“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor
July 15, 2015 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work. Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts.
posted by sciatrix (2113 comments total) 889 users marked this as a favorite

 
Read this piece earlier this week and have spent every moment since physically restraining myself from wheatpasting copies of it to every telephone pole in town.
We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as "an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character."
Not just yes but HOLY SHIT YES. I try to spend my life enacting or at least preparing for war against every facet of patriarchy, but if there was one archetype in particular I could choose to destroy first, it would be the one that says sensitivity and nurturing and saintly levels of understanding and boundless, ceaseless patience aren't just women's work, but the fundamental tenets of womanhood itself. It feels like I've swallowed poison every time someone says "feminine" when what they really mean is "acquiescent, submissive, and willing to put up with infinite shit in exchange for absolutely nothing at all."
posted by divined by radio at 2:53 PM on July 15, 2015 [363 favorites]


A woman's work is never done adequately compensated.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:54 PM on July 15, 2015 [62 favorites]


"It’s even more radical to propose that if they want it so fucking much, they can buy it."

A thousand times yes. YES I SAID YES.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:57 PM on July 15, 2015 [52 favorites]


The assertion that emotional work has value, and the fact that it rarely earns financial compensation, is interesting. The implication that this is patently unfair, as emotional work is something that only women perform, kind of confuses me.

Isn't what the author considers "emotional work" simply the basis of every successful, supportive relationship, romantic or otherwise?
posted by enkd at 2:57 PM on July 15, 2015 [26 favorites]


enkd: sure, but there's value to identifying the culture where this is considered women's work, despite local variations (especially amongst the more educated). I mean I've ended up in relationships with women who lacked "sensitivity and nurturing", but that doesn't contradict the patterns of gendered behaviors and gendered behavior expectations. I would guess that even in educated, liberal communities where it's accepted that both parties to a relationship will put some work in, the baselines for the proper amount of effort are not exactly equal, and aren't seen with unfiltered eyes.
posted by idiopath at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


Isn't what the author considers "emotional work" simply the basis of every successful, supportive relationship, romantic or otherwise?

Yes, and it is routinely devolved to women to perform the bulk of.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [121 favorites]


Isn't what the author considers "emotional work" simply the basis of every successful, supportive relationship, romantic or otherwise?

Nope. I have had to ask several male friends, "What do you think friendship means? You cannot merely text me a picture of your dog after months and silence and then launch instantly into a tirade about how much you hate your job and you're so lonely etc." But those friends assume I'll be into that because I'm a lady and we love to gossip or whatever.

I'm married to a pretty egalitarian man but even so I sometimes find myself saying, "Sweetheart, I cannot rehash this story about work again. Please talk to a friend about this. I cannot listen any more." And I think a lot of that is that he knows I'm so "good at people" and "smart about emotions" that he can't imagine that I wouldn't revel in listening to him recount a play by play of office drama. He also takes for granted that I'll arrange all social events involving other people, maintain familiar relations with our families and be open and supporting to him. But he's not responsible for inviting his mom to Mother's day because that's my job.

Our relationship is a work in progress but most of our conflict revolves around his assumptions that I like doing that stuff, that he could never be as good at it as I am and that I don't find it exhausting because Feminine.
posted by Saminal at 3:08 PM on July 15, 2015 [197 favorites]


But when I see how desperate he was to have his delusion of entitlement confirmed, when I read that he found “Michelle is influenced by evil spirits” easier to swallow than “Michelle is a human being with preferences and agency,” I find it harder to feel too sorry that someone took him for what he was willing to pay.

A lot of this article made me go, "OH GOD YES," but this in particular struck me. Men would rather believe that there is something wrong with you than believe you do not desire them other than as friends.
posted by Kitteh at 3:08 PM on July 15, 2015 [88 favorites]


Hey there was a thread here just the other day about an outfit that pays for emotional work! The rate is 60 cents an hour.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:11 PM on July 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Men like to act as if commanding women’s attention is their birthright, their natural due, and they are rarely contradicted. It’s a radical act to refuse them that attention. It’s even more radical to propose that if they want it so fucking much, they can buy it.

Oh dear god, yes. Or, as a vaguely neuro-diverse woman, I would opt for the alternative approach: men (and people in general since women are expected to do this type of work for everyone else as well) can keep their fucking money and just stop acting like it's my raison d'etre to be their goddamn riveted interactive audience 24/7 and let me do a freaking crossword puzzle or read a book or eat my lunch without dancing attendance on their every word.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:20 PM on July 15, 2015 [68 favorites]


I really like the turn things are taking lately, where it seems like internet feminists are calling individual men to task more. I know, I know, #NotAllMen or whatever, but honestly? Every dude I know has the opportunity, on any given day, to make at least one woman's life just a little more equitable, and I'm sick of cutting them slack for not taking that opportunity.

A friend of mine, when the whole "woman on the $10 bill" thing came up, along with the billion inevitable jokes about "haha, don't you mean the $7.75 bill," announced that any man who made this joke had better put his extra $0.25 on the dollar where his mouth was, and donate to an organization that benefits women. Her rationale was that either you're just punching down and you're an asshole, or you're legitimately outraged. But if you're a man and you're outraged, well, you're in the position to contribute to the greater equality that you supposedly value.

I expected outrage and backlash, but in matter of fact, our local abortion fund has profited mightily. :)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:26 PM on July 15, 2015 [140 favorites]


I love this article. Describing emotional labor to the men I have dated is always exhausting. They do not fundamentally understand what the phrase even means. "Emotional labor?" My last boyfriend shrugged when I told him how tired I was, doing so much emotional lifting for other people - both him and many of my friends, often male, who generally treated me like a therapist. "I don't even understand what those words even mean when you put them together." I told him: it is taking care of someone else's emotional needs without having your needs even acknowledged. It is sitting down to lunch and having your friend tell you a long story about themselves, expecting you to interject with suggestions and kind words, for forty minutes before they even ask you how you are doing. It is the expectation that if you want something nice - say, someone to plan a weekend away, or to have pretty flowers around that make you feel special, or for someone to think of you when they are at the grocery store and to pick up dinner for you as well - you should do it your damn self. It's the expectation that you will walk away from an argument feeling low, after apologizing, without getting an apology in return, and that you'll be all smiles when they're ready to engage again after stonewalling you. He just looked at me and laughed; then, he said, "You're a crazy person; that doesn't make sense," and he walked away. Sigh.

Emotional labor is bullshit when it isn't fairly compensated. I might suggest that someone else doing emotional labor for you in return is fair compensation. Unfortunately, I personally have yet to find a partner who is capable of doing that kind of emotional work, and I know I am not alone in this. It's just not part of their upbringing, baby - they're men. They never learned how to do it, and everything has worked out just fine so far without it. They sure as shit aren't going to start doing it now.

Sorry if I sound bitter. I'm just awfully tired. I've been taking care of a lot of other people lately, and haven't had much time to take care of myself. It's wearing me thin. I wish I could pay someone to do some emotional labor for me! And by that, I mean, I could use a nice hot meal and a big bouquet of flowers, just because. Better get my butt to the store. Ain't no one else gonna do it for me.
posted by sockermom at 3:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [336 favorites]


Keep in mind, race modifies the pay gap. In 2013, white men make $1.00 compared to white women's $0.78, black women's $0.64 and Latina's $0.54 [source].

I was just thinking when I got these numbers, though, how different they would look if the lowest paid workers (Latinas in this case) were $1.00 and everyone else was marked as overpaid. It's a different way of looking at the numbers, and I think it would have a different emotional effect.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:35 PM on July 15, 2015 [56 favorites]


I have had a vague grasp of this concept before, but I am loving this explicit discussion of it. I dig the post and this thread.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:36 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Describing emotional labor to the men I have dated is always exhausting. They do not fundamentally understand what the phrase even means.

I have posted this before, but it remains relevant. Judy Brady, from "I Want a Wife":
I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the baby-sitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my guests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d'oeuvres, that they are offered a second helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.
Read the whole thing.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:38 PM on July 15, 2015 [157 favorites]


This is one of those brilliant articles that seems to have reached down into my psyche, plucked out a bunch of thoughts, and organized them more coherently and eloquently than I can manage.

It's interesting thinking about this in my current life as a nursing student. There was a study that came out recently showing that male RNs make more than women across all different settings and specialties, despite women still making up the largest share of the profession. Some of the biggest income disparities, however, were those among cardiac nurses (mentioned here) and nurse anesthetists (mentioned her here). Nurse educators who help patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases, meanwhile, have a somewhat smaller disparity.

My hypothesis here is that women are getting more steeply penalized for going into settings that require more stereotypically "male" traits: lots of physicality, monitoring of fiddly lab values and monitors, less need for human interaction in the case of the anesthetists. Meanwhile, the emotional labor that's required to teach struggling patients day in day out gets devalued across the board, and the devaluation hits women harder because patriarchy. It's oppression all the way down!

Also interesting how physicality gets privileged when it goes along with more male-dominated sub fields of nursing, but written off as grunt work that anyone could do when you're talking about nurse aides. Being a CNA is easily the most physically intense work I've ever done, and it comes with lots of emotional labor on top of, say, turning heavy patients in bed to wipe their asses, but lord knows no one's getting compensated well for any of that. Also, it just so happens that that's a job that falls disproportionately to women of color. Geez, what a coincidence!
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:45 PM on July 15, 2015 [85 favorites]


I freaking love this article. One of the biggest changes I have undergone since I started stripping is that I feel entitled to demand payment in situations where I feel pressured to validate a man's ego.

For example, take the numerous times I have been walking down the street and a persistent guy wants to have a flirty conversation with me. ("You look great. I bet you always look this great. Hey, can I give you my number? Do you have a boyfriend? Are you sure?")

It takes all the self-control I have not to say, "Congratulations, you picked the ONE GIRL on this street that actually will give you the attention you're looking for. I'm a stripper, dude. For the right price, I'd take my clothes off for your mother, so of course I'll flirt with you! I can make you feel like the most special guy I've walked past ALL DAY. The price is $25 for four minutes, with the money up front."

I wonder how many of these guys would take me up on it. The offer makes perfect sense to me. When I explain this to my coworkers, it makes perfect sense to them. But I don't explain it to people who aren't sex workers, because I worry that they won't understand where I'm coming from.

It's not wrong for you to want attention. Everybody wants to be wanted. But you have to go about it in the right way at the right time (e.g. respectfully paying for the services of strippers at a strip club), and a lot of people don't. They want the attention, but as the article says, "uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts."
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 3:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [302 favorites]


Can we talk about the emotional labor of Christmas cards for a minute? I spent years keeping addresses current, buying cards, writing the notes, addressing and stamping the cards, keeping track of who sent a card and who must get one in return--and all I asked was that my husband sign his name. He did for a while, and then just kind of stopped, despite my requests. So I stopped sending them lest the message be "Happy Holidays from the 'Toes, except Mr. T., who can't be fucking bothered to sign this card."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [145 favorites]


If there was some way to remove the risk of physical danger, that might actually be a great business idea, Peppermint Snowflake. Guys will already pay for "girlfriend experience" stuff. I wonder if they would pay for the thrill of feeling like a player chatting up a hot girl. Maybe set it up so they can pay to "pick up" girls when their friends are around to impress them.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:01 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder if they would pay for the thrill of feeling like a player chatting up a hot girl

Hostess clubs are definitely a thing in Japan, at least. And technically speaking, hiring an escort at an escort service can be for the purpose of an available "hottie on my arm who I didn't have to work to get" for a party or something.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:15 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


The article contains one of the best feminist critiques of the prohibition of sex work I have read. I usually argue more on the basis of basic personal freedom but maybe this would convince people resistant to that line of discourse.
posted by Justinian at 4:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


Why is it MY job to keep track of my husband's mother's birthday, when that I the sort of thing I am terrible at and he is reasonably good at? Because even my lovely husband unconsciously offloaded a bunch of familial emotional labor on me when we got married. Worse, why does my MIL get mad at ME when he forgets her birthday? Because the whole WORLD expects me to be the birthday rememberer!

Actually, the one that annoys me is Christmas presents, because it's fucking exhausting to think of presents for him, our kids, and all the members of my large extended family. Then I remind him we have to get something for his parents and he looks at me helplessly and says, "I don't have any ideas, can you think of anything?" NO. I HAVE USED UP ALL MY IDEAS AND THEN SOME AND MY BRAIN IS TIRED OF THINKING OF GIFTS.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:30 PM on July 15, 2015 [202 favorites]


I often talk about emotional labor as being the work of caring. And it's not just being caring, it's that thing where someone says "I'll clean if you just tell me what to clean!" because they don't want to do the mental work of figuring it out. Caring about all the moving parts required to feed the occupants at dinnertime, caring about social management. Caring about noticing that something has changed - like, it's not there anymore, or it's on fire, or it's broken.

It's a substantial amount of overhead, having to care about everything. It ought to be a shared burden, but half the planet is socialized to trick other people into doing more of the work.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [234 favorites]


I send a canned message of "I'm sorry, but I am unable to craft personal responses to assholes at this time. More information @ [link to a page called "lol nope" that says that they will have to pay me if they want my attention]" to jackasses on Twitter who demand my time and it makes them REALLY MAD. They keep replying, keep getting the canned response, and then threaten to report me to Twitter. It's wonderful. They're especially mad whenever I tweet #GiveMoneyToWomen and link my patreon/tip jar. I guess since they do their harassment for free, I shouldn't want any compensation for writing about its effects.

I've gotten a lot of shit here, too, for refusing to respond to men's anti-feminist JAQing off with painstakingly patient explanations of their attempts to derail a conversation by telling them that doing so would be work that isn't actually worth it to me unless they pay me.

I see a lot of pushback every time anytime a woman does anything to suggest to men that they aren't entitled to her attention. It's a major part of what happened today in the echochamber.js thread; there it is that we are expected to perform the labor of reading all of the vitriol that men hurl at us for daring to be women on the internet and deal with the emotional drain from that and the time it consumes to deal with it, and it is somehow cheating to have a system that never displays those comments to anyone but the person writing them, despite the fact that all we'd be doing otherwise would be taking more of our time to read and then delete them. Sometimes this is couched, as it was there, in the kind of "do this for your safety" thing that helps reinforce tired victim-blaming tropes that attempt to make women responsible for their own abuse; sometimes it's just treated as some kind of unspeakable cruelty to not allow men to shout at us wherever they wish.

This is, of course, exacerbated with people who (unlike me) have more than a dozen regular readers who aren't related to them. People with entire dedicated hate mobs are expected to spend more hours than they have in a day dealing with this abuse "for their own safety".

I'm just talking the aspects of this that expect us to deal with abuse and harassment online without going into the meatspace details of it, so this is really just a tiny portion of the emotional labor women are expected to perform all the time, but it's a good jumping-off point to start pointing it out.
posted by NoraReed at 4:34 PM on July 15, 2015 [117 favorites]


[Folks, this is one of those threads where I am going to officially ask that we table the "but what about men?!" angle, pursuant to several recent MeTas. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:35 PM on July 15, 2015 [136 favorites]


I love, love, love thinking about this concept. (Radical feminist with some economics background.)

I see no benefit to pre-limiting this potential market to women entrants -- while it is obvious to anyone who's experienced this that women make up the HUGE MAJORITY of the "emotional laborers" (or whatever you want to call this market), if we monetized it, the market would very quickly make clear that women were the ones doing this work. (Although I wonder if explictly assigning financial value to this work would solve the Everybody Loves Raymond-style argument I hear some men spouting: that women just happen to be better at this work than men are, by some magic of nature.) And when a man performs such emotional labor, he is compensated as well. Or he can barter.

Another consideration - is the rise of services like "life coaching" the beginning of this market? What does it mean that in my sample of one, most of the people signing up for these priced emotional services are also women? (Maybe my sample of one is an anomoly.)

What would happen if we started a group like task rabbit or the like, advertising "a ear to listen to your emotional problems," priced at minimum wage?

This leads back to the question I continue to puzzle over: why aren't stay at home parents paid a wage? For example, why don't parents receive a wage per child that they can either pass on to an outside childcare worker, or keep themselves as a wage for stay at home work? It is such bullshit to me that things like "welfare to work" programs exist for mothers who are constantly working to care for their children, and not being paid for it. If I retired from the work force to care for a child, I would be foregoing a large wage in favor of…what? An esoteric emotional benefit I am supposed to prize.

Why don't stay at home parents unionize? In the US, if stay at home parents formed a union, couldn't they purchase a huge group health insurance policy, saving a huge sum on whatever individual insurance some of them are currently purchasing?

Jumping back to "emotional labor," think of how this would be valued in terms of morality (even more so in past centuries) -- in doing this work, you are being "good" or "virtuous," which supposedly pays its own dividends down the road in the great beyond or the next life. What about today?

To me (and acknowledged in the article) this also strongly connects to the horribly inequitable assumption that people of color are not only required to bear the brunt of discrimination and to fight it, but also to shine a light on it and explain it to often hostile white people. Imagine if Twitter deducted $5 from ever Twitter troll who hurled an insult or a "justify this" at Johnetta Elzie.
posted by sallybrown at 4:38 PM on July 15, 2015 [44 favorites]


Also, MonkeyToes, in doing the Christmas cards you may be doing *your* emotional work and not your husbands - maybe he doesn't care? I am single and have never sent christmas cards.

Does (this hypothetical husband - I don't think we should restrict this to any particular spouse) not care because for his entire life, he's been used to women relatives keeping family and friend relationships strong through work exactly like this, though? Has he ever fully experienced a world in which women stop doing this kind of work? (Sending Christmas cards, get well cards, birthday presents for family and friends, telephone calls just to check up, etc.)

My father would almost never speak to his brother, whom he loves dearly, if my mother didn't do a huge amount of leg-pulling to keep them in touch and get them in the same room. But would that change if he didn't live in a world in which their wives were expected to build and maintain this connection?

It's impossible to say because this is the world we live in now.
posted by sallybrown at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [46 favorites]


Worse, why does my MIL get mad at ME when he forgets her birthday? Because the whole WORLD expects me to be the birthday rememberer!

So as a man who gave up even trying to keep up with birthday cards ages ago, this has always struck me as a women's activity (at least in my small sliver of the world). I mean, men I know just don't care. I agree with most of this article FWIW, but on this one item... it's not that it's being delegated by men. They don't even see this as a thing to do. It is kind of bullshit for your MIL to assume that you're going to take care of it, but it's probably because she's internalized that no man is going to ever send her a birthday card.

(I send my mom flowers every year although my wife reminds me weeks ahead of time most years. But nieces and nephews and cousins etc? Forget it.)
posted by GuyZero at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


I mean, men I know just don't care.

But it's impossible to know whether they would care if they did not live in a world which widely considered this to be "women's work." I don't think this can be a strong counter-argument or dismissed out of hand when there exists a default assumption, baked into society, of "this is not my job."
posted by sallybrown at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2015 [104 favorites]


This is one of the reasons I love being a therapist. I am really good at emotional labor, and doing it in a setting where I'm respected as a professional and paid for my expertise is such a vastly more rewarding experience than being expected to do it in romantic relationships where it's simultaneously expected and devalued. (I've never run into the resentment-causing lopsided arrangements with friends, male or female; those relationships have always felt balanced to me. It's just romantic partners that I seem to choose poorly.)

On the other hand, therapy work is also often devalued by society as a whole, and payments have been going down as more women than men enter the profession. Woo, patriarchy!
posted by jaguar at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2015 [65 favorites]


They don't even see this as a thing to do.

Where "this" can be sending cards, calls on significant dates, keeping the kitchen floor reasonably clean, keeping a house healthy and comfortable to live in, arranging play dates for children, and on and on.

All of this has been offloaded on women because men don't even see these as necessary, valuable, or pay-worthy things to do.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [110 favorites]


But it's impossible to know whether they would care if they did not live in a world which widely considered this to be "women's work." I don't think this can be a strong counter-argument or dismissed out of hand when there exists a default assumption, baked into society, of "this is not my job."

Yeah, it's impossible to know. I agree. But just for the super-specific point of birthday cards, I actually don't understand why women care either. Maybe I'm just old and cranky and maybe other people like birthday cards a lot.
posted by GuyZero at 4:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


I dunno, I get it, I guess. But, do I ask to paid to go check the loud noise my wife hears downstairs? Or if a female friend asks me to help them move a piece furniture

Sure but does 'fix my car, male' sting when you hear it? Because I'm told, "make me a sandwich" does for a lot of people.

So I have to admit when I first read something like this essay (not this exact essay) I thought "well okay, but I'm pretty sure I've spent more time listening to women's problems than the other way around." Which I still do think is true - perhaps not typical I don't know. But here's the thing - among guys it's totally acceptable and expected to say that being treated as an "unpaid therapist" is a hassle. In fact if you admit to spending "too much" time listening to women (versus I dunno, fucking them, or watching TV by yourself) some guys will call you a sucker. I don't think it's nearly as acceptable for women to even acknowledge that they don't always enjoy spending their time like that.
posted by atoxyl at 4:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [43 favorites]


sallybrown, you and I may live in another world.

I personally do not buy into a lot of the silliness that "the world" insists we do.. and yes, part of that is probably upbringing. My mother does not call me on my birthday or send me an email. Neither does my father. My sister, occasionally. We are a happy loving family and have no issues with each other. We. Just. Don't. Care.

I understand that others grow up differently, and a person who doesn't want to do the work but still thinks the work should be done - fuck them, fully agreed.

As to housework - I don't think housework and "emotional work" are at all the same, but as an anecdote from my world, I own my own apartment, rent to a roommate below market rate, and she doesn't clean *shit*. I mop, sweep, load/unload the dishwasher, clear her trash off the kitchen counters daily, clean the shared bathroom, etc, etc, etc and she doesn't lift a finger. We're both in our 30s. I am 100% sure a lot of her behaviour is from her upbringing, but who knows.

Ask anyone about my "work" that I do in the house, and I'm just an idiot and a pushover for continuing to do the work.. but that's not appropriate to say about women in the same situation.
posted by mbatch at 4:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


In fact if you admit to spending "too much" time listening to women (versus I dunno, fucking them, or watching TV by yourself) some guys will call you a sucker. I don't think it's nearly as acceptable for women to even acknowledge that they don't always enjoy spending their time like that.

Such a good point. The whole "friendzone" idea is based on the idea that men shouldn't have to listen to women talking unless they're getting paid in sex.
posted by jaguar at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2015 [191 favorites]


Okay, so: think of a universe where birthday conventions are still the same, but women start getting paid for their emotional labor. Bob's mother thus expects Bob to, in some way, acknowledge her birthday. If you ask Bob, he loves his mother dearly, but he doesn't care that much about birthday cards. Bob's wife enters the emotional labor market and sets her price at $10 per each "send your mom a birthday card" reminder and $20 for her to buy and send the card herself, from both her and Bob. The first year, Bob, in line with his belief that he doesn't value birthday cards, decides not to pay. Bob's wife gets to save the time on the card issue and Bob pays what he thinks this labor is worth (nada). If Bob's mom doesn't give a shit either, everything is rosy. But if Bob's mom is sad about not getting an acknowledgment of her birthday and lets Bob know that, won't Bob decide he does indeed value the emotional labor of sending his mom a birthday card?
posted by sallybrown at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2015 [28 favorites]


One more comment on cards, and I'll leave that super-specific point. I am a woman. I do not give a damn about cards. But because others do, and because "remembering to buy, write, and send cards" has been coded feminine, my husband and various card-recipients assume that I will take care of it. No one expects a card from my husband. Even when the recipients are *his* family friends. The cards aren't the point; it's the assumption about who does that work.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:57 PM on July 15, 2015 [69 favorites]


I have been really fortunate in this area, or else my laziness when it comes to assuming obligations has made others give up on me in despair. But the husband has other friends besides me, and is also willing to go to therapy when needed. His family does not expect me to just know what to do for family stuff or keep track of birthdays, because I never have. They just text me to bring a bag of ice and a fruit salad, which I happily will do.

I made a few weak attempts at Christmas cards, realized fewer and fewer people care about/do them anymore, and gave up. I get none, I send none. It's good. Birthday cards are not a huge thing in our family (sometimes yes, sometimes no) so it's more of a personal preference. But again; I am lucky not to have one of those families that are big on Drama and unstated but mandatory obligations of that sort.

BUT. I do know what's being discussed here. I've had male acquaintances frequently corner me to tell me about their (often horrifying and traumatic!) emotional issues at the slightest provocation, then be upset if I suggest a therapist. Usually they're older guys, middle-aged, bitter, and completely unaware of how alarming and discomfiting their traumatic stories and obvious pent-up rage is to everyone around them. I've seen lots of women get worn out by husbands who clearly do need help of some kind but instead prefer to be miserable and make everyone tiptoe around them and follow special rules not to set them off. I've seen it eat away at and destroy marriages. It's about pride, and laziness and entitlement, and it's shit and I want women everywhere to stop putting up with it.

(Younger guys tend to corner me about relationship problems, but will usually stop if they don't like my suggestions or answers).

And housework. Oh, housework. I have had to have Come to Jesus meetings about housework. It's still not as balanced as it should be. But I will not hesitate to take dirty dishes and other things and dump them in the husband office or son's room (somewhere they can't ignore them) and tell them it's their problem now. Which helps some. But there is the overall question of Why Is This Only My Concern, No One Should Be OK Living in Filth Like an Animal, Jesus Christ Take Some Goddman Responsibility For That You Assholes and Pick Up Your Shit Without Being Asked.
posted by emjaybee at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [104 favorites]


I mean, men I know just don't care.

In my marriage, I'm the one who doesn't care. My husband reminds me to send my parents cards for their birthdays and Mother's Day and so on. I manage to actually do that about half of the time; he doesn't do it for me, but he cares if it happens and he thinks it's terrible that I don't care. He sends out Christmas cards or they don't happen (I categorically refuse to have anything to do with planning that because it was my "job" in a previous relationship and I hate everything about it). He sends the cards for his own family and keeps track of the dates himself (or he probably has calendar reminders set up, because that's how he does everything). Etc.

So, in the absence of a woman willing to do this work, there do exist men who care.

Maddeningly, I do sometimes still get blamed if he forgets to send out cards, but so far everybody has accepted me saying it's not my job, so at least their assumptions are just passively sexist and not actively trying to force me to fill this role through social pressure.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:59 PM on July 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


I actually don't understand why women care either

We DON'T. We don't fucking care about your mom's birthday or little sally the 14th cousin 37 times removed's fucking piano recital. But we're the ones who have to deal with the emotional and social fallout of no one caring, always. ALWAYS.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [359 favorites]


luckily my entire immediate family is dead and i can DO WHAT I WANT which is NOT CARE and no one can stop me

NO ONE
posted by poffin boffin at 5:01 PM on July 15, 2015 [90 favorites]


For example, why don't parents receive a wage per child that they can either pass on to an outside childcare worker, or keep themselves as a wage for stay at home work?

Receive a wage from whom?
posted by Justinian at 5:02 PM on July 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


THE MAN
posted by notyou at 5:03 PM on July 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


If Bob's mom doesn't give a shit either, everything is rosy. But if Bob's mom is sad about not getting an acknowledgment of her birthday and lets Bob know that, won't Bob decide he does indeed value the emotional labor of sending his mom a birthday card?

Your analogy is missing a crucial detail - bob's mom isn't telling BOB she's sad about not getting a card, Bob's Mom Is telling Bob's WIFE. No one is telling Bob anything.

Which makes as much sense as if you went to see RETURN OF THE JEDI and the Ewoks pissed you off, and instead of blaming George Lucas you blamed the guy who sweeps up spilled popcorn at night.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [64 favorites]


the wages should be automatically deducted from the bank accounts from any person of any gender who have ever sneeringly smirked that "it's not like it's a REAL JOB"
posted by poffin boffin at 5:05 PM on July 15, 2015 [88 favorites]


We DON'T. We don't fucking care about your mom's birthday or little sally the 14th cousin 37 times removed's fucking piano recital. But we're the ones who have to deal with the emotional and social fallout of no one caring, always. ALWAYS.

What poffin boffin said. Repeated daily, over the course of a lifetime.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:05 PM on July 15, 2015 [32 favorites]


Receive a wage from whom?

If human beings start being paid for emotional labor and related tasks, who values the work of child-rearing? I would say the larger society (in the U.S., the federal government).

Will that ever happen? I doubt in my lifetime. Is it even possible? Not sure.
posted by sallybrown at 5:05 PM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Your analogy is missing a crucial detail - bob's mom isn't telling BOB she's sad about not getting a card, Bob's Mom Is telling Bob's WIFE. No one is telling Bob anything.

Mom-in-law, I charge $15 for breaking angry news from you to my husband. Would you rather call Bob directly?
posted by sallybrown at 5:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [118 favorites]


If human beings start being paid for emotional labor and related tasks, who values the work of child-rearing? I would say the larger society (in the U.S., the federal government).

Relatedly: If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics
This is a revolutionary and powerfully argued feminist analysis of modern economics, revealing how woman's housework, caring of the young, sick and the old is automatically excluded from value in economic theory. An example of this pervasive and powerful process is the United Nation System of National Accounts which is used for wars and determining balance of payments and loan requirements. The author has also written "Women, Politics and Power" and is a formidable force in the politics of New Zealand, serving three terms in Parliament and helping bring down a Prime Minister. She holds a doctorate in political economy and was a visiting Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
posted by Lexica at 5:08 PM on July 15, 2015 [28 favorites]


But just for the super-specific point of birthday cards, I actually don't understand why women care either.

I don't. So much don't. And I take responsibility for whatever toll that takes on my relationships - it's my very small remaining family mostly, but I have multiple reasons for maintaining a certain distance. But anyway, it's on me, and nobody else, and that's fine.

I also don't manage my husband's relationship with his family, and if they care or blame me...I don't care. It affects me zero.

Those things don't affect me because we don't have children. Emotional labor, and how I knew that situation would shake out, is one of the reasons we don't have children.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:08 PM on July 15, 2015 [52 favorites]


Basically, TINSTAFH = "There is no such thing as a free hug".

(And count me in as coming from a family where gift giving and card giving just isn't something done at all. I'm the only one that gives gifts to my mom and younger brother. But to my mom's credit, she does give me cash on New Year's and occasionally on birthday's.)
posted by FJT at 5:09 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Will that ever happen?

I hope not! It's nothing but a wealth transfer from childless people to parents!

I'd support a basic wage paid to all Americans out of tax receipts regardless of parental status though. Parents could use that money to hire a nanny or whatever. While I buy books.
posted by Justinian at 5:09 PM on July 15, 2015 [27 favorites]


We DON'T. We don't fucking care about your mom's birthday or little sally the 14th cousin 37 times removed's fucking piano recital. But we're the ones who have to deal with the emotional and social fallout of no one caring, always. ALWAYS.

It's funny, because the classic AskMe advice in this case (if it were, say, about your parents expecting XYZ from you as a 50 year old or your MIL wanting you to do ABC) is:

SHUT THEM OFF. WALK AWAY. YOU ARE AN ADULT.

Why not in this case? (Other than the systemic nature of it, sure..). But it's like someone in an abusive relationship. We don't blame the victim but we ask "why don't they leave".. If no woman dated a misogynist asshole, they'd figure out or simply self-select out of the gene-pool. I know plenty of feminist women who date assholes.. which I just. . don't. . get.

Or in sallybrown's example above: "Mom-in-law, that is not my job. Would you like to talk to Bob? No? Okay, goodbye."
posted by mbatch at 5:09 PM on July 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


It'd just be a stipend from the Government, in case it isn't clear. Sort of like a Basic Income scheme, and the kids would get theirs and their guardians would administer it.

You could leave THE MAN out of it, if you wanted (and you'd probably have to). There'd be a lot of complexity in managing so many transactions, but probably you could do it with Square or PayPal.

Who will be the Uber of Emotional Labor?
posted by notyou at 5:11 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't raising children it's own reward!??

What? Why are you looking at me like that?
posted by Justinian at 5:14 PM on July 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'm not sure what to take from this thread but that everyone really, quietly, secretly despises everyone else.
posted by effugas at 5:15 PM on July 15, 2015 [97 favorites]


Metafilter: everyone really, quietly, secretly despises everyone else.
posted by FJT at 5:16 PM on July 15, 2015 [70 favorites]


i have never been quiet or secret about that, come on
posted by poffin boffin at 5:16 PM on July 15, 2015 [143 favorites]


Women are culturally seen as caring and empathetic. Asking "why don't you just not care" is ignoring the fact that to society, a woman who doesn't care is defective.
posted by mikurski at 5:17 PM on July 15, 2015 [225 favorites]


The Man IS the government.

That was a joke.
posted by sio42 at 5:21 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


This thread also dovetails interestingly with the one from a few days ago about women on the autism spectrum, wherein autistic women learn early in life that they're expected to perform emotional labor, pick up just enough cues from others to maintain the performance even if they don't understand the nuances, and then miss out on getting diagnosed because they present too "normally."

It's yet another double bind of the patriarchy. If you admit that you have a problem picking up in the ins and outs of emotional labor, you get chastised in ways that more or less boil down to "you are bad at you gender." If you pick up enough survival skills to get by, you're "naturally" nurturing and can't possibly be struggling.

This would all be so much easier if we were willing to admit that emotional care taking is a learned skill, and not something that people women are innately born with.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:22 PM on July 15, 2015 [138 favorites]


GuyZero: "But just for the super-specific point of birthday cards, I actually don't understand why women care either. "

I didn't actually say birthday CARD, I just said "forgets her birthday." I truly and profoundly do not give a shit about birthday cards and we don't do them in our family. But if someone forgets to recognize a family member's birthday/rite of passage/holiday, people never blame the husband. They always blame the wife. No matter whose relative it is.

mbatch: "If no woman dated a misogynist asshole, they'd figure out or simply self-select out of the gene-pool. I know plenty of feminist women who date assholes.. which I just. . don't. . get. "

It'd be great if we could opt out of ALL OF SOCIETY and the unfair social expectations and rules the world places on us!

Or, maybe if I were a dude, I could be like you and just say, "I don't understand why women are complaining about emotional labor expectations being unfairly assigned by society at large -- they could just stop dating assholes and the problem would solve itself!"

But, alas, as a woman -- even though I smartly married a feminist man, and thus under your theory should have escaped the problem -- I'm still subjected to those expectations from a broader society that expects that I am the emotional laborer in the family, the one who should be sending cards, buying presents, arranging playdates, wrapping gifts, talking to teachers, cleaning up vomit, teaching table manners, decorating the living room, choosing the plates, etc. etc. etc.

I wish I was a dude so I could, like you, simply opt out of the emotional labor of caring about emotional labor. OH BUT I HAVE MATCHING CHROMOSOMES SO I CAN'T.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:23 PM on July 15, 2015 [136 favorites]


A while ago I decided I would never date anyone again where their friends and family were so happy that i was "so good" for so and so, not "you're so good together" . Because I realized it meant they were happy some woman was going to be taking care of him and not them anymore

Fuck that shit.
posted by sio42 at 5:29 PM on July 15, 2015 [216 favorites]


sallybrown: But it's impossible to know whether they would care if they did not live in a world which widely considered this to be "women's work." I don't think this can be a strong counter-argument or dismissed out of hand when there exists a default assumption, baked into society, of "this is not my job."

No, it isn't. Single men generally don't send their friends birthday cards, even if they don't have a woman to do it for them, and it's very rarely taken personally. Also, men generally don't take it personally when they don't receive cards from someone who does have a partner to help them with it. Mostly they just don't care, or at least don't take it personally if they aren't sent.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:29 PM on July 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Dear guys: it's not really helpful to women, to say "Pff! Just stop!" because as a guy, you've most likely never been made to feel defective, callous, like a bad child and heartless for failing to do this stuff. You've never gotten the silent treatment, or the angry phone call from an aunt asking you why you are breaking your mother's heart. Or had in-laws act cold because you didn't remember someone's birthday. But plenty of women have.

Here's what you need to say. "Damn, that sucks. I'm sorry anyone is making you feel that way. I'll stand up for you to my folks if they give you any of that, and tell them to stop. I won't expect you to manage my relationships with my family; that's on me. I will pay attention and do my share to manage how our family/relationship is doing and take responsibility for that, as well as for all the drudgery of living (cooking, cleaning, maintenence and repair, garbage, yard, bills, long-term planning). If I am having giant emotional issues, I won't expect you to solve them for me, though I will appreciate your help."

It takes a lot longer to say, but it's a lot more useful.
posted by emjaybee at 5:29 PM on July 15, 2015 [419 favorites]


YES. THAT.
posted by sio42 at 5:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


Whether it's birthday cards or whatever, sometimes the reason those relationships get maintained is because of politics and sometimes it's because, you know, they desire a relationship. Or they want their kids to have the relationship. It isn't helpful to say "just don't care" because it's fine to care, there's nothing wrong with caring. But it does mean dealing with other people's expectations more than you have to if you don't care or are able to maintain a strong boundary, and the responsibility for that falls unfairly heavily on women.

In fact, in the classic "my MIL will flip her shit if I don't..." situation, part of the reason the MIL ended up that way is the weight of the expectations on women to do these things.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:34 PM on July 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Emotional labour performed by men is paid better. Men get pats on the head and appreciation for acts of listening that would simply be expected from women.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:35 PM on July 15, 2015 [50 favorites]


Truly, we have reached Peak Care.
posted by effugas at 5:36 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry so many of you feel this way about your relationships with men. We need to do better.
posted by tallthinone at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


It's really weird that people are honing into the detail of birthday cards and dismissing it as unnecessary without realizing what they represent - the maintenance of social relationships. Okay, yes, maybe you or your mom or your fourth cousin doesn't really care for birthdays. But even if you aren't sending birthday cards, you're phoning them or bringing over flowers for their big occasions or sharing recipes with them or shopping and sending them gifts for Christmas and sending them thank you notes for the gifts they sent you. And then maybe you'll argue that the person in question doesn't care about any of THAT shit in isolation, and maybe it's true that you could drop one or two of these things and not see a big change in your relationship - but try dropping literally every token of social interaction and then seeing how far your relationship gets on radio silence. Like the whole point is that relationships are built upon hundreds of small interactions, none of them essential, but all of them important in cumulation. Honing in on one aspect and going "pfft that's trivial" doesn't make sense.
posted by Conspire at 5:39 PM on July 15, 2015 [178 favorites]


Yeah, you guys act like women can just opt out of emotional labor consequence free. If we opt out of doing the expected emotional labor, then we get to deal with the generalized opprobrium for opting out! My husband and I have been together for 20 years and when I finally asked him "Why is your father's wife calling me to arrange for the two of you to go hiking together?" he said ". . . because the patriarchy. Just tell her I'll call my dad directly." So now I have to deal with her calling me 18 times a day and texting me "CALL ME ASAP" until my husband finally remembers to call his father 10 days after the barrage and onslaught starts. I could block her number, but that would probably have even greater consequences , not just for myself but for my husband and children.

