The Oppressive Divide of Emotional Labor

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Have you ever found yourself micromanaging things in your home or relationship that wears you down because it’s just so constant? I’m not referring to the endless cycle of laundry or dishes, I’m talking about those times when you have to ask the people around you to participate in the good of the cause, when you have to remind people of everyday, necessary behaviors or do them yourself else they go undone. When you have to “nag” until things finally happen and then you’re the bad guy because “you could have just asked nicely” even though you did for the first thousand times? Well, dear reader, that’s unpaid emotional labor, and chances are, you’re a woman.

   Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a general rule, not an absolute one; there are many men in the world to whom this does not apply, and thankfully I am blessed to call one of them my own, so this is not a personal wound in that aspect, so don’t read it as such. However, it is a banner being raised for every woman I watch who has to endure these silent tragedies. The women whose partners “babysit” their own children, the women who have to scream just for anyone to listen, and the ones who are tired of asking for the bare minimum and not attaining it time and again.

   From an early age, women are raised, conditioned, and have the example set that they are peacekeepers, home keepers, and mothers. They cook, they clean, they raise the kids, they manage the home, and they do it with a smile on their faces. Most little boys don’t pick up on this behind-the-scenes-training, because they don’t have any of their own; they’re able to play and get muddy and be children and their mothers and sisters will come along and clean up after them. They are, of course, taught their own roles which are in and of themselves damaging and molding, but emotional labor is far from one of those roles. At Thanksgiving, they sit and eat and watch football, never noticing that their mothers, aunts, and sisters are hidden away like field mice in the kitchen, handing out drinks, setting the table, and doing it with joy. This obliviousness continues well into adulthood for most, and only goes noticed when it’s an inconvenience for them ー when their wives nag them when they get in fights “out of nowhere”, and when they do something with good intentions that just does not translate into reality.

   Women, regardless of their marital or maternal status, should not have to bear the weight of life’s planning on their own. In partnerships, the household’s duties, whether micro or macro, need to be an equal responsibility with equal initiative and importance given to tasks from both sides. Reminding your partner of their own mother’s birthday, reminders about necessary enterprise, or redoing incompetent labor is unavoidable if the other person took time to just think about the “behind the scenes”. Bearing the brunt of emotional labor is frustrating and exhausting. It leaves the bearer worn out and resentful and stressed because if they don’t do it, it simply will not be done. This leads to a breakdown of the partnership, often leaving the bearer with decreased libido and energy, which further takes a toll on both individuals. Homes have been destroyed because fathers and husbands want trophies for getting their children dressed and telling their partners that “if they need something done, just ask” when the responsibility of knowing what needs to be done never needs to rest on the shoulders of just one.

  Simply put, do better. Take the time to look around and set things into motion without being asked or expecting recognition for doing the bare minimum. — Haley Berger


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