Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Lena Dunham’s powerful message reminds us why we need to take sick days

lena dunham feminist sick day.jpg

Whether it’s answering emails after hours, skipping lunch to power through our to-do list, or staying late to finish off an important task, it’s clear that many of us find it difficult to switch off when it comes to our careers.

And, when it comes to taking sick days, many of us prefer to head to the office and ‘soldier on’ through whatever bug we’re nursing, in a desperate bid to avoid falling behind – or to impress our bosses with our can-do attitudes.  

However Lena Dunham – aka the feminist icon who brought us HBO’s Girls – has now spoken out to address our failure to take sick days when we need it, and the sexist issue this presents.

Read more: Why the Danish finish work on time, every single day

The 30-year-old actor, writer, and campaigner was recently forced to cancel an appearance at an indie bookstore due to a bout of illness.

While many fans sent her ‘get well soon’ messages, others slammed her for letting them down - and one ‘fan’ even wrote: “No offense, but you’re too sick to sit and sign books?

“I was back at work 6 days after a c-section.” 

Taking to Instagram to address her critics head on, Dunham shared a screen-shot of the message she had received.

"I really contemplated how dark it is that our culture prizes these speedy recovery narratives"

"I really contemplated how dark it is that our culture prizes these speedy recovery narratives"

She captioned it: “This was a response yesterday when I said I would be cancelling an appearance at a bookstore because I was sick.

“At first it made me laugh a lot- like, oh, I'm sorry, I left your award in the car. But then I really contemplated how dark it is that our culture prizes these speedy recovery narratives, because guess what? They're actually ways to keep women from feeling f**king pissed that they don't have proper maternity leave or medical and family care resources.”

Read more: Lucy Mangan reveals why women need time off work for periods

She finished: “We may not have an imminent policy change on the way, 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.#leftyourawardinthecar #nooffense#paidfamilyleaveforall

It’s not the first time that Dunham has addressed such a topic; just last year, she penned a message to women battling mental health issues, reminding them that they should never be ashamed of making the decision to take some time out for themselves.

“Work is, organically, a place of yes,” she wrote in a guest post for LinkedIn. “Because I had so much shame about the private strings of unanswered texts, broken plans, re-made promises, at work it became my mission to answer every email no matter the hour, agree to every added task, finish the day off by reading a link sent by a colleague rather than a book for pleasure.”

Read more: Lena Dunham addresses the stigma of taking anti-depressants

“And, for a while, it worked like a charm. A compliment like “you’re the fastest email-er I know,” or “how do you do so much at once?” was better than a romantic sweet nothing to me. It fulfilled my desire to be seen as unsinkable, reliable. And in the deepest place, lovable. But we can only pull off a high wire act for so long before gravity does its job. The more my personal relationships suffered, the more I wanted to work.”

Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner

Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner

Dunham went on to explain that as soon as a polite “no” entered her vernacular (“I can’t do it realistically by Friday,” or “I wish I could be on that panel but my week is insane,” or even “no, I’m not comfortable with this dynamic”) that "something miraculous happened".

“People respond well to honesty, to reality,” she said. “They understand.”

Read more: Lucy Mangan on how sick days became the new annual leave

Her words echo those of our very own Lucy Mangan, who says that we “need to break this vicious cycle in which we have all become prepared to work until we drop – and then crawl on the floor to the office instead – and learn to put our health first.

“Employers need to accept that without this happening both we and they have nothing. And if we can’t do it? Well, a great sickness indeed infects us all.”



Feeling out of whack? It might all be down to your circadian rhythm

laptop coffee.jpg

The innovative UK companies with a six-hour working day policy

lena dunham final season girls.PNG

End of an era: watch the trailer for the very last season of Girls


Harry Potter fans can now apply to work in the real life Hogwarts

Calling all Potterheads

18 Sep 2017

These are the eight words you should avoid when writing your CV

Are you guilty of falling back on these overused phrases?

by Megan Murray
14 Sep 2017

These are the world’s best countries to live and work abroad

And surprisingly, no Scandinavian countries appear on the list

by Moya Crockett
07 Sep 2017

Why your boss needs to start taking your migraines seriously

According to the experts

by Sarah Biddlecombe
06 Sep 2017

Prioritise these relationships on LinkedIn if you want a job offer

Not all LinkedIn connections are created equal, according to new research

by Moya Crockett
06 Sep 2017

New back-to-work scheme targets gaping gender pay gap

One small step in helping mums return to work - but is it enough?

by Anna Brech
28 Aug 2017

This nannying job comes with seriously mind-blowing perks

But even Mary Poppins might struggle with these requirements

by Moya Crockett
25 Aug 2017

What is cyberloafing and how is it affecting your career?

Guilty? Here's how to get back on track

by Sarah Biddlecombe
24 Aug 2017

This is the optimum age to change job and pursue career 2.0

Now is the time for your work plan B

by Amy Swales
24 Aug 2017

Why it’s totally fine if you don’t have a ‘work wife’

Having friends at work is nice – but it’s not the be all and end all

by Moya Crockett
18 Aug 2017