I've told this story here before, but the year our older child was entering first grade, I had a gig the night of the Parent Curriculum Night at the school, so my husband went instead. When it asked for contact information, he gave only his email address and phone number, because he is used to thinking of himself as one person, not as a representative of the family. So it was his email address and his phone number that went out in the "get to know your classmates' parents" email, and he got every birthday invitation, every teacher email, every playdate invite, every Wacky Hair Day or Wear the Regalia of Your Favorite Sports Team Day email. And not me! Suddenly, he was in charge of managing our daughter's social life and school interactions. And even though what he did most of the time was just throw it over to me, he found it absolutely exhausting.

"NOW YOU UNDERSTAND," I told him. "Except that for me, it's not just like this for the school, it's like this for EVERYTHING."
posted by KathrynT at 5:40 PM on July 15, 2015 [339 favorites]


Some additional complications this market would present:

1. What counts as emotional labor and what doesn't count?

2. Can a person contract around emotional labor payment? Couldn't a husband and wife agree in a prenuptial agreement that each will provide the other with emotional labor gratis?

3. What of those who live alone? They clean their own houses free of charge because the value flows only to them? What if they are cleaning in order to host a party on behalf of another person? (I supposed this could constitute a gift.)

4. What would this do to the childcare, eldercare, housekeeping, hospitality, etc industries.

It is interesting that this solution would just lock us into market capitalism even more. Monetize everything.... Or is this just recognizing a value that already exists (a flaw in the market)?
posted by sallybrown at 5:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mitrovarr: "Mostly they just don't care, or at least don't take it personally if they aren't sent."

Yes, but widowers are notably more socially disconnected that widows, because when men don't do the work of social connection (of which birthday cards are merely a subset) and don't have a wife to do it for them, those social connections wither and die, with statistically notable ill effects on the health of older widowed men:
"The evidence indicates that the aged male survivor experiences a different impact from spousal loss than his female counterpart and that he encounters severe difficulties in adapting to the single status. Adjustment problems are especially compounded by the los of his occupational role, which abruptly removes him from meaningful contact with friends and co-workers. Social isolation among aged widowers leads to a precarious condition which is reflected in unusually high rates of mental disorders, suicides, and mortality risk."
It's super-great if bros in their 20s don't care if their old roommates send them birthday cards or not, but a lifetime of skipping out on "emotional labor" and the pernicious social expectations that turn it in to women's work (so that men who DO do emotional labor are sometimes bypassed by social structures that push it onto their wives) creates real and significant negative outcomes for men who suffer emotionally and physically from their social isolation -- most notably for widowers, but divorced men also have a drop in well-being when they lose their spouse.
"Loneliness, depression, and social isolation also contribute to the excess mortality associated with bereavement, divorce, or never having married. A Harvard study reported that socially isolated men have an 82% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with men who have strong interpersonal relationships. And the New England Research Institute reported that 66% of men rely on their wives for their primary social supports; only 21% rely on other people, and 10% have no such supports. Clearly, subtracting a wife greatly increases a man's risk of isolation. "
You may be in the 21% of men who have social supports other than a spouse. That's great! But a huuuuuuuuuuge proportion of men rely almost entirely on their wives for social connection and that is a) a significant form of work for the wife (or same-sex spouse) who must manage not only her own social-emotional health but her husband's; and b) really dangerous for men who then end up totally disconnected from social and emotionally supports through the loss of a wife by death or divorce.

Part of what creates that is the societal expectation that women are the "social arrangers" and that's what we're trying to talk about in this thread.

And now that I've underlined #WhatAboutTheMen and given evidence that a) women do actually do the bulk of emotional labor and b) it has negative effects on men, can we go back to talking about women and emotional labor? Instead of men complaining that women are just doing things that nobody gives a shit about? WE GET IT, YOU DON'T GIVE A SHIT, BUT WE STILL CARE BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU MEN DIE SOONER AND THAT'S JUST THE KIND OF EMOTIONAL LABOR SERVICE WE WOMEN PROVIDE FOR YOU.

And go send your college roommate a goddamned "thinking of you!" card so he doesn't croak.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:45 PM on July 15, 2015 [365 favorites]


You've never gotten the silent treatment, or the angry phone call from an aunt asking you why you are breaking your mother's heart. Or had in-laws act cold because you didn't remember someone's birthday.

You're totally right about it not being the woman's fault and how it should also fall onto the guy to do their own work. Yet aren't those above examples of like controlling behavior done by toxic and self-centered people that one should probably limit their encounters with though? At least, this is what I was told after years of having to deal with similar actions. I'm probably missing something here, because I'm single, huh?
posted by FJT at 5:46 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's really weird that people are honing into the detail of birthday cards and dismissing it as unnecessary without realizing what they represent - the maintenance of social relationships.

But that's par for the course in literally every single discussion here about gender issues, feminism, or sexism -- dudes rush in, find one very tiny aspect of the situation they can pick apart endlessly and point to and say, "see? this isn't a problem, nobody cares about this, just stop caring," et cetera. All that is, guys who do that kind of thing, is a veiled way of telling us to shut the fuck up because you don't want to have to listen or be uncomfortable or ever change anything about your life that might mean you have to make some effort. Just FYI, that means you're exactly the kind of crappy dude that you're telling us to not let into our lives.
posted by palomar at 5:47 PM on July 15, 2015 [211 favorites]


Single men generally don't send their friends birthday cards, even if they don't have a woman to do it for them, and it's very rarely taken personally. Also, men generally don't take it personally when they don't receive cards from someone who does have a partner to help them with it. Mostly they just don't care, or at least don't take it personally if they aren't sent.

This goes back to the fact that this work is considered a woman's job. A single man is man and is thus not penalized for failing to undertake this emotional labor. A man whose partner fails to send a birthday card is also not penalized, because a man is never expected to do this emotional work. Women in this thread have already testified to the fact that when they are the female partner in this situation, they are penalized for failing to honor the birthday (by card or other gift/attention).
posted by sallybrown at 5:48 PM on July 15, 2015 [49 favorites]


Or, here's another example. I live in a GREAT neighborhood. As I speak, my daughter is out playing kick the can with the other neighborhood kids in the street. There's a treehouse in the tree in my front yard, built entirely by children ages 7-12. When my daughter had a medical emergency and my four year old son ran out the front door that the paramedics left open, one of the neighborhood 12 year olds scooped him up and told me "Don't worry about it -- I've got him. Attend to Lily, he is safe with me, if he has to spend the night at our house, that's fine." We have a block party every labor day and memorial day, we have a neighborhood easter egg hunt. In the summers, one family has an outdoor movie projector and they show movies for all the neighborhood kids while the adults hang out drinking beer and jawing.

You know who does the labor to keep all that together? The women. The kids can all be out in the street playing because there are a lot of stay at home moms, and the older kids (10-14) are OK being left home alone because there are moms on the street during the afternoon. The women plan the block parties. The women rent the movies. The women arrange the dinners to people who just had a new baby, or whose spouse just died. The men show up, and they enjoy it, and they benefit hugely from the close-knit nature of our neighborhood -- but it's the women who make it happen.
posted by KathrynT at 5:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [244 favorites]


Also, I personally have been dragged over the proverbial coals in very dramatic fashion by my single men friends whose birthdays I have forgotten to acknowledge. As the female friend I am expected to plug myself into the wife role for things like this, e.g., to dote on the birthday boy. I don't mind doing it because I love my friends, but there would be real consequences if I failed to.
posted by sallybrown at 5:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


but kathryn one time a man did a thing so now that's all invalid
posted by poffin boffin at 5:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [161 favorites]


Yeah, it's impossible to know. I agree. But just for the super-specific point of birthday cards, I actually don't understand why women care either. Maybe I'm just old and cranky and maybe other people like birthday cards a lot.

I understand this feeling because I have a visceral reaction against certain rhetoric about housework as a feminist issue, namely the idea that I "expect a woman to clean up after me." Because of course I don't expect shit to be clean and it's not a law of the damn cosmos that the bed has to be made when nobody is even conceivably coming over. The difference in expectations comes from gendered socialization but it's not a fact that all these things have to be done and I promise that I will never, ever be upset that they aren't.

But your expectations and mine aren't the truth either - even if it's not your fault that the expectation exists, even if there is truly no external reason (sometimes there really is) that it's going to matter, you still gotta do what you can in a relationship to help the other person handle things that feel important to them. Or that's what I try to remind myself when I get irritated about something like this.
posted by atoxyl at 5:52 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's funny, because the classic AskMe advice in this case (if it were, say, about your parents expecting XYZ from you as a 50 year old or your MIL wanting you to do ABC) is:

SHUT THEM OFF. WALK AWAY. YOU ARE AN ADULT.


Which is exactly what some of us do. I've done it more and more over the years. About 4 seconds after my mother's corpse was cold, I told my sister, "I am never ever attending another family Christmas. Adios, muchacha." And I'm perfectly fine with accepting the fallout of that. The thing is, most men not only don't have to deal with the fallout of "walking away" or opting out of various emotional chores, but they are very, very often never expected to have done The Thing in the first place.

In US culture at least, there are certain people within a family or relationship who are going to be asked or automatically expected to step up in situations like an elderly relative needing in-home care or support or company, a niece or nephew needing a last-minute babysitter or someone other than a parent to attend a school play, hosting a holiday event or reunion, visiting someone in a hospital, providing goodies for a playdate, mending fences between arguing parties or keeping lines of communication open, etc., etc., etc. and other people who aren't asked or expected to do those. And we know the general gender breakdown of those two groups.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:52 PM on July 15, 2015 [40 favorites]


This thread also dovetails interestingly with the one from a few days ago about women on the autism spectrum, wherein autistic women learn early in life that they're expected to perform emotional labor, pick up just enough cues from others to maintain the performance even if they don't understand the nuances, and then miss out on getting diagnosed because they present too "normally."

Oh wow, I'm off to check that out because it explains a lot of things about my childhood and adolescence.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


66% of men rely on their wives for their primary social supports;

the last time my husband made a new friend was when my BFF got remarried.
posted by KathrynT at 5:56 PM on July 15, 2015 [32 favorites]


whatever couples or people do individually, fact of the matter is that studies show that in heterosexual relationships women do more than 50% of the sort of feminine coded unpaid labor we're discussing here.

it's honestly one reason i chose to be a housewife, if i'm going to be doing a majority of the work in the home and in our social groups, i'm not also going to work 50+ hours on top of it. in my previous long term relationships i brought in a majority of the money and did nearly all the feminine emotional labor. luckily i have a super awesome husband who values my work just as highly (if not more) than he values his own. i know a lot of people think me some sort of slave to the patriarchy for keeping house, but it's frankly the most equitable relationship i've ever been in.
posted by nadawi at 6:01 PM on July 15, 2015 [162 favorites]


You're totally right about it not being the woman's fault and how it should also fall onto the guy to do their own work. Yet aren't those above examples of like controlling behavior done by toxic and self-centered people that one should probably limit their encounters with though? At least, this is what I was told after years of having to deal with similar actions. I'm probably missing something here, because I'm single, huh?
posted by FJT at 8:46 PM on July 15
[+] [!]


This gets hard when there are kids involved. Or large families that have just been like this and you marry into it. You can't fight this battle all the time. You set the boundaries you can but you are still expected to conform to some extent.

You can't just walk away from centuries of this way of thinking. It's almost as much work to set and maintain boundaries and role expectations as it is to actively rebel against it all or just go with it.

It's all a lot of work that is still on women: resist or conform, we're still looking at you.
posted by sio42 at 6:02 PM on July 15, 2015 [45 favorites]


I remember the first time a salesman asked me if the lady of the house was in. I truly had no idea what he was talking about and slammed the door and told mom there might be a lady in the house. We went looking. With hammers. Oops.

I loved having a stay at home mom. Fresh bread and honey on the back porch? Roles reversed when I was 13 and then I did all the cooking and cleaning and got my sister through her homework because mom was working and dad was gone.

15 years later I married. Her mom died early in her life and her dad expected her to keep house. He'd burn dinner and she'd clean the oven. I wound up doing everything because of the look on her face.

You folks should learn how to look like that. You might never have to clean anything again.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


You folks should learn how to look like that. You might never have to clean anything again.

really? who will?
posted by KathrynT at 6:31 PM on July 15, 2015 [31 favorites]


You folks should learn how to look like that. You might never have to clean anything again.

In a way you could say she was bartering the emotional labor of expressing "that look" (I'm guessing a look of helplessness or deep longing for assistance, or maybe exhaustion?) for the task of doing the cleaning.

Unless you would have done with work regardless of how she looked at you.
posted by sallybrown at 6:35 PM on July 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


It's hilarious when you realize that men actually do worry about emotional labor and consider it work—once you frame it in traditional male terms: NETWORKING.

Job networking! Every goddamn career advice source ever is relentless in drumming how you need to network, network, network! "Hit the pavement! Build your brand! Get your name out there! It's all in who you know! Build relationships! Remember people! Stay in contact! Follow up on leads! Demonstrate what you bring to the company, not what you'll take!"

And then every goddamn jobhunt discussion board ever has the hordes moaning (correctly) about how HARD it is going to all these events, and talking to people, and smiling all the time, and pretending to be interested, and sending all these follow-up notes to people to make them interested in you, and having to be upbeat and confident without being pushy or desperate! Networking is hard!

Networking is emotional labor. And women have to do it ALL OUR LIVES, at work and at home, 24/7, and women don't get a shiny job offer out of it, because we're supposed to just give with no expectation of return, out of the fucking generosity of our female hearts.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:41 PM on July 15, 2015 [357 favorites]


Having been single with male roommates, married, and now divorced, I have to say that this sort of pressure is astronomically higher on women who are married. I would imagine it's infinite-squared-ly higher on married women with kids.

As a single person, sure, it's easy to manage one's own relationships in such a way that "Walk away" is an option. As a married person, one partner can't really (or shouldn't) unilaterally decide that "Walk away" is an option for the couple, especially if the "Let's figure out when you and I and our husbands can get together!" social-planning pressure is coming from co-workers, supervisors, a partner's close family, or someone else important if your partner's life. As a mother in charge of a child's relationship with his or her grandparents or other extended family, the equation is hugely different.

All of my past partners would have self-identified as "feminist." All of them sucked at doing any of the emotional-work heavy lifting, and almost all of their family members were even worse.

Seriously, if "just walk away" were a valid way of opting out of the patriarchy, trust me! We would have all already walked away.
posted by jaguar at 6:46 PM on July 15, 2015 [105 favorites]


Also, I would like to gently suggest to straight dudes who grumble about how hard it is to find a partner and who wonder where all the interesting, fun, smart women are? Maybe they walked away.
posted by KathrynT at 6:48 PM on July 15, 2015 [138 favorites]


For a bunch of practical reasons, Atropos Jr's dad ended up being the one who took her to ballet class, did her hair in a bun, made sure she had her ballet slippers etc. Fast-forward to her recital one year and I introduce myself to one of the other mothers as I'm dropping off some costume piece. She stares at me for a second and says, "we all assumed Atropos Jr didn't have a mother." At first I thought she was just being snotty, and there was definite disapproval there, but she was also completely sincere. For this woman, the only possible scenario in which a kid's dad did that job was one in which the mother was dead or otherwise absent. My husband got either pity or adulation from women for doing this stuff; once it turned out I was alive and just not doing "my" job, I was treated with a lot of hostility. Yeah, dance tends to be gendered but this kind of thing happens all over.
posted by atropos at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [174 favorites]


Imagine if there were a nationwide yearlong emotional labor sit in. The person in the family who does the emotional heavy lifting takes one year off from birthday celebrations, holiday gifts, cocktail party planning, dinner party invites, sending cards and notes, making social calls, making doctor and dentist appointments, keeping the family social calendar, checking the children's homework, etc.

Can you imagine what would happen on Black Friday, or to Hallmark? To Evite?
posted by sallybrown at 6:52 PM on July 15, 2015 [24 favorites]


Also, I would like to gently suggest to straight dudes who grumble about how hard it is to find a partner and who wonder where all the interesting, fun, smart women are? Maybe they walked away.

I should say, straight dudes who wonder expansively about why women would bother taking on all this pointless, stupid emotional labor when they don't want it, since nobody actually cares about that stuff.
posted by KathrynT at 6:57 PM on July 15, 2015 [29 favorites]


men thronging the streets, weeping, pantsless, in odd socks, eating burned sad hungry man dinners right from their unwashed hands, fighting one another to the death for the last shreds of a greeting card in a former hallmark that is now a war zone
posted by poffin boffin at 6:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [159 favorites]


I remember having conversations about this with my college roommates in the late 70s. I thought this would all be fixed by now.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [32 favorites]


knowing that if they die without that last pack of thank you notes in their hand they will never feast in the halls of valhalla
posted by poffin boffin at 7:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [40 favorites]


Can you imagine what would happen on Black Friday, or to Hallmark? To Evite?

To my toilets??

Seriously, I'd starve to death and die from a toilet disease. From the toilet I don't even use because I clean my own.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:01 PM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Seriously, I'd starve to death and die from a toilet disease.

I am pretty sure these do not actually exist and am experimenting to find out for sure. For science!
posted by asperity at 7:08 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


In just the past two minutes, watching network television:

An advertisement for some sort of high-fiber snack that included the line "And it's high in fiber so your wife won't give you any more slack." Because wives are assumed to do the work of caring about their husband's health.

Alex Trebek on Jeopardy telling a stay-at-home dad that being at home with the kids must give him a lot of time to keep up with the news and read a great deal. I.... don't even know what to say on that one. Apparently caring for children is a vacation, at least if you're a dude.
posted by jaguar at 7:10 PM on July 15, 2015 [33 favorites]


Also, I would like to gently suggest to straight dudes who grumble about how hard it is to find a partner and who wonder where all the interesting, fun, smart women are? Maybe they walked away.

I'm moderately smart, occasionally fun, and seldom interesting, but I can tell you the precise moment ten years ago when I finally swore off any form of dating or romantic partner stuff for good and never looked back (I was already not very into it by then; this was just the "OK, I'm done now" event). This guy I was dating flew to my state to visit me for a few days, and just before he arrived, I came down with a monstrous case of laryngitis, of the Must Scream to Produce Even a Raspy Whisper variety. So I drag myself 50 miles to the airport, pick him up, drive back, stop for take-out, and come home to collapse. Between the take-out joint and the house, I said, as loudly and directly as I could, "OK, I know that you're the guest and I'm the host, but I am sicker than all fuck, and all I'm capable of doing for the next few days is lying on the couch in a stupor watching bad TV between naps. I cannot do the host stuff. If you want something to eat or drink or a clean towel or something, you'll have to get it yourself and find ways to entertain yourself because I am just not up to it."

So we get home, and I take the Chinese food out of the bag, grab a plate, and throw some food on the plate before staggering semi-consciously toward the couch. . . . where the guy is already sitting, and as I approach him not 5 minutes after making that speech, he holds out his hands in the assumption that I'm going to hand him that fucking plate and then go make myself one. And he has the nerve to look startled and disappointed when I don't.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:18 PM on July 15, 2015 [209 favorites]


Conspire: It's really weird that people are honing into the detail of birthday cards and dismissing it as unnecessary without realizing what they represent - the maintenance of social relationships.

I guess I wasn't really thinking of it that way? I just really hate that kind of token chore-like social interaction.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:22 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


he holds out his hands in the assumption that I'm going to hand him that fucking plate and then go make myself one. And he has the nerve to look startled and disappointed when I don't.

Holy hell this whole anecdote boils down why I don't date, either. If I'd wanted a child I'd've had one.
posted by winna at 7:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [53 favorites]


"But I don't care about cards!" is a pretty common "Not all men!" disavowal of participating in the patriarchy in conversations about women's emotional work. I don't know why that's the constant point of contention, but it is.
posted by jaguar at 7:29 PM on July 15, 2015 [26 favorites]


oh god I'm feeling better every minute about my recent decision to give up and just accept my single status. i may not have anyone to soothingly stroke my fevered brow when i'm sick, but i also don't have anyone expecting me to hand them my plate of dinner. fuck a whole lot of that.
posted by palomar at 7:31 PM on July 15, 2015 [61 favorites]


this thread is giving me flashbacks to a period of my life where I actually put up with such shit. never again!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:32 PM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


My husband's grandmother was probably the most important person in his life aside from me & our kids; she was nurturing and loving and always there for us, always concerned for us - took him in for over a year when he was kicked out of the house as a teenager - stocked her house with toys when we announced our pregnancy, who was her first great-grandchild - bought the kids something from the thrift store every time she went on her weekly outing there. Very shortly after we started dating, he brought me to meet her, and it was her approval he cared about, fuck the rest of the family - he's a pretty solitary person and kind of the "black sheep" of his family but he loved her straight up, and she was good to him.

Yet, all the years we've been together, I've been the one who arranged visits to see her - she wasn't even so far away, 20 minutes' drive - I went on my own with the kids every month or so. I reminded him to call, and reminded him more times when he forgot to call. I did the work of remembering important days and gifts and so on. He loved her, he wanted to see her and he would talk with her for hours when he did talk to her - he was just busy, and our lives were very full with a new baby every other year, and visiting her wasn't super convenient so it was always on his mental back burner. I have anxiety and my in-laws decided they don't like me (and aren't in our lives, by their choice) so any dealing with his family was always hard on me but his grandmother was as good to me as if I were her own. Her family was the center of her life and she loved our children unreservedly. I tried as much as I could in my own emotional, mental-health treading-water to do this footwork of keeping the bond going but I also felt like: this is his family to handle - I have my own to handle, I shouldn't be expected to negotiate his all the time too. But if I didn't... then he didn't think of it. He is the breadwinner & I am the housewife, the emotional labor is mine. I would tell him that, and he would feel guilty - he is enough of an ally to know I was right and this wasn't right - but not enough that anything ever changed.

She was finally so ill that she couldn't live alone anymore (she fought it as long as she could because she didn't want to give up her independence) and went into a nursing home. It was a depressing place, four beds to her room and she was closest to the door, couldn't see out the window; full of people who were not all there mentally anymore while she was still quite sharp. Her whole life she had been so interested in people - she was the glue of the extended family and always on the phone with this cousin and that one, always telling us details of the lives of people we never met - and now she had no one to talk to. She didn't really have any other hobbies so as far as I could tell she just laid in bed most of the day there. His extended family has some real toxic dynamics amongst his mother's generation and only his aunt was reliably there for her. I visited when I could but not nearly enough - I always had a little one in tow and there wasn't enough space to visit comfortably. I had to remind him to call her, visit her, but he hardly did. Two years she was in that home, then she died last year.

I love my husband very much but I was so angry with him when she died, and so sad. I feel so guilty I didn't visit her more often - that we didn't see her more - but she was his grandmother. Why didn't he go? Why did he need me to prompt him and schedule him? He does nothing but work all the time then be at home with us - he doesn't have hobbies, doesn't go out with friends - he had the time. He was probably her favorite grandchild - she had a photo board hanging over her bed in the nursing home and the one picture of him, out of all her children and his cousins, was dead in the center of the board - we laughed about that. Why didn't he think to put a reminder in his calendar, go sit with her once a week or whatever? It would have made her so happy. He's the kind of guy that doesn't remember birthdays, doesn't do gifts, doesn't keep in touch, didn't see the point of adding people he knew on Facebook. He's thoughtful in practical ways - he's not an asshole, or I wouldn't be married to him, so I don't want you to get the wrong idea here - he meant well, he cared, he works hard to provide for us and the kids & I are his top priority without question - but it was like this stupid blind spot and he didn't clue in all the way until it was too late.

I am so angry at myself that my anxiety about his family got in the way of giving more of myself to a woman who was nothing but good to me and my kids. I am so angry that it was all automatically on my shoulders and not his. Even now he is sad about it but I know it doesn't weigh on him like it does me - that I didn't push him to go more, that I didn't go more myself. I still feel so guilty that - so on the day of her funeral Mass, his aunt called us and asked us to drive his grandmother's former sister-in-law to the church. I had never met her before but she had been tight friends with his grandmother and her sisters for years so I heard all about her. And on the way back, she mentioned she didn't have anyone to drive her to visit his grandmother's sister, the last of 13 siblings still alive, with Alzheimer's in a nursing home, and she misses her so much. So of course I said - I'll take you, it's no trouble.

I drive her out there when I can, which isn't often but it's been at least every couple of months. His aunts and uncle could give a shit about me - and they certainly don't give a shit about their uncle's ex-wife - and she isn't all alone in the world but no one will drive her to visit their aunt. And her son died and none of his family went to the funeral but I did, because I had to, because how could I not? And then I drove her three hours there and back to get his remaining possessions and close his bank account. She's his family, but I do that labor. Because I don't believe in a god, I don't really believe in a heaven but I hope his grandmother somehow knows that I am looking out for her sisters - her best friends - for her sake. Because it's not so much for me to do this, right? Because it fucks me up to think you can live your life giving, giving, giving to your family without limits and they aren't there for you like they should be when you are old and sick. Goddammit. I have five kids and no career but my family - what if that is me, past eighty? How easily that could happen, right? What the hell?
posted by flex at 7:36 PM on July 15, 2015 [398 favorites]


Oh my god are we still on the fucking birthday cards? JESUS.

THE CARDS ARE NOT THE POINT. The point is the theme - it's the cards, and the presents and the phone calls and the thank you notes and the dinner reservations and the babysitter and the laundry and the dry cleaning and the doctor's appts and the vitamins and the groceries and the garden and the kitchen floor and the toilet paper and the 99,999 other things that mostly women end up doing because we've had god knows HOW Long of society saying it's OUR JOB even if we have -other jobs- and it ends up being women going "no, we need to eat vegetables jesus christ you can't just have fish sticks and tater tots five nights a week can you feed our kid some fruit and vegetables holy shit take out the diaper pail JESUS" and ... the guy playing Starcraft.

(note - my spouse is a mefi member, and this is an extreme exaggeration of discussions we've had, and not a reflection of my actual relationship)
posted by FritoKAL at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [78 favorites]


I bought a pack of powerpuff girls paper pointy party hats which I bought to humiliate my coworkers on their birthdays but my plot failed because everyone loves them and wears them voluntarily
posted by poffin boffin at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [35 favorites]


Holy hell this whole anecdote boils down why I don't date, either. If I'd wanted a child I'd've had one.

And of course, this was a perfectly nice fellow -- not some spoiled, selfish manchild but an adult man who regularly cooks really fantastic serious meals for himself, etc. He just grew up in a world where "women bring food to men" is the ingrained norm to the point where it's in people's body language and they have to consciously make themselves unlearn it.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


"Emotional labor" at Amazon. There are a couple of excellent books listed right off the bat: Emotional Labor: Putting the Service in Public Service, by Mary E. Guy, and The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Also, from second wave feminism: Sisterhood is Powerful (ed. Robin Morgan) has some killer essays (and of course the classic Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:38 PM on July 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


(killer essays about housework and women's labor, I meant to say, and, ISTR, emotional labor being devalued. It's a great book and all mefites should have it in their library!)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:39 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


flex, *hugs* if you want them.
posted by jaguar at 7:40 PM on July 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


The thing about "but I don't care about cards" is that they kind of don't care about this stuff, and as a result they don't have very many real, strong relationships. This really is a patriarchy-hurts-men-too situation, because reciprocal emotional labor is necessary for real intimacy, and life without intimacy sucks for most people. I don't particularly care about actually sending cards, but the basic emotional labor of listening empathetically, attending to other people's needs, keeping in touch, etc.? That stuff is really important. It's unfair that women have to do most of it, but it also stunts and hurts men when they don't do it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:40 PM on July 15, 2015 [95 favorites]


Apparently caring for children is a vacation, at least if you're a dude.

GOD the worst thing is that when a dad is doing any kind of childcare everyone's all "oh how sweet are you babysitting today?" NO YOU GOATFUCKING JACKASS IT'S CALLED BEING A FATHER
posted by poffin boffin at 7:40 PM on July 15, 2015 [135 favorites]


flex - I am so sorry. That is so hard to bear.
posted by sallybrown at 7:43 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


GOD the worst thing is that when a dad is doing any kind of childcare everyone's all "oh how sweet are you babysitting today?" NO YOU GOATFUCKING JACKASS IT'S CALLED BEING A FATHER

I would have paid money to see the Jeopardy contestant respond in that way to Trebek. I'm going to pretend that he did -- he looked uncomfortable with the assumption that he eats bon-bons and reads history books all day -- and they just had to edit it out.
posted by jaguar at 7:43 PM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


greeting cards are a huge thing in my family. i don't care about them, but they are expected at just about every occasion. this is an activity my husband actively loathes (instead of just doesn't care about) so i do 100% of work there, besides him adding a little message. but he does 100% of the cat litter box. we worked out which jobs we hated early in our relationship and so while some of it falls on gendered lines, they are things we actively negotiated instead of him just assuming certain things would fall to me because i'm a woman.
posted by nadawi at 7:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


and damn, flex - you just helped me get over myself a little bit and i'm going to see if i can't get out to my granny's in the next few days...
posted by nadawi at 7:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


Being single can be a welter of negative economies of scale but I would rather pay thousands of dollars a year than have a "partner" who isn't one. I had a FelliniBlank-esque come to Jesus moment many years ago and it changed me.

I think there are nurturing men out there who tend to their own emotional and spiritual lives but none of them have come my way.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


so while some of it falls on gendered lines, they are things we actively negotiated instead of him just assuming certain things would fall to me because i'm a woman.

A lot of our stuff falls on gendered lines, too. While it clearly works well for us and we are happy, it's never clear to me how much of that is from being self-aware and consciously choosing this stuff and how much is from the ease of following defined gender paths.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


one of the things we do is regularly discuss the same sort of gender stuff i discuss here. we're constantly poking at our relationship and our situation to make sure we're both still fulfilled in it. we can't escape the patriarchy, and we're certainly doing far less to buck it than a lot of people, and yeah some parts of it are easy because of social conditioning...but i also think being mindful and not letting it stagnate goes a long way for our personal happiness. we're not saving the world, but we're existing in it the best way we know how.
posted by nadawi at 7:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


Today I was at a meeting of directors for my municipality, discussing a new compensation scheme. We have updated how we evaluation positions so the actual effort, skills, conditions and accountability are more fairly compensated. We have dealt with Pay Equity for decades, so quantifying emotional labour has been a small part of the evaluation in the past, but now the emotional labour is considered much more important and much higher compensated. It is often phrased as "customer service skills" but really it is one facet of emotional labour. If my tiny municipality can figure out a gender neutral way of quantifying and compensating this emotional labour, there really is no excuse for much larger organisations to continue to ignore it.
posted by saucysault at 8:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [34 favorites]


Oh Jesus the "babysitting" thing: this used to piss my mom off, and it irritates me so much also. When a male colleague mentions he is babysitting his children I ask if he is getting $5/hr and did someone leave him some snacks in the fridge? You are the parent, this is what you are supposed to do, it's not some gig for extra cash.
posted by maryrussell at 8:05 PM on July 15, 2015 [43 favorites]


Jesus Christ, a lot of you need to leave your sexist husbands.

but kathryn one time a man did a thing so now that's all invalid

Can we just talk about how we deal with it when men DO manage to do this shit? Talk about giving out cookies; a dude does 10% of what the average woman does and gets fucking buried in "feminist" accolades. It's the same shit that leads us to be fucking thrilled about one out of six Avengers being female. Our standards are SO GODDAMN LOW.
posted by NoraReed at 8:09 PM on July 15, 2015 [101 favorites]


I'm not sure what my experience adds up to, but for what it's worth, my boyfriend is one of those wonderful nurturing men. I found myself wondering, as I read this thread, what the catch was; we aren't married and don't live together, and although he cooks and cleans for his mom and sister (who he lives with) and for me when he stays over, it does sound as though there's something about getting married that triggers all the social-calendar and Christmas-card stuff that people are talking about (not to mention wedding planning itself). And then I realized: he's so nurturing that he works as a preschool teacher. And I am an editorial assistant. And that's why we haven't moved in together or gotten married, because we're both on entry-level wages in traditionally female professions in San Francisco. I guess I'll report back after, like, 3 more years of saving our pennies.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:31 PM on July 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


So, re: emotional labor in general: yes, women are culturaly expected and conditioned to provide most of it, and it would be great if there were a "normal, everyday" way for them to be compensated. If "sitting down to lunch and having your friend tell you a long story about themselves" is emotional labor (and it is!) then something like hostess clubs ought to be a standard solution, instead of calling up a female friend and expecting her to listen to your problems without doing the same for her. We think of psychiatrists as only dealing with disorders, but why not normalize talking to someone like a psychiatrist about your relationships, and birthday reminders, and listening to your political opinions—and then paying them for their professional work, as they deserve?

That said, I think in a healthy relationship, this kind of labor wouldn't have to be monetized because it would be reciprocal. You don't pay a friend to commiserate with you, but you do the same for them when they need it. And if two people are married, and one takes care of the kids while the other earns money for groceries and rent, then the "breadwinner" shouldn't be paying the "homemaker" for babysitting services any more than the "homemaker" should pay the "breadwinner" for groceries. They're a couple, it's assumed that they work for each other as much as themselves, and any inequities in that work are a problem between them.

(I'm not saying that there isn't a gender bias here! Yes, men expect women to do most of the emotional work in a relationship or marriage, including sending birthday cards, just as a stereotypical 50's nuclear family expects the man to do most of the money-earning. But "just pay them a fair salary" isn't a fully-developed solution—who pays them? how much? what about single parents? etc—and if you work out the details of how "THE MAN/the government" would pay such a salary, it pretty much turns into Basic Income. Which really is yet another reason we should have a basic income.)
posted by Rangi at 8:32 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Thanks y'all. That was hard to type up, airing dirty laundry in public. I love my husband and he is an ally for sure but it took years of me learning and yelling and communicating re: feminism to get there. Fuck, it's not like I even knew what I was getting into - I thought love would cover everything and that is bitter to say all these years down the line of babies, housework, being the fucking manager of seven people's lives and what compensation is there for that shit? Five kids and I was given an IQ of 156 at ten years old but what have I done with my life? Housewife, children, the expectations of my role where I'm not even that good at this when I am so broken inside and always have been. Family is so important to me and it kills me that it's not reciprocated amongst my relatives. It's hard being so far away that we don't have any help and I have to carry this myself, and I feel inadequate to the job, and my husband could care less about his family (rightfully so for the most part) and doesn't feel the importance in any of that when he goes to work every day and draws the paycheck that sustains us.

I am an extrovert and I love having people over for parties, to visit - and I saw immediately when my women friends visit, they jump up to help do dishes or watch little kids. When men visit, they sit and I wait on them. It's almost totally predictable, and I love to host and I love to be a good host so I do that footwork and I don't really resent it, but sometimes I think why did I end up in the traditional model and not, like, a lesbian commune? Because right now I've hit the point where being the only one doing the heavy lifting of cleaning up after everyone and making everyone comfortable and taking care of everyone's needs is getting so very fucking old. Watching my husband get accolades for basically being decent and showing up for me & his kids - from my own mother and grandmother, who have had to put up with enough worse that their standards are that low and they tell me I should be happy I have such a great guy! - but feeling the judgment over is my house clean enough, is my house nice enough, are the kids happy enough, am I being disciplinary enough but not too harsh, are they well-behaved in public? am I writing the thank-yous, am I buying the gifts, am I making the calls, am I taking the photos, am I providing the opportunities to learn & grow, am I spending the time with them, are their shots up to date, are their dental cleanings on time? if not it's on me... I love them and I don't regret them but I totally resent a society that puts all that shit on me.

I didn't really "get" feminism until I was married & had kids. I can't take any of it back but I wish I had known. How can you truly know until you're thrown in the deep end, though? And then what? Fuck Xmas cards - can I raise kids who know better than I did?
posted by flex at 8:32 PM on July 15, 2015 [170 favorites]


I'd be interested to know whether the ideal solution to the inequity in emotional labor is for women to perform a lot less, men to perform a lot more, or everyone to meet in the middle somewhere.

I will say that as a female introvert on the T-not-F side, I'd be very very happy to dial back the emotional labor considerably, except that it's enforced in many cases by the expectations of other women. I doubt my father-in-law knows much or cares whether he gets a birthday card on time, but my MIL would be furious if we missed her. 90% of the people who send me little unsolicited gifts and things that now require tedious thank-you notes and make me feel guilty for not being extravagantly grateful are women. I can't count the female friendships that have died on me, not because the person and I liked each other less or weren't able to be there for each other when it really counted, but because the other woman expected all these little cards and emails and presents and check-ins that were absolutely out of my league in emotional expenditure, and that never seem to be demanded within male-male friendships. Of my kids' fussy school benefits and special clothing days and whatnot, I really wonder how many of them are organized by women. It's like a miserable Abilene scenario where in addition to having work demanded of us by men, we all sit around and create negative-utility work for each other.

None of that means that the phenomenon isn't undergirded by patriarchal assumptions in a larger sense, of course. But I do think there's a way for women to be part of the solution vs. part of the problem, and I wonder whether that might mean reducing our expectations of each other's emotional labor, as well.
posted by Bardolph at 8:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [42 favorites]


GOD the worst thing is that when a dad is doing any kind of childcare everyone's all "oh how sweet are you babysitting today?" NO YOU GOATFUCKING JACKASS IT'S CALLED BEING A FATHER

I *may* have stolen it from someone here, but my typical response to this (and I get it all the time) is, "nope, I'm just watching them while their folks are at the methadone clinic."
posted by ryanshepard at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2015 [33 favorites]


GOD the worst thing is that when a dad is doing any kind of childcare everyone's all "oh how sweet are you babysitting today?" NO YOU GOATFUCKING JACKASS IT'S CALLED BEING A FATHER

When our first child was an infant, my husband and I had a deal: since I was solely responsible for input (we were breastfeeding), he was solely responsible for output, if he was around. That meant he changed every diaper. EVERY diaper. I only changed diapers when he was at work.

Not-infrequently, we'd be out someplace that only had a changing table in the ladies' room. So my husband would knock on the door and say "Hi, I need to change a baby, can I come in?" Inevitably he would be welcomed in enthusiastically and then all the women would stand around and coo at him. One woman once said "Oh, it's so nice of you to help out like this," and he said "I'm sorry, I don't think you understand -- I'm her father."
posted by KathrynT at 8:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [216 favorites]


I just got dumped from a relationship wherein, in the process of breaking up with me, my ex-partner, whom I had previously quite loved and respected, told me in response to me trying to talk maturely about our communication problems and his mental health, "All your solutions sound like more work. I'm not going to do any more emotional work."

The fact that this male person thought that simply not doing emotional work was an option for a functioning adult human being that in any capacity that ever interacts with other people, or even with himself in a healthy way, fucking staggered me. With one statement, he destroyed all the goodwill, trust, and respect he'd built up with me in a year and a half.

I would like to print this out and nail it on his fucking door like Martin Luther.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [189 favorites]


I'd be interested to know whether the ideal solution to the inequity in emotional labor is for women to perform a lot less, men to perform a lot more, or everyone to meet in the middle somewhere.

I definitely think the market would play a huge role in this. It's already slowly happening through these last few decades. Earlier in the thread there was mention of Host/Hostess club and therapy. You can also fit in event planning, babysitting, house cleaning services, laundry services, Trunk Club, Meetup, and advice/Q&A sites (like AskMe, Quora, Jelly).

Remember in Her how Joaquin Phoenix's occupation was to compose personalized messages on letters and cards? I could imagine a subscription service where you give out your contact list and every time a holiday rolls around cards get sent to people on the list. Maybe you can add your own details or have 'em first sent over to your own house to sign them.
posted by FJT at 9:17 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd be interested to know whether the ideal solution to the inequity in emotional labor is for women to perform a lot less, men to perform a lot more, or everyone to meet in the middle somewhere.

What does "meet in the middle" look like to you if it does not include women performing less and men performing more?

The emotional work is what is needed for a civilised society; the real solution is to value it as highly as it is truly needed and acknowledge, validate, and compensate people who perform emotional labour.
posted by saucysault at 9:18 PM on July 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


Well, and he deserves it, WidgetAlley. Damn.

So many of these stories are making me sad, but I need to hear them.

And flex; what you did counted, even if it wasn't as much as you wanted it to be, and it's not your fault that no one else stepped up who should have. You made her last days better. I kind of want you to print out your post and make your husband read it, but it's not my place to tell you what to do, but still I think it would do him good to understand how you feel.

I am always going on about Ursula LeGuin but one of the throughlines in her books is that the real work of the world is taking care of each other, raising children, and behaving rightly, and that wars and fame and conquests are things that destroy that work, or get in its way, and yet those are the things we put in our histories and give honor to. The work that is least compensated, caring for the sick and old and babies, keeping everyone clean and fed and sheltered and comfortable and clothed, is the only thing that keeps the world running, and yet we despise it and despise those that do it. But where would we be if it stopped?

At the same time, it's easy to get a martyr complex when you're a woman, a feeling that you have to sacrifice everything because there is so much need and no one else will. It can make you crazy and ruin your own health.

And the only answer is: men need to step up. You don't have to write Christmas cards or whatever nitpicky thing you hate. But you do have to give a shit about other people, so that the world can keep turning without grinding women up in the process. You need to question whether those around you benefit more from you working 80 hour weeks than they do from you spending time with them. And remember what they have done for you that deserves reciprocation.
posted by emjaybee at 9:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [155 favorites]


The phrase, "Fuck you, pay me" comes to mind...
posted by mikelieman at 9:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have to say people in the US would be probalby surprised to know that you get a tax credit (paid directly to the mother each month) for having children based on your income, in Canada. My "baby bonus" per month pretty much paid our rent + utilities for almost a decade. It's not nearly enough for the job, but it *is* something and I can't give up Canada to return to the US - knowing between universal healthcare in Ontario plus "baby bonus" we are better off... they even paid me back benefits for the years I wasn't qualified with a SIN (social insurance number, which you use to file taxes) but lived here (having birthed Canadian citizens).

MIdwife services are free here as long as you are a resident of the province... maternity leave is almost a year with more than half your salary paid out plus paternity leave is available. In Quebec there is subsidized daycare for $7 a day. I have to say valuing emotional labor starts with paying mothers directly for the hit that is having children and assisting mothers in getting back to their careers. Canada could definitely do more but Canada is doing better than the US by far in valuing the otherwise unpaid, taken-for-granted work I do every day in raising these citizens.
posted by flex at 9:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [87 favorites]


#GiveYourMoneyToWomen
posted by nadawi at 9:32 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


It'd definitely help in the U.S. if we realized that other people's children are the ones who are not only going to be taking care of our needs (medical, legal, etc.) but also the ones whose tax money is going to be paying our Social Security wages. There's been some weird idea that children are a lifestyle choice rather than an economic necessity. Recognizing that women (because women are the ones doing the majority of parenting) are actively contributing to the economy by raising productive citizens would help shift things for the better, I think.
posted by jaguar at 9:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [46 favorites]


This article was just what I needed today as I've been pondering over the last week about how sick and tired I am lately at having to tiptoe around men lately at risk of hurting their feelings/egos. At work and in my personal life. I would just like to be straightforward and say things I need to say, things which have literally nothing to do with the men and are in no way a reflection of anything about them, but I can't. Because they'll get defensive and pissy and suddenly I'm the bad person. So I have to expend about 3x more energy and time trying to sugarcoat things and present them in a non-threatening way and I just get so tired of it sometimes.

Sorry if I sound bitter. I'm just awfully tired. I've been taking care of a lot of other people lately, and haven't had much time to take care of myself. It's wearing me thin. I wish I could pay someone to do some emotional labor for me! And by that, I mean, I could use a nice hot meal and a big bouquet of flowers, just because. Better get my butt to the store. Ain't no one else gonna do it for me.

Idea: Women (if they want to) doing emotional labor for other women. Most of us have been taught this shit from birth and are good at it. And (speaking for myself only), I don't mind doing it when it's worth it to me, i.e. when I'm doing it for someone who recognizes it and who I know could and would reciprocate for me if I needed it. That is almost always other women. So, good reminder to me to use my powers in this area in a productive way. I make an effort every day to support, appreciate and recognize other women for all the good work they do and never get recognized for, but I'm going to double down on that. I feel this is actually a pretty productive use of my ongoing frustration with patriarchy in general.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [57 favorites]


I teach a college class on gender in which I do a couple of exercises that relate to caring work, unpaid domestic labor, and gender. And I see patterns over and over that are both fascinating and depressing.

In one exercise, I take a family basically out of Arlie Hochschild's The Time Bind, and have the students write an essay role-playing being a counselor to the family. It involves a family of four led by a heterosexual couple who both work full time, and two young children. The father refers to watching his own children as "babysitting," and does little of the housework, so the wife is in a classic second shift situation. And she responds by doing what some in this thread suggest: she confronts her husband, and tries to get him to do more. He experiences this as "nagging," and resists.

What's interesting is that while students universally urge the father to do get off his duff and do more around the house, many also see the mother as contributing to the father's reluctance by "nagging." They believe that her confronting the father and demanding he do more must have been handled poorly. She should be more patient, more kind--and yet more firm, not letting him get away with doing less than half of the domestic labor. So: given a husband who refuses to provide emotional labor, students take the wife to task for failing to perform the emotional labor of convincing him emotional labor is important and she can't do it alone (!). And the standard they expect seems impossibly high--some tightrope balance between inoffensive supportive gentleness, and unyielding firmness. While they think it's unfair that she is burdened with so much paid labor and unpaid housework, the idea that they are demanding she do even more work--emotional labor--doesn't occur to these students, and it's for the classic reason that they don't see it as work, but something she should naturally, instinctively be motivated to do.
posted by DrMew at 10:12 PM on July 15, 2015 [171 favorites]


it's honestly one reason i chose to be a housewife, if i'm going to be doing a majority of the work in the home and in our social groups, i'm not also going to work 50+ hours on top of it. in my previous long term relationships i brought in a majority of the money and did nearly all the feminine emotional labor. luckily i have a super awesome husband who values my work just as highly (if not more) than he values his own. i know a lot of people think me some sort of slave to the patriarchy for keeping house, but it's frankly the most equitable relationship i've ever been in.

Oh yes nadawi, this. It took me years to realise that actually I didn't have to fight the good fight and work as many hours as my husband to be 'equal' when actually you know what, when you include all the unpaid emotional labour (and that includes all the stuff that comes with a kid), actually staying at home I was still pretty 'equal' with him overall. And he totally agrees.

It's not just within relationships this comes up - if people come over they expect that I have cooked (my husband often does the cooking). If we go somewhere for a social occassion I am looked at weirdly if I would rather stand with the men and talk about, stuff, rather than stand with the women and talk about kids and houses and shopping. And who was expected to remember to bring a bottle of wine/dessert/bunch of flowers to the hosts of that party? I get dirty looks if I don't start taking in the left over plates and cups to the kitchen when the party starts breaking up, rather than standing still talking with the men (who haven't bothered to move and start putting stuff away). When I worked in an office even though I was more senior to guys there I was the one who was expected to make coffee for visitors and take notes at meetings. Because I am female. Because we are the nurturers and the carers. It extends a LOOOONG way beyond birthday cards.
posted by Megami at 10:30 PM on July 15, 2015 [35 favorites]


I want to say that a lot of what I'm reading here is making me realize I seriously screwed up some things in my past, and I wouldn't have figured that out without your words.

I sincerely appreciate what all of you have shared.
posted by mikurski at 10:42 PM on July 15, 2015 [78 favorites]


GOD the worst thing is that when a dad is doing any kind of childcare everyone's all "oh how sweet are you babysitting today?" NO YOU GOATFUCKING JACKASS IT'S CALLED BEING A FATHER

When my daughter was a few months old, we were visiting a friend for a big celebration and met up with a large group of her family for dinner the night before. Baby needed changing. Husband went to change her. And I swear to God, there was an actual hushed silence, and then people started telling me how great he was. Someone said to me "You've got him well trained, haven't you?" Then the older women made a fuss of him all evening.

It is annoying on the obvious level, that he is getting praised for meeting the most basic criteria of parenting a baby. But it's also annoying to me on a more insidious level because this kind of praise and paying attention takes effort, too, and it's effort that women were making to ensure a man felt good about what he was doing and a woman realised just how lucky she was to be on the receiving end (and obviously this was something he was doing for me, not just for the baby). Layers upon layers of patriarchal bullshit.
posted by Catseye at 11:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [103 favorites]


This thread has been really valuable (like zillions of others over the years). It's become clear to me over the past few years that I really and deeply screwed up important relationships, especially romantic ones, through these kinds of typically patriarchal behaviors. The discussion here is helping me understand more clearly how numerous behavioral inequities that I have long recognized relate to one another as well as pointing to concrete ways that I can stop taking advantage of the way that emotional labor "as if by magic" has a tendency to fall to my partner by default unless I recognize the issue and make an effort. In particular I want to thank people who've discussed imbalances in emotional labor in the context of basically successful, loving relationships. When one is raised to be conveniently clueless about these things one has to be taught to clue oneself in. These sorts of threads help me to be a better partner and to understand that when I try to be a good feminist, supporting abortion rights and equal pay, using non-discriminatory language, calling out misogynistic behavior, etc., are in many ways superficial, easy, and small compared to restructuring my approach to intimate relationships.

I have a question about the discussion of emotional labor in the initial article, because this thread has (as far as I can see) diverged from it quite a bit.

In this thread, most of the discussion has been about emotional labor in romantic relationships, where it encompasses the expectation that women take responsibility for their partner's social life as well as a variety of domestic tasks. The solution, neatly put in emjaybee's comment, is to learn to be aware and distribute these duties more equitably. Most feminist men are aware that equitably distributing housework is a necessary feminist task, but many somehow ignore the challenges of fairly parceling out emotional labor.

The article discusses two rather different kinds of emotional labor. One is the demands of strangers or acquaintances on women's attention and kindness, something that seems obviously reprehensible. The other is the work of listening to and counseling one's close friends who are not romantic partners. Perhaps Zimmerman would tell me that I am starting down the road of "because reasons" when I object to the idea that friendship should be commodified, and, sure, I recognize that this is a thought experiment and that she's not sincerely proposing that you should offer to pay your friends after they listen to you complain. However, it seems like what she's discussing is just half of normal friendship, which has two basic components: doing things together and talking. Even though she says she wouldn't charge her friends, the clear implication of this section is that the expectations her male friends place on her conversationally are non-reciprocal, and that this is built into standard male behavior under patriarchy.

Here I'm confirming her when she writes that "people are disturbed by the very notion that someone would charge, or pay, for friendly support." But, for instance, people aren't disturbed by the fact that people pay therapists. The conflation of offering emotional support and sex work seems to me where some sleight of hand happens, since in the case of sex work the prohibition on taking money is truly arbitrary and discriminatory. It's not the idea of paying for friendly emotional support that's disturbing, but the idea that friendship would take on this sort of transactional form. If my partner told me that really I should be paying her $500 every time we had sex because our sex has value, my attitudes about whether paid sex work should exist or not would seem irrelevant to my response. The whole idea of friendship is that it's a social structure separated from politics and markets. As such, when she says that talking to her friends has monetary value, that sounds to me like she's either saying that these people are not really her friends because she resents them too much or that our current social structures make the demands men make of their female friends make friendship just one more form of work. Perhaps it's the predictable consequence of the fact that women are expected to perform so much free labor in other ways that something like this that sounds to my male-conditioned brain like part of a legitimately separate system of exchange tends to feel like just one more uncompensated service to a woman.

If the system of reciprocity is inherently broken, how can I tell when I'm making unfair emotional demands on a friend? I mean, obviously there are many social cues, but while I'm always trying to learn better how not to be boorish, this sounds like something different. What does the sort of emotional labor that men ask women to perform in friendships look like in the context of friendships that, like many of the marriages discussed in this thread, are mostly good and loving?
posted by vathek at 1:14 AM on July 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


Thank you to everyone who has added something here. I'm male, feminist, and I think I'm fortunate in that I haven't been hit as hard with the patriarchy stick in this area as I have in others - but I'm far from perfect.

It's really, really valuable to hear women's stories on this and every other feminist issue because they're so often stories from a world totally foreign to most men. You can see in some of the responses how easy it is for men to not even see what goes on in the world around them, because they've never had to pay attention. They've never been held responsible for sustaining relationships in the same way that women have. It's exactly why some men don't get the problem with street harassment (they've never paid attention to the relentless demands on a woman's time and appearance), the problem with workplace sexism (they've never noticed that their male boss treats them differently), online harassment (they've never been abused for speaking an opinion), etc.

I only realised there was more to the world when I started listening to women explaining again and again how their reality is fundamentally different, and that the fact that I hadn't noticed was a blissful ignorance bestowed on me by the same system that screws us up in so many ways. Until that realisation, it's so easy to think women are exaggerating, or simply failing to see some obvious solution ('Just stop sending Christmas cards!'). I wish it wasn't this way, but it took a huge volume of women's stories before the penny dropped that they weren't just discussing isolated things.

So thank you. It must be hugely frustrating to get the same clueless responses, time and time again, from guys who just don't see that these things are more than individual flaws in need of correction. I promise that I find it immensely useful, and that I use these stories and experiences to help myself be a better man and a better feminist, and I'm sure many other men do too.
posted by twirlypen at 2:42 AM on July 16, 2015 [58 favorites]


What does "meet in the middle" look like to you if it does not include women performing less and men performing more?

The emotional work is what is needed for a civilised society; the real solution is to value it as highly as it is truly needed and acknowledge, validate, and compensate people who perform emotional labour.


I think I was suggesting that the sum total of society-wide emotional labor could be substantially reduced before then being equitably distributed between men and women. Some sorts of emotional labor are inescapable (soothing that crying child, helping that elder with their taxes), but frankly a lot of other ones feel a bit like make-work (even down to the therapeutic hearing-out of other people's (men and women's) woes at great psychoanalytic length, which does not seem like a culturally universal need that people have always had).

I guess I'm saying that a society where my husband pays me for writing Christmas cards, reminding him to Skype with his mom, buying end-of-year presents for the teacher and keeping track of the kids' funny dress days at school doesn't seem like a great solution for me. At present, I would kind of rather he just did his half of it. But even better would be if there wasn't the expectation that anyone did any of it, because these tasks-- absolutely not necessary for a civilized society-- didn't exist. And 95% of the time, it seems as though the expectation that any relationship will be encrusted with all of these elaborate, labor-intensive interactions, as well as the punishment and judgment if one defaults in them, comes from other women.

I'd argue that the heroic ethos that grows up around emotional work-- look at how much I care!-- stands to harm women just as much as it helps them here.
posted by Bardolph at 4:00 AM on July 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


I would just like to be straightforward and say things I need to say, things which have literally nothing to do with the men and are in no way a reflection of anything about them, but I can't. Because they'll get defensive and pissy and suddenly I'm the bad person. So I have to expend about 3x more energy and time trying to sugarcoat things and present them in a non-threatening way and I just get so tired of it sometimes.

Oh yes ugh. At work yesterday I stepped in it when this dynamic played out because in the conversation I forgot to play this game.

I will title this little story, 'Cheesy Patriarchy

The plant manager brought a bunch of food into our office made with this new cheese he was trying out and asked us to try it.

We did. It had problems. It was chewy and rubbery. 'Like chewing on a bicycle tire' as one woman described it. No biggie. It was a tester. Just needs some recipe adjustment. So the COO comes in a bit later (my direct boss) and asks us how we liked the cheese.

The grimacing faces that responded with the comments set him off into a spiel about how he really liked it and blah blah blah explaining why we were wrong and how this was going to be a great product and when we said well it's not something that we'd buy and if we got a burger with it on it we would send it back because it was so rubbery.' We tried to discuss the good parts (high protein) but that increasing the fat to find the non rubbery point of good enough was an idea and it would still be 'low fat' relative to regular cheese but no any suggestions just caused a repeat of parts of the spiel and more and more defensive tone and body language.

"You three are tough critics," he said. "Well maybe you've just been too spoiled by having good cheese. Well maybe this is why you don't like it." Then a bunch of explaining away using all sorts of reasons that our opinions were of less value. Because gosh durn it you all are gonna like this cheese and gosh durnit stop being so critical because for some reason I can't separate people not liking the cheese and my ego. I like the cheese dammit and well...I like this cheese. Stop hurting me.

It was ridiculous. He wouldn't shut up. We apparently really needed to like this cheese.

I finally said, "Look you asked for our opinion. We could tell you what you want to hear but then that would be lying and I won't lie about something so basic as liking or not liking some cheese."

One of the other women, "And I won't lie because I only want good products to be made by us and my opinion is that this product isn't good like it's been made."

Boss man. Now even more not happy.

Conversation ended and one annoyed boss who couldn't handle people not liking and standing up about not liking the new cheese he is championing left the room.
(emotional labor part)
He really was pissed. Oh dear went the room. Discussion about his reaction and whether it was our fault and wow did he seem to take that person ensues. One of the other women wondered if maybe we should do something about him being pissed. Apologize maybe? Smooth it over. Stroke the ego a bit.

"Fuck no," I said. "We didn't like the goddamn cheese. All we did was explain why. I'm not apologizing for not liking this fucking rubbery cheese. He's a big boy. He can deal with us not liking his stupid cheese on his own. He'll survive."

Me and other women agree and go on with our day.

This cheese saga will continue though.
We're going to be shown how wrong we are about the cheese by how well it will sell apparently. Best-seller apparently. Uh huh, sure and to be honest dude we really don't care one way or another. If you are right and it sells well bully for you and the company.

We still aren't going to like the cheese.
posted by Jalliah at 4:44 AM on July 16, 2015 [203 favorites]


For heaven's sake, judging by some of the reactions you would think that instead of modestly proposing women actually charge for the emotional labour that is routinely demanded of us but not acknowledged as valuable (if acknowledged at all), it was suggested that we should start eating children or something.
posted by moody cow at 4:50 AM on July 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


This thread reminds me somewhat of the work that private bankers do for wealthy people. It's been described to me as "emotional concierge" - the actual money stuff is 10-20%, and the rest is reassuring them about their decisions, knowing their family and personal issues, arranging personal crap like birthday presents and tickets, and listening to them endlessly. It's understood that you're being paid to make your client happy, because the actual financial service you provide is replaceable and minor. Surprisingly, the female private bankers I know tend to be pretty tough outside of work - they won't put up with it if they're not getting paid either.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:05 AM on July 16, 2015 [39 favorites]


What does the sort of emotional labor that men ask women to perform in friendships look like in the context of friendships that, like many of the marriages discussed in this thread, are mostly good and loving?

I have good and loving relationships with my male friends. There still seems to be a fundamental disconnect between my male friends and relatives and my female ones, in that the women tend to consciously run through the needs and desires of others all the time, and it doesn't even seem to cross the men's minds to do so. Women are trained to take the needs and desires of others into account -- which is how we learn to remember people's birthdays, to check in on friends who aren't feeling well, to make periodic contact to stay in touch, to make sure the stranger next to us on the subway has enough space, to make sure we don't cut someone in line, etc. When this is pointed out to the men, the response is not "Maybe I could be more thoughtful," it's "Well that's dumb and a waste of your time" (very much like the birthday cards discussion).

I think this is a key to a lack of reciprocity I see in my (good and loving) relationships with my male friends. If you asked them, they'd say they loved me very much. But without facebook reminders hardly any of them would remember, let alone acknowledge, my birthday. When a couple friend of ours had the friend group's first baby, they made no effort to do any sort of congratulations, it all came from the (many fewer) women in the group. If you asked them why, it was because *they personally* didn't care that much -- how the new parents would feel didn't enter into their analysis. I had a very close male friend threaten to end our friendship after I failed to call and check in on his feelings once the girl he had been stringing along "casually" for months got tired of this treatment and ended it -- and this is during the same period that I was going through some turbulent romantic times myself. He managed to say this with a straight face even when I pointed out he hadn't once asked me how I was doing. None of our mutual male friends got called out by him in this way. Because they weren't expected to do this work and I was.

Which is why assigning monetary (instead of just emotional) value to these kinds of tasks would immediately make obvious (1) who is doing most of the work; and (2) whether or not they admit it, even the people who don't perform it do value emotional labor when it's focused on them.
posted by sallybrown at 5:08 AM on July 16, 2015 [76 favorites]


I decided recently that if the proposed solution to a problem is that I have to stop having standards and boundaries, they no longer get to negotiate. It's now my way because they have shown a critical inability to understand the situation or to treat me as an independent actor capable of rational thought.

Also, you're an idiot if you think making the choice to walk away isn't emotional labour in and of itself. Not playing the game costs as much as playing it sometimes.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:10 AM on July 16, 2015 [81 favorites]


There is one circumstance in which I see my male friends fully engaging in emotional labor without bring prompted to: when they're trying to sleep with a particular woman.
posted by sallybrown at 5:24 AM on July 16, 2015 [96 favorites]


Emotional labor expected of women, as explained by MeFites:

he can't imagine that I wouldn't revel in listening to him recount a play by play of office drama. He also takes for granted that I'll arrange all social events involving other people, maintain familiar relations with our families and be open and supporting to him. But he's not responsible for inviting his mom to Mother's day because that's my job.

it is taking care of someone else's emotional needs without having your needs even acknowledged. It is sitting down to lunch and having your friend tell you a long story about themselves, expecting you to interject with suggestions and kind words, for forty minutes before they even ask you how you are doing. It is the expectation that if you want something nice - say, someone to plan a weekend away, or to have pretty flowers around that make you feel special, or for someone to think of you when they are at the grocery store and to pick up dinner for you as well - you should do it your damn self. It's the expectation that you will walk away from an argument feeling low, after apologizing, without getting an apology in return, and that you'll be all smiles when they're ready to engage again after stonewalling you.

I feel pressured to validate a man's ego

Christmas cards ... I spent years keeping addresses current, buying cards, writing the notes, addressing and stamping the cards, keeping track of who sent a card and who must get one in return

Why is it MY job to keep track of my husband's mother's birthday ... Worse, why does my MIL get mad at ME when he forgets her birthday? Because the whole WORLD expects me to be the birthday rememberer!

Actually, the one that annoys me is Christmas presents, because it's fucking exhausting to think of presents for him, our kids, and all the members of my large extended family.

Caring about all the moving parts required to feed the occupants at dinnertime, caring about social management. Caring about noticing that something has changed - like, it's not there anymore, or it's on fire, or it's broken.

women relatives keeping family and friend relationships strong ... Sending Christmas cards, get well cards, birthday presents for family and friends, telephone calls just to check up, etc.)

sending cards, calls on significant dates, keeping the kitchen floor reasonably clean, keeping a house healthy and comfortable to live in, arranging play dates for children

recognize a family member's birthday/rite of passage/holiday

sending cards, buying presents, arranging playdates, wrapping gifts, talking to teachers, cleaning up vomit, teaching table manners, decorating the living room, choosing the plates, etc. etc. etc.

you're phoning them or bringing over flowers for their big occasions or sharing recipes with them or shopping and sending them gifts for Christmas and sending them thank you notes for the gifts they sent you.

every birthday invitation, every teacher email, every playdate invite, every Wacky Hair Day or Wear the Regalia of Your Favorite Sports Team Day email. ... Suddenly, he was in charge of managing our daughter's social life and school interactions.

manage not only her own social-emotional health but her husband's

The kids can all be out in the street playing because there are a lot of stay at home moms, and the older kids (10-14) are OK being left home alone because there are moms on the street during the afternoon. The women plan the block parties. The women rent the movies. The women arrange the dinners to people who just had a new baby, or whose spouse just died.

automatically expected to step up in situations like an elderly relative needing in-home care or support or company, a niece or nephew needing a last-minute babysitter or someone other than a parent to attend a school play, hosting a holiday event or reunion, visiting someone in a hospital, providing goodies for a playdate, mending fences between arguing parties or keeping lines of communication open, etc., etc., etc.

birthday celebrations, holiday gifts, cocktail party planning, dinner party invites, sending cards and notes, making social calls, making doctor and dentist appointments, keeping the family social calendar, checking the children's homework, etc.

Why did he need me to prompt him and schedule him?

it's the cards, and the presents and the phone calls and the thank you notes and the dinner reservations and the babysitter and the laundry and the dry cleaning and the doctor's appts and the vitamins and the groceries and the garden and the kitchen floor and the toilet paper and the 99,999 other things that mostly women end up doing

the heavy lifting of cleaning up after everyone and making everyone comfortable and taking care of everyone's needs

other woman expected all these little cards and emails and presents and check-ins

caring for the sick and old and babies, keeping everyone clean and fed and sheltered and comfortable and clothed

I have to expend about 3x more energy and time trying to sugarcoat things and present them in a non-threatening way

If we go somewhere for a social occassion I am looked at weirdly if I would rather stand with the men and talk about, stuff, rather than stand with the women and talk about kids and houses and shopping. And who was expected to remember to bring a bottle of wine/dessert/bunch of flowers to the hosts of that party? I get dirty looks if I don't start taking in the left over plates and cups to the kitchen when the party starts breaking up, rather than standing still talking with the men ... expected to make coffee for visitors and take notes at meetings

Discussion about his reaction and whether it was our fault and wow did he seem to take that person ensues. One of the other women wondered if maybe we should do something about him being pissed. Apologize maybe? Smooth it over. Stroke the ego a bit.

I had a very close male friend threaten to end our friendship after I failed to call and check in on his feelings once the girl he had been stringing along "casually" for months got tired of this treatment and ended it

WidgetAlley: The fact that this male person thought that simply not doing emotional work was an option for a functioning adult human being that in any capacity that ever interacts with other people, or even with himself in a healthy way, fucking staggered me.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:31 AM on July 16, 2015 [84 favorites]


This whole discussion has been very enlightening, because it has given me vocabulary to voice all my issues around this.
I have a very low tolerance for this, and always have done. I don't want to do this emotional labour, and never have, but I do it because its part of what you have to do. I'm not very good at all parts of it. So when I meet men, generally in house sharing situations, who act like their other female housemates should be a combination of their mother (keep house) and the cool girl archetype (be like one of the guys so we can be friends!!!), or who know just enough of what to do to get the kudos but not have to expel any of the effort, I want to have nothing to do with them.

I've been away for the last three weeks house sitting for some friends. Its been great. I come back yesterday and even though my housemates weren't in, I got immediately angry because my being away for three weeks meant NOTHING had been done. There was no toilet paper left. The living room was full of dried washing that no one could be bothered to put away. The recycling hadn't been touched. My male housemate has still not paid me for three months of electricity bills, because I insist on emailing him or texting him to remind him when its convenient for me, and not when its convenient for him.
It is this emotional bullshit that is why I am sure that paying twice my rent on a one bedroom flat will be more than worth it.
posted by litereally at 5:34 AM on July 16, 2015 [31 favorites]


Now I can't stop thinking what the world would be like if men started treating everyone with the same care and concern they show women they're trying to get into bed.
posted by sallybrown at 5:37 AM on July 16, 2015 [71 favorites]


Remember in Her how Joaquin Phoenix's occupation was to compose personalized messages on letters and cards? I could imagine a subscription service where you give out your contact list and every time a holiday rolls around cards get sent to people on the list. Maybe you can add your own details or have 'em first sent over to your own house to sign them.

Outside of the bounds of science fiction, who do you think would actually be doing this work? Do you think it would actually make emotional labor less gendered and more equitable, or do you think it might just wind up outsourcing the work to other, less visible women? Like how in AskMes where a woman is trying to figure out how to get her male partner how to stop slacking in the housework department, there's always at least one dude (and usually more than that) who tells the woman to just tamp down her objections and hire a housekeeper. Problem solved! There's zero acknowledgment of the fact that hiring a housekeeper does nothing to solve the actual problem, it just outsources it to another woman. Another underpaid woman, no less.

Which reminds me of this excellent post by flex from last year -- men as feminist allies -- along with this eminently quotable comment by MonkeyToes, which is largely about gendered inequity in housework but can also be read in the light of gendered inequity in emotional labor: Folks, there are no motherfucking gnomes. (I swear to god, every time I clean the toilet, I hear a voice in my head reminding me that my efforts are necessary because Bartleby is still sitting there effectively saying, "I prefer not to.")

We don't need to outsource this work to other women, we need men to step their game up.
posted by divined by radio at 5:45 AM on July 16, 2015 [70 favorites]


So, two months ago my boyfriend and I went to a nearby beach for a two-week vacation. His family has been going to that beach for vacation ever since he was tiny, so his dad and his sister and his aunt and uncle wanted to come visit. And he asked me if that would be okay, and I told him it would, so he invited them and organized all of the plans for who was coming and when and for how long (which makes sense, because it was his family).

But the oddest thing happened when those family members arrived for a visit: all of a sudden, I was the host, not him. I was the one making tea or fetching water, setting the table, adjusting the thermostat, making space for their stuff in the bathroom. He and his sister had an argument, and so I ended up being the one having brunch with her and her kids the next day, trying to smooth things over, while he went for a walk. When his dad came to visit for the day (they don't get along very well) I ended up entertaining him for an hour while my boyfriend went running, because although his dad is kind of a pain in the neck, he also seemed a bit lonely. When we went walking with his elderly aunt, I was the one keeping an eye on her and making the suggestion to have a drink at a cafe before turning around and walking home again, because I could see she was getting tired.

It's not like my boyfriend was maliciously avoiding doing all that work. It just..didn't seem to occur to him. And I don't mind being a host exactly. I just was very thrown off by the whole thing when I realized he wasn't going to do it, because it was his family. And since I am still getting to know his family, I felt sort of pressured into it. Partly because they have always been really gracious to me and I wanted them to have a nice time, and partly because I was afraid that if I didn't, then they'd go home and talk about that awful impolite American and what-was-he-thinking.
posted by colfax at 5:49 AM on July 16, 2015 [92 favorites]


So I have to expend about 3x more energy and time trying to sugarcoat things and present them in a non-threatening way and I just get so tired of it sometimes.

Oh god, yes, this. Since most of the stories in here have been about this in private contexts, here's a work example.

I had an older dude stomp into my office and say "Let Mike know we're here. He knows who we are." No idea of which Mike (we have more than one), and also... I AM NOT THE RECEPTIONIST. We have multiple receptionists. Dude had bypassed all of the actual receptionists, taken over a conference room in the wrong building, and demanded that I find an unspecified Mike for him. Because I am female, so regardless of my actual job title, it is still somehow my job to call the actual receptionists, figure out where the dude in question belongs, and gently go break it to him that, gosh, we're so sorry our office confused you, but you're in the wrong building, the right building is right over there, have a great day. Because that kind of dude will totally hold his mistake against us unless we sooth his ruffled feathers.
posted by pie ninja at 5:56 AM on July 16, 2015 [61 favorites]


Seconding a few of the comments above- where just the discussion of this has given me a vocabulary to discuss it- we had a 2hr conversation about this concept in my home last night... Emotional labor is something I'm very good at, but it took me being utterly overwhelmed at work and hitting a horrid bout of insomnia to finally turn around to my SO and go "dude, I just don't have the energy to deal with setting up things for us/you anymore" and so we didn't do anything social for a while, and when a thing (for his friends!) came up that needed planning, it became his problem to figure out, and all of a sudden, he now understands how hard it is to wrangle 5 adults (who all want to go on the trip!) and coordinate everything. It's EXHAUSTING. The actual logistics are complicated, the emotional labor of balancing everyone and realizing that oh so and so has x thing going on, so they really can't leave work early and someone else has issues at home and that's why they're touchy/not instantly replying and I don't intend to gather information, but you listen. And you put the pieces together, and you don't trample over everything for the current short term goal, but for the longer term goal of humanity working together.

It goes back to the maintanance vs short term solution people always mention when cleaning or household chores come up and the guy is 100% willing to scrub the toilet with a toothbrush every year, but refuses to sweep weekly.

And unsurprisingly, the men who figure out how to combine emotional labor with work monetize it and are praised for their social skills. *sigh*
posted by larthegreat at 6:06 AM on July 16, 2015 [34 favorites]


Oh man.

This thread has been rough to read, as I can see my (gay male) self in a lot of the stories that have been told. Thank you for telling them.

My boyfriend and I are stuck in a classic version of this dynamic. He had Christmas gifts for my entire family figured out by Hallowe'en.

I would love to hear stories or strategies about how men (or people in the 'male' role in this dynamic) have stepped up. What has worked for you? (The input/output breastfeeding/diapers story was amazing.
posted by sixswitch at 6:11 AM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Now I can't stop thinking what the world would be like if men started treating everyone with the same care and concern they show women they're trying to get into bed.

Depressingly enough, the number of comments in this thread alone about the behavior of husbands and boyfriends (ex- or current) who assume women do all the emotional labor is evidence that we already live in this world . . . . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 6:12 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


...when a thing (for his friends!) came up that needed planning, it became his problem to figure out, and all of a sudden, he now understands how hard it is to wrangle 5 adults (who all want to go on the trip!) and coordinate everything. It's EXHAUSTING. The actual logistics are complicated, the emotional labor of balancing everyone and realizing that oh so and so has x thing going on, so they really can't leave work early and someone else has issues at home and that's why they're touchy/not instantly replying...

Omigod, I have gotten paid for this kind of work - as a secretary and as a stage manager.

But I was doing both jobs simultaneously for ten years while also trying to do that in my own life. No wonder I've been so exhausted for so long.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 AM on July 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


What does the sort of emotional labor that men ask women to perform in friendships look like in the context of friendships that, like many of the marriages discussed in this thread, are mostly good and loving?
If I had a nickel for every time I have heard a friend tell me, "Wow, sockermom, talking to you is like talking to a therapist - only better!" I would have been able to pay for a second masters in social work so that I could actually charge for the privilege. Oh, except that I am pretty sure the "only better!" part refers to the fact that my labor is free, and can be done while we eat lunch together instead of in a stuffy office somewhere.

Another story: just yesterday I had lunch with a (male) friend. He launched into a long story about himself the moment we sat down at the table. When the food came, about 40 minutes later, he took out his phone for a food photo, started eating, and with a full mouth said, "Oh, so how are you?" He listened for about two minutes and then started to poke at his phone.

Another example: I recently passed a life milestone. My best guy friend couldn't make it to my celebration dinner because he "scored" a date at the last minute. Oh, I also planned the celebration dinner even though god, I was embarrassed about making a whole thing out of my milestone, of celebrating me, it seemed gross somehow. Especially if I arranged it myself. But, as my boyfriend said, "Gee, that's probably something I should do for you, but then it just won't end up happening."

Other general examples of emotional labor in friendship:
- Being someone I can ask for help and rely on if needed. When I had pneumonia, I only asked my female friends for help. I knew my male friends wouldn't come through.
- Getting in touch just to say hi
- Initating plans
- Doing things I like to do sometimes. Asking me where I would like to go to eat or what movie I'd like to see.
- Telling me: "Call me if you need anything!" I have never once heard a man say that to me unless I was dating him. Women say that all the time to me when they know I might need something (e.g. when I am sick, like my pneumonia example above).
- Listening when I talk. Not looking at your phone, or at people (women) walking by, or at my chest.
- Conversing with me rather than saying, "I don't care about that" or "Who cares?" when I talk about something. Yes, this happens - frequently it is when I talk about feminism, I've noticed.
- Not interrupting me and making space so I can talk. Particularly an issue in groups of men where I am the only woman.

So, to answer the question: it's showing that you care about the people you call friends by doing things that demonstrate that friendship in an active way. Not letting the woman plan everything, or only doing what you like with her. Listening when she talks. Being kind. Remembering things that matter to her and letting her know you remembered those things. It's being a friend.
posted by sockermom at 6:40 AM on July 16, 2015 [91 favorites]


litereally: " because it has given me vocabulary to voice all my issues around this."

I first learned the term around five years ago, when we had a baby at home, and I was frequently frustrated and resentful, but wasn't sure quite how to express why, and I ran across an article talking about it. I explained it to my husband and he was like, "Okay, that makes sense, I don't viscerally 'get it,' but I hear what you're saying." And since then he's tried to pick up a lot more of the emotional labor, and I can tell him, "You know, I feel like I'm doing all the emotional labor on this [dealing with family holidays, let us say] and I'm getting frustrated," and he will say, "What can I pick up for you? Or do you just want to vent for a while?" And I can say, "I'm worn out, I just can't deal" (which always means emotionally worn out for me), and he will go grocery shopping on Friday and take the kids out of the house all day Saturday and cook all weekend so that I don't have to run those errands or plan meals or make shopping lists or think of all-day entertainment or supervise children. By midafternoon Saturday I'm always like, "Where'd you all gooooooooo I'm ready to be human again!"

Just having a term to apply to that kind of work helped a LOT in making our home more equitable and giving us language to talk about that emotional work. And the other part of it is, since emotional work isn't recognized as work, people are rarely thanked for it. My husband now frequently thanks me, like, "Hey, thanks for getting everything together so the kids could have a great Christmas" or "Thanks for putting together this trip" or "Thanks for sorting all the boys' clothes and figuring out what they need new for school" or "Thanks for dealing with the plumber." THIS MAKES ME FEEL LIKE QUEEN OF THE WORLD! Just having all my "background work" recognized helps a lot!

I don't mind doing emotional labor for my family and friends. It does make me feel good to take care of them. But it feels even better to have that work acknowledge, respected, appreciated, and reciprocated. Being able to talk about "emotional labor" with my husband, just having that language, really helped both of us recognize it and do better at recognizing and balancing that work.

FJT: " I could imagine a subscription service where you give out your contact list and every time a holiday rolls around cards get sent to people on the list. Maybe you can add your own details or have 'em first sent over to your own house to sign them."

I get this card from one of my uncles. They fancily raised-ink print his signature on it and everything so you have to look real closely to figure out it isn't actually signed but printed.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 AM on July 16, 2015 [81 favorites]


Oh yes, outside of romantic relationships, in the workplace (in my case, academe), I have approximately a billion examples of women being expected to do unpaid emotional work on top of -- or in place of -- their actual job description duties.

Like, right now, there is a battle going on between the clerical staff in one area (where the students and faculty are predominantly male) and the admin/advising/clerical staff in my area. All the people immediately in the battle are women, but the whole thing revolves around the apparently vital importance of "nurturing" mostly men young adult college students, i.e., enabling learned helplessness by doing things FOR them rather than teaching them to do independently some basic self-registration tasks that my dogs could do if they had thumbs. The people who are taking it upon themselves to do this nurturing and "helping" are breaking a bunch of policies and messing things up for other departments in the process, and when called on it, they basically accuse the rest of us of being heartless unnatural Lady Macbeths or puppy-drowning psychopaths. Because helping is what real women do, doncha know?

But the larger cause of all this is that the highly paid men faculty advisors in that predominantly male area, whose job it is to help students with registration problems and teach them to be independent, cannot be fucking bothered to do any job duty that's not directly ego-and-expertise-stroking, fob all the scut work of advising off on the clerical staff whose job it's not, and blame these lower-paid employees when a student who hasn't taken 100- and 200-level prerequisites gets put into a 300-level class and fails.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:46 AM on July 16, 2015 [31 favorites]


I would love to hear stories or strategies about how men (or people in the 'male' role in this dynamic) have stepped up. What has worked for you? (The input/output breastfeeding/diapers story was amazing.

No offense, because I had a very similar question typed up, but you're kind of doing that guy thing where you want to make the conversation about guys (plus you're asking the women to do the emotional labor of finding solutions to your problems for you). If you want to me-mail me I'll give you some stuff I've done to work on my own expectations in my relationships with women, but I think in the context of this conversation a good way for us men of goodwill to step up is to just say "yeah, that sucks" and then quietly start to take note about what we can do better.

Which isn't to say that you're a bad person for asking the question, or that it's not coming from a good place, just that this isn't a great time to ask it. This would be a great question to use your weekly ask on.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:07 AM on July 16, 2015 [129 favorites]


You know, I think I have a pretty good marriage to a pretty rad dude, but I still see quite a few of these behaviours in my everyday life. (I no longer do the birthday prompting. We have a calendar where we both write these things. If he can see the calendar, then he knows what to do. And he does it.) But yeah, things like leaving clothes around the house---you pinpoint the trajectory of when he becomes Office Guy to Normal Human by the trail of stuff he leaves from the front door to the living room--or sometimes relying on me to schedule or remind him about social events we have planned, I do because I have never thought until now that it should be any other way. Or rather, I have never realized that I am expected to do it solely because of my gender. I have a middling relationship with my dad, yet I am the one who is expected to take the high road and keep in touch with him. (I get this from everyone in my family, not just my spouse.) But I stand firm on that one, my dad knows how to use a damn phone. Let him take the initiative. I got other shit to do.

I guess what I am saying is that I will let my spouse know that we are in this together so time to start getting used to some unpaid emotional labour, baby.
posted by Kitteh at 7:13 AM on July 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


The people who are taking it upon themselves to do this nurturing and "helping" are breaking a bunch of policies and messing things up for other departments in the process, and when called on it, they basically accuse the rest of us of being heartless unnatural Lady Macbeths or puppy-drowning psychopaths. Because helping is what real women do, doncha know?

I work as a program coordinator at a medical school and every conference, meeting, etc. I've gone to for people in my role there's always one person who gives a speech about how we're supposed to be the residents' "mothers". It bugs the shit out of me, but everyone else seems to eat it up hook, line and sinker and will brag about how they're their residents' second mom. Though I'm pretty sure I do an excellent job of actually, you know, coordinating our program, I do feel like I'm being judged because I don't arrange baby showers or seek out deep emotional connections and become heavily invested in the personal lives of grown ass people who are basically coworkers. Which is not to say I wouldn't be there to help if one of them indeed had a problem and indeed I am quite fond of most of them and want them to succeed, but the whole expectation that I'm going to do the job of a mother on top of my actual work is just icky.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:30 AM on July 16, 2015 [38 favorites]


Oh yes, outside of romantic relationships, in the workplace (in my case, academe), I have approximately a billion examples of women being expected to do unpaid emotional work on top of -- or in place of -- their actual job description duties.

Oh goodness yes. This is my semi-official job duty at this point, which my boss gave to me a couple of years ago "because you're the only one bossy enough to get it done." Recently, I met with him and had to explain the underlying dynamics that had caused an explosion of tension between one thoughtless male student and literally the entire rest of the lab. (Said student had poorly planned a field excursion and had attempted to outsource as many of his failures in planning to as many other students as he could, with predictably irritating results.) I sketched out literally years of unresolved tensions and sore spots for him, including at least three incidents he had had no clue about, and explained what I was doing to try to ameliorate these things and keep the lab working smoothly as a group. I routinely behave in particular ways in lab meetings in order to (explicitly!) back up my boss' clearly stated attempts to keep the lab running smoothly. I organize most of our training initiatives, have provided most of the suggestions that keep our meetings running on time, and moderate the undergrad assistants as much as I can. I also make sure that the common areas get and stay clean, handle a lot of last-minute repair gigs, and make sure that people listen to our other "fixer," who is better at a lot of things than I am but who doesn't handle open confrontation as well.

And he told me that he'd given me this task of doing miscellaneous things and interfacing between the members of the lab "because you're kind of forgetful, so I deliberately gave you a light task." And the thing that gets me is that my "unofficial" work isn't the only one he devalues. He routinely seems to miss the contributions of the two people who do more to keep the lab running than I do, both of whom train and directly oversee more undergrads than I do as well as train grad students in their area of expertise. But they're not good, as I said, at confrontation, and because both of them are so reliable he cuts them far less slack than he does other members of the lab. It is exhausting and really frustrating.
posted by sciatrix at 7:32 AM on July 16, 2015 [28 favorites]


As a woman, I feel lucky in this respect on two counts:

1) I was raised by a mother who very actively challenged this kind of thing, even if it made her look rude. For example, if we visited my father's side of the family, all the women visiting would immediately head to kitchen to help with the cooking, while the men would kick back and relax on the sofas. This was in India, so if anything, patriarchal gender norms were even stronger. My mom just would not go into the kitchen and stay chatting with the menfolk about work or whatever other interests she had (she had a lot of them!) . As a child, this made me intensely uncomfortable, but she'd just tell me that I would understand later on (which I do). She was extremely socially engaged -- attended lots of weddings, had heaps of friends, had lots of dinner parties -- so I would say she did a lot of emotional work. However, she called this out early and often. I remember there was a particular friend of my father's who he was quite close to. My mom said, you know what, I'm just going to wait and let dad invite him home. It's been 25 years and this man has still not received an invite to our home. She also would pick and choose the kind of labor she was willing to do -- I've never seen her address a single greeting card, for example, though all her friends knew that they were cared for. She refused to attend on relatives at hospital bedsides besides for short visits (she said that hospitals gave her the creeps) and shrugged if people thought she was uncaring because of it. My dad was the one who did this sort of thing, in fact, staying overnight with sick relatives in hospitals.

2) I happened to marry a man who is actually well above average when it comes to being willing to take on emotional labor. This wasn't accidental -- I was definitely well aware of this sort of thing from my mother, and was on the lookout for a guy like that. I'm not sure why he's like that - a lot of it is probably just nature -- but he also was brought up mostly by his mother and grandmother, and his father (whom is mother is divorced from) is quite emotionally distant. His mother and grandmother expect a lot of emotional labor from him -- calls every week at the very least (often several times a week). When his mother injured her knee mountain-climbing when he was a teenager, he spent an entire summer month waiting on her and teaching himself how to cook from an Italian cookbook. He sends cards and flowers and calls people on their birthdays (he's way better at this than me, and will often remind me of upcoming birthdays). He keeps the household calendar, noting down dentist appointments and dinner reservations. He is usually the first to notice if the kitchen floor needs cleaning. He researches places we're going to travel to. He's definitely not perfect -- he hates making non-personal phone calls, so chores of that kind of often need to be done by me. He is rather introverted and is not great at small talk, so I often do the social heavy lifting when we go out. However, in terms of managing relationships and keeping friends and relatives happy over a period of decades, he is by far better than me, so I feel that we balance each other out -- I can make friends and he can keep them. We shall see what happens when we have kids and the weight of societal expectations begins to make itself felt.
posted by peacheater at 7:38 AM on July 16, 2015 [68 favorites]


vathek, in terms of what equal emotional labor would look like in a friendship, I have had a really good experience recently with a male friend that stood out in such stark contrast to my relationship woes that it really highlighted the difference in emotional labor for me.

My friend B has had lady troubles in a casual way for a very long time, and we're pretty good friends, and I've take him to dinner and commiserated with him several times before about it, because he's a friend and I care about him and I want him to have someone in his life who's on his side, so to speak. When I got dumped, he was one of the people who found out first, and he was phenomenal on a level I've only ever experienced with female friends -- letting me come over to his house and vent at him, not making conversations about romantic woes All About Him, saying incredibly wonderful things like, "Well, [Ex] is being punished too-- by not getting to be with you," giving me a ride to a party we were both going to so I wouldn't have to drive, checking in with me during the even to make sure I was okay, bringing me a blanket when I fell asleep on the couch at that party because I was so exhausted from having cried for twelve hours the night before. Over the next several days, he made any time he was home available to me (he lives close by) to come over and just... hang out and work, if I needed to, so that I didn't have to be in my suddenly haunted apartment. Having been dumped on the very beginning of 4th of July weekend and suddenly denied any of the parties with mutual friends I was supposed to go to with my ex, he even got in touch with his mom and made sure I could come to their family dinner so I wouldn't be home alone crying on a holiday. The three components of emotional labor were there in spades: he knew (it's amazing how oblivious men are most of the time, but B knew even down to knowing I'd probably just lost all my holiday plans), he cared (not in a casual, obligatory way, but in a serious I-don't-want-my-friend-to-be-in-pain way), and he did something (it's not like an extra guest for a holiday meal is no work). It's rare to find a male friend who will actually do all three.

On a larger scale, the amount of emotional caretaking he and several other of my friends did for me was incredible. My friend M was my breakup recovery coach, texting me to make sure I was eating. My friend Buddy took me out for gelato the day after and just wandered an upscale mall with me for as long as I wanted, watching people and letting me tell her what happened in various ways over and over while I processed. My friend S has been texting me every night with pictures of Natalie Dormer and weird stories from her OR. And here's the thing: I didn't have to do anything. I didn't have to plan any of this, or even reach out beyond saying, "A thing happened and I'm so, so sad about it." People said, "I'm coming to get you and we're doing this thing to make you feel better," and picked me up from my house so I wouldn't have to drive. I never had to say, "Do you have time to talk?", because friends came out of every corner of my life to lovingly shout, "I have time to talk! Do you want to talk about it or do you want distraction?"

It was so incredible and validating to be held up by all of these excellent people who just... felt like a safety net. Like I couldn't manage my own emotions for a while but I could trust them to do it for me. And yes, they're all, men and women, getting flowers and notes explaining how incredibly lucky I am to have friends like them as soon as I can do it without being a sobbing mess. They gave me emotional work when I needed it, and so I'll turn around and give it back to them. THAT's what a good, equitable friendship looks like. A constant circle of mutual support that may wax and wane according to the lives and abilities of each person in it (God knows I wasn't capable of providing much work this month), but that overall balances out.

The thing that really highlights how shitty this system is, for everyone, is that my subconscious immediately started monitoring B's motivations: "Oh no! Does he want to sleep with me and that's why he's being so nice?" Which is both a potentially stressful situation and a crappy thing to think about a friend who came through for you when you needed him. What's more, I bet several of you reading this thread saw the above and thought, "Well, why aren't you dating him?"-- God knows I have even though I have no real interest-- as though the only capacity in which men can give this sort of support is a romantic one. As always, patriarchy ruins it all for everyone.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2015 [122 favorites]


Mr. Dorinda is excellent at doing emotional labour.... when it will directly benefit him. For example, he has almost singlehandedly planned the cross-country road trip that we are imminently embarking upon (for which I am grateful because ugh. Who wants to spend their day finding options for dog-friendly but not too expensive motels at appropriate intervals all across the continent? Have at 'er, babe), but he has only taken this on because he wanted to plan the trip around *his* choice of backpacking and hiking trips that we'll be doing along the way. He was willing to do the practical labour of researching hikes and choosing routes and organizing a trip with his Dad and brother, but utterly unwilling (or, perhaps worse, just completely unconscious) of doing the emotional labour of checking in with me to see if those hikes were interesting to me, or if I had ideas about where we might want to stop. He just presented me with the plan he'd come up with and, completely unironically, waited to be patted on the head and congratulated for being such a clever boy. Don't get me wrong, I am very happy to have not had to do all the legwork on this... but maybe I might have liked some input on how we'll be spending the fun parts of our vacation?

Conversely, the parts of trip-planning that *don't* result in a tangible payoff for him (planning nutritious and non-fast food picnic-able meals that we can pack in the cooler and eat while we stop to let the dog have a romp, making sure the house is clean and organized for the cat sitter, keeping our friends and relatives informed about our travel schedule and juggling our limited visiting time so that everyone gets to see us at a time that works for them and no one feels slighted by too short of a visit, etc) are all things that have not even crossed his mind (he's happy to eat Subway for two weeks, so why shouldn't I be?), or that he finds patently ridiculous (why do we need to do extra cleaning for a pet sitter? He doesn't care what she thinks of us, and clearly the only reason I would want to spend extra time cleaning and organizing is some vain attempt to impress a stranger because silly women and not a consideration of her comfort and safety in our space and a desire to ensure she has everything available she needs to do the job we hired her to do), or that he is actively hostile to doing (we're the ones making a bazillion mile trip, everyone else should just conform their schedules to us or miss out, and it's not our fault and we shouldn't feel bad, and who cares that most of the people we are visiting are mothers with young children who are therefore subject to significant demands on their time and attention and are ACTUALLY NOT ABLE to just visit us when its convenient for us because clearly that's not real work and can be adjusted to suit his needs). So I've been doing all that work, and not only am I not being acknowledged or thanked for it, I'm often being ridiculed for "caring too much" and "not being able to just let it go" because he is seemingly incapable of understanding that the thing that is best and most convenient for him is maybe not best for someone else and choosing to ignore/remain ignorant of that has actual consequences for actual people and will actually cause real hurt and HOLY SHIT we're not driving across the entire country to visit our sisters and their kids and then brushing them off if they have the audacity to suggest that maybe they can't just "be flexible" with their days because THEY'VE GOT FUCKING WORK TO DO, and no, I'm not going to just "let it go" that your sister is HUGELY SAD that you (idiotically) told her that we are just going to skip visiting her at all because she (very reasonably) told us that her 2-year-old is afraid of dogs and so we can't crash at her house and you're pissed about it. ARHGAHGHHA!

So yeah.
That turned into a bit of a rant.

But I think the point I wanted to make (and which other women in this thread have made much more eloquently and less rantily than me) is that my partner is in almost every other area a legitimately fantastic feminist ally. He gets it. He takes action in many ways, large and small, to make the world a more humane and equitable place for women. He is wonderful, and I love him. But he does not understand the value of emotional labour, because he has never had to do it except when by choice, and he does not understand the consequences of neglecting that labour, because he is not the one who suffers them. He is not a monster. He is not a boor. He is insightful and proactive about many feminist issues.
But he is deeply and willfully blind in this area. He (like many men) is convinced that engaging in an emotional economy is voluntary, because for him it always has been.
posted by Dorinda at 8:16 AM on July 16, 2015 [221 favorites]


Damn, Dorinda, that last paragraph alone is some awesome shit right there.
posted by Kitteh at 8:20 AM on July 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


...you're kind of doing that guy thing where you want to make the conversation about guys...

Note taken, thank you. I am fascinated by how the question of emotional labour and gender-role casting is just as relevant in gay (and lesbian) relationships, and that felt like something I wanted to share.

I was using the 'third dude rule' for guidance, which I picked up in a theatre workshop. I can't find a link describing it, so here it is: in mixed-gender environments, try to not be the third guy in a row to talk. It's simple to execute and serves to a) make me conscious of how much space I take up, and b) create more space for women. Anyways, I felt comfortable posting because this thread did not seem to be struggling with that issue, but again: thanks, note taken.

...(plus you're asking the women to do the emotional labor of finding solutions to your problems for you).

Note rejected. What I actually asked was if people in the 'male' role could share how they'd moved from being conscious of this, to actually stepping up and doing better. I was pretty conscious of posting "hey 'guys', how can we in the 'male' role step up?" rather than "hey people doing so much emotional labour, tell us what to do."

Anyways, thank you for the graciously-phrased and generously-intended feedback on my comment and the offer to share your experiences privately.
posted by sixswitch at 8:33 AM on July 16, 2015 [29 favorites]


My boyfriend and I are stuck in a classic version of this dynamic. He had Christmas gifts for my entire family figured out by Hallowe'en.

It's worth saying that this dynamic really isn't only something that happens in hetero relationships. The point other people have made in-thread about how emotional labor really hurts people if it doesn't get done? It turns out that while same-gender couples are usually more equitable about division of labor than hetero ones, there's still an interesting gendered difference there--gay men have a division of labor which is more equal than hetero couples, but less equal than lesbians'. (Check the last page there--it was the most accessible commentary on this I could find, which is a little telling.) I've always thought that this difference comes down to who gets socialized to look after this. Women see this as work that needs to get done and are, in general, more aware that this invisible work exists. Men... less so, which can make it easier to just not notice. It makes sense to me that this would play out in same-gender relationships just as it does in hetero ones.

That said, I've totally noticed a tendency in myself to step back and let my (nonbinary, often perceived-female) partner take the lion's share of this kind of household work since we moved in together a couple of months ago. It's really easy, especially when they have been jobless for a little while and I've been working full time, to just... not notice all the little cleaning/cooking/household shit they've done while they're home, and also to let my own contributions slack up. So I've been trying to compensate for that and start as I mean to go on by paying attention and consciously thanking my partner when I do notice stuff, defining tasks that are definitely mine no matter what (and others which are mine on certain days and not on others), and using a to-do-list app to be my reminder to do them.

I remember how annoying it is to have to remind someone to do their job and how that shouldn't be my partner's job to boss me to do my own shit, and I check my to-do list when I get up, before I leave for work, and when I get home. Stuff that I care about, I plan and organize, and it's my job to talk to my family just as it's my partner's job to talk to theirs. Carving out definite areas of responsibility, and having explicit conversations about what those should be--that's been a really helpful strategy, but it's even more important to say "no matter what this is my shit and I need to get up and do it" about those tasks.
posted by sciatrix at 8:40 AM on July 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


I just want to say as a man in a same-sex relationship, this thread has been hugely eye-opening - and in no small part because we've recently had a few near-arguments about the facts that (for the most part) I clean the apartment and he plans our social outings ...and we both were feeling put-upon by these tasks.
posted by psoas at 9:18 AM on July 16, 2015 [33 favorites]


The Carolyn Hax column this morning was really interesting to read after reading this thread last night (and especially flex's contribution, which is one of the first comments on metafilter to ever make me cry). As she puts it:
As you know, it’s not about cake, it’s about being treated like wallpaper in the lives of the ones you love most.
I don't have much to add that hasn't been said better above. I feel like my partner and I have tried to be very conscious and thoughtful about not reproducing sexist patterns as we became parents, and there's some places we've done really well--especially around arranging our routines so that the endless scutwork involved with caring for a little person is relatively equally distributed--but the emotional labor piece is not equal. Not so much between the two of us or between us and our son, but the work of maintaining warm relationships with grandparents and aunts and uncles. I think if you asked him, he'd say he didn't care and it wasn't important to him, and so many of you have given me a new way to look at that. So thanks.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:43 AM on July 16, 2015 [25 favorites]


You know who does the labor to keep all that together? The women.

A few years ago, a group my kids are in had a Valentine's Day party, and I could not explain to my husband why I was in such dread about addressing 40 little cards, making an ingredient-labeled allergen-free lunch item to share, packing plates and utensils, getting the kids and the food to the location in bad weather, and attending the party. He thought it was a nice thing for the kids, as long as he didn't have to participate.

The reality (cribbed from an email to my best friend, just after): Take one small, well-heated room and add 40 children, 20 mommies [no dads, iirc], close-set tables and chairs, 40 valentine mailboxes and a hungry mob trying to stuff the correct valentines into each mailbox. Welcome to my special hell. I get my kids fed, then get them seconds, and wait until the mob has cleared out a bit before I try mailbox stuffing. The organizer says it's time to collect mailboxes and I have so many cards that I can't see whose is whose without laying them out in front of me. I dive under a table, spread them out on the floor and yell to my son "Whose name do you see?" Under the table, my curses get a little bit louder because *I cannot get out now,* thanks to all of the little legs blocking my way. I am stuck, with a handful of motherfucking valentines, under a motherfucking table, in a motherfucking LIBRARY. Organization, people, do you speak it?

The implication that I am supposed to be happy about this extra unpaid work, good at it, and gracious about it because I'm a woman and that I am judged to be damaged/not doing it right if I'm NOT happy about it, also because I'm a woman, is maddening.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:43 AM on July 16, 2015 [51 favorites]


But even better would be if there wasn't the expectation that anyone did any of it, because these tasks-- absolutely not necessary for a civilized society-- didn't exist.

I think a lot of those tasks ARE necessary for a civilised society. I have a ...troubled... relationship with my in-laws. Mostly relating to the fact that they did not see the value in teaching their son the importance of emotional labour, their expectation that I would do 100% of the emotional labour in maintaining their relationship to their son and grandchildren, and my refusal to do so. So, they, in effect have no relationship with their grandchildren by their own (and their son's) choice.

For instance, they recently saw the youngest grandchild for a few hours after eight months of no contact (they live about 30 mins away) - they specially asked that it be on her birthday (which meant a lot of last minute logistical juggling) and then, while alone with her for those few hours, did not acknowledge her fifth birthday - a big deal at that age - at all (no happy birthday, no gift, denada). Because, as they later said, the MIL birthday had been ignored by their son and grandchildren (ME is who they blamed though) four months earlier so "clearly our family does not see the importance of anyone's birthday" (they are well aware that my husband has also never remembered my birthday in 20 years, so it wasn't like he specifically excluded them).

I don't care about their feelings, but the impact on my child, that she sees other children her age have several loving grandparents that at least say "happy birthday" while she has one set that purposefully ignores her and she finds it is very hurtful. That kind of childhood rejection and trauma, if it was not soothed by other people in her life that love her, is rife in the stories of people that cause trauma to others as adults.

Emotional labour is not specific acts like writing christmas cards, arranging visits and dressing the kids in funny clothes. It is putting the energy, emotion, empathy, and effort into caring for someone else; acknowledging they are human, they have needs, and subsiding their own feelings in order to prioritise someone else. That IS necessary for a civilised society, community, or social group.

If everyone always puts themselves first, no matter what, we end up with dysfunctional people in unhealthy communities that vote in self-serving politicians that create laws that benefit the few, have increased crime rates, and environmental degregation.
posted by saucysault at 9:45 AM on July 16, 2015 [107 favorites]


I'm in a relationship with another woman and this thread is being a whole different unusual-for-me way to think about some of this stuff. My partner was had some disabled-level mental health issues for a while that took a few years to climb back from. At the start of this year she really hit the "not just better than before but actually BETTER" level and now I've been figuring out how to handle a lot of this emotional labor and division of responsibilities. Because for years I was handling all of it because I could, and now we need to figure out what our new division of labor will be. I hadn't really thought about some of this as "emotional labor", but it's a helpful framework to look at things through.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:46 AM on July 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


When this is pointed out to the men, the response is not "Maybe I could be more thoughtful," it's "Well that's dumb and a waste of your time" (very much like the birthday cards discussion).

I come across this often as well, and usually from the very same men who spend the rest of their time lamenting that they don't have close friends, and why is the world so stressful and how come nobody ever stops to think about THEM.

The disconnect, it would be hilarious if it weren't basically destroying the joy of life for everyone all the fucking time.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:47 AM on July 16, 2015 [82 favorites]


Because, as they later said, the MIL birthday had been ignored by their son and grandchildren (ME is who they blamed though) four months earlier so "clearly our family does not see the importance of anyone's birthday" (they are well aware that my husband has also never remembered my birthday in 20 years, so it wasn't like he specifically excluded them).

jesus fucking christ, what tediously smug juvenile shitstains these people are. may their asses become irresistible to furious hornets.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:52 AM on July 16, 2015 [73 favorites]


Work is work, whether paid or not, whether it makes you feel good or not. It's ridiculous to think raising your children and taking care of a household isn't "serious" work, or should be expected to be its own reward. Doesn't mean it's not also great and maybe even commendable when someone does find the work required personally satisfying, too. But labor is labor.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:59 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have to admit that I still toy around with the "are women just innately better at this stuff?" hypothesis because the men I love can be so emotionally... absent? that it's much easier to explain it to myself as innate biological difference than laziness or subconscious knowledge that "incompetence" leads to better results. I think, rationally, that it's bullshit. (Especially since many men seem to suddenly figure it out at age, like, 40. And then blog about it.) But how else to deal with the cognitive dissonance?

One thing I've realized is that "women are just better at housework, they SEE those things" is really an ackowledgment of emotional labor-- not only caring about all that shit, but having the emotional maturity to know that caring about that shit leads to an easier, healthier lifestyle. I am emotionally mature enough to know that a shitty environment leads to being late to work, eating dinner at 10:00pm after cleaning up the kitchen/dishes, and having nowhere do put my laptop when I work from home. So I keep tabs on it and do it as I go. I know a lot of men who would prefer not to cultivate that maturity and just let things go to shit and then have their girlfriends give them instructions on how to vacuum until they just give up and do it themselves so it gets done 2x faster.

At some point I realized I was being a huge nag about dinner, because I cooked dinner every night, because when my boyfriend cooked dinner it took forever (see: not cooking for himself his whole life) and we were dieting and I didn't want to eat snacks all evening waiting for dinner to be done at 9:00 o'clock. Then I realized hey-- I can just let go. I can ask him to make dinner, and I can eat a peanut butter sandwich or something, and save my leftovers for lunch the next day. It was a great revelation in terms of my personal mental health-- I got fed, I didn't have to always be the cook, and I didn't have to be mad at my boyfriend. But even in that situation I was just saying, "hey, if I completely let go and eat like a kindergartener, I don't have to be mad at my boyfriend!" It's just so sad that that's the solution. I don't get a warm, homecooked meal at a regular dinner time. That's not how heterosexual reciprocity works. I get a peanut butter sandwich and "peace of mind" (i.e., freedom from domestic/emotional labor). Getting the homecooked meal and the freedom from emotional labor is male privilege.

(Now my boyfriend is much faster at cooking, though not as fast as me, but I taught him a lot of skills and worked with him to make simpler dinner ideas/menus and try to simplify grocery shopping as much as possible. He cooks dinner every night at the moment because I'm in school, and I appreciate it very very much. But I still did all that teaching and coaching and caring and orchestrating just to get things to this point.)

There was also a lot of "can you tell me what to clean? I'll clean it" that I shortcircuited by being like, know what, I don't care if shit is clean anymore. I relaxed my standards a lot. He's actually been really supportive and kind about helping around the house since I went back to school, but I don't think our entire apartment has been clean at the same time since we moved in. And we're just two young adults with barely any commute and no pets or children.

I love him very much, but I don't think he bought Christmas or birthday presents for his family until he met me and realized that I (and all my sisters) did that. So he's actually a really good guy in the sense that he wants to do that labor and be helpful and kind. But even the best kind of guy didn't have it beaten into him since he was a kid and I feel like we're lightyears apart in that sense.

Anyway, this thread is sooooo excellent.
posted by easter queen at 10:09 AM on July 16, 2015 [75 favorites]


This thread has added new significance for me to the "bread and roses" labor song. Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too!
posted by nicebookrack at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


A thing I must have said three hundred thousand times in my dating life is, "when will I find a man who doesn't hate a) his entire family, and b) every holiday in existence with the fire of a thousand suns?"

I mean I've barely ever MET one, much less dated one. And it has always been really boggling to me, because for the most part the families of the men I know and love have been perfectly fine.* Not always tremendous and wonderful and perfect, but loving and basically functional. And yet the hatred! It is deep! The pulling of teeth to convince my ex husband that yes, he probably should invite his own perfectly harmless and loving parents to our wedding, and that yes, I was inviting mine, because I fucking love them and they're my parents. The ridiculous arguments over holidays that always ended with me spending them sans partner, even when married.

After this thread, I now wonder whether the deep hatred doesn't come from a core knowledge and guilt that these situations --holidays, families-- require emotional labor from them, and that they have never, ever been willing to do that labor.


*I know, I know, you can never see behind closed doors etc., but it's not like these men ever articulated any actual complaints about their families. And I am absolutely not talking about the people who come from fractious divorces and narcissistic parents and other truly heinous things.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:19 AM on July 16, 2015 [36 favorites]


This reminds me of an argument I had with an ex that went like this:

Me: I have to ask you to do everything.
Him: Yes, but I do everything you ask!
Me : Yes, but I have to ask you to do everything!

He was never able to understand why I was bothered.
posted by dotgirl at 10:22 AM on July 16, 2015 [131 favorites]


Anyway I feel myself handing out cookies in my own comment but aughh there's just no other way to live.

Another thing: men in long-term relationships steadfastly REFUSING to see a therapist, even when it's convenient, even when someone else makes the appointments, even when it's free. Why? Because they've got a built in therapist-- their partner! Plus free sex therapy or whatever. (They'd rather have their wives/girlfriends deal with their emotional shit, both through looooong conversations and actually putting up with their negative behaviors and stubbornness.)
posted by easter queen at 10:25 AM on July 16, 2015 [29 favorites]


>>Now I can't stop thinking what the world would be like if men started treating everyone with the same care and concern they show women they're trying to get into bed.

>Depressingly enough, the number of comments in this thread alone about the behavior of husbands and boyfriends (ex- or current) who assume women do all the emotional labor is evidence that we already live in this world . . . . . .


I think the idea was more that men do this work for women they're interested in -- not yet dating or married to or sleeping with, but crushing on -- and then often stop once they're in an actual relationship. That sort of constant "I wonder what she's into and how I can find a way to have a conversation with her and what movie would she want to see and what should I say that's not boring? Etc." thinking about someone else's needs and likes and interests is expected, in many ways, to be the default state of women all the time, while men just seem to do it with brand-new romantic interests.
posted by jaguar at 10:32 AM on July 16, 2015 [46 favorites]


thinking about someone else's needs and likes and interests is expected, in many ways, to be the default state of women all the time, while men just seem to do it with brand-new romantic interests.

Actually if that thread about the live-tweeted horrible date is any indication, a number of men have now abandoned this practice even for brand-new romantic interests.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:35 AM on July 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


I wish I had had this vocabulary several years ago when I was still trying to make things work with my ex. He would do what I asked but he would do it badly so that I'd re-do the work and not ask him again. He claimed not to notice dirt and trash around the house. He refused to learn to cook anything other than canned chili and rice, and when I didn't want to eat that for dinner he'd say "well, don't complain that I never cook."

When we started planning for our future, he didn't see the need to save money for a family because I could just go back to work after "what, two weeks? how much time does it take?" after childbirth. Issues surrounding childcare--and how to pay for it--had literally never occurred to him.

Both times that we moved house, he didn't pack until the day of the move. I had to pack, I had to call our friends to ask for help and hire movers and cleaners. I am still really, really angry about this and I'm even angrier that I allowed him to cast me as a shrill harpy for getting upset. And I mean, my ex was a good guy. A kind person. A good citizen and (verbally) very progressive. Yet he was raised in a Don and Betty Draper household, so that's what he expects from the women he dates. I don't think he even realizes it.

I'm really glad that we're talking about this, and really glad it's out in the open and maybe some men are re-considering their assumptions about how things get done.
posted by witchen at 10:36 AM on July 16, 2015 [39 favorites]


Actually if that thread about the live-tweeted horrible date is any indication, a number of men have now abandoned this practice even for brand-new romantic interests.

Ha, yes, I thought about that right after I posted. Assume my comment was more about generally good guys.
posted by jaguar at 10:40 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


stuff like this is a big reason why I feel like opting out of typical two-person reproduction and heading for a sperm donor. I am lucky to be able to pretty much reproduce by myself, and that's something I'm willing to do and at least in that way, opt out of the big compromises that most women have to make when they partner up.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:41 AM on July 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


I am seeing so much of myself in these responses - but it's the husband's side that I'm seeing myself in. Probably because I'm ADHD-PI.

I'm grateful that I married a guy who takes on his share of the emotional labor, otherwise nothing would ever get done in our household
posted by Lucinda at 10:43 AM on July 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


This article also made me think of all the unpaid labor involved with teaching, still conceived of as "women's work" even in fields where it isn't. The same attitudes--dressed as compliments, dressed as pedestals--underlay justifications for not paying K-12 and college instructors anywhere near what we should earn.
posted by wintersweet at 10:48 AM on July 16, 2015 [32 favorites]


I'm not sure what to take from this thread but that everyone really, quietly, secretly despises everyone else.

Ah, when men realize that women are actually not content doing all the bullshit they are assigned to... kind of like when we have Tales of Sex Work and men get REALLY MAD that sex workers do not have infinite internal compassion and patience for their clients.

When we talk about this stuff, it always becomes about the failings and negativity of women.
posted by easter queen at 10:55 AM on July 16, 2015 [101 favorites]


PS: Women already know that men (nonquietly, nonsecretly) despise them, because we hear constantly about how annoying we are with our needs and interests and "nagging."
posted by easter queen at 10:56 AM on July 16, 2015 [135 favorites]


Another outgrowth of the assumption that women "do" emotional labor for their husbands/partners is all the cultural weirdness around MILs that doesn't exist almost at all on the other side (with husbands and their MIL / FIL). I often joke that I'm the "bad" daughter-in-law compared to my brother-in-law's wife, and it's kind of interesting that I feel like that despite being on civil terms with my in-laws and actually trying really hard to make sure they continue to have a close and regular relationship with my kid despite challenging health issues on their side.

What earns me the self-imposed "bad" label is my MIL's disappointment that we don't have a close relationship independent of my husband. (She was very proud of the fact that she was close to his girlfriends all through high school and college, and they'd continue to come to her for advice even after they broke up with him.) I regularly push my husband to be the one communicating with her about logistics around getting together, and she reads that as equivalent to me giving her the social cold shoulder or being stand-offish. Not unreasonably, I might add--culturally I think I am doing the equivalent of giving her the cold shoulder, which sucks, but slightly less than knuckling under to the pressure to be the social director of my marriage.

On the other hand, I can't remember the last time my husband directly talked to my mother or my father with me being there--conservatively, he's involved in maybe 5% of the conversations I have with my parents, and always in social situations where I'm with him. Yet my parents would probably say they have a great relationship with my husband; for him, being civil and tagging along to most family events more than meets expectations.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:57 AM on July 16, 2015 [67 favorites]


I find it so interesting how many of us pull from our personal lives when emotional work also has such a huge impact on our working lives - where is it clearly necessary work, but not valued or compensated, let alone acknowledged. Because Canada seems to have a different framework for evaluating jobs (due to the pay equity legislation that began to include emotional labour as a skill that could be evaluated a few decades ado) a lot of under-paid, female-gendered jobs in the United States (specifically personal care workers, teaching, social work, and librarians) are MUCH better paid in Canada. The flip side is that male-gendered jobs like IT often pay much less. In Ontario, teaching elementary school pays in the top 5% of jobs, Librarians and social workers are almost there as well, and Personal care workers are beginning to catch up with living wages. The challenge now is actually that because these jobs are now well-paid the entrants are now attracted to the money/prestige and not the emotional labour part of the position.

Teaching these skills is so hard. My son is hugely empathetic, yet teaching him to do the equal emotional labour of his sisters has been a challenge. Whereas his sisters use their empathy to ackowledge problems and find solutions, often his empathy turns into seeking comfort from others (gendered female) now he has all these *feels* to deal with (behaviour that has been unfortuinately role modeled by this father).

And that wallpaper link? Ouch. I am consciously trying to raise my children to NOT accept that behaviour from friends in the hope they make good choices in romantic partners despite our maladaptive social conditioning.
posted by saucysault at 10:58 AM on July 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


I have historically been pretty terrible at this stuff because (as commented elsewhere), I grew up without another woman in the house. And my dad is AWFUL at this stuff, has no friends, has almost nothing expected of him (let's not get into how much praise he got for being a single dad in a way that a single mother would never have got, when he was neglectful as shit). I had nowhere to learn what I was meant to be doing.

I have had (hetero) romantic relationships go to pieces because neither of us had any idea how to have conversations with any emotional content. I have had same-sex relationships falter at the start because I was the 'man', effectively and it was frustrating for my partner. I have had friendships feel way more difficult to navigate because I didn't really do any of the keeping in touch stuff that's expected from me. It was pretty clear I wasn't very good at being a woman, and people let me know it in a million snide ways.

But you know what I did? A fuckload of therapy, and a course in active listening, and counselling course, and now I'm all skilled up, way better at it all and massively, colossally irritated by all the men I encounter who just can't be arsed with that work. It can be learned guys, I am living proof.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 11:05 AM on July 16, 2015 [78 favorites]


I have to admit that I still toy around with the "are women just innately better at this stuff?" hypothesis because the men I love can be so emotionally... absent? that it's much easier to explain it to myself as innate biological difference than laziness or subconscious knowledge that "incompetence" leads to better results.

Some people in general are probably naturally better at emotional work than others, but I think an awful lot of it is just plain old exposure, training, and practice. It's really hard as an adult to learn to notice or remember something you are not already accustomed to noticing and remembering. That doesn't mean you get a pass on improving your skills, just that it takes more effort and you should be ready to overcome some internal resistance along the way. Right now, I'm having a hell of a time enhancing and expanding my tooth-care regimen because the old simpler way is just soooooooooooo habitual, but I try to keep slugging away at it because it's nice to have teeth.

I have several men friends who were just totally surprised and delighted to discover, after they became parents, that they like children and caring for children and spending time with children. It's not that they previously disliked children, just that so many men never have any regular or lengthy exposure to kids or practice dealing with them as older caretakers, only as siblings and peers when they're boys.

If all of us had consistent childhood practice at emotional labor and exposure to experiencing many adult men like Mr. Kathryn T. doing emotional work, then those of us who are not so great at it would probably find it easier even if it's not our forte.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:11 AM on July 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


I've been having interesting conversations with a friend who was working as an adjunct professor (which, unlike tenured professors, is a majority-female profession) about how women in jobs that require a great deal of emotional work (like teaching and mental health) are so often told that it's ok we're not getting paid very much because we're "making a difference." A difference in other people's lives, mind you. She posted something on Facebook about her lack of job security, lack of benefits, and ridiculously low pay and how these are systemic issues within the university system, and a number of her former students responded with, "But you made such a difference in my life!" -- as if that were a logical response to her economic argument. And I think that women who push back against the assumption that helping others is reward enough by asking to be fairly compensated for their work get thought of as un-natural. Like women are so naturally giving that we're happiest when we're being everyone's mother, giving giving giving without expecting anything in return.
posted by jaguar at 11:11 AM on July 16, 2015 [88 favorites]


and a number of her former students responded with, "But you made such a difference in my life!"

good, then they can pay her deductible.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:13 AM on July 16, 2015 [61 favorites]


One of my favorite things is how men who are otherwise technologically capable men suddenly become helpless luddite infants when technology and emotional labor collide.

There are valid reasons to not want to have a Facebook account, for example. But my father likes to brag about his refusal to have a FB account to everyone he knows, then ask me to use my account to find phone numbers and email addresses, send messages on his behalf, download pictures he can't see otherwise, find out where people live, etc. He likes being unreachable to anyone else*, but he sees no problem with outsourcing the admin work of emotional labor to me, and then asking me why it is such a big deal when I point out what he's doing.

See also: men who brag about never answering their phones, who say they are too busy to check their email more than once a week, who refuse to RSVP to any invitations that are sent via FB or Evite because "it's annoying", etc.

I was once in a car accident on the way to a family dinner, and the only people I had contact info at this dinner were several of my male relatives in attendance. I couldn't reach any of them. I ended up having to text my female cousin who lived in a different state, ask her if she had the number for one of the female relatives who was attending this dinner, and asking her if she could let them know (via this other female relative) that I would get to the restaurant once the police officer told me I could leave the scene of the accident.

When I got there, I was shaken up and pissed off that I hadn't been able to reach anyone after having a car accident. "Your phones aren't much good for reaching you if they are turned off," I pointed out. Everyone laughed. Ha ha.



*He sometimes complains about how people never get in contact with him, but when I point out that he has purposefully made himself as hard to reach as possible, he changes the subject.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:14 AM on July 16, 2015 [72 favorites]


I find it so interesting how many of us pull from our personal lives when emotional work also has such a huge impact on our working lives - where is it clearly necessary work, but not valued or compensated, let alone acknowledged.

I literally just pulled this comment up after the following incident at work: I'm in a cube pool of five people, and we're all having a bad day and all seem to be somewhat grumpy. I had to run out to a drug store anyway, and while I was there, I picked up a big variety-pack bag of Ghiradelli chocolate, and when I got back to the office I plunked it down on the table in the middle of our desks and announced that it was for the five of us.

....I'm chalking it up to everyone being all grumpy and preoccupied today, but I'm still a bit taken aback that not a single person has said "thank you".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on July 16, 2015 [29 favorites]


Around this time last year I basically said "ok, I am noping out of a lot of things unless and until there's a more equitable division of labor in our household". I proposed we each write down what we felt our personal domains of responsibility were, and then make a joint document about an idealized situation that was balanced and fair. Then we'd work toward that. My document had nine sections, including pet care, house/lawn care, finances, blah blah. And the largest section was "social/logistical stuff". I was organizing everything about every social outing for all members of the household. I maintained the social calendar and made sure everyone made it to appointments on time. I was cooking all the meals and planning any gathering for friends at the house. I was buying all the presents for holidays and birthdays - I even had reminders in my calendar to send my male primary partner a list of things I might like for my birthday, because he kept saying "it sneaks up on me" and then feeling lousy for not getting me anything (dude. It's the same day every year. It isn't a ninja). I was buying presents for his sweetie (who was also living with us) and making sure to get enough that some goodies could be from me, and some from him. I took care of everyone when they got sick. I worked out the logistics of who had the vehicle when, in ways to least inconvenience anyone. It went on and on.

When we showed each other the 'idealized' domains of responsibility documents, the "social / logistical stuff" category was completely gone from Mr. Mirror's list. Just not there at all. When I pointed it out he said he was only focused on "real" things that needed to get done.

And so the next time he asked me "why didn't you remind me?!" about something, I pointed out that it wasn't "real" work that needed to be done, and I had just gone with the assumption that he could remember to look at the calendar himself to see when his dentist appointment was, or whatever. And he had a level-up moment and said "oh. Shit. I'm sorry" and now we handle things more equitably.

It was damned hard to just let those things go, though, even for a little while - I felt a sense of almost panic not doing that work, actively sitting back and saying "ok, you're a grown-ass man, you say this isn't a thing anyone needs to concern themselves with, so fine, let's see how that works out." In the end, it was work that needed to be done (hey, it sure is nice to see our friends ever), it did and does require effort, and he's a lot more appreciative of just how much I was doing then, and aware of what he's asking when he asks me to do these things now.

I wish I'd had this language ten years ago, this concept of "emotional work" and the idea that it was valuable, that making things run smoothly and making our lives just be nice was a skill I was being undervalued for. I could have maybe not run myself into the ground actually trying to do it invisibly, striving for an ideal of never being noticed, but everything somehow being wonderful. That's the poisonous femininity I was raised into and I'm thrilled to be rejecting it today. I'm just glad I noticed it, eventually. It took a while. Hell, and I don't even have kids. Putting actual small human beings who are dependent into the mix just serves to make it harder, I'm certain.

It's hard to see, and it's easy to fall into these patterns - society pushes it onto us, we take it onto ourselves, and sometimes don't even notice. I didn't get to the state where I was being the Invisible Logistical Wonder Woman overnight. I've been calling myself a feminist since I was eleven years old, but I didn't notice that my own desire to "just help out" was toxic. Nobody ever stopped me back then and said "hey, are you doing all right? You don't have to do this much, you know." I just thought it was what I was supposed to do. No, instead, the refrain I heard from others was always "wouldn't it be nice if..." alongside some version of "please do more." Reading this thread made my heart lighter, even while I'm frustrated at just how pervasive this shit is. It's not easy to get to a place where emotional labor is even noticed, much less valued. I know we're not fully there yet in my household, though it's worlds better now than it was last year, and progress has been faster after that first "oh shit" moment.
posted by lriG rorriM at 11:21 AM on July 16, 2015 [108 favorites]


I'm still a bit taken aback that not a single person has said "thank you".

We just had a (rare) all-hands meeting at work this week about showing appreciation to our coworkers. It was awkward as hell coming up with nice, useful things to say to people on the spot, but good to have the enforced practice for everyone.

If employers acknowledge emotional labor as an actual thing, it's not that hard to fit it into the usual sorts of work skills-improvement sessions if a workplace does that at all.
posted by asperity at 11:29 AM on July 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


But even better would be if there wasn't the expectation that anyone did any of it, because these tasks-- absolutely not necessary for a civilized society-- didn't exist.

They are necessary, though. All of these things, perhaps small in isolation, are basically social glue. At its most basic level, all of this emotional labour is saying to another human being "you matter. I will take my time to show you that you matter." And maintaining that glue is something that devolves mainly onto women, 24 hours a day.

It feels like most men are taught (ex- or implicitly) to do emotional work only when it gets them something they want now, whereas most women are taught to do emotional work as part of an ongoing exchange that benefits everyone.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:30 AM on July 16, 2015 [90 favorites]


I just emailed this article to my sister-in-law. Her soon-to-be-ex-husband tells everybody she's leaving him because he doesn't make enough money. It's blatantly obvious to me after a handful of discussions with her that the biggest factor is that he does zero emotional labor. (Other stuff, too, some of which rightfully involves a protection order now, but what's been leading up to it is that he checked out of doing any emotional work at all. And that it got worse the more job troubles he had, too.)
posted by immlass at 11:40 AM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think I was suggesting that the sum total of society-wide emotional labor could be substantially reduced before then being equitably distributed between men and women. Some sorts of emotional labor are inescapable (soothing that crying child, helping that elder with their taxes), but frankly a lot of other ones feel a bit like make-work (even down to the therapeutic hearing-out of other people's (men and women's) woes at great psychoanalytic length, which does not seem like a culturally universal need that people have always had).

People have not always "needed" therapy, in the sense that it used to be a lot more culturally acceptable to take out your issues and neuroses on your wife and/or children. Therapy does have a tangible benefit-- you could say it makes you less superstitious in a way. Less afraid of this or that responsibility. Less likely to act out of fear. Confronting fears is something therapy (especially like CBT) can absolutely help with. (Or instead you can carry around the fear and be self-defeating or an abusive shithead or whatever your particular disposition is.)


I guess I'm saying that a society where my husband pays me for writing Christmas cards, reminding him to Skype with his mom, buying end-of-year presents for the teacher and keeping track of the kids' funny dress days at school doesn't seem like a great solution for me. At present, I would kind of rather he just did his half of it. But even better would be if there wasn't the expectation that anyone did any of it, because these tasks-- absolutely not necessary for a civilized society-- didn't exist. And 95% of the time, it seems as though the expectation that any relationship will be encrusted with all of these elaborate, labor-intensive interactions, as well as the punishment and judgment if one defaults in them, comes from other women.


Do you... not remember being a kid? Kids love parties. Love dressing up. They could just not have birthday parties... but that sucks. Do you like it when people remember your birthday? Do you think it's a net positive good to remember to Skype your mom, instead of realizing on her deathbed that you never appreciated her the way you should have? In what way are these things not necessary for civilized society? (PS: The pressure comes from other women because they're cognizant of the stress and pressure to not ruin the lives of everyone around them.)
posted by easter queen at 11:40 AM on July 16, 2015 [41 favorites]


I now wonder whether the deep hatred doesn't come from a core knowledge and guilt that these situations --holidays, families-- require emotional labor from them, and that they have never, ever been willing to do that labor.

Holy shit. I don't hate my family, but I don't do much to cultivate those relationships, and I think you just nailed a key reason.

This is an incredible thread.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:57 AM on July 16, 2015 [28 favorites]


Really enjoyed reading this thread. I do a lot of emotional labor tasks pretty well but I've definitely identified some areas for improvement based on things that people are saying here. Thanks to everyone who is contributing.
posted by Kwine at 12:09 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I remember reading either a Gallup or a Pew soundbite about remarriage - men over 40 were eager to remarry, but women, not so much. This was, apparently, news. The Gallup people need to read this thread!

I am ever so glad to be single and childfree by choice. Even the happiest marriage involves so much Sisyphean emotional labor on the woman's part, it seems. Sure, single women do emotional labor too, but of a different kind than a husband, kids and in-laws demand. (I also think this is a fairly new concept - Victorian-era spinsters were tapped for uncompensated and nonstop emotional labor with none of the kudos that wives and mothers got.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:23 PM on July 16, 2015 [41 favorites]


the more i've read thru here and thought about my relationships, the more i understand that empty feeling when i've tried so hard to make a relationship work.

we can talk about needs and fulfilment and all that stuff, but really, i was doing emotional work and they weren't. i was volunteering when i didn't want to be. it was unpaid internship.

now that i have a shorthand for it, i will check in with myself to make sure i no longer do unpaid internships for dudes. if they want me, they can hire me.
posted by sio42 at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


No thanks for the chocolate yet, but someone did just ask, "hey, I've actually been meaning to ask you this all day - that is an awesome necklace you have on today, where'd you get it?"

Bad mood averted.

Noting this because sometimes this isn't about any specific set task ("always say thank you if someone gets chocolate, never forget birthday cards, etc.") - sometimes it's just a matter of noticing other people.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on July 16, 2015 [35 favorites]


This has given me some language to help explain why I have been so tired lately, and also why my husband struggles to help. I think he's also learned from his father a bunch of acting-out "techniques" for getting out of work, which triggers my own learned "fix things" wiring. I hope we can all get better...
posted by armacy at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


sometimes it's just a matter of noticing other people.

This. A million times this. And so many dudes want so badly to be noticed - "hey, I'm going to dump all my work problems on you now blah blah blah", or "hey what're you reading" when I'm deep into a book in a semi-public space, or any of a zillion other examples - but never, ever seem to do the bare minimum amount of work to notice others, to be conscious of their space, their comfort, their feelings, their needs, any of it. It's kind of amazing how that obliviousness has been coded as male. It's in the sitcoms, it's in the commercials, it's all over the place. It's awful and I want to burn it to the ground.
posted by lriG rorriM at 12:32 PM on July 16, 2015 [93 favorites]


My wife and I just returned from my family's first (and last!) shared vacation. The trip highlighted an absurd amount of emotional labor, my struggles to preform it, the cost of failure to preform, and how much of this work is expected in unwritten social norms. Could I form a question,the details of the trip would provide hours of entertainment on AskMe.

Even when recognizing the existence of emotional labor, and envisioning a cost structure to help women refuse to perform such work in some instances, there are many implcit social costs. Some were highlighted in the article, and discussion of birthday and Christmas cards demonstrates it here. We got a huge dose of this on our trip. Like the birthday thing, most of these demands are enforced by women.

While we are disproportionately burdened with this, we also tend to enforce performance of it. The article focuses on how men seem to feel overly entitled to emotional labor, and don't shoulder their share of the work involved, creating an extra burden to women, but not the overall societal cost and structure. While I'm sure emotional labor and the refusal to value it can be traced to societal constructs that are patriarchal in nature, I'm more concerned with the overall societal demands and devaluing of emotional labor.

Throughout the trip, my wife had to perform a ridiculous amount of emotional labor. Without her the entire vacation would have fallen apart on Day 1 instead of Day 14 where her temper rightfully flared (leading to barely averted violence, because that's how my family responds to violated norms, such as delivering criticism). This labor generally went unrecognized. There was significant cost to her in terms of time, thought, and emotional regulation.

She was repaid by achieving an environment that was mostly peaceful, with subterranean conflict however, I felt that she should have earned her (meager) social work salary for multiple days of the trip.

While I readily acknowledged and appreciated her labor, it's not like I could pay my wife or provide relief , as most of the labor involved addressing my family's anger towards me. I repeatedly failed to adequately perform the emotional labor my family felt entitled to. As an aside, I have never as an adult felt more autistic then in the moments where I couldn't perform as was demanded of me.

My responses - public and moreso in private - were juvenile, requiring more labor from my wife, until near the end where (with her help!) I managed to work out my adult role among family members whose expectations were complicated by an alphabet soup of (professionally diagnosed) mental illness, including one with an unexpected degree of severity.

My wife is now coming to terms with what was in essence a working vacation, and I'm availing myself to her, while turning elsewhere to process. Again, I'd send my family a bill if I could. We're recovering from the work performed. It's also clear that even if another "most expenses paid" opportunity presents itself, that we will decline. Tickets and hotels overseas aren't worth the cost of the required emotional labor. Missing out on otherwise amazing hypothetical trips entails the cost of refusing to perform emotional labor.

Recognition of the cost of this labor is important, but how does/will change social contracts? What is the outcome? Will people recognize the cost and value for the labor performed, reducing demand in general? Or establish firm boundaries with an insistence that each individual carry their share and responsibility for the emotional labor involved? This, personal responsibility and respect for the cost of emotional labor involved, is what I'd like to see. Recognition of the value of labor, leading to an overall reduction of demands, decreasing out unrecognized social costs for refusal to perform.

This, however, may have more to do with my social struggles as someone on the spectrum, because I so strongly feel the costs. Since preforming emotional labor can be a struggle for me, I am often subjected to the costs associated with failure.

With my family, this means we have to evaluate the ROI related to interactions, because my ethnic background empathizes close ties ( that based on my needs, it's unanimously agreed upon -even professionally -that I shouldn't cut) . Is the risk of displeasing worth the benefits? What do we gain or lose based on my ability to perform? The trip seemed worth it - and it was - once. This isn't something we can do again.

In everyday life, with people more neurotypical than my family, the cost of performing reduced emotional labor involves more limited social circles, cultivated by like minds, who are able to provide reciprocity and do not offend if social norms aren't perfectly met. Without this, my skills would be maxed out, and my wife would be working overtime. Unfair to both of us.

In return, we gain a balance that doesn't tax our well-being, reducing exhaustion and stress. I feel accepted and not trapped in an allistic world of shifting expectations and misunderstandings. But that's me. I'm willing to pay the price. However, I know that my wife, at times, feels lonely, but is also burdened by the work. Is it worth it to her? Do I need to do more? I'm not as encouraging towards her need to branch out as I should be, and I should fix that because...

People with greater social needs have to perform the work to remain connected with family, friends, neighbors and workplaces. The cost of isolation, anger, lost promotions is too great.

While my wife would deny it, it's unfair that I add to that cost. And, in the future, for the sake of the children we plan, I'll have to learn and endure the costs of such labor, for their sake. I'm thinking these expectations won't change. Leaving me to wonder, how, ultimately, does recognition and assigning value to emotional labor impact interactions and lessen overall burden?
posted by bindr at 12:34 PM on July 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


brit bennett writes about this from a black perspective in her review of ta-nehisi coates' between the world and me:
But while we are rightly outraged by the vulnerability of black male bodies, we rarely register the ways in which black women are vulnerable. Whose vulnerability is horrifying and haunting, worthy of marching and protest? Whose is natural and inevitable? Even as a woman, I notice this contradiction in myself. I noticed it the night Trayvon Martin’s killer walked free, when I felt the overwhelming urge to comfort my friend because he should not feel vulnerable. He should be the one to walk through deserted parks late at night, even if I never could because I’m aware of all the things that men—black or white, police or civilian—might do to my body. How easily I accepted this as the natural order of things. How easily I learned all the ways my body could never be free.
also btw, fwiw, the failure to account for 'women's work' -- child care, housekeeping, cooking, "entertainment of family members, emotional support, care of the elderly"* -- is one of the standard criticisms of GDP, which for the most part only values monetary transactions (hedonics and imputed values have been incorporated to some extent, but not without controversy) so as a measure of societal well-being GDP is seriously flawed, and yet it still persists as the major gauge with which to judge economic and political policies; it's almost as if it were a man's world...

which is exactly what's wrong with it! like rather than getting into marxist conceptions of use vs. exchange value and the growing wedge between them, just imagine if the world people cis-hetero-white-male-dominated society did not systematically devalue emotional labor; what would that look like? (for one thing, kindergarten teachers would be making $320,000 a year :) trying to get to that world is what i think it means for men to 'step up'.
posted by kliuless at 12:34 PM on July 16, 2015 [42 favorites]


I have told this story before on metafilter, but we have an office kitchen shared by many people. The dishes would pile up and get nasty. Sometimes it was just someone's errant lunch dish they forgot, sometimes it was a set of plates or trays from an event that got dumped there and, intentionally or not, left for someone to clean up. The dishes would sit there , becoming a passive aggressive thing unto themselves. People would keep creatively arranging the pile so that they could wash their cup without having to deal with the pile. Of course, there was some stink-eye directed at the office staff occasionally, as if it was our job to take care of this. Eventually, someone, always female as far as I can remember, would give in and wash the dishes.

One day I finally got sick of it and put up a sign that said "All dishes left for more than a day will be thrown out". And then I did. Coffee mugs! Nice stainless-steel water bottles! Ikea bowls! IN THE GODDAMN TRASH.

I felt so guilty at first throwing away perfectly good dishes -- but then angry that that's exactly what people take advantage of -- that no one would throw away A Nice Thing because that would be such a mean thing to do and surely someone still wants it!!

It is so fucking liberating to THROW IT ALL AWAY! And with the sign up, so far, no one has dared complain that someone threw out their crap.

*I've never been able to figure out how people are so forgetful that they leave their nice dishes in the sink and don't realize it's missing for days afterward, though
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [90 favorites]


This happened at my work, where people left festering food in the fridge so there was a big announcement with emails and signs that you had to remove everything from the fridge by such-and-such a Friday, or it would be thrown.

There were STILL people (men) who showed up while the fridge was being cleaned to say heyyyyy, you can't throw that out! It's mine! Why!
posted by easter queen at 12:43 PM on July 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


And, in the future, for the sake of the children we plan, I'll have to learn and endure the costs of such labor, for their sake. I'm thinking these expectations won't change. Leaving me to wonder, how, ultimately, does recognition and assigning value to emotional labor impact interactions and lessen overall burden?

I will say, from experience, that people - especially kids - can readily tell when you're merely enduring meeting their needs. At the risk of sounding mawkish, what lessens the burden - and makes the effort worthwhile, in terms of impact - is love and some attempts, however clumsy, at genuine selflessness. Kids are a MASSIVE - maybe the most massive - black hole of emotional labor. They need seemingly endless amounts of it, and will grind away at your very sense of self in order to extract it from you. You can shunt this off on your wife (with the results seen above), or you can gird your loins, accept the fact that you WILLINGLY HAD CHILDREN, and be an engaged, hands-on, shit-work-doing father and partner.

It's not easy, or pleasant, or even good for your mental health some of the time, but the alternative is worse. Also, and maybe most importantly, the more effort you put in, the easier the long term prospects will likely become. All but the most damaged people really do thrive on being genuinely, occasionally selflessly loved. The moment-to-moment work can be mind-numbing and infuriating, but the big picture does often get better the more you just push through that.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:51 PM on July 16, 2015 [28 favorites]


Something I don't think has been touched on yet is that one of patriarchy's most fundamental (and occasionally lethal) lessons to men is that they would do well to fear or at least be deeply wary of displaying genuine emotion in front of one another. Every straight dude I know who sees a therapist will only see a female therapist because, as they've all told me, they just wouldn't feel completely comfortable expressing themselves to or seeking personal advice from another man.

These are all perfectly fine, upstanding, well-meaning, feminist-aligned guys, and I love them to death, but the bottom line is that they bring things to me that they do not bring to each other, and part of the reason for it -- aside from emotional labor being a traditionally female-coded activity -- is that they don't feel threatened by me, physically or psychologically. They feel safe, operating under an assumption that I'm not going to belittle them or punch them or call them degrading names, all of which are things I've seen men do to each other when one of them is perceived as showing "weakness," which in many cases means "any emotion at all." No matter how progressive their other dude friends are, they've all expressed a certain amount of reticence when it comes to being emotionally honest with them, almost like they're afraid of being rejected, if not outright wounded.

Of course, the ultimate result of all of this is still the same, no matter the reason: The responsibility for men's emotional well-being is still assigned to women (paid or unpaid). And of course, it's kinda shitty of them to not be able to recognize that as problematic. But it almost seems like they're so busy trying to protect their most vulnerable selves that they're unable to interpret their steadfast refusal to bring their woes to another man as playing into the patriarchy's goal of making women feel obligated to perform emotional labor in perpetuity.
posted by divined by radio at 1:20 PM on July 16, 2015 [85 favorites]


This is (a) the best thread ever, and (b) like a ticker-tape parade for me embracing my glorious spinsterhood.

Also, from a social research perspective I am SO curious how the economy of emotional labor works in the LGBTQ community, or as a function of femme-ness. I'd imagine that family dynamics make this all kinds of complicated.
posted by katya.lysander at 1:20 PM on July 16, 2015 [30 favorites]


> I now wonder whether the deep hatred doesn't come from a core knowledge and guilt that these situations --holidays, families-- require emotional labor from them, and that they have never, ever been willing to do that labor.

>> Holy shit. I don't hate my family, but I don't do much to cultivate those relationships, and I think you just nailed a key reason.


I'm recognizing so much in this thread, but that...I think I just realized that what I was fleeing when I moved 1000+ miles 20 years ago was the emotional labor of maintaining stressful family relationships. And now that everyone has moved closer I'm full of unexpressed frustration and irritation about having to work at relationships I'm just not that excited about. (Wow such procrastination for holidays, birthdays, etc., etc.)
posted by epersonae at 1:22 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Today, there was another discussion about the cheese. (comment up thread with the story).

We got regaled with talk about the market, a talk about the fact that our cheese doesn't have extra crap in it and a couple of re-explaining sessions of why this cheese is so good.

One of the women asked if he would serve this cheese if he was hosting a bbq. He deflected, "Well I like it because blah blah and more blah."

"Well honestly, I wouldn't serve it to my friends," the woman said with a shrug and tried to go back to her work.

More talk about markets and blah blah.

Who knew that us liking a cheese was so important?

When he finally left we all just turned and looked at each other with 'wtf' expression and burst out laughing.

"Well maybe we should tell him we now like the cheese. To make him feel better."

"Nah...." more laughter.
posted by Jalliah at 1:26 PM on July 16, 2015 [67 favorites]


Take the cheese from his hands and just throw it on the floor and stomp on it while staring him right in the eye the entire time.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [59 favorites]


Today, there was another discussion about the cheese.

Oh my God, CHEESESPLAINING.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:42 PM on July 16, 2015 [178 favorites]


Today, there was another discussion about the cheese.

It seems abundantly clear that "cheese" is a metaphor. For his worth as a man. Don't like the cheese? You hate him! Wouldn't serve it to your friends? You hate him! Don't want to keep talking about it? You hate him!

I'm not 100% serious .. but I'm not 100% kidding, either.
posted by dotgirl at 1:44 PM on July 16, 2015 [36 favorites]


I am in love with this entire thread. After I broke up with a previous boyfriend, I swore off men for a while, because I got so goddamn tired of taking emotional care of them when I barely knew how to take care of myself. (I grew up with an abusive father, which really underscores that lesson of "pay close attention to men lest they blow up", lemme tell ya.) I'm currently dealing with a situation where if I'm not the Nicest Nice Person Ever To Nice when asking for info from my male boss, he takes offense, and that takes priority, even over time-sensitive things.

I'm just... I'm just so very done with dealing with this shit. I have dealt with this shit literally all my life, including most of my workplaces (if not all; my memory sucks), and I am 100% done with providing free emotional labor to any dude who wanders by feeling entitled to it.
posted by XtinaS at 1:45 PM on July 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


[Several comments deleted. In the name of not making this personal, I would ask guys to refrain from making comments that just amount to how yes, you personally indeed don't do this emotional labor. That's really not an assertion that's going to lead to anything fruitful in this conversation.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:50 PM on July 16, 2015 [37 favorites]


One effect of all this for everybody is making it very hard, in situation where individuals in a relationship are doing unequal amounts of paid work but attempting to be equitable to divide other responsibilities in a way that both parties will actually feel is fair - since the paid and unpaid work are often in practice almost incommensurable.
posted by atoxyl at 1:56 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I decided recently that if the proposed solution to a problem is that I have to stop having standards and boundaries, they no longer get to negotiate.

Let's be clear though: they were never negotiating if their proposal was "you give up."

This article about a couple that is trying to assign a value to everything in their home labors seems related somewhat to this topic. It includes somewhat emotional labors (put the kids to bed) but there's no mention of things without a physical component.
posted by phearlez at 2:01 PM on July 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm not 100% serious .. but I'm not 100% kidding, either.

I don't know exactly what it is about but it sure seems it's about something more then cheese.
posted by Jalliah at 2:05 PM on July 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


No wonder Hallmark cards are either treacly sentimental or covertly hostile. Whenever I shop for one I need to spend 15 minutes reading them to make sure it isn't either suitable for your consanguineous frenemy, covertly sexual, or crypto-Christian. A blank card means you need to do all the emotional labor yourself.
posted by bad grammar at 2:07 PM on July 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's even weirder because the person who actually made the cheese as a test, who is an awesome award winning cheesemaker, is perfectly okay with us not liking the cheese and was happy that we were honest about what we thought.

He said he would have been upset if we weren't honest and assured us, without any prompting, that he wasn't upset at all.

Symbolism all around in this story.
posted by Jalliah at 2:12 PM on July 16, 2015 [31 favorites]


You know, the cheese thing really seems like an inability to understand that tastes differ. Which I've run into in an unfortunate number of other circumstances (like, discussing nominations for the Hugos). And that again comes down to a lack of empathy - one of the basic and most fundamental things required for doing most kind of emotional labor. Bossman seems to be upset because his opinion is the right one to have, and hey, why isn't anyone else convinced of that. Non disputandum de gustabis, dude.
posted by lriG rorriM at 2:12 PM on July 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Every straight dude I know who sees a therapist will only see a female therapist because, as they've all told me, they just wouldn't feel completely comfortable expressing themselves to or seeking personal advice from another man.

This makes me feel like I live in another world, though. Men... talk about their personal problems? Obviously that has to do with the particular models of masculinity I grew up with but - men talk about their problems... to women? I've had (paid) both men and women in therapy-sort-of roles but it's mostly been men and more to the point I would have strongly expected a preference for men - a same-gender preference for all genders in fact. I absolutely don't mean you're wrong it's just honestly pretty surprising. Men consulting straight female friends on the oh-so-mysterious workings of romantic relationships being an exception for sure but that's not what I go to professional therapy for.
posted by atoxyl at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2015


What gets me is that a lot of guys apparently feel so upset at the prospect of having to make themselves emotionally vulnerable in appropriate ways--with people they have a relationship with--that they resort to passive aggressive attempts to center attention on themselves, cloaked with something else to give them some plausible deniability. And because so many dudes do not have those kinds of close relationships with anyone whose social interactions aren't being routed through a wife or other female relative, well, in those cases it looks like those emotions just get dumped on whatever woman (or women) is nearest. It's something I have never heard other dudes talk about, but basically every woman I know has some story about a man she barely knows creepily over-sharing some inner pain with her, or some guy barging into a conversation among women and trying to re-center it around his feelings.

Or at least, that's the only explanation I can come up for why so many guys have to cloak any desire to talk about their feelings with posturing and aggression, or to unsubtly hint at those feelings and make someone else actually ask about it to make the hinting stop. It's as if the pressure to hide those emotions or vulnerability from other men (as divined by radio mentions) builds up as pressure that just explodes out of some dudes at the slightest provocation. Kind of like how if you lance a boil early it heals up much faster than letting it grow and grow until it explodes in a shower of pus at the worst possible moment. Whatever it is, it's really irritating, because now you as the female friend have to be like, warm and inviting and let the delicate manly flower open up before you can cajole his exploding feelings out of him. It's a really annoying extra thing to have to deal with.
posted by sciatrix at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2015 [33 favorites]


Whatever it is, it's really irritating, because now you as the female friend have to be like, warm and inviting and let the delicate manly flower open up before you can cajole his exploding feelings out of him. It's a really annoying extra thing to have to deal with.

This this this this this.

I told my boyfriend eventually that I wasn't going to spend my time begging him to tell me that I suck... if he wants me to know I suck he needs to come out with it on his own. Don't make me beg for even more emotional labor on my plate!
posted by easter queen at 2:19 PM on July 16, 2015 [28 favorites]


You know, the cheese thing really seems like an inability to understand that tastes differ.

Really? It reads 100% to me as a power thing, though that overlaps a lot with face. The advocate had already indicated support and people who he expects to agree with him are failing to do so. I doubt he consciously thinks he wants unwarranted praise but his stature and authority comes with Being Right and it's an affront to his competency for folks to disagree. When people disagree in a way that makes him wrong it's a loss of face. That it comes from a gender who he's programmed to expect support from makes the emotional toll even higher.
posted by phearlez at 2:24 PM on July 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


This isn't a totally new concept for me (because it's come up on Metafilter before - where else do I learn new vocabulary?) but reading this thread has suddenly made me understand why I have so few male friends, despite working in tech my entire adult life. I ain't gonna do all the work, and dudes just won't, so... they drop out of touch. It's easy enough to be friendly if we're in an office together, but I work remote these days, and I can count the number of game industry buddies that have dropped me a line to say hi on the fingers of one foot.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:47 PM on July 16, 2015 [30 favorites]


Yeah, this is someone who not only needs to think he's right but needs to have that rightness validated and shored up and applauded. High maintenance much, bossguy?
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:50 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Er, the cheeseboss, that is.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:51 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Note rejected. What I actually asked was if people in the 'male' role could share how they'd moved from being conscious of this, to actually stepping up and doing better. I was pretty conscious of posting "hey 'guys', how can we in the 'male' role step up?" rather than "hey people doing so much emotional labour, tell us what to do."

Anyways, thank you for the graciously-phrased and generously-intended feedback on my comment and the offer to share your experiences privately.
posted by sixswitch at 11:33 AM on July 16 [5 favorites +] [!]


"Hey guys" is generally going to be parsed as gender neutral. Which, ha, patriarchy strikes AGAIN!

It sounded like you were saying "ladies, what ways "work for you" when men try to overcome this?"

Sure, you meant to say "Hey men, what ways have you had success in doing the emotional labor in your work/love/family lives?" But that's not what I heard, and that's not what at least one other reader heard.

You want to know something funny? I wrote an apology before I typed that first sentence. Because emotional labor means that I am expected to not be a person who will hurt your feelings. (And that says a lot about the times I have used metafilter as a place to tell people to go fuck themselves. I was that angry.)

And I will answer the question I thought you were asking, because I'm already taking up space here and this matters to me.
  • Don't repeatedly tell me that you're "not a planner" when I tell you it would be nice if you would plan a date. Just plan a date.
  • Pick up or make a hot meal at least as often as your partner does, unless the two of you have explicitly agreed that the arrangement you have now is not just "fine" but is actually good.
  • Wash your own laundry and don't expect a medal for it.
  • Call your mother/sister/boss without reminding, tell your partner that it's been done, and don't expect a medal for it
  • Make a calendar where the birthday/milestone/graduation/upcoming wedding dates go. Send gifts and cards as appropriate (not as you think are expected, but ask Emily Post this shit) and don't expect a medal for it.
  • Offer a shoulder rub/think to buy a small present/proffer words of affirmation/schedule quality time (frisbee, a picnic, a movie you know your partner likes, a walk around your block) and don't expect a medal for it.
  • When people who are not your partner try to give you a medal for any of the above, politely tell them that you're working on doing more of emotional labor in your life, and that you don't expect a medal for it.

That last one, in case you hadn't guessed, is the most important one in my eyes, because allies raise awareness.
posted by bilabial at 2:52 PM on July 16, 2015 [103 favorites]


Reading this thread is making me concerned about ever getting involved with a man again. Being divorced and homeless has helped exempt me from a lot of these ridiculous expectations, many of which I opted out of more and more over the course of my marriage because it was never appreciated.

For years, I sent all kinds of packages to my poverty-stricken in-laws -- my mother-in-law and her two welfare-mom daughters, churning out babies out of wedlock -- and my MIL acted like her son was so good to her. Like I was his secretary. Uh, no. He did not care that much. Geez. What kind of drugs are you on, lady?

My ex husband is not an ogre. We could not work it out, but the divorce was amicable. I am much more relieved to no longer be related to his family than I am to no longer be related to him.

I have spent a lifetime carefully arranging to opt out of shitty things like that. I find myself wondering if it is possible to get back to a more normal life, where I live in a regular house and have a more normal income, and not wind up entangled again in such awfulness. Because I would rather just never get laid again than to have to put up with this kind of shit just to have a man in my life bed again.

The other thing I wonder, and I am not sure if this is being discussed in earnest or not in this thread because I can't seem to read fast enough to catch up, is if you are actually good at all that emotional labor type stuff and enjoy it, what are ways to capitalize on that that pay decently and are respected? I mean, we have plenty of low paid jobs, like waitressing, that expect this stuff and we have plenty of jobs that aren't respected, like sex work. Is there anything where being good at this actually pays what it should and is respected and all that? I wonder about that a fair amount and I don't know if I have any answers yet.
posted by Michele in California at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


And, in the future, for the sake of the children we plan, I'll have to learn and endure the costs of such labor, for their sake. I'm thinking these expectations won't change.

I will say, from experience, that people - especially kids - can readily tell when you're merely enduring meeting their needs.

Very True. It'd be irresponsible to bring children into the world to merely endure them. While part of me bristles at having emotional labor explained and demanded of me, I see and agree with the sentiment. Children, unequivocally, deserve the best.

I misspoke by not connecting my
comments about enduring and engaging in increased emotional labor wrt kids to the social requirements parents face with other parents, schools and the community at large to foster a sense of community for said kids.

As a lesbian couple (something I failed to clarify) and planned incubator of our release candidate*, I realized (through this discussion) that our reduced efforts related to external emotional labor could have repercussions impacting our hypothetical but eagerly awaited children. It will no longer be about "fair to us" as portrayed and balanced in my first comment, but about our childrens' needs. This is what I realized and tried to acknowledge in my initial post - changing needs that I knew we would undoubtedly work to meet.

Recognizing another way our lives will possibly change as we draw closer to the goal, wasn't intended to derail. Rather, I was speaking to the value of emotional labor. Non-hypothetical illustrated that it not only effects ones lives, but future generations as well. To me, this speaks to the mostly unrecognized value behind emotional labor above and beyond the recognition and exhaustion related to (not-all) men's sense of entitlement towards receiving it.

because "biological mother" denotes inequity, and children grow into individuality. .
posted by bindr at 3:45 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


The other thing I wonder, and I am not sure if this is being discussed in earnest or not in this thread because I can't seem to read fast enough to catch up, is if you are actually good at all that emotional labor type stuff and enjoy it, what are ways to capitalize on that that pay decently and are respected?

be male
posted by NoraReed at 4:02 PM on July 16, 2015 [53 favorites]


I think we discussed that recent NYT story from the anthropologist talking about the MBA wives who get bonuses for managing the household budget well and getting the kids into the best preschools and throwing the best parties.

That's the end result of making an in-relationship trade of cash/room and board/social standing in return for taking on all the for emotional labor (for well-off people, anyway). It was a better deal, the author argued, than being a 70-percenter at work and not getting to spend any time with your kids.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:19 PM on July 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yeah, my best friend is in the process of divorcing her very feminist ex because he could never get the content of twirlypen's comment through his head. if you don't do it, you're leaving it for a woman to do.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:26 PM on July 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


I grew up being like this, and I am still like this. I smooth things over, I do the social calendar. I think about the cleaning schedule, etc. My husband plays dumb and he does what I tell him to do.

Then I have this daughter. She is in her 30's. She is like some fierce sort of warrior. She is very blunt. She will do the housework but she will be very clear as to why she will do it. She won't take shit from anyone. She is working and going back to school. With the puppy and the grand-baby, who she has gotten into a private school.

I said, "wow, who did you get this from?" and she says, "I got it from you, Ma."

And then I remember that I was a breastfeeding Mom, a "no you won't watch the Miss USA pageant in front of my daughter" Mom. And I guess she watched me...

I grew up in the 60's and I raised this woman. She won't take shit from anyone. She does things. She even offends me, and that's okay, because she is a rocket, and she is taking off, and I launched her.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:48 PM on July 16, 2015 [248 favorites]


Nthing this being a wonderful thread, and noting "emotional labor" being a superb, high-quality paradigm that can be used in the real world very readily. Thanks for sharing all your stories, in going to keep this in mind with my own relationships.
posted by amorphatist at 4:55 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


By "being used in the real world very readily", I mean it's something that I figure non-feminist, non-SJW -identifying acquaintances of mine would easily understand and accept.
posted by amorphatist at 4:58 PM on July 16, 2015


Trying to figure out the overlap between this work, and the work involved with avoiding being raped. The goal is different (opposite?), but the energy is similar.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:25 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Could you clarify what you mean by that, unknowncommand?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:45 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a guy and I just wanted to say that I also think this is the best thread ever. It's like a roller coaster, thrilling because it so articulately validates emotional baggage I've had concerning the way some men I grew up with treated me and others, followed up with horror at the realization I must have treated women in many of these ways over the years.

Kudos to our intrepid and indefatigable mods for pruning with prejudice what could have become a sharknado of shit into the elegant little bonsai this discussion has become.
posted by XMLicious at 6:04 PM on July 16, 2015 [22 favorites]


My father in law JUST NOW like half an hour ago called me to work out all the details of the backpacking trip that he, my husband, my daughter, and my sister-in-law are going on tomorrow. When I said "Oh hey, HusbandT is at work, he'll be home at 7, you should call him then" he said "Oh, I figured that we could get all this sorted out now."

Look back at that list of people who are going on this trip and notice that I AM NOT ON IT. I said breezily "I will never remember all the details to tell him, and I don't know anything about it myself, so I'm not really a good person figure things out with!" and he was so bemused.
posted by KathrynT at 6:06 PM on July 16, 2015 [64 favorites]


bitter-girl.com, I mean the work required (sometimes active and consciously, mostly constant and subconsciously) to consider escape routes and defense strategies, to cross the street when things feel iffy, to avoid being put in a "bad position", to cover your drink at the bar, to cover skin, to listen for footfall in stairwells, to carry your keys in your fist, to not hold packages or umbrellas between your thighs, to ignore street harassment such that it does not escalate, to make sure you're not the only woman in the train car, etc. All of the rules to remember, and the behaviors to execute, and the potential danger to avoid. It's similar to this kind of emotional labor, in that it's work that is taught and understood as "natural", enforced by negative social consequences (or the perception of same).
posted by unknowncommand at 6:12 PM on July 16, 2015 [34 favorites]


As a counterpart to Eyebrow McGee's excellent point about the effects on men on removal of supportive emotional work, I'd like to offer the Abstract of "Acts of Love (and Work)Gender Imbalance in Emotional Work and Women’s Psychological Distress":
ABSTRACT Family members do work to meet people’s emotional needs, improve their well-being, and maintain harmony. When emotional work is shared equally, both men and women have access to emotional resources in the family. However, like housework and child care, the distribution of emotional work is gendered. This study examines the psychological health consequences of gender divisions in emotional work. Quantitative and qualitative data from a sample of 102 couples with young children show that the gender imbalance affected women’s, but not men’s, experience of love and conflict in their marriage. Through this erosion of the marriage, the gender imbalance posed a health risk to women and helped explain gender differences in psychological distress. Couples preserved a sense of mutuality by accounting for the gender imbalance as something beyond men’s choice or control, or in terms of women’s excess emotional needs, thus entrenching gender differences in the performance and consequences of emotional work.
I do not have access to the study (maybe someone here does?), but wanted to point out yet another way that the imbalance of emotional work affects women's bodily and psychological health.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:19 PM on July 16, 2015 [42 favorites]


Phearlez, that's the beeminder couple! Their app helped me track how much work I was putting into things that people were discounting or downplaying, and in some ways significantly led to me saying nope, and getting divorced and other major steps. It's hard to hide from how little or how much you're doing when you put a real - even if it is only nominal - value on it.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:21 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have access to the article cited above by MonkeyToes and am happy to share it with anyone who wants to discuss the scholarship within said article. Please MeMail me for a copy if so.
posted by sockermom at 6:40 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am sure that to this day, he thinks it was about the chorizo.

It wasn't about the motherfucking chorizo.

posted by Space Kitty at 6:42 PM on July 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


it's never the motherfucking chorizo, it's what the chorizo symbolizes
posted by palomar at 6:44 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Guys, sometimes a cigar chorizo is just a chorizo...
posted by easter queen at 6:47 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Holy shit MonkeyToes (interesting string of words), thank you, that study is incredible. It's like my fricking memoir. When I write my memoir, it will just be... that study 10,000 times.
posted by easter queen at 6:48 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


This thread is amazing, y'all are amazing and I'm sending this out to as many friends as I can get.

I do want to comment on something though - I sincerely do not believe that emotional labor is something women are naturally good at. I commented in the autistic women spectrum post that I massively self-taught and practiced socialization and emotions to the point...where now I get recommended regularly to become a therapist.

However, my mother was someone who is exceptionally good at emotional labor, but would call out our family for not being reciprocating. She would scold me if I wasn't reciprocating emotional labor in the same way that she wants, and would lament if her needs were not met.

She also would make comments that I would most likely have to have a partner who would "take care of me more than I would take care of him." The reason? Because not only was learning how to take care of myself, my family, and my relationships was not innate and I needed to learn it, I also am not willing to go through the overbearing emotional work of making a relationship work. It should be an egalitarian effort, like "tending a garden", as I've seen elsewhere on AskMeFi be stated.

And I asked her, "is that so bad?" and she was like, "not really. but it's hard to find a man who would do such a thing for you." patriarchy continuously ruins my dating options forever.
posted by yueliang at 6:53 PM on July 16, 2015 [30 favorites]


I need an explainer for the chorizo references
posted by bq at 7:29 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


The article about the Beeminder couple is really interesting but how do you come up with a system like that and neglect to include carrying two pregnancies and giving birth twice in the math?!?
posted by somedaycatlady at 8:19 PM on July 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


I do want to comment on something though - I sincerely do not believe that emotional labor is something women are naturally good at. I commented in the autistic women spectrum post that I massively self-taught and practiced socialization and emotions to the point...where now I get recommended regularly to become a therapist.

I don't mean this in any divisive way, but it's either women (as a whole, #NotAllWomen and so on) are better at it, or women and men are equal at it, or men are better at it. Maybe better is the wrong word, but more inclined? I have a seven month old daughter, and like many men, for the first few months (especially until she self-weaned at 5 months), I'm a bystander essentially. And then, and still now, my daughter's mother has no qualms about stating (well, maybe she does, but she does it anyway) that there's a nurturing connection she feels with our child that I can't possibly grasp, as I did not carry her inside me for nine months nor did I feed her from my own body for the next five. She is just plainly simple correct on this. To me it seems fairly absurd to say that that does not influence this emotional labor discussion. How could I possibly be as equipped, or inclined as her, to value the effects that emotional labor produces? When children and family are the biggest cause of emotional labor? Even if I spend every ounce of my brain-being on empathizing and trying to do the right thing, as told to me by the person oppressed, I'm never going to match her, according to her. I may as well be some cishet white dude trying to write about queer women POC.

Again, this is #NotAllWomen, but in particular, mothers. I'm not saying/asserting/insisting that being a woman causes the average woman to be better/more-inclined/pushed-towards emotional labor than the average male, but I'm fairly sure that motherhood has something quite intrinsic to do with the way it plays out. And I say this as the son of a woman who was an emotional labor martyr to the extremest degree, which has made me highly cognizant of this occurring around me. I just can't agree that this is *entirely* socialized, I think motherhood has something intrinsic to do with it, which is what many commenters above have alluded to as well.
posted by amorphatist at 8:21 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe better is the wrong word, but more inclined? I have a seven month old daughter, and like many men, for the first few months (especially until she self-weaned at 5 months), I'm a bystander essentially. And then, and still now, my daughter's mother has no qualms about stating (well, maybe she does, but she does it anyway) that there's a nurturing connection she feels with our child that I can't possibly grasp, as I did not carry her inside me for nine months nor did I feed her from my own body for the next five.

fun fact: not all emotional labor involves children! in fact, many people with children would be, by your estimation, also "essentially bystanders" to their child-rearing, because they (gasp) adopted their children!

also, this is super cissexist!

i am super tired of seeing what defines womanness reduced to motherhood! it is inaccurate and very offensive!
posted by NoraReed at 8:32 PM on July 16, 2015 [129 favorites]


I have a seven month old daughter, and like many men, for the first few months (especially until she self-weaned at 5 months), I'm a bystander essentially.

This is a choice, not an inevitability. Even if y'all have chosen to breastfeed, there is no reason that you should be a bystander in the parenting of your own child. Stop trying to offload your choices onto some kind of pseudo-biological determinism.
posted by KathrynT at 8:32 PM on July 16, 2015 [114 favorites]


Tons of women who don't have kids are still expected (and taught!) to do the emotional labor tasks. If I can learn it, so can you. It's not some woo-mysterious thing because babies. It's taught and learned and enforced.
posted by rtha at 8:34 PM on July 16, 2015 [79 favorites]


#NotAllWomen

damn ... some good comments on this hashtag, folks. def recommend a click
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:43 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I haven't had and won't have a kid, and am cisfemale, and I nonetheless put up with an unsavory degree of emotional labor expectations coming down on my head, from work and friends and family and hobbies and jerks on the street.

Did you spend no time while she was pregnant and breastfeeding considering how she felt or the baby eventually did or how you could make their lives easier? I'd bet you invested in emotional labor, even if it wasn't oxitoxin-laden in the same way or whatever. If you didn't, you're probably doing it a bit wrong.
posted by lauranesson at 8:43 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


fun fact: not all emotional labor involves children!

fun fact NoraReed: nobody ever said that. Another fun fact: Again, this is #NotAllWomen, but in particular, mothers. : read the comment before you comment. Though I know that's water off a duck's back for you.

I'm a bystander essentially.

This is a choice, not an inevitability.


Maybe I should have written "bystander, essentially", with the comma, if that helps. Because yes, I essentially stand by and support the woman who is providing *life support* for that child. Everything I did could have been done by another person, if I'd been run over by a bus. Hence the "essentially".

I have a friend (wife of one of my best friends), and shortly after the birth of her first (within the first year, after she'd stopped breast-feeding), we had a drugacious night and we got into talking about the birth and she commented that it (not sure if I have the exact words right) was "violent and strange, intimate and peaceful". I was somewhat struck by that and for whatever reason we didn't talk much more about it that night, but I still amn't sure if she mean that as some sort of (possibly out-of-order) sequence, but I have a feeling she meant that she felt that simultaneously. An experience of that order of magnitude probably (IMHO) has something to do with building the social constructs that allow MIL/aunt/friends to berate even childless women for not performing the emotional labor that society apparently expects (unfairly) all women to perform. Again, IMHO.
posted by amorphatist at 8:46 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, just upthread, a new mother commented on how she took care of the feeding and her husband handled the diapers. That's emotional work and housework combined. There's no reason at all that she should be intrinsically better at changing diapers, or even at caring about changing diapers.
posted by lauranesson at 8:46 PM on July 16, 2015 [31 favorites]


maybe if you don't want to be read as defining women by motherhood you shouldn't use that as the cornerstone of your BUT WHAT IF... BIOTRUTHS???? crapshooting
posted by NoraReed at 8:48 PM on July 16, 2015 [57 favorites]


Tons of women who don't have kids are still expected (and taught!) to do the emotional labor tasks.

I entirely agree with you, and I wrote as much above. I don't think the answer is just man-patriarchy though. I think this is also an inter-woman thing. It's not like women can't cause bad structures without the help of men.
posted by amorphatist at 8:49 PM on July 16, 2015


don't think the answer is just man-patriarchy though. I think this is also an inter-woman thing.

Have you. . . not read the other comments in the thread?
posted by KathrynT at 8:54 PM on July 16, 2015 [55 favorites]


I love this thread.

My children are on summer break from school. My husband is on sabbatical. They all NEED THINGS ALL THE TIME, including emotional work. None of them individually needs an inordinate amount of anything, but all four of them at once?

I should be getting overtime pay at this point.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 8:55 PM on July 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


I don't mean this in any divisive way, but it's either women (as a whole, #NotAllWomen and so on) are better at it, or women and men are equal at it, or men are better at it. Maybe better is the wrong word, but more inclined?

Women are only "more inclined" to be that way if little girls are "more expected" to be that way. Which is exactly what happens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 PM on July 16, 2015 [44 favorites]


I don't think the answer is just man-patriarchy though.

Women participate in the support of our own oppression. You read all the comments above by women talking about how they got most pressure to do the emotional labor from other women, yeah?

Your initial comment just really reads as biological-imperative-nurture. If you really didn't mean it that way, I think you really need to think hard about how you are framing the parenting duties of you and your wife, because to me it sounds like you are setting yourself up for a way lighter load.
posted by rtha at 8:59 PM on July 16, 2015 [40 favorites]


[amorphatist, this is a long thread with a lot of nuance. You seem to be coming in without having read or though about it much, and that won't work. Please try to engage with what's here. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:01 PM on July 16, 2015 [36 favorites]


Your initial comment just really reads as biological-imperative-nurture. If you really didn't mean it that way, I think you really need to think hard about how you are framing the parenting duties of you and your wife, because to me it sounds like you are setting yourself up for a way lighter load.

Not my wife, I wonder why you would say that when I already said "my daughter's mother" above?

[amorphatist, this is a long thread with a lot of nuance. You seem to be coming in without having read or though about it much, and that won't work. Please try to engage with what's here. Thanks. ]

I've read every single bit of it, and thought about it deeply. I am in utter concurrence with the vast vast majority of comments made. If my suggestion that somehow motherhood might have something to do with the unfortunate fact that women end up having to take the greater burden of emotional labor (and that's an unfair and bad thing) is not an acceptable statement to make here, then we're really going off the deep end. Go back and read what I actually wrote and tell me what you take umbrage with, or with my tone, and pay less regard to the responses from the usual suspects.
posted by amorphatist at 9:08 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Coming into a thread without having done the labor of reading and thinking about the original article or doing the same about the thread to talk about the how the labor between you and your childrearing partner is unbalanced (in your favor) because of [theory] and expecting all the women in the thread to do the labor of reading your comment and then dealing with all of the resulting feelings (the emotional labor of AAAUUGGHH) is pretty illustrative what it means to have male privilege.
posted by NoraReed at 9:08 PM on July 16, 2015 [79 favorites]


I am super good at emotional labor. I have really high levels of empathy. I also have never been pregnant or given birth and don't have any children at all through any other means (i.e. adoption). I'm a little confused by the connection you're making between a mother-child bond and emotional labor as I see the two as completely different things. Emotional labor does include things like empathy, and some people are naturally better at that than others (though I believe empathy can be taught). But this entire thread has been about things like remembering birthdays, division of housework, tending to kids and their needs, planning things, checking to see how people are doing, helping others to be more comfortable, anticipating day-to-day needs (like making dinner), etc. These are the things that make up emotional labor and these are absolutely things that are 100% taught. Noticing and acting on them are things that are both passively modeled for and actively taught to girls pretty much from birth.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:08 PM on July 16, 2015 [39 favorites]


I think you might be conflating two different things, and missing some valuable time you could and should be bonding with your daughter. Maybe your partner doesn't want that. Or maybe she does and you don't know how to step in. But I don't think it's biology. If it were, I don't think you would see the mountains of duress women who are obligated into these roles end up feeling.

My husband who considers himself a feminist and an ally struggles with the concept of emotional work, mental labor, and just being an equal partner. Sometimes I get tired of fighting for it too, until I realize I'm going to break if it doesn't change. And sometime times I'm so angry about it, especially after being told I'm negative. Negative to him means discussing some level of planning and thought work that he's abdicated himself from. Not only does he not want to do it, he doesn't want to have to hear about it. And why would he? The past 15 of the 20 years we've been together, he hasn't needed to. I didn't have the language to express the burden I felt. Now I do, he talks about wanting to help, and I believe he does. But every fiber of who he is is revolting against this.

So I've been trying to take a deep breath. Like every new skill, it takes work. And more work when you didn't even know it was a skill that needed to exist. He's learning, sometimes at a snails pace; but I think he wants to be the husband in the equal house.

And in this manner women are better at emotional and mental labor than men. But it's not a side effect of biology, just of learning something from birth. You teach a child to play piano from as early as possible, and there is a good chance they'll excel at it. That no more means they're more biologically capable of playing the piano than anyone else. They are just well practiced.
posted by LANA! at 9:08 PM on July 16, 2015 [34 favorites]


Not my wife, I wonder why you would say that when I already said "my daughter's mother"

I apologize for the shorthand, and appreciate the correction.

Does it change my point? I don't think so. I can't tell if you do, because you didn't address it.
posted by rtha at 9:17 PM on July 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm a little confused by the connection you're making between a mother-child bond and emotional labor as I see the two as completely different things.

No, I agree entirely they are two different things! What I'm saying is that there is possibly (as I've observed) a connection between the structures amongst women (MIL, expectations of being the nurturer, etc), applied even to childless women today, because that inter-women structure emphasizes the importance of child-bearing/nurturing etc. I'm not applauding this at all, I think it's terrible that women are expected to bear that burden. But I don't think it's just the man-patriarchy at work, the woman-patriarchy is in play as well. And it's not like there can't be nasty mother-in-laws who also want to use their power-position to push down non-conforming individuals. This is not to excuse all the shit that men do all the time, even 10,000 years from now long after we achieve the perfect harmonious society men will still owe women reparations for all the shitty things they've done. I come from probably the most matriarchal western society (Ireland), and I've seen the pressure that my (strongly woman-oriented) family puts on the young woman members, and I suspect a lot of it is self-righteousness about having Given Birth and Raised A Family Right and how they aren't doing the emotional labor that Irish women should do because we're strong Irish women and aren't babies marvelous?. I suspect this is more universal than just Ireland.
posted by amorphatist at 9:23 PM on July 16, 2015


it is possible that people are not understanding you because "man-patriarchy" and "woman-patriarchy" are terms you just made up so no one knows what they mean, and less inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt because of the boorish thread hijacking and ignoring of mod notes.
posted by NoraReed at 9:25 PM on July 16, 2015 [64 favorites]


I apologize for the shorthand, and appreciate the correction.

Does it change my point? I don't think so. I can't tell if you do, because you didn't address it.


rtha, I sincerely appreciate the apology, and my apologies for not addressing your concern directly, I don't want to be seen as "taking on all comers" when I've already had a mod (unfairly IMHO) address me, and I'm already interacting with other commenters. If the mods are ok with it, I'll get back to you.
posted by amorphatist at 9:26 PM on July 16, 2015


There is no "man-patriarchy" and "woman-patriarchy." There is one system, and it takes advantage of oppressed people oppressing other oppressed people in order to free up more time for the non-oppressed people to do other things.
posted by jaguar at 9:26 PM on July 16, 2015 [54 favorites]


[amorphatist, the reason it looks like you haven't read the thread is you're restating relatively minor points that have been made several times over like they're some huge revelation. This is frustrating for everyone. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:26 PM on July 16, 2015 [48 favorites]


it is possible that people are not understanding you because "man-patriarchy" and "woman-patriarchy" are terms you just made up so no one knows what they mean, and less inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt because of the boorish thread hijacking and ignoring of mod notes.

Man-patriachy = the parts of the patriarchy perpetrated by men. "Woman-patriarchy" = the parts of the patriarchy perpetrated by women. If there are terms already in use, I'm happy to use them, apologies.
posted by amorphatist at 9:35 PM on July 16, 2015


restating relatively minor points that have been made several times over like they're some huge revelation

pater-splaining
posted by Thella at 9:37 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


✨ pointless derail ✨
posted by easter queen at 9:39 PM on July 16, 2015 [45 favorites]


Because yes, I essentially stand by and support the woman who is providing *life support* for that child.

If you really, really want to participate in that work rather than standing by while someone else does 100% of it, there's a secret method, which I will tell you about for $50. Equipment you'll need: one (1) lactating woman, one (1) breast pump, which your family probably already owns if only as an emergency back-up item, one (1) nursing bottle, and one (1) bed or comfy chair.

Despite never having been any sort of parent, I have participated firsthand in the glorious mysterious inspiring nurturing blah blah blah blah ritual of providing sacred life support to an infant using this very method hundreds of times since I was like 10 years old.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [49 favorites]


I admittedly read halfway and skipped down to post, because this resonated for me so hard. The role I play at work - which I do really well, because both Patriarchy & Alcoholic Co-Dependency have trained me well - is the peacemaker. Can't get people to stop yelling loud enough to plan a project? Send in RogueTech! Need to get teams who refuse to work with one another on the phone to work together? Send in RogueTech! Oh, and RogueTech, I know I gave that project you wanted to X, who has the social skills of a wet paper sack, but hey can you do all the social work on it, the planning, the talking to people, the inevitable smoothing over that will be needed once he's said something really stupid and alienated half the group? Be a dear now, won't you?

Never mind that these people are adults and at WORK and should be able to do these things themselves. Nevermind that I have IT and project management and analysis skills that are just as good if not better. My role has slowly evolved to glorified Emotional Handler and it just sucks, and I'm looking for a new job because of it. And I have no idea how to make it so I don't keep falling into this dynamic.

My husband said today, "I think I know why, but tell me why this %work situation% is making you so angry." And I replied, "I'm mad at myself because I forgot that Capitalism basically makes work a really elegant version of prostitution, where the Company is paying for my brain, my time, and my emotions, no more, no less. I'm mad because I formed relationships with these people, and because I trusted these people, and because I am so tired of having to be constantly on guard against this behavior not only in other people, but in myself."

It's fucking bullshit and I still haven't figured out how to show enough "caring" to not be considered a "cold bitch", yet not get sucked into the "Team's Emotional Mother" role again.
posted by RogueTech at 9:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [67 favorites]


Man-patriachy = the parts of the patriarchy perpetrated by men. "Woman-patriarchy" = the parts of the patriarchy perpetrated by women. If there are terms already in use, I'm happy to use them, apologies.

Maybe the reason why there are no terms is because women have been explaining their experiences around this in plain language up until now? And there's no real need to make up loaded and obfuscatory terms just to mansplain the experiences of women back to them?
posted by Conspire at 9:48 PM on July 16, 2015 [68 favorites]


Equipment you'll need: one (1) lactating woman, one (1) breast pump, which your family probably already owns if only as an emergency back-up item, one (1) nursing bottle, and one (1) bed or comfy chair.

Despite never having been any sort of parent [...]


It shows that you've never been any sort of parent. We tried. Well, my partner tried. She tried until she cried. It was terrible. She spent hours and got out an ounce or an ounce and a half. Not all women can use breast pumps. You literally do not know what you're talking about.
posted by amorphatist at 9:49 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Then she can do all the nursing and you can do all the other baby care. Not everyone can pump, but anyone can change diapers / burp the baby / bathe the baby / bounce the baby for hours on a giant exercise ball because that's the only thing that will stop her screaming / take the baby to the well-baby visits / get up in the middle of the night to check on the baby to see if food is what she needs or if she just needs a diaper or a cuddle or something.
posted by KathrynT at 9:52 PM on July 16, 2015 [64 favorites]


I mean, for pete's sake, nursing is exhausting -- it is LITERALLY DRAINING -- but it is not the only thing a baby needs! There is nothing about gestating, birthing, and nursing a child that makes it any easier or more intuitive to attend to any one of those other myriad needs. In fact, the biological necessity of gestating, birthing, and nursing a child makes it even MORE crucial and essential that the baby's non-gestational parent be proactive about stepping up to attend to the baby's other needs, lest the situation start off bad from the very beginning. You are not powerless here. If you chose to abdicate those duties, that's on you.
posted by KathrynT at 9:55 PM on July 16, 2015 [62 favorites]


Yea, you can literally do anything that doesn't require a breast in this situation. Sorry you don't have a mystical "bond" (which, btw, not all mothers have either).

Speaking of literally not know what you're talking about-- you do not, at all, in this discussion of sexism.
posted by easter queen at 9:56 PM on July 16, 2015 [43 favorites]


On emotional labor at work- it seems like every job I had, women were set up to be there to support the men. It didn't matter what the role. Plan parties? Women. Order food? Women. Make sure everyone's egos were adequately stroked? Women. And even when there were events where everyone was expected to participate, men would often ask their wives to make food, or offer to bring bottle of soda to pot luck dinners. Women organized, set up, and cleaned up work place social events.

The number of times I was cornered to hear a man's problems was astonishing. Not that women didn't share either, but that was a two way street. Men expected and dumped their emotional burdens on us, and yet none ever asked how we were doing.

There was one time I was assigned to a rogue project with a couple men. It was rogue as in it wasn't an official project, but they decided to first assign a different female coworker, then me to it. It turns out one of the senior executives really just wanted someone to listen to how brilliant his ideas were. And I didn't know it at the time, but apparently assigning women to him to hear him talk about stuff was an ongoing problem. Never mind he was a little pervy and spent too much time looking at my tits (the woman before me had the same problem, I found out later.) he never said any think particularly offensive, but I became super aware of my clothing in a way I never had before. I'm large breasted and tend to dress modestly. I started making sure Tuesday's I wore the bulkiest tops I owned. One Tuesday I nearly had a panic attack because I dressed normally, forgetting my weekly meeting counseling session. And again, he never said anything untoward, but it was clear my role was not to get this project launched, but to be the person that listened to this person's "brilliant" ideas. I was reduced from senior designer to emotional support. And after the fact, my (male) bosses joked about it. Eventually I got pulled from the non-existent project, and the executive would come by my desk for a friendly chat. Never how I was doing, but to tell me how he was doing. He could eat up hours of my time and no one would stop it and I had no recourse -in fairness, a male colleague did one say he had to work with this person and he would follow him into the bathroom to keep talking- but either way, the burden got shifted to women intentionally and without remorse. Eventually I was moved twice so the executive couldn't find me. Literally, once or twice I was told to scram because he was searching.

That's probably not close to my worst emotional labor story; but it is the most ridiculous.

Oh, then there was the developer on the same project as me. Designers and developers were in different departments. Now I have a long history in the web/Internet. And because of that, I have more experience with server and programming than many of my peers. In this case, this developer apparently felt some kinship with me after I smacked down a few incorrect assertions he made about the feasibility of a project. (He was trying to deny it was possible, and knowing just enough programming to call his bluff, I did). For some reason, that endeared me too him. A week later he corners me in a hallway and tells me this plan for how his department is going to screw over my department. I don't even recall the specifics, to be honest. But I didn't ask to know about it, and it was something that my boss could prevent if he knew about it. So as soon as programmer is finished pouring his heart out to me about this slick maneuver, I walked over to my boss and explained everything. And the plan was thwarted. A few days later, programmer was so pissed because he "confided in me" and "you weren't supposed to tell anyone" and "I thought your were on my side." Why? I asked. I never asked to be told this and I never said I was going to be complicit. The only thing I did was let you finish telling your story. But according to him, I violated his trust just by listening.

Some of these are funny stories now, but they are the basis of some really screwed up interactions and relationships. I can't count the egos I stroked to get a small amount of respect.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:56 PM on July 16, 2015 [58 favorites]


Nobody owes me reparations. I just want to be treated like a damn equal.

Also, the best term for this so-called"man-patriarchy" and "women-patriarchy" is just simply "patriarchy."
posted by sockermom at 9:57 PM on July 16, 2015 [54 favorites]


My brother once said, proudly, that he doesn't take any notice of anything unless it splats in his face, because that way he knows he is only dealing with the important stuff.

Which explains so very much about his relationships with his now adult kids and his siblings.
posted by Thella at 9:59 PM on July 16, 2015 [37 favorites]


Then she can do all the nursing and you can do all the other baby care.

That's what I've done. She provided the essential life-support, I did all the other things. My daughter is upstairs asleep right now while my partner is down in Denver going to a jazz club with my best friend who just flew in from San Diego for my birthday last weekend because we can't afford a baby-sitter after having one last weekend for my bday, and she wanted a night out and she deserves it. So I'm on the blue while the baby sleeps.

Just to reiterate this point: women with smaller breasts (my partner is Asian-American, with A-cups when not lactating) often can't easily pump, and that shit about the breast pump is insulting, especially from somebody who isn't a parent. We bought the best model off of Amazon, and when that didn't work, we rented an industrial-grade pump from Kaiser, and it still didn't work. We went to a lactation consultant, several times. We tried. That comment is the definition of 'splaining.

Also, the best term for this so-called "man-patriarchy" and "women-patriarchy" is just simply "patriarchy."

If you insist that there's not a possibility of differentiating what some of my aunts do to their daughters and nieces versus what the uncles do, I can't agree with you.
posted by amorphatist at 10:02 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


It shows that you've never been any sort of parent. We tried. Well, my partner tried. She tried until she cried. It was terrible. She spent hours and got out an ounce or an ounce and a half. Not all women can use breast pumps. You literally do not know what you're talking about.

I apologize, and you're right that you both tried. I wouldn't actually call that standing by (as you did) but participating. If you did stuff to make that less terrible for her or your child or all of you, then you did some of the emotional work in that situation.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:02 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


[Let's move on from the single-person focus, please. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 10:05 PM on July 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


Sorry FelliniBlank, I posted that before I saw your comment. Apology accepted, graciously.
posted by amorphatist at 10:05 PM on July 16, 2015


If you insist that there's not a possibility of differentiating what some of my aunts do to their daughters and nieces versus what the uncles do, I can't agree with you.

Partnered dancing has gendered roles, but we don't call that doing man-dancing and woman-dancing. We just call it dancing. Same with what your aunts do vs what your uncles do in regards to their daughters and nieces: it's just one thing, performed in different ways.
posted by palomar at 10:06 PM on July 16, 2015 [56 favorites]


Yeah, the breast size thing is really weird, especially considering that "A-cup" is a completely meaningless term for actually describing the size of a breast.
posted by NoraReed at 10:11 PM on July 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


[Seriously, dude, let it go.]
posted by restless_nomad at 10:33 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know. I think the "just pump" stuff is so super complicated from a feminist perspective. I do think that breastfeeding involves a significant amount of both emotional and physical labor. It also has nice happy goopy lovey hormones attached. I hate pumping, and I'm lucky that I rarely need to, but I don't think my unwillingness to pump means that I should also shoulder the entire weight of emotional caretaking in my household, not only for my child (who, sure, turns to me first for comfort) but also for, like, our extended family.

There's an interesting bit in the documentary Breastmilk where one couple muses that they found themselves divided between more traditional gender roles since becoming parents, but the woman pointed out that that didn't need to be the case--there's no real essential reason why housework or, say, buying the in-laws Christmas gifts needs to be paired with nursing. I think a big part of it is that nursing children aren't really tolerated in workplaces (in part because pumps are treated as equivalent to breastfeeding) or even in public. It's still assumed that the "sphere" of mothers of young children is the home. But why not offices with great daycare attached? Why not more white collar working moms while their husbands stay home and clean house and keep track of appointments?

I think pumping generally can be a great tool for many working mothers but it's also a lot of work and not always as good for milk production and the idea that it (or formula) will just liberate women in a lot of ways troubles me, as someone who enjoys my breastfeeding relationship and doesn't want to be liberated from it but would still like to not be the one to worry about scheduling play dates between my husband and his family.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:39 PM on July 16, 2015 [20 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that pumping was being offered as one example of the many ways that a non-gestational, non-lactating parent could support the other parent.

I'm also entirely sure that this is a derail from the main topic, which is emotional labor.
posted by Lexica at 10:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [36 favorites]


I think it's a common assumption, though, that breastfeeding and other, broader kinds of emotional labor are intertwined. I also think that pumping is also (somewhat blithely) offered as a panacea for that. Heck, when my daughter was about two months old, a friend's husband told me that I had to start pumping so that my daughter and husband could bond. That they were bonded just fine through other activities, and that this option meant creating still-more physical labor for me while taking away something I enjoyed didn't seem to bother him.

I disagree with a lot of what amorphatist has said here, but I also think that "get a pump and have dad bottle feed" isn't an option that is nearly as equalizing in terms of emotional and physical labor as many people assume.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:52 PM on July 16, 2015 [19 favorites]


Emotional labor: how many times do I need to say that until the new trash bag is in place, the "taking out the trash" job isn't complete? Apparently at least once more.
posted by Lexica at 11:01 PM on July 16, 2015 [25 favorites]


From the study Monkey Toes linked to
The concept of emotional work describes the actions taken to give care and emotionally engage with others. Conceptualizing this as a form of work challenges assumptions of care as natural, discretionary, effortless,
and without consequence (England & Farkas, 1986; Erickson, 1993). In families, emotional work is one of the ways important emotional and social resources are built and distributed. Access to these resources has potent effects on well-being (Beach et al., 1993; Burg & Seeman, 1994; Taylor et al., 1997).
Most of the work of emotional labour takes place in the heart and mind and is thus invisible to those who don't know it exists. The output, the physical manifestation of caring engagement is often performed with such grace that it looks almost ... natural, discretionary, effortless, and without consequence. But it is not, of course. It is often enjoyable but also excruciatingly demanding and frustrating. And necessary for a healthy functioning life and society.

Anyone not pulling their weight in the emotional labour stakes is having important emotional and social resources provided for them gratis. These resources cannot be bought and if you can't reciprocate, you are taking more than your fair share.
posted by Thella at 11:02 PM on July 16, 2015 [43 favorites]


I'm done coordinating lunches for my group of coworkers. Done. Done inviting people so no one feels left out, done picking the restaurant, done worrying about who can eat what where, done finding the best time. Just all of it. Immediately off my shoulders starting tomorrow.

Thank you for this thread.
posted by erratic meatsack at 11:15 PM on July 16, 2015 [71 favorites]


When I wrote that emotional labor extends beyond entitlement beyond #notallmen, I was examining the multitude of ways this type and expectation of labor permeates throughout society.

Regardless of who is enforcing whatever norm is being discussed, these experiences occur in what is generally recognized as a patriarchal society. A system which as mentioned in almost every gender related thread, harms men as well as women.

An example of that harm could include strictly held gender roles where "only a mother can have this special bond" - a very Gender Studies 101 topic that can also serve as a dog-whistle for entrenched views. Perhaps, our rejection of this line of reasoning will allow you a deeper connection with your child, but in general, such discussion becomes at best, a derail, and at worst, baiting for false debate over perceived harm.

I'm only wading in, because I've stressed the societal role in my previous comments. I did so, because like so many others, I'm harmed and burdened by the other ways emotional labor manifests. But for me, this conversation involves more than a discussion of harm - I'm certain, based on what I read, that I inflict it as well.

Moving forward, I can use these concepts and vocabulary to express and define my experiences, while also attempting to be cognisant of the labor I ask others to engage in as well.
posted by bindr at 11:17 PM on July 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's really useful to distinguish emotional labour from domestic work, even within a household context. The two go hand in hand a lot and they're both unpaid work that women are expected to do, but they feel distinct and they seem to have different logistics. When my partner and I started trying to rebalance our lives post-kids, we put a lot of work into working out who was doing what jobs around the house and with the kids (mostly her, no surprises). Listing "all the domestic jobs" and reallocating them in a way we both felt was fair was a tedious exercise, but not conceptually difficult. Because we can enumerate the jobs honestly, we can allocate them fairly (or less unfairly: "fair" is hard to assess). Something like a 50-50 split isn't impossible, though I don't claim to be there.

The emotional labour side feels different to me. Tracking kids schedules, remembering whose turn it is to do a chore, meeting our neighbourhood folks and remembering stuff about them, caring about each other's problems and talking them through, etc. It's not only that it's hard work, it's amorphous work. Listing "all the emotional jobs" and reallocating them isn't even a thing that makes sense to me. Even worse, a lot of those jobs aren't things that can be easily carved up and allocated separately, because everything depends on everything else. Arranging play dates for the kids is linked to remembering when the school holidays are on and to what everyone else in our lives is up to. We end up partly solving the problem by sharing calendars and letting google do the work, but it doesn't solve much. The sheer amount of time that we spend on endlessly communicating what so-and-so told parent A about kid A, and what that means for event B planned by parent B for kid B... ugh. It's exhausting, and it's a duplication of effort. I swear that at this point I'm doing about 40% of a "full load" (whatever that means), but she's still doing about 80%. Even if we ever get it all sorted properly it won't be a 50-50 split, it'll be something like a 70-70 split because everything gets duplicated and there's no way around the need to constantly communicate everything. Emotional labour is tricky.
posted by langtonsant at 12:54 AM on July 17, 2015 [34 favorites]


Value hitherto unacknowledged that is uncovered and elucidated as this article does is a funny thing. It is, in short, the feeling that you've been cheated. The feeling that one have been cheated is an essential operative feeling in our society; it's a feeling explicitly used to enforce the most basic norms of capitalism: the "invisible hand," the presumably ineluctable force of individuals seeking to secure what is in their own interests. The required and expected response when one realizes that one has been cheated is to ask for compensation - which interestingly Jess Zimmerman did not actually do in the main article, though she toyed with that as a nicely vivid illustration. There's another, deeper possible response to the realization that one has been cheated: one can also recognize that labor is more than monetary worth - that it is power, sheer power, a stake in the vast forces that built the world, the power to say "no" and stop those forces if the immeasurable value of that labor is being purposefully ignored - and the power to band together with other workers to bend that power to one's own will and build something better.

Which is really just what I see people saying here - sorry for the feeble attempt to explain it to myself, but I'm processing, and (yes) I'm a man so I think I need to process this stuff, in the face of such a wonderfully interesting article and such a surfeit of thoughtful discussion here. It's very interesting, thinking about this stuff in terms of labor. I'm a musician, and I have often had other musicians give me the talk about not giving it away for free, since music has value - demanding to be paid for gigs, etc. And I think those musicians, far from being selfish in saying this, were installing in me the value of respecting yourself and what you do with your hands, your abilities, your skills - your labor. By exercising their own self-respect, they imparted it to me, and they gave me a gift that is beyond price in doing so. Ultimately it's better for all that everybody have the space and freedom to respect themselves and say "you know what? fuck this" when they've found themselves being taken for granted and their labor is in vain and is exhausting them.

Anyway - thanks for this excellent article, sciatrix, and to those who've made such useful and thought-provoking comments here.
posted by koeselitz at 1:17 AM on July 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


emotional labor of caring about emotional labor

NB: Eyebrows McGee gets credit for inventing the secondary market for emotional trading.
posted by biffa at 1:20 AM on July 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


It is, in short, the feeling that you've been cheated.
Oh. God. YES. Cheated out of so much, including respect, because there is an inverse relationship in the respect accorded to (invisible, easy to take for granted) emotional labour and obvious labour that is involved in trade-exchange.

Ultimately it's better for all that everybody have the space and freedom to respect themselves and say "you know what? fuck this" when they've found themselves being taken for granted and their labor is in vain and is exhausting them.

For many women, saying "fuck this" is a really unviable option as it can quickly lead to unemployment and/or homelessness.

The answer is not for men/people to say "well stop doing it then!"; the answer is to say, "oops, sorry, here's how I'll pick up the slack and why".

Telling people to stop doing necessary emotional labour 'if they are so tired of it' is a shallow approach to a deep problem that yet again shows that the labour isn't valued. Emotional labour is a vital ingredient in the glue that holds relationships of all kinds together. And here's the rub: if we all stopped doing it, the "well, stop doing it!" crowd would not take responsibility for the result.
posted by Thella at 1:58 AM on July 17, 2015 [82 favorites]


The grandparent-birthday example cited above was what happens when a person (almost always a woman) stops doing the unacknowledged and Unrewarded emotional labor: someone vulnerable and without alternatives gets hurt, in this case a child. I refused to do the work for that grandparent relationship so it doesn't exist. Recently post-separation I said I would no longer be the point person for the kids and the in-laws cousin, that the ex would have to handle those play dates, party invites, phone calls etc. Result? No relationships any more. The kids miss out on relationships because adults can't be arsed to do emotional work and then wonder why their kids are lonely and upset.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:36 AM on July 17, 2015 [62 favorites]


Holy crap, guys, I just realized something. When I was in college, I had a summer job. I worked as support staff for an outdoor education company, which meant driving groups to trailheads and packing gear and fixing gear and keeping things running at the old ranch where all the kids arrived and left from. I did it for 3 years and the first year was probably the hardest job I’d ever had, before or since, but I could never really explain why to people.

And this thread has made me realize why: because my most immediate boss at that company, Sam, who was the one in charge of us support staff, was a man who got the job because his life had sort of fallen apart and he was a personal friend of the director. His previous job had been working almost completely by himself for 25 years on a ranch in Montana. He had absolutely no idea how to interact with high school kids or college kids or anybody at all really except for his old friend the director and his horses (he was really good with horses). The year before I’d started working there had been his first year at the job, and it was a complete disaster: one of the support staff (there were 6) quit half way through the summer because she just couldn’t deal with him anymore and there were a bunch of kids who said in their program evaluations at the end of the summer that he made them uncomfortable because he walked around scowling at everybody and was just really unfriendly and aggressive, which makes sense because he thought they were all entitled obnoxious immature rich kids who didn’t understand how privileged or dumb they really were. He also didn’t really understand the point of the whole company, because compared to ranching, it didn’t seem like real work to him.

So when I arrived the next summer with my 5 other compatriots, everyone in the administration knew there was a problem, but they couldn’t fire him, because he was friends with the director, so instead they just did nothing. After the first three days of working with him, I realized that the summer was going to be really miserable if someone didn’t help Sam integrate into the company better and figure out how to interact with all of us better. And since no one else seemed like they were going to do it, that’s what I spent my summer doing.

So I spent the entire summer thinking really carefully about my tone every time I talked to him, so that he wouldn’t react defensively or angrily when I made a suggestion or told him something he didn’t know (he knew a lot about fixing machines, but not a lot about outdoor camping gear, etc). I had a bunch of conversations with him about the high schoolers, how they might look super privileged to him because they were here on an expensive trip, but how a lot of them still had issues and family problems of their own. I talked to him about how a lot of the kids were actually scholarship students, because our company had close ties with an inner-city scholarship program. And I spent so much time and energy giving him a frame of reference for the people he was working with: why we did things the way we did, why the company had the safety rules that it did, why I thought the work the company did was important—just so he would start to gain some empathy and understanding for the people and the kids he was working with. He and I started to be friends about halfway through the summer, which meant that I could start telling him more directly when I thought he’d said or done something inappropriate, as long as it was just the two of us.

I worked so goddamn hard at all of that. And a lot of the time it felt like I was fighting an invisible battle with Sam, or trying to drag a reluctant horse through 4 feet of mud. But it worked: at the end of the summer, all of the administrative staff said to us like, “Oh, things went so much more smoothly this summer! You guys were amazing! I guess Sam just needed a bit of time to get into the swing of things—“ And the next summer, things went better from the start, and by the third year, all the field staff were all talking fondly about Sam as a somewhat eccentric but lovable person, and a lot of the kids thought he was great because he was the closest thing to a real-life cowboy that they’d ever seen. Sam and I were really good friends by that point, and that was obvious enough to other people that they occasionally said things to me like, “Sam really loves you!” and I always thought, “Yeah, because he and I walked through the fire together,” but I could never explain, even to myself, exactly what I did that first summer and why it was so exhausting and also why it was so invisible to everyone else.

And this article and the subsequent discussion have given me the answer: you guys, it was my summer of intensive emotional labor.
posted by colfax at 3:08 AM on July 17, 2015 [193 favorites]


One reason why use of the term "women-patriarchy" might raise hackles is that it looks like it's intended to serve the same rhetorical purpose as the phrase "black on black crime".
posted by XMLicious at 3:55 AM on July 17, 2015 [67 favorites]


This thread has given me another amazing reason to appreciate my fiancé. The neighbors' cat died a few weeks ago and when I came home from work he was making soup to take over to them. "Because when there's a death in the family, you're supposed to bring food." I was floored and it took me until this thread to realize that most men wouldn't even have that thought cross their minds, and most women WOULD (even me, and I'm horrible about this stuff). Not even feminist men. Not even my father, who is more considerate than the average Joe.

We're apart right now but the second I get home I'm gonna give him an extra hug for the soup.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:49 AM on July 17, 2015 [61 favorites]


I'm terrible at it. Hence, my children miss out on parties and regular family get togethers because there's no-one else taking care of it . I thought it just happened (obviously my Mum took care of the early childhood stuff (when I went to parties)) but it doesn't and I never really have got the knack of the whole looking out for everyone thing, which also explains why my siblings and I are kinda distant even though we all get on when we do get together. Obviously no-one can be fucked to organise things. No-one wants to take on that work.

Does it count that my Mum left home and my brothers and sister and I stayed with Dad when I was 11, even though my Mum and Grandma were always a major part of my life? Maybe. But probably not. Dad still did stuff, more than I do. He was in community groups and things. I can't really remember him organising personal stuff, the whole socialising thing was pretty much left to us to deal with. Except for family stuff. He did that. WAAY more than I ever have, to my shame. No blame to be laid there.

This is when I remember what it was like to be with someone who was waiting for me to do this thing, and I was really fucked at it and he was all aghast. And in the end he wasn't up to it because he wanted someone he didn't have to coach and he sure as fuck wasn't going to do it himself.

I honestly thought, in restrospect now that I've got a name for it, that I would find somebody who would shoulder the burden of emotional work for me because I'm so bad at it, but alas, that was not to be so now it's just up to me and my poor/lovely/clever kids to work it out. We're all arsing our way through.

In the end, we all have to work it out. It would be great to not feel so unduly burdened by the expectations of others but the world is not set up for fairness. Being in charge of everyone's happiness is a massive burden. It makes sense to share it.

The thing is, how do we get everyone to feel this way? Fucking empathy, man. It's not to be sniffed at.
posted by h00py at 5:41 AM on July 17, 2015 [15 favorites]


My brother once said, proudly, that he doesn't take any notice of anything unless it splats in his face, because that way he knows he is only dealing with the important stuff.

vs.

The expectation that women will be naturally, effortlessly skilled at 1) keeping track of what's important to family members, friends of the family, work colleagues; 2) having antennae out for others' invisible and subtle expectations/missives/tone/frequency of contact/mood/needs; 3) noticing entropy and taking note of potential problems; 4) acting as a fixer-facilitator-logistics coordinator; 5) making things comfortable/easy/non-threatening for others; while 6) doing this on an unpaid basis; 7) doing this on an unnoticed basis; 8) being mocked and/or gaslighted for mentioning the existence of all of this as work, and as exhausting; 9) being called nags and told to lower our standards, because we notice so much; and 10) feeling like we are failing at "being in charge of everyone's happiness."

The cheese of patriarchy has just gone splat, and it is fucking terrible.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:00 AM on July 17, 2015 [105 favorites]


It's probably a big part of the basis for the whole "default parent" notion as well, right? (previous thread) It's mooooostly women doing that, and it's fairly equal parts physical drudgery and emotional labor.

I guess I'm thinking about it because my comment in the thread was specifically about the emotional labor aspects of being the default parent (reproduced here:)

I thought about this thread this morning as I went through my daughter's school uniform drawer to find the one skirt that would both look OK in school pictures (because I was the only one who remembered it was picture day) and had built in shorts (because it's one of the days she has gym, and she insists on wearing a skirt with built in shorts on gym day -- but not pants, never pants on gym day wtf I don't know either) and I knew it was in the drawer, because I planned the laundry last week and rotated the order in which she wore various pieces of uniform to ensure that this particular skirt would be clean on this particular day.

Just one of those incredibly minor things, but I probably thought about it for 3 or 4 minutes every day for a week.

posted by gaspode at 6:26 AM on July 17, 2015 [27 favorites]


And heh, I can vividly remember being pregnant with gaspode Jr (the only kid I have) and informing my husband that he was never under any circumstances to look at me with our newborn and ask what to do wrt soothing her. I had no innate knowledge because I was a woman! I am an only child who was and is ambivalent about babies. I never played with dolls or cooed over younger children. He was at an advantage even, because he's an elder sibling. So if he expected me to just *know* by virtue of my sex/gender what to do, he was in for a big shock.
posted by gaspode at 6:29 AM on July 17, 2015 [32 favorites]


I bought up this thread to my husband last night, talking about how much I am learning from it. When I said that I used my relationship with my dad as my clearest example, he was like, "But I don't think that's emotional labour. He is your dad, you are supposed to call him and take the high road when he doesn't call you. I think that's being the bigger person." I think you can imagine how I responded.
posted by Kitteh at 6:32 AM on July 17, 2015 [33 favorites]


Sure, if he does the same if his mom behaves the same way.
posted by RogueTech at 6:33 AM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Exactly. If a man estranged from his father or not close to his dad would not get the same pushback as a woman. Men are stoic, reserved, whereas I am supposed to be full of fluffy bunny feelings of compassion and caring 24/7.
posted by Kitteh at 6:38 AM on July 17, 2015 [17 favorites]


This ties in nicely with the topic about filling in the gaps in a programming language community. In multiple fields (including household/family management), people are becoming more aware how valuable is the skill of filling in the gaps and making sure everything's connected, and realizing the importance of the needs of unconnected people.
posted by michaelh at 6:42 AM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


My husband is definitely one of the good ones, but this thread also has me thinking about the emotional labor that was necessary to get our relationship to the point where it is now. When we had a major problem towards the beginning of our relationship, I carried us through it, and if I hadn't put in an INTENSE amount of emotional labor that was incredibly trying and scary, we would very likely no longer be together. He currently takes on a lot of the household stuff because he works from home, so he cooks dinner almost every night. This is wonderful. It also only happened because I spent years gently teaching him to be able to cook, to enjoy cooking, even, and this was no small task. In general I feel like it is primarily my responsibility to "manage" the emotional labor in our household: he is getting much much better at a lot of things (cooking, buying family xmas presents, etc.) and that is SO GREAT, but it is a process, and that process can be exhausting.
posted by dysh at 6:45 AM on July 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


dysh, that's why I loved this comment from Dorinda way the hell upthread. My husband does a lot of stuff that I never have to ask him to do, he is a great ally, but this is stuff that he never had to think about or even know existed.
posted by Kitteh at 6:50 AM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


The cheese of patriarchy has just gone splat, and it is fucking terrible.

It is a testament to how shit patriarchy really is that is can be rubbery and still go splat.
posted by phearlez at 6:56 AM on July 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


Vaguely related: Calif. Law Makes Cheerleaders Employees (NPR piece from this morning, transcript isn't up yet, but the takeaway for me is that many/most football cheerleaders are paid per game, but then controlled to an absurd degree in the rest of their lives and expected to do a lot of other work for free, which results in them getting paid less than minimum wage). My summary of the response soundbyte from a Republican representative: "I'm not comfortable adding regulations on business, when there's a venue (class action lawsuits) for these issues to be resolved."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I like to think I helped nudge my brother toward some understanding of this when I pointed out to him that being "laidback" and willing to go along with whatever anyone else planned, while preferable to being a dictatorial tyrant, was still offloading the planning work onto everyone else and refusing to do any of the work that needed to be done. I think I actually heard the light bulb click on over his head, and he's been much better about not saying, "Oh, whatever you want to do is fine," while still maintaining his okayness with being flexible about plans.

He had never pretended to be persecuted, but the whole "Yes, Dear" schtick goes right along with that, the trope that husbands are so put upon because they always have to do what their wives want them to do -- ignoring the reality that the wives have likely given a ton of thought into why what they want to do is going to benefit (or work for) multiple family members, friends, co-workers, whomever and not just themselves and also that the reason wives tend to have to ask husbands to do things is because the husbands don't bother to create that To Do list themselves. I have a male co-worker who just discovered the phrase "She Who Must Be Obeyed" and has been sharing his (hilarious! it's just hilarious!) observations about the truthiness of this gender dynamic with anyone who will listen, and it makes me furious every time I hear him laughing about it on the phone (not sure if he's talking to clients or friends).
posted by jaguar at 7:13 AM on July 17, 2015 [53 favorites]


Which reminds me of the John Gottman observation that healthy mixed-sex relationships are those in which the male partner "accepts influence" from the female partner, since the reverse is almost universally already happening:
4. Accept influence from your partner.
In studying heterosexual marriages, we found that a relationship succeeds to the extent that the husband can accept influence from his wife. For instance, a woman says, “Do you have to work Thursday night? My mother is coming that weekend, and I need your help getting ready.” Her husband then replies, “My plans are set, and I’m not changing them.” As you might guess, this guy is in a shaky marriage. A husband’s ability to be influenced by his wife (rather than vice-versa) is crucial – because research shows that women are already well practiced at accepting influence from men. A true partnership only occurs when a husband can do the same thing.
posted by jaguar at 7:17 AM on July 17, 2015 [80 favorites]


I wish there was a shibboleth for this kind of deliberate disdain for emotional labor.

I'm alright with people who don't understand that this work exists because of neurodiversity, or who are trying to deal with it imperfectly but with effort. But something that could be asked - like how if your date is an asshole to a waiter, that's a red flag.

Maybe asking when the last time they sent a birthday card? No, not your ex, not your sister, not the one you signed at work that somebody else organised. The last time you bought a paper card and put it in the post. Or ordered a birthday present for someone you weren't sleeping with.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:20 AM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


This thread has really been resonating for me in all sorts of ways - professionally, personally, family-wise.

I woke up this morning thinking specifically about how I spent so much of my last career as The Problem Solver, the Compromiser, Morale Girl, and the Bridge-builder, all facets of doing the emotional labor of getting things done and making things work. Even when the work wasn't invisible, it never seemed to count (unless things didn't work out). It was just expected. I was largely considered "one of the guys" and it was still true that I was the one who was expected to smooth things over, find a way to make 2 groups work together, cater to others who couldn't keep up, explain things "nicely", organize outings, take notes, follow up (when it was really not my role to do so), make things work that weren't really in my purview, and be eternally available to everyone. Is it any wonder that I burned out on that career/world? (Burning out on my personal world was not an option.)
posted by julen at 7:49 AM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought of this thread yesterday after getting the mail, because I got a thank you note from a friend/neighbor who lives a five minute walk from my house. She recently had breast cancer surgery. When I was going to see her for the first time since the procedure last week, I thought “oh, I should take her something— right, I have that relaxation aromatherapy lotion/soap gift set, that works.” I ran upstairs to grab it (I always have a stash of gifts on hand just in case), I gave it to her (unwrapped), she said thanks.

And in her thank you note (she had already thanked me in person, which I would consider more than sufficient, by the way), she said thank you not only for the gift, but for the thought behind the gift, the feeling it gave her that she is going through this scary time in community with people caring about her/caring for her/trying to signal their love for her.

To a lot of the people saying “ugh, cards, who cares” or “just skip it, no one I know cares about getting presents for [X] occasion,” this is why these things matter. The present itself is secondary. The thank you card itself is secondary. They matter as vehicles for messages of love. They matter as ways of saying “I value you, I am thinking of you, I treasure your place in my life and my community, and I want this tangible object to be a talisman of my care for you.”

The gift itself is not the thing. The card itself is not the thing. The relationship is the thing.

(I know that there are families/groups where the gift or the card become obligations and/or weapons, but the assumption that this aberrant dysfunction of certain social spheres makes the practices unnecessary in the rest of the world is flat-out absurd.)

A lot of the behaviors that people here have framed as “pointless” or “a waste of time” have almost magical powers, when they are used correctly. I got that card in return for a last-minute “feel better” gift, and the glow from it lasted all night, and on through today. I’m not glad she sent the card NOT because people who get gifts are supposed to send thank you cards, but because it allowed us both to feel loved.

Part of the invisibility of emotional labor is that its tools are so often damned as absurd or frivolous. Listen to the scorn so many men show for women who “gossip”, for example. How often is “gossip” a shorthand slur for “discussing their lives, their hopes, their dreams, offering one another advice, support, affirmation”?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:05 AM on July 17, 2015 [201 favorites]


There's this other thing that I don't have a word or a phrase for (I want one!) and it's that thing that happens where a man will audit your response to their testing of your emotional-labour availability when you're upset or bothered to decide whether you're really upset or not. Like if you have feelings that aren't about them, or an emotion that would ordinarily provoke emotional labour when speaking to a woman, you get poked to engage in emotional labour on their behalf which will fall into a pattern of behaviour which they can then dismiss without engaging in emotional labour themselves. (Phew, tangled sentence.)

It's most obvious in compare and contrast to how women handle the same thing. For example one of my female relatives got very bad news recently and they were quite devastated. A male relative asked what was wrong, my female relative explained, and male relative proceeded to make a joke that was thoroughly tasteless and laugh at their own joke without an ounce of concern for their weeping female relative who was in genuine pain.

So it's like -- does female relative put her feelings on hold to do the work of trying to express to this man that their feelings matter, that they deserve better, that the man could instead take a different tack like asking how they are or just saying 'that sucks'? Does female relative get to do anything with that upset? Does female relative just not say anything and give up and swallow shit? Does female relative provoke an argument about the joke and contribute to giving their hurt and pain short shrift in favour of making it about the male relative? Does female relative try to explain the hurt to the male relative already knowing the male relative is more occupied with getting their joke across than the female relative's pain and is likely to simply repeat the joke or inflict a worse one? Does female relative get a chance to avoid having to go through the mental work of how-to-manage-a-man's-feelings-in-this-moment while they're crying over terrible news?

Does female relative get a chance to avoid having their feelings pushed into the Oversensitive basket or the Whiny Female basket or the Nagging basket or the Hysterical Bitch basket for the benefit of the male relative being able to dismiss her entirely because it fits a Narrative about Women?

Compare contrast, other female relative in the same room at the same time, launching into caretaking of the "hugs, tissues, tea, shoulder to cry on, backpats, soothing noises, weeping relative gently questioned whether they will be okay to continue or if they'd rather go home and will they be okay to drive and roping in other women in the room into general discussion of who volunteers to drive and juggling of schedules to make sure someone is available, soothing noises and reassurances continue meanwhile" sort.

It's a very bright-line difference and once I started noticing it, I sort of started seeing it everywhere. It's this pattern and I wish I had a phrase for it, or a word, so I could go like "that. THAT THING. YOU'RE DOING THE THING." when my male friends do it. Because holy hell does it ever get wearying.
posted by E. Whitehall at 8:07 AM on July 17, 2015 [80 favorites]


Just want to add my own personal experience/thoughts on "opting out".

People have discussed how, when opting out, the consequences almost always fall on the woman and are largely unseen. It's not as though anyone will die or be grievously injured if the in-laws don't get birthday cards because the wife opted out and the husband doesn't do it. But the woman will be judged to varying degrees - people will think she's a bad wife/mother, etc, and this can manifest itself subtly in ways that ends up punishing the woman (and children, as already noted). I opted out of lots of gender roles that were expected of me years ago; if they were things that could only really hurt me by other people thinking less of me as a woman or thinking I'm less feminine or whatever. That kind of thing I just don't care about. (And, yes, I know that people thinking I'm less feminine potentially can negatively affect me in more tangible areas of my life, such as in my career, but let's leave that aside for now).

The other opt-out stuff that I could do but I don't want to do are things that would have the kind of negative affect in my life that would be palpable to me, and that I definitely don't want. Things such as friendships and relationships.

Friendships: This applies mainly to those with a man or where a man is my primary friend (i.e. the one in a couple that I've known and been friends with for decades). I am almost always the one organizing and coordinating nights out and events. I contact everyone and find a date when we're all available. Then I propose what we're going to do, e.g. a show, a restaurant or a bbq at someone's house (usually mine, if I'm organizing). Then, I have to either buy tickets/organize payments; find a restaurant everyone likes and make reservations (often having to go through this a few times if there are no openings on the night we've all decided on); or figure out what the BBQ is going to include and buy and prepare food for it (or assign certain people to bring certain things). This in addition to cleaning my house/yard, making sure I have enough paper plates/utensils, gas for the grill, enough chairs for everyone on the deck (or inside if it rains), etc.

If I decide to opt out of this, It wouldn't be accurate to say I would never see my friends again, but that wouldn't be far from the truth. Because most of the guys I know just don't do this. And I place a very high value of maintaining my friendships, even if it's for totally selfish reasons, i.e. I enjoy it and it is healthy for me. If I opt out of this my social life and relationships suffer, and that's huge.

Relationships: I know from past experience that my male partner can and will feel happy and content and well taken care of and I will get more and more depressed as time goes on because I feel my needs are not being met. And because I know this, if I sense that a man is not going to make any effort to even try to meet me halfway on emotional labor, then I'm not interested. Because no. FUCK no. It is preferable to be single than to feel empty and sad with an oblivious partner. But at the same time, the desire for a partnership is really strong and it is really frustrating and depressing to me that there are so many men out there that just don't see this, even if they otherwise are really well-intentioned. And I really believe that a lot of men don't want to be this way, they're just not aware (this has been confirmed by the men who have dropped into this thread and said as much). But there is no practical way to fit education on this issue into trying to find someone to date. So I opt out here because I know that totally trying to ignore my emotional needs in a relationship is a recipe for disaster, but what it means for me is: maybe I'll never find a fulfilling relationship? At this point, I'm not even really looking for a man who would meet me halfway (though that would be like a dream come true), I'm really just looking for someone who shows signs of trying or being open to trying and even THAT isn't easy to find! Because there is so much cultural baggage and perception around "cool girls", women being "nags" or women having impossible standards, which is SUCH COMPLETE BULLSHIT most of the time, but I can't educate the world, you know? This is also a HUGE consequence of opting out and I hate it and it sucks.

So I am super grateful for this thread and the article for a few reasons. One, that I now have words to describe the feelings I've had around this issue for years but have never been able to articulate. And secondly, because it is raising awareness, finally. I think there are a lot of good men out there who this will resonate with and who will be horrified and try to do better; because they're well-meaning but have just never known because they have literally never been taught. And I welcome that. I hope someone take the advice upthread and posts an AskMe with suggestions on how men can start to do better help to shoulder the burden of emotional labor. And I hope they get a wide variety of responses, from things like how to build empathy to practical rule-based things (which I personally think may be easier for lots of people who are just learning this) like the one mentioned by chainsoffreedom above: "when there's a death in the family, you're supposed to bring food" or "when your partner says they've had a hard day, you make them a dinner that they like, rub their back and give them extra hugs and kisses". Or whatever. And I hope that shit is circulated FAR AND WIDE. Because increased public awareness means there's a better chance for me and other women to have genuinely happy, equitable and fulfilling relationships with men and not have to deny themselves this very (imo) excellent part of life just because they chose to opt out of doing all the work.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:30 AM on July 17, 2015 [68 favorites]


THAT THING is something I'm primed to respond to. I'm thinking it's $100 for me to give into it, and $50 for me to explain/demand importance. I'm kind of running with this idea, as an internal monologue to assert my position. Enhanced boundaries via game theory to lessen social conditioning.

I've mentioned the emotional labor my wife performs, because it feels like a lot, especially when centered around my needs. That Thing can contribute to an over-valuing of labor. (much like the celebration of a father who "babysits" his children).

When looking at the relationship as a whole, outside of social interactions/prompting, I do the work. Much of that labor is offload to me, and I begrudgingly accept requests that induce stress by rationalizing that it's part of my role as a housewife.

Without an umbrella term for these tasks, I couldn't understand why I found the "small things" so exhausting. Emotional labor helps me better define my work, and more clearly articulate a reason for objecting to certain requests.

I can almost guarantee that we'll both be throwing the words "emotional labor" around for weeks as we work to smooth out the more bumpy aspects of our relationship. We tend to be good at adapting, so hopefully our emotional labor distribution isn't so engrained as to take decades.
posted by bindr at 9:28 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was thinking of this in terms of making an ask myself. I don't know if I have the emotional bandwidth for the responses, especially with the propensity for DTMFA answers. Which frequently aren't wrong; but this problem is so widespread, we'd have a epidemic of breakup and divorces should this advice be heeded.

And that does seem to be the crux of the issue. This problem is such an epidemic that even the "good guys", the feminists and the allies are guilty of shirking this duty. Of being unaware and sometimes willfully so. And yes, I think it's very possible to be willfully unaware, because not seeing means it's work you don't have to do. It's a little like "clutter blindness" that some men men who do not do housework have, along with those of us who are messy by nature. I personally have lost things right in front of me due to clutter blindness, and the only way I'm able to look past it is to literally get a new perspective (standing on a chair or step stool is my go to). I think they are similar blind spots. Both intentional and unintentional. I didn't recognize many of the frustrations between my husband and myself were due to the imbalance of emotional labor because even I was blind to it. Performing and still blind.

I would really like to know what we call that thing that E. Whitehall describes, but I have experienced it many times over, but don't have a name for it, besides selfish, and that's a component, but it's most specific than that.

I'm still in the midst of reading the paper from soccermom, but suspect I will have much to say when done.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:36 AM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Wow, I wish I had seen this thread in it's early parts.

You've never gotten the silent treatment, or the angry phone call from an aunt asking you why you are breaking your mother's heart. Or had in-laws act cold because you didn't remember someone's birthday. But plenty of women have.

Every fucking time I opt out with my family, I get this. I get emotional blackmail and while I have learned to set boundaries, my family is incredibly rigid in the emotional labor division. The guilt is laid on so thick, it can be difficult to breathe.

As far as my husband and I go - he was certainly raised with a mom who did all of the emotional and the household labor (to the point that dad never washed a dish or made a sandwich in his married life). Additionally, I believe his dad was on the spectrum and had some social functioning issues to begin with. This made for an incredibly rocky start to our relationship where I could not for the life of me figure out how he could opt out of family dinners, gift giving, and any other family "obligation". Turns out, it was just never ever expected of him and it was never expected of his father.

Today, while there is by no means equal division of emotional labor, I feel like I get the easier role in the household labor deal. While I do almost all the cooking, (which I love) he does all of the cleaning. Kitchen, bathrooms, vacuuming, everything. He frankly likes to do it and I am happy to sit on the couch playing sudoku while he vacuums around me.

I get a lot of "You're so lucky." from friends and family, but honestly, it feels completely reasonable to me that he does this.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:38 AM on July 17, 2015 [15 favorites]


I just read this Vice piece an hour ago (How to Come to Terms with Your Attraction to 'Fat Girls') and wow, it struck me hard because of how it relates to this discussion - thinking about how so much of the emotional labor we do as women is so subtle it's often invisible even to us that we're performing it:
...most of the men I sleep with tell me they like my body. They'll say something like "I love curvy women," or "I like thicker girls." I always took these comments as them trying to do me a favor—like, I'll call her curvy, not fat. But I don't see fat as a bad word, and I don't see the point in avoiding it.

I mentioned this to a guy recently, after he called me "curvy" in bed. "Just call me fat," I said to him. "I don't mind—it's what I am."

His response to this took me [by] surprise. "Trust me, you're not fat. I'm not attracted to fat girls."

That's when it all hit me: Oh, you're not doing this for my sake. You're doing it for yours. This guy, and probably a lot of the others, didn't want to come to terms with his attraction to a fat woman...

Fat or thin, we're in the same boat when it comes to getting cheated on, getting that awful text that says, "You're really cool, but the thing is..." The difference is, when that happens, my thin friends don't automatically blame it on their weight. So why am I constantly made to feel like my weight is the problem in my love life?

Feeling shame about fatness is something I know all about—but as Tovar explained, the way I processed my shame is different from how the men I slept with processed their shame. "When women feel shame we are taught to turn that shame inwards, toward ourselves," said Tovar. "Men are often able to maneuver some of the shame away from themselves. Whereas women are likelier to just absorb all of it—not just the shame they are likely already feeling for being fat, but also shame because they are causing discomfort to their partner."

This is best exemplified by women feeling uncomfortable in fully exposing their bodies during sex, even when our romantic partners have already expressed attraction to us by their eagerness to rip our clothes off. Sort of like saying, "I'm ashamed that you might be ashamed of my body."
JFC, I've got to pullquote that again even though I already bolded it: "Men [...] maneuver some of the shame away from themselves. Whereas women are likelier to just absorb all of it [...the] shame because they are causing discomfort to their partner."

Absorb. Women are socialized to be emotional sponges soaking up all those uncomfortable feelings so other people don't have to. And men are socialized to expect they can do that - use women as an outlet for all the crap they're not trained or expected to process on their own, so they can feel better about themselves.

That's the guilt no one explains to you explictly: simply by existing as a woman you're expected to service others in these ways and when you don't, you are failing at being a good person. Even if you have to tear yourself up & put yourself down to do it - you best perform or be ostracized (or worse). It's your role.
posted by flex at 9:38 AM on July 17, 2015 [116 favorites]


I have a friend who's really social and loves to have get-togethers at his house. Usually cookouts. Which is great! Friends together, eating yummy food, and then playing board games. Awesome. I don't really go to these anymore, though, because I always end up completely exhausted afterward. And I realized this morning, catching up with this thread, why. I always just thought "oh, it's the introvert thing. You're feeling super drained after being around a crowd." Nope. I'm feeling super drained because I end up doing so much work. Honestly, a ton of it is actual physical work, but there's a big emotional component too.

You see, my friend has fallen into the ugly awful role of "incompetent bumbling smart guy". When he has a cookout, our other friends call me up to ask me if I'm going to be bringing the food - because he often forgets to buy anything to cook. They want to make sure I'll bring condiments, because the ones in his fridge are always expired. It's taken as a given that I'll be doing the cooking, of course, because there was a food poisoning issue the last time he did it. I always arrive early, so I can check and make sure he's actually got the grill going so the coals will be ready to cook on (he never does - even when I call ahead and ask him to do this). Last time I forgot to check and see if his dishes were clean - they weren't - and so dinner was delayed by a massive washing frenzy. The board games are nice... except that my friend will often get up randomly in the middle of a game and go play the piano, because it's not his turn, so hey, he doesn't need to just sit around. So we have to kind of play around him, or without him, or find games that work with an absent player. He never has ice, so I usually remind another friend to bring some for the drinks. He'll set the time for these things as a nebulous "whenever!" but if you show up too early (like just before noon for a lunch thing) he'll still be in the bath, or in bed, so I end up telling people when specifically to arrive and coordinating that. I do a lot of checking in with everyone who's there - make sure there's bugspray, tell my friend to get out his lawn games, bring board games I think folks will enjoy and haven't played in a while, try to keep the tone light and fluffy if people start griping about work too much, blah blah blah.

This isn't to say my friend does no work for these things - he'll help with the cooking, and he'll clean the dishes (afterwards, once he sees and notices that they're dirty). But he puts no effort at all into making sure his guests have an actual good time. They do! But it's because I make sure they do. And afterwards, he's always so thrilled - "this was a wonderful thing! Let's do this again soon! I had such fun!" and I just want to collapse in a heap. Our other friends are always appreciative, and I think it's apparent just how much work this dude 'hosting a party' really is for me (and the times I haven't gone have been laughable disasters because surprise! Other folks - and most of the friends in this group are dudes - aren't willing to just step up and do this stuff. Good for them, really). Once a year is my new limit, because I do like to see those friends in that context, and it is a good time for them. But damn, it would be nice if I wasn't playing hostess in someone else's house.

I wonder, though, how my friend would take it if I said, "ok, so I've itemized my services for party planning, coordination, food preparation, food acquisition, entertainment, hostessing, and wrangling you so that your guests actually see you instead of just being in your space while you're off doing other stuff. Here's the bill." Probably not well.
posted by lriG rorriM at 9:39 AM on July 17, 2015 [50 favorites]


To a lot of the people saying “ugh, cards, who cares” or “just skip it, no one I know cares about getting presents for [X] occasion,” this is why these things matter. The present itself is secondary. The thank you card itself is secondary. They matter as vehicles for messages of love. They matter as ways of saying “I value you, I am thinking of you, I treasure your place in my life and my community, and I want this tangible object to be a talisman of my care for you.”

A dear friend of mine once called my attention to something, when I was at his house and was having a bad day. He pointed out that he had a card I'd sent him for Hannukkah three years prior still on display. I'd actually chalked that up to him just putting it up temporarily that year and then just being scattered and not taking it down, but he said that he kept it on display because

1. it was a card from someone he cared about, and
2. it was a Hannukkah card he'd received from a non-Jew.

"What's so special about that?" I asked. "You're Jewish, of course I'd send you a Hannukkah card, right?"

"Do you know how many of my goyische friends send me Christmas cards every year?" he retorted.

The card itself was no more than two bucks and took only a couple seconds' thought. The message he got from it, though, was "I acknowledge the person you are and I am grateful for the person you are."

When it comes to social gestures, the stuff we're talking about may just seem like a drop in the ocean - but what is the ocean if not millions and millions of tiny drops?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on July 17, 2015 [72 favorites]


A lot of the emotional labour also translates well into the Five Love Languages (which aren't just for romantic relationships but also work/social/family too and have the books to prove it).

Everyone wants to feel loved, to feel validated - we all think we are the heroes of our own stories, right? But someone who feels entitlement to other's emotional labour (maybe they like to feel validated by someone listening/agreeing with them and so drones away without actually, you know, having a conversation that involves the other person or likes GETTING the perfect gift but can't figure out why their partner wasn't thrilled with just a bunch of flowers from the chemist for their milestone anniversary) is exhausting to be around. Unfortunately, as noted, their entitlement comes from a very real power differential in the relationship that often means even *communicating* about balancing other people's needs isn't a conversation that can realistically happen.

I LOVE that article flex. Shame is SUCH a huge motivator for bad behaviour.
posted by saucysault at 9:48 AM on July 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


Here's an example of a thing.

I was having a conversation with my husband and some friends about how I was trying to opt out of more things because of a chronic health condition. I gave as an example the goody bags at a recent birthday party we'd attended. They were cute - the kids loved them - it was super nice of her, the mom, to do that (of course it was the mom) but I'm just not going to do that. My husband, to my surprise, protested. But getting a goody bag is the best part of going to a birthday party! I explained that if giving goody bags at our child's birthday party was so important to him, he was free to buy them, put them together, and give them out.
We will not be giving out goody bags.
posted by bq at 9:49 AM on July 17, 2015 [88 favorites]


flex:Absorb. Women are socialized to be emotional sponges soaking up all those uncomfortable feelings so other people don't have to. And men are socialized to expect they can do that - use women as an outlet for all the crap they're not trained or expected to process on their own, so they can feel better about themselves.

I'd take this one step further--after you've absorb his shit long enough and maybe are starting to voice your desire to not absorb it, he might see that shit, feel bad about himself and decide that because you are the reservoir of such shit that you are also the source. And to feel better about himself he has to get rid of you. Rather than, y'know, do the tough emotional work and face his shit.

Fun stuff!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:53 AM on July 17, 2015 [59 favorites]


Oh, wow, I think I just figured out the weird statistical anomaly in video game community management - it's largely women, yes, but of them men, the *vast* majority of the ones I've met are gay. It was something we talked about, but could never figure out a reason for.

Community management is almost pure emotional labor - that's the job. And gay men have to figure out how to do it in their relationships, or it won't get done - not all of them, obviously, but they don't get the luxury of assuming someone else will do it for them. So they have some of the same background as the women, coming in, and can do the mental modeling and noticing of emotional states and all the rest of the stuff that separates a community manager from a minimum wage drone applying a fixed moderation rubric.

Huh. I'll have to think about that a while longer.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:55 AM on July 17, 2015 [43 favorites]


This thread has been so enlightening. I'm actually seeing more of myself in the "male" group here, contrary to my actual gender, and hearing people talk about why all this emotional labour is important, I'm feeling a little guilty for not making more of an effort to improve. Somehow I've escaped the pressure to learn these skills so far, very luckily because they absolutely aren't natural for me - very analytical/practical, ADHD-PI, introverted, independent, etc, plus I was pretty isolated as a child and wasn't taught any of it. My family members are all very emotionally distant from each other, and friends and coworkers have learned not to expect that stuff from me, I guess, and like me anyway. My closest friends are male, and we emotionally vent to each other roughly equally frequently (i.e. rarely). I've never mailed a birthday card in my life, and buy birthday gifts for (and receive from) nobody except boyfriends - I'm doing well if I remember to wish my siblings happy birthday on facebook. So because I don't get pressure to do emotional labour, and because it's extremely difficult for me (to both realize it should be done, and to actually do it), I tend to avoid it entirely. While I haven't really noticed any fallout from not doing it, like many men, I have wished my friendships were closer, without really understanding how to change things. One notable exception is that in actual relationships, I still do probably the majority of the emotional labour (though still a lot less than most women, apparently). It's just with less-close people that I don't really think of putting in the effort (or care to, honestly, particularly since I'm indifferent to receiving it myself).

So I'm going to think about ways I can improve my performance of emotional labour, without going so far that I fall into the pattern described here (or exhaust myself, which will probably happen much earlier!). I've been thinking about writing an AskMe asking for tips to improve these skills - something like a "maintaining human connections for dummies" guide.

Anyway, I can see from the experiences described here that it will be much more difficult to avoid it if I marry/have kids, so I'm very grateful to be reading this thread now, and learning which relationship dynamics should be nipped in the bud.
posted by randomnity at 9:56 AM on July 17, 2015 [28 favorites]


Reasonably early on in my relationship, a troubling dynamic was emerging. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) wanted input on nearly every decision, but only in the form of either accepting or rejecting the plans that I'd already come up with; he rarely offered countersuggestions. So, for example, when I was looking at curtains for the living room to replace the (horrible, torn, polyester, smoke-impregnated) ones that been in the house when we'd bought it, I'd say "How about these?" "Nah, I don't like that color." "OK, how about these?" "Ugh, I hate stripes." "OK, what about this?" "mmmm maybe too shiny." "OK, well what do you want?" "I don't know, just pick something."

I instituted a rule: he gets three free rejections, but then after that, he has to come up with a minimum of three suggestions of his own, or else I pick whatever I want without consulting him. And while my first three suggestions are usually made with his tastes and desires in mind, my fourth will not necessarily be. The instant he realized I was serious (after he saw the riotously colorful rainforest shower curtain in our bathroom) he got on board. But seriously, if you want me to have all the responsibility, then I'm taking all the power, too. I'm done with this "Oh, I don't care, pick whatever you want (but not really, what I mean is pick something that you have psychically divined that I want and then I can have all my needs met without having to make any choices or do any work!)" business.

This works best because we have radically different tastes. In his perfect world, our house would have pale birch floors and white walls and each room would contain a single bentwood Scandinavian chair. In my perfect world, our house would look like the prop closet for a particularly luxe production of Carmen threw up. So there's some real incentive to cooperate.
posted by KathrynT at 9:57 AM on July 17, 2015 [200 favorites]


Women are socialized to be emotional sponges soaking up all those uncomfortable feelings so other people don't have to.

Ohhh, that reminds me of another common complaint about women that is secretly about this subject-- "Women are so indecisive! Why can't they just say where they want to eat!"

My indecision is based on the certainty that my choice will upset someone, that we will arrive to that place only to experience one of these incredibly common mood-poisoning incidents that dudes like to do:

-making fun of the menu (and if you say "we can just go somewhere else," responding with "it's FINE! No, it's completely fine. I'm sure I can find SOMETHING.")
-saying "why would anyone want to eat here"
-saying "why would anyone want to eat [dish]" that I have just ordered
-making weird "she's still deciiiiding, WOMEN" jokes to the server
-saying "get whatever you want" only to passive-aggressively pepper you with tiny verbal barbs when you get whatever you want
-saying "oh man, if we were at [other restaurant] I could have [dish at other restaurant]"
-complaining about the beer selection
-complaining about the appetizer list lacking mozzarella sticks
-complaining about size/shape/bun-type of burgers
-complaining about one variety of sandwich with an ingredient they consider "weird"
-making comments about the female server's figure
-telling everyone they know about "the time [female person] made me go to [restaurant]" for the next fifteen years (I knew a guy who made jokes CONSTANTLY about the time his wife "dragged" him to this weird restaurant where the only thing they served was bread. That restaurant? Panera.)

Ultimately, in my experience, any woman's refusal to choose a restaurant is based on the often-correct suspicion that whatever choice you make will be wrong anyway, so let's just go where he wants to go, it makes things so much easier.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:58 AM on July 17, 2015 [103 favorites]


randomnity: If you write that, I would read the hell out of it. I see so much of myself in your comment it's unreal. What emotional labor I've learned to do has come from (as mentioned) abuse and boyfriendial expectations; I haven't the foggiest clue how to go about maintaining friendships in a way that doesn't feel artificial as fuck.
posted by XtinaS at 10:02 AM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ha, KathrynT, I think we just told similar stories in two different settings.

-You choose! Completely up to you.
-I choose this.
-Ughhhhh, really??? :( :( :(
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:02 AM on July 17, 2015 [31 favorites]


I am a super indecisive person, and I feel like a fiendish thingy just poked right at the heart of the reason why. When you're making decisions where you're prioritizing other people's preferences - often unstated or even unconscious preferences - it's damned hard to choose anything.
posted by lriG rorriM at 10:03 AM on July 17, 2015 [70 favorites]


When you're making decisions where you're prioritizing other people's preferences - often unstated or even unconscious preferences - it's damned hard to choose anything.

Yes forever. I still have times when I say out loud, "If this were a perfect world and my decision only affected me, then [thing]." It's occasionally the only way I have of getting around my habit of thinking about everyone else's needs/wants/wishes before I even get to mine.
posted by XtinaS at 10:07 AM on July 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


This thread has been eye-opening. I realized that emotional labor was a thing, and it was why so many of my previous relationships didn't work out. But until I read all of your stories and comments, I didn't really grasp the level of emotional work that was or wasn't getting done in past relationships.

My first long term relationship ended because he said I wouldn't let him be an adult. I did all the planning, bill paying, and daily life maintenance. I felt exhausted all the time because everything about our life was such work. But, he planned our trips, he made dates with friends, he organized the social gatherings and while he might not remember to pack underwear for the trip, he made sure everyone had fun. I actually fell out with that group of friends not long after the breakup and for years I thought it was because they liked him better. But now I see it was because he remembered their shit where I just couldn't muster up the energy.

Second long term ended because I realized that years of being told, "We'll work on what is making you frustrated in the relationship just as soon as I get my emotional crap worked out." wasn't a valid life plan. My ex was astounded when I finally got mad and demanded he do some of the emotional work like giving a damn about my feelings. Leaving him felt like a gravity lightened and it took me a long time to ever feel that burden again.

Lately, my husband and I have been stressed. And thanks to this thread, I've realized that it's because we are both doing emotional work that we don't want to do. Instead of talking about or realizing that it is work to plan things or deal with those social details, we've just gotten annoyed. Neither of us is doing all of the emotional work, but neither of us is seeing the value in the work the other is doing. Thank you metafilter for giving me a framework to make my relationship better. Because honestly, I need to learn to value the work people do for me the way I wish they valued my efforts. This thread has made that crystal clear.
posted by teleri025 at 10:08 AM on July 17, 2015 [30 favorites]


Other restaurant stuff that's happened:
-Complaining about how a dish is too expensive and they could just make a better version of it at home.
-Not even peeking at the menu, but having their SO try to decide for them (or worse, reading choices to them so they can decide)
-Complaining throughout the meal about the service being received.
-Complaining about tipping, and how tipping is a ripoff/broken/unfair.
posted by FJT at 10:10 AM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I instituted a rule: he gets three free rejections, but then after that, he has to come up with a minimum of three suggestions of his own, or else I pick whatever I want without consulting him.

omg thank you KathrynT, I am so stealing this rule and trying it out with my boyfriend. We also have radically different tastes (or maybe he just has an irresistible urge to shoot down every suggestion). We've tried doing the 5-3-1 suggested on here a lot, but often get stuck because he'll hate all 5 of my suggestions equally, won't come up with any of his own, and will tell me to just pick something (but of course still complain afterwards). Possibly the most frustrating part of our entire relationship...
posted by randomnity at 10:11 AM on July 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yes forever. I still have times when I say out loud, "If this were a perfect world and my decision only affected me, then [thing]." It's occasionally the only way I have of getting around my habit of thinking about everyone else's needs/wants/wishes before I even get to mine.

XtinaS, I've been doing the same thing! I phrase it as, "In my ideal world, we'd [plans]." It's something I've started using with therapy clients, too ("In an ideal world, what would you want?" or sometimes, "What would you say if you didn't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings?"), who are being extremely deferential to others or reluctant to identify their own needs. I've noticed a lot of clients get a brief look of confused panic at first, but then it's like I can almost see the weight of the "what if what if what if" anxiety evaporate from their shoulders.
posted by jaguar at 10:13 AM on July 17, 2015 [36 favorites]


I've been thinking some about cards and gifts and other gestures and how much work they are. Yes, they represent effort, and when the burden for remembering and thinking about those things is solely shifted onto one person it can be really heavy. But the key thing about thoughtful gestures is the thoughtful bit. The reason why a Hannukkah card for a Jewish friend is a big enough deal that it's still on display is because it was thoughtful, dammit. Not just a throwaway token effort so that the score is even and some tit-for-tat accounting can be said to be complete. I think that's how a lot of dudes see the outlay of energy involved around holidays and gifts and cards, and why the capitalist model of "let's assign a monetary value to these things" may actually, in some cases, backfire. The effort they're inclined to put in actually is literally worthless ("I'll spend five minutes in a grocery store aisle and pick out a card I guess") because there's no thought in it, no care. The emotional labor is the bit that says "I give a damn and I'm thinking of you", and that's really hard to teach if you don't actually give a damn and don't actually think of others.
posted by lriG rorriM at 10:13 AM on July 17, 2015 [21 favorites]


For anyone that enjoyed the PDF sockermom provided, I really enjoyed this more recent one that did not specifically use the term "emotional labour" but spoke about similar "love labour" and how it fits as one of three types of (paid) care labouring:

This paper examines the nature of love labouring and explores how it can be distinguished from other forms of care work. It provides a three fold taxonomy for analysing other-centred work, distinguishing between work required to maintain primary care relations (love labour), secondary care relations (general care work) and tertiary care relations (solidarity work). A central theme of the paper is that primary care relations are not sustainable over time without love labour; that the realization of love, as opposed to the declaration of love, requires work. Drawing on a wide range of theoretical and empirical sources, including a study of caring undertaken by the author, the paper argues that there is mutuality, commitment, trust and responsibility at the heart of love labouring that makes it distinct from general care work and solidarity work. It sets out reasons why it is not possible to commodify the feelings, intentions and commitments of love labourers to supply them on a paid basis.
posted by saucysault at 10:13 AM on July 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the interior design stuff is great. My husband and I have been wrestling over paint colors in our new place, and sometimes I get the feeling he wants me to intuit his preferences (some of which are kind of inscrutable to me, like he thinks bright turquoise is a "cold, clinical" color) and then do the actual painting of the rooms for him, so the manual labor, too. It's kind of like when you're doing freelance graphic design and your client starts wanting to use you like a human mouse without taking any of your expertise into account.

Mostly I've just said fuck that, though, and painted the damned walls cold, clinical turquoise.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:19 AM on July 17, 2015 [23 favorites]


-You choose! Completely up to you.
-I choose this.
-Ughhhhh, really??? :( :( :(


THE SEQUEL:

-You choose! Completely up to you!
-No, I'm not going to do that, because you always shoot down everything I choose, and it's exhausting to keep having all my ideas rejected.
-I DO NOT DO THAT! I have never done that in my life! You're just making that up to get me to do all the work!
-OK, well, what about this?
-What, seriously? Now you're just saying stupid things because you don't want to choose.

PART THREE OF THE TRILOGY

-You choose! Completely up to you!
-No, I'm not going through that again.
-Going through what again?
-Suggesting all kinds of stuff for you to put down until we end up getting what you wanted to begin with.
-I DO NOT DO THAT! Name me ONE TIME I did that!
-[names times they did that]
-Oh, my God, what kind of sick mind do you have to have to sit and remember all those times and dates? Can't you ever just let anything go?
-YOU asked ME to name you the times.
-I can't believe you're playing all these sick, twisted mind games just to get out of choosing something.
-OK, what about this?
-Wellll, I don't knoooow...
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:22 AM on July 17, 2015 [101 favorites]


OK - here's my getting married story.

My mom wanted a big wedding. My fiancee/now husband did not.

Fiancee (F): What do you want?
Me: I just want everyone to be happy.
F: That is not a valid response. What do you want for our wedding?
Me: I don't understand what you mean! I WANT EVERYONE TO BE HAPPY!! THAT IS WHAT I WANT!!!
F: You really don't have any idea what I'm asking you, do you?
Me: I really don't understand why you are playing games with me.

OK - So today I understand the question, but at 29, having never been married and most of my boundaries with my parents consisted of just not telling them things. (BTW - we eloped. 15 years later, I could not be happier with that decision.)
posted by Sophie1 at 10:25 AM on July 17, 2015 [28 favorites]


I haven't heard of of term emotional labor before, but as other's have said, it's a relief to have it named and to have the words/vocabulary to discuss it. My friends and I call it being a person, as in, "Why couldn't he just be a person and ask me how my day went?" or "All I wanted was a hug, but he wanted to fix my air conditioner instead - like, be a person, you know!"

I broke up with my last boyfriend because he depended on me completely for all social interaction and because he was awful at making conversation. All conversation fell to me or we would be sitting in silence at all times. It was exhausting. I started dating again after taking a break for a year and it has all been womp womp. I'd been dating this guy since April when my close, wonderful friend passed away unexpectedly last week. The next day, instead of trying to go out for our scheduled date and act normal, I asked him to come over to my house. He showed up late, immediately asked me if something was wrong with my air conditioner because it didn't have drip spout, and then acted like I had grief cooties for the rest of the night. When I tried to talk to him about how stressed I was about getting to the funeral in another state, he said that I would "have to figure it out." Thanks, dude, like I didn't already know that. In the week since, I haven't heard from him at all - no check in to see how I was doing, no 'hey', not even curious to see if I made it to the service. I knew in my gut that he was going to be shit at comforting me, but I invited him over anyways because I liked him a lot, I wanted to give him a chance, and I didn't want to be alone. I can't even say that I'm mad because I knew he would disappoint me. Well, anyways, I didn't tell this baffling story to get sympathy, but instead of share my bit of "He couldn't be a person!"
posted by pumpkinlatte at 10:26 AM on July 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


PART THREE OF THE TRILOGY

I had the glorious luck to date for many years a guy who, when he said "i don't care, you decide" actually MEANT "we can do whatever you like for dinner and i'll be happy with your decision, yes, even if you say 'let's see how many mcnuggets we can eat before we get really sick'"

if we weren't both so susceptible to terrifying substance abuse enablement together i assume we would be married and very greasy
posted by poffin boffin at 10:34 AM on July 17, 2015 [92 favorites]


One of the things I try hard to do (because my mom does the "whatever you want!" thing and it drives me batty) is clarify *exactly* whether I a) have a vague preference but am totally fine being overruled in favor of a stronger preference, b) have no preference at all, I just want food to go in my mouth, or c) I kind of want to sit in front of the TV with three cans of Pringles and a Snickers bar but I will go to a restaurant like a grownup, just don't make me make any decisions.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:41 AM on July 17, 2015 [66 favorites]


In US culture at least, there are certain people within a family or relationship who are going to be asked or automatically expected to step up in situations like an elderly relative needing in-home care or support or company, a niece or nephew needing a last-minute babysitter or someone other than a parent to attend a school play, hosting a holiday event or reunion, visiting someone in a hospital, providing goodies for a playdate, mending fences between arguing parties or keeping lines of communication open, etc., etc., etc. and other people who aren't asked or expected to do those. And we know the general gender breakdown of those two groups.

This thread (which I came to via MetaTalk) has really helped me understand -- and react to! -- something that's going on in my life right now.

I live 2,000 miles away from my family. I love my family, but this is a choice I've made. I don't belong in Texas; I am happy in California. It's difficult being so far away from them, but it is better for me to be happy far away from my family than miserable but within an hour's drive.

My Dad was just diagnosed with lung cancer. Sad and scary. I have a brother. He is an adult. He's 10 years older than me, so he's even adult-ier than I am, at least if we're measuring adulthood by age. He's freaking living in my parent's house right now. He literally could not be closer to them geographically.

And yet people keep asking me if I'm going to move back there, you know, considering. Considering that my folks will need help, is what they mean. That they will need support. That they will need, need, need.

The presumption is that I am the one who should be filling that need, despite the fact that I have a job and a LIFE I would have to abandon in order to do so.

The presumption, when I say "Hell no, I'm not moving back there," is that I don't care enough.

I care. I care enough. I care maybe too much, actually, judging by how little I'm sleeping. But I'm not performing the expected act, and I am being judged for it.

It's been bothering me, but this thread has helped me figure out exactly why. So thanks. And thanks for reassuring me that I'm not shirking a responsibility, and that I'm doing okay.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:42 AM on July 17, 2015 [106 favorites]


"How about these?" "Nah, I don't like that color." "OK, how about these?" "Ugh, I hate stripes." "OK, what about this?" "mmmm maybe too shiny." "OK, well what do you want?" "I don't know, just pick something."

You just described an ex boyfriend. Every single time we were going out for dinner, that is exactly the conversation we'd have.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:48 AM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


And yet people keep asking me if I'm going to move back there, you know, considering.

Just smile and say "my brother already lives with them, luckily for everyone!" and if people persist you can be like "it's hurtful that you think my brother is so irresponsible" and other such wonderfully faux clueless I AM IMMUNE TO YOUR MISOGYNY statements.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:51 AM on July 17, 2015 [112 favorites]


One of the things I try hard to do

And yeah, see, this is great. I LIKE the people I'm going out to eat with; I am willing to make decisions about where to go as long as I have explicitly stated parameters. If my husband says "I really want to go somewhere where I can get something spicy" or "Someplace with a full bar where we won't have to wait forever" or "I am so hungry please just get food into my face but not Mexican because I had that for lunch," I'm fine with all of that! It's when those parameters exist but are unstated -- and yet I'm still expected to intuit them -- that I get really grumpy.
posted by KathrynT at 10:51 AM on July 17, 2015 [31 favorites]


It's when those parameters exist but are unstated -- and yet I'm still expected to intuit them -- that I get really grumpy.

I also become grumpy when the parameters, stated or unstated, are impossible and somehow that is MY problem. "I want to eat brunch but I don't want to go into the city before 4pm and no, IHOP isn't brunch, I want good brunch." 6 PM FANCY BRUNCH IS NOT A THING MOM THAT IS CALLED DINNER.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2015 [40 favorites]


There are a lot of reasons our marriage went downhill but I feel like it started sliding even faster when I refused to handle the emotional labor. His parents are an extreme example of this dynamic and I just did not want to play his mom's role. So either he didn't know how to perform a lot of this labor, or didn't want to, and I certainly didn't want to do all of it, so it just stopped happening. Once it stops happening then you're just going through the motions. You're barely roommates.

I'm not sure there's a surefire shibboleth when dating men to figure out if they're capable of emotional labor, but next time I'd definitely pay more attention to the dynamic between his parents.
posted by desjardins at 10:59 AM on July 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


And yes I realize that men should feel ridiculous more. It's all so very uncomfortable to process! It's like a painful deep massage squeezing out all the badness
posted by aydeejones at 11:05 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


but next time I'd definitely pay more attention to the dynamic between his parents.

pretty sure I have said this before here but the most exceptional guys I have ever dated have all been the children of hard-working single moms.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:08 AM on July 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


I was thinking of flex's story and suddenly thought of my mother in law. My father in law's mother was living independently in a senior community in the south when she got into a nasty car accident, which forced the family to realize that it really wasn't okay for her to be living on her own. My MIL and sister in law drove to her with a UHaul and moved her north to a nice senior community - not a nursing home but more like a senior apartment where someone else cooks. The community is maybe five minutes away from my in laws and 90 minutes away from my grandmother in law's other son.

My GIL hates the place where she lives and lets people know it. This year, my FIL died so now my MIL is the closest family member for my GIL. My MIL sees her once a week, like my FIL used to do, but that's inadequate for my GIL because nothing will make her happy. My GIL's health proxy and power of attorney were all with my FIL but now that he's dead, my MIL had to get his brother to sign on to it and he gave her a hard time. Mind you, this is his mother. My MIL frequently points out, GIL isn't related to her but somehow she's responsible for her. Recently, my GIL fell and my MIL got a phone call because even though GIL's other son is her health care proxy, he wouldn't answer the phone. So my MIL had to deal with it, as well as requests to take her shopping, doctors' appointments, manicures, etc. All for someone who had a bad attitude and who she is not related to. It sucks.
posted by kat518 at 11:09 AM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


pretty sure I have said this before here but the most exceptional guys I have ever dated have all been the children of hard-working single moms.

My beloved husband was raised by a single mother, and he has three sisters. This checks out in my experience.
posted by KathrynT at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


How often is “gossip” a shorthand slur for “discussing their lives, their hopes, their dreams, offering one another advice, support, affirmation”?

Every time I hear the word "gossip" now I just think about terrible noxious housewife magazine advice from the 1950s and how it explicitly encouraged wives to be quiet, slavish, and isolated. So horrifying.

but next time I'd definitely pay more attention to the dynamic between his parents

This could work, but (with the caveat that possibly the best most feminist straight man on earth is roughly equal to the emotional labor conditioning of the most clueless woman), my boyfriend is pretty good about this stuff-- at least, he really WANTS to do it, and goes out of his way to do things like thoughtful gifts and trip planning-- and his parents are pretty traditional. His dad knows how to cook like four things and doesn't do the housework. So I would hesitate to judge based on parents, though good parenting can cover many sins. (My boyfriend actually cooks dinner every night at the moment, and makes a delicious wine sauce. Though when we mentioned this in front of his family, his brother was like, "ugh, don't encourage him," which I don't even.)

he thinks bright turquoise is a "cold, clinical" color

Oh god-- THIS is what drives me batty about this interior design-y (and, omg, weddings) stuff. It's not like the dudes are like, "no, I don't think burnt orange is a good accent color for that wall, what about this deep red? Look, here's a photo from pinterest." They just pull something out of their ass like, "ugh, stripes? No way, too Christmassy*" and leave you like ?? There is no way I will make you happy if 1) you won't think/work/communicate on this and 2) your preferences are so idiosyncratic that decoding them is psychoanalysis.

*fake, but truthy, nonsequitur example
posted by easter queen at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


[A few comments removed, let's back this up a little if what you want to do is talk about your perspective rather than straight up pick a fight.]
posted by cortex at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the best indicator I've found for people who are willing and able to do emotional labor is the "checking in" metric. I'm pretty upfront about my issues - I get migraines and often don't notice when they're coming on, I have energy crashes when I've been out and interacting with people too long, I have other mental and physical health issues - and a good friend and partner checks in with me. "Hey, you doing ok?" or "is it seeming too bright in here?" or "you seem out of sorts - did you remember to eat lunch?" are all things that people who notice me and give a shit about me will ask if I'm looking wobbly or get quiet. And they'll do this for other people too - they're conscious of their surroundings and the people near them and show care actively. I mean, of course I do my best to take care of myself, but when someone else has my back it's awfully nice.
posted by lriG rorriM at 11:11 AM on July 17, 2015 [30 favorites]


I had the glorious luck to date for many years a guy who, when he said "i don't care, you decide" actually MEANT "we can do whatever you like for dinner and i'll be happy with your decision, yes, even if you say 'let's see how many mcnuggets we can eat before we get really sick'"

Other side of the coin is a dude who is seemingly so perpetually overcome by analysis-paralysis that he wants you to make all the decisions for him. (That's kinda me - sorry everybody!)
posted by atoxyl at 11:15 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


(That's kinda me - sorry everybody!)

Serious question, no snark: what do you do when there isn't anyone else available to make these decisions for you?
posted by KathrynT at 11:18 AM on July 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


Speaking of weddings, I got engaged when I was 18 (the wedding did not happen). But from the very first minute, it was Emotional Labor & Pidgeonholing Women City.

"What should our wedding colors be?"
"Oh, I don't know, you pick."
"What about sea green and bronze?"
"What? Why those colors?"
"Uhh... "
"Anyway, you be in charge of that stuff, it's stuff you care about, I'll be in charge of the guest list."
"But I don't care about that stuff? At all! I wanted to elope! (Also you're gonna be in charge of ONE thing?)"



With the wedding colors thing it was like... ok, I know you're a regular dude who is not familiar with the whole range of taupe/mauve/fuchsias in the wide world, but when you heard "wedding colors" were you like "oh well there's like three colors right? How about red and blue?" Sorry not sorry, sea green + bronze is pretty!

I guess that example is more domestic labor, but the concept was that since girls like colors and dresses and flowers, planning an entire wedding with no help/input (except instant veto power from the dude) would be like breathing. Mind you, we were both in college and working at the time. It's not like I was sitting around eating bon bons.
posted by easter queen at 11:19 AM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, I have four sisters and we were all raised by my single dad, who cooked a wide range of meals (before and after the divorce) and kept a spotless house. It doesn't sound super Girl Power-y but it was actually quite excellent for me and my sisters, to see that a man could run an entire household flawlessly (and raise five girls!) while also supporting the family financially with a physical labor job, and if he could do it then there is literally no excuse for a no good husband who claims he can't do half the work, without kids, because he worked and he's tired (boohoo). I am always so incredibly grateful for my dad, both for raising us alone and the great example he set.
posted by easter queen at 11:23 AM on July 17, 2015 [81 favorites]


(For the record, HE was raised by a single mom, so it can be a pretty good indicator!)
posted by easter queen at 11:24 AM on July 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


Serious question, no snark: what do you do when there isn't anyone else available to make these decisions for you?

Agonize, overthink, procrastinate!

And yes, this does at some point become an instance of making my own neuroses somebody else's problem - that's what I'm fessing up to here.
posted by atoxyl at 11:25 AM on July 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


I grew up watching my (professional, busy, often physically absent) mom absolutely suck at (and really not care about) most routine social network maintenance tasks, like the cards and birthdays, etc. She never really learned it - also didn't have many household labour skills, or interest in learning them, having studied far from family from a young age.

But she's always been a key go-to person for serious heavy lifting for lots of people in her community - the person to call in the event of marriage, birth, divorce, illness, death, sad and good times, generally. She also almost can't help weaving emotional labour into her public-facing job. In her case, it's been rewarded with solid long-standing relationships, and return business. She'd be mortified to think of it in those terms - it's all bound up in her beliefs about what it is to be a "good person" - but I'd say that in her case, that emotional work has paid off, in some ways. Mind you, she's lucky that her professional skill-set, which she sees as a vocation, happens to yield a good return, so there's that. But she still earns less than her male colleagues, not least because she does a ton of pro bono work, and will often cut or forgo her labour costs. She's past helping, though, no one can tell her not to.

The irony is, I'm also crap at cards etc., having never really been taught, and she tells me all the time that I'll be a terrible wife (in case that ever happens).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:26 AM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


In all of the discussion of taking care of cards/gifts/in-laws/obligations/general drama, we've covered the negative fallout (Why are you breaking your mother's heart?), but not the positive feedback. For instance, when it seemed obvious (at least to me) that dad would need antipsychotic medications and I suggested it, there was massive pushback. When we finally got him on antipsychotic meds, it was all, "We did that just in time, it was such a good decision and we couldn't have done it any sooner." Why, yes, we could have if we had only listened to me! Now I know there were family dynamics here that were at play beyond emotional labor and responsibility for in-laws, but I feel like everytime I make a suggestion - after months of fighting for it, it was suddenly such a good decision and I have to remind myself that I'm not actively being gaslit.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:28 AM on July 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


One of the things I've been trying to improve is to use words when I am feeling cranky and do not want to be asked to make decisions. Recently, we were out and about and I was on too-many-people-all-the-things overload but I remembered to say "I am cranky, so please do not ask me to participate in deciding where we're going to eat, I promise I will be happy wherever we end up." And the being happy part is true, because I trust the people I was with and I know them, and I knew we weren't going to end up somewhere heinous.

Likewise, I've also tried being more explicit about the "I could do A, or B, I don't have a strong preference. Also, if you want to do totally other thing, that would probably be okay too, and I will say so if it isn't!"

I have room for improvement, without doubt.

Among the many things I love about threads like this is I honestly don't even feel like I have to ask "what could I do better" because I can read the stories and anecdotes and links and notice things I hadn't noticed, you know? And then (try to) apply that to my life.
posted by rtha at 11:30 AM on July 17, 2015 [22 favorites]


And yes, this does at some point become an instance of making my own neuroses somebody else's problem - that's what I'm fessing up to here.

Oh, I realize that! hence the "no snark." But when you're by yourself, eventually the decisions do get made, right? and if you have trouble with that, that would be a good thing to work on fixing for your OWN purposes, right?

I'm sort of holding you up as an example here in a way that isn't really fair, because there is a difference between "I am bad at this, I recognize that it's a problem, I am working on ways to solve it" and "I am bad at this, oopsie daisy, what are you gonna do, I guess that's just the way it is." When it comes to emotional work and domestic work, I see a lot of men who are much more in the latter category than the former.
posted by KathrynT at 11:30 AM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Upon further reflection, the "checking in" metric doesn't really hold up to scrutiny, though. Even partners and friends who are super good about that have had some serious blindspots for other kinds of emotional labor, in different areas. I don't know. Maybe this is just a matter of raising awareness - this is a broad spectrum kind of thing, with lots of applications in many different parts of life. I don't think we'll find an easy way to identify those people with great skills. (The partner who's the best at this was raised in a very traditional family, with some awful gender dynamics. Being aware of them and unhappy with them probably helped, but yeah. Single-mom raised partner has had to have several "oh... right" moments. I dunno.)
posted by lriG rorriM at 11:31 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


My paradigmatic example of emotional labor was, earlier this year we went to a family wedding out of town, with two day of travel each way and where I was in the wedding so my husband was going to have the 3- and 5-year-old kids for basically three straight days, in a strange city, in a hotel, while attending a panoply of family events all over the city.

So I spent quite a bit of time putting together an actual itinerary (which I don't usually do), which turned out to be six pages long, with all the hotels and event locations and times, and travel distances and times, and likely lunch locations, and parks to stop at in the middle of long driving days so the kids could run around; and then for the in-the-city days, which museums were close enough to walk to, were most likely of interest, opened when, and cost what; where the nearest McDonald's or similar was to each in case the kids refused to eat other food; what parks were nearby in case they were up at 6 a.m. and raising hell; which family members were available during various times in case he needed backup and their phone numbers; what public transit to take where; backup plans and alternatives ... on and on. I made a google map of the locations and loaded it into his phone, printed out the itinerary with maps and also sent it to his e-mail so he could direct-click on museum links.

My husband's looking at the hard copy, paging through, and said, "This is ... thorough."

I burst out, "This is what it's like inside my head ALL THE TIME."

He was like, "I think now I get why you get so mad when I'm running late."

It only took him thirteen years to figure it out! :P But really, in my head all the time I have this flipping rolodex of, "We were going to go to the park but it's raining, shoot, can we go to the art museum? But it doesn't open until ten. Maybe we can go to Target and then the museum, but only if I buy nonperishables ... oh, but Child #1 will flip out if we walk past the freezer case and don't buy his special treat ..."

Since the full itinerary-of-my-brain incident, having so much of the "emotional labor" of planning and a four-person trip laid out on the page for him, he's been a LOT more considerate of the amount of emotional labor I do and how much shit I'm keeping track of in my head and why I can't just turn on a dime.

---

Also, people who are bad at the "keeping up with friends" sort of emotional labor, there is NO SHAME in making a recurring event on your google calendar. I am lacking that mental clock that says, "I haven't talked to X in a while, I should call her!" So people I am close to but don't have a reason to talk with every couple of weeks, I put in a reminder. Ditto birthdays. (Just don't tell the person you're doing it for that you did it. I mean, I don't keep it a secret, most of my close friends know I use reminders because my mental time-lapse clock is defective, but don't ever go, "Yeah, I'm just calling you because you popped up on my google calendar as my social obligation for the day.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:31 AM on July 17, 2015 [85 favorites]


The single mom test fails when the mom does the emotional labor for the son.
posted by desjardins at 11:52 AM on July 17, 2015 [27 favorites]


About opting out from someone who always has mostly been an opter-out or a caller-out. Family wise and relationship wise, it's mostly worked out okay, but only because since I've always either opted out ("barchan is just that way") or been really terrible at it, expectations haven't been high. . . until I got married. It's like everyone expected that marriage would turn me into a different person and there was years of suffering to get everyone back to that mindset of "my normal." But I'm pretty clear not only am I an imperfect person I have no desire to be perfect - I really want to just play in the dirt all day, so don't expect cards. OTOH, because I don't fulfill those general expectations, sometimes I get placed in really yucky baskets, i.e. selfish because I called out the guys watching football while the women cook Thanksgiving. But with the load of having to explain/make those choices, or giving up/doing labor because it's less wearying to"keep the peace", as always with criticism like that (especially at work), one has to decide: "Is that a genuine criticism because I AM X, or is that a gender-biased critique based on societal norms and doesn't reflect actual reality?" That's exhausting, too.

I also made choices in my career - I could continue opting out, hurting myself; I could shut up, and put in all the labor necessary for advancement; or I could choose a different path without hope of serious advancement but with much more daily control which would allow me speak up and opt out. (Other choices may vary depending on the woman.) My ambitions aren't executive kind of ambitions, so different path= easy choice. The different path also allows me to be more outspoken and free about supporting other women.

I'm fortunate - many women don't get that choice. It's also frustrating I had to view my career that way. Guys do make career choices based on other factors like family, but they don't have to make choices based on the repercussions of constantly refusing to bring in birthday cakes. (Another terrible thing about emotional labor at work is that women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"; but when guys do it, it's called "leadership". It works similarly in family dynamics, too, i.e., women stepping up, planning, and organizing a family get together with lots of family members is never called leadership but that's what it is!)

Anyway, so I opt/call out on a lot of obvious stuff - but the subtle stuff that drives me crazy. Sometime last year I was just Done with dealing with a particular kind of entitlement. Done doing the subtle emotional labor like calling guy friends when they haven't called me in years; done not calling out behavior like a guy walking down the sidewalk and automatically expecting you to move out of his way just because you're a woman; done not calling out conservative colleagues/friends/family out of a sense of wanting "to keep the peace" - what's the political equivalent of emotional labor? What it really came down to is, to quote the article, I was no longer willing to do "the constant labor of placating men and navigating patriarchal expectations". And I've constantly been surprised by how much of that is actually very subtle emotional labor.

So it's really crystallized the two awful, wearying struggles with opting-out for me. One is the question of what is actually necessary, equal-level give-n-take work required in any kind of good relationship, what is the expected, unappreciated emotional labor, and what is Just Trying to be a Good Person? They're different yet intertwine. The second struggle is, as mentioned, dealing with the repercussions, AND dealing with the expectation of having to explain WHY I'm opting out. When to say, "You need to help plan because I'm not doing all of it," or keep quiet. It's "The reason WHY is because you're a goddamned grown ass adult who obviously feels entitled to both getting your cake and not having to make it because it's not 'important.' " It's also: "FUCK YOU I'M AN EQUAL PERSON YOU ENTITLED PIECE OF SHIT." That's exhausting as hell.

Guy friend: "Why didn't you call me on my anniversary? You didn't, I forgot, and my wife was pissed!" You remember the make/year/model of a car type and obscure sports stats - you're capable of remembering a date. Don't need to explain that. Do not need to explain to you, middle of the sidewalk guy, why I didn't move out of the way when I was already on the right hand side. But oh, not only DO I have to, then I have to deal with male whiny ass hurt feelings, loved ones' hurt feelings/disappointment, get called a bitch, etc. etc. So, so tiring. It's constantly the choice of: do the emotional labor of fulfilling the expectations or not do it and then have the labor of dealing with the unfulfilled expectations. Dammit, I just want to bang on rocks with my hammer.

But reading this thread, I'm like WOWEE have I had it easy. It's really clear how much harder it is for women who haven't always chosen to opt out/ask partners to share the load and then want to, how much I've opted out without realizing it and kind of. . . gotten away it?, and how much work is truly required to make others understand all that other work. I'm guilty of not appreciating it all myself.
posted by barchan at 11:57 AM on July 17, 2015 [70 favorites]


like i said, this is a thing i personally experienced in my actual personal life that i lived as a person and not a thing i am stating as irrefutable fact for all of humanity
posted by poffin boffin at 11:58 AM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am bad at this, I recognize that it's a problem, I am working on ways to solve it" and "I am bad at this, oopsie daisy, what are you gonna do, I guess that's just the way it is."

Oh, well that's not how I meant it really - it is in fact something I've known I should work on for my own sake for a long time. It's just like - it would be easy to read examples in this thread and think "using your s.o. as a buffer for your family/friends? Ugh, I'm glad we don't do that." But I can think of some things that do fit and one thing in particular this has convinced me to do which is to pick my own damn haircut. Which has actually been an impasse for months - we both agree that I should do something different (than what I've always done) but I keep saying want her to come along and help me ask for something good since I, in all sincerity, feel like I don't know how to "just look on the internet and find something [I] like." And she keeps saying that's a really personal decision - which it is for her to the point that my position is nearly incomprehensible I think - that she doesn't feel comfortable making for me. Anyway you don't learn anything without trying and I'm gonna try to figure out hair I guess.
posted by atoxyl at 11:58 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Another irony re my moms and me is that she didn't have a lot of time or juice left in her for that third shift re emotional goings-on inside the house [something she can't rid herself of guilt about], so I guess I wound up wanting to pick up the slack, for sociological and whatever psychological reasons. I have become decently good at some of it, can't really turn it off, and haven't found a way to monetize it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2015


I have a pretty small sample size of dudes who I dated, but one of the ones raised by a single mom was super emotionally abusive and sexually coercive. That could totally be an exception, though; most of the others have been pretty great. But none of this stuff is universal!

I had the glorious luck to date for many years a guy who, when he said "i don't care, you decide" actually MEANT "we can do whatever you like for dinner and i'll be happy with your decision, yes, even if you say 'let's see how many mcnuggets we can eat before we get really sick'"

This is how my lovely kissfriend is, but I'm still BRACED 4 BULLSHIT all the time because I'm so used to dudes for whom this is a huge problem, and I still haven't figured out to relax about it. I sent him this and KathrynT's post about "YOU GET THREE VETOES" to explain the baggage I have because it did SUCH A GOOD JOB.
posted by NoraReed at 12:05 PM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is how my lovely kissfriend is, but I'm still BRACED 4 BULLSHIT all the time because I'm so used to dudes for whom this is a huge problem, and I still haven't figured out to relax about it.

UGH YES THIS. There have been a number of occasions where my partner and I have had this kind of fight not because he's Doing The Thing but because I'm afraid he'll Do The Thing because all the other dudes Did the Thing and I get all twisty inside over trying to cope with the Thing I'm Afraid He'll Do but He Hasn't Even Done and I argue with myself about it in the shower and then come out and he's folding laundry and I feel like a dope, oh lord.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:11 PM on July 17, 2015 [53 favorites]


I also think that emotional labor might be, for a lot of people, a really useful way of thinking of things that are particularly taxing for introverts. I'm wondering how much of what I think of as my introversion is being really bad with situations where I don't know what the expectations of what kind of emotional labor I am supposed to be doing are.

I've been talking about this with my dad a lot. He characterizes a lot of this stuff in ways that relate to introversion, but it could easily be characterized in ways relating to emotional labor instead. One of the things that comes up is keeping his door open at his office, and I think that's because there's, like, an emotional labor background process going on that is being-prepared-to-talk-to-people-all-the-time when you do have it open. So thinking about it this way might be a really useful thing to keep track of.
posted by NoraReed at 12:15 PM on July 17, 2015 [28 favorites]


One thing I really don't get is like... stereotypically, I don't care about cars. At all. Sure there are some cars I've seen that I think look nice, but if you asked me to name one, I couldn't. But if I needed to buy a car-- I would do the research! I would care! And I would not be like "ugh idk, boyfriend, just pick one out"-- because I realize that I actually DO care and there are probably aspects I haven't even thought about until I look into it further. And I would value his expertise and ask him questions/advice, but I'd want to be an active part of that process. I would take into account utility, looks, price, etc. Even though I'm utterly out of my depth in that realm.

So when a dude is just like "w/evs, don't care, you pick," it's so lazy but also just so dumb. Of course you care, you will care the moment you see what she actually picks. Why not just invest some energy into figuring out what you want, so as to make everyone happier. How do you not notice this pattern in your life. How are you so comfortable just shunting it off onto her.

atoxyl, your example of hair is a funny one because I can imagine myself at 16 having the same problem. I was not popular or fashion-savvy and very hopeless at turning what I vaguely wanted into a reality. I think women just get pushed into