we value and thus truly demonstrates who we are. Take care, my friend. And you know I mean it. Love you.

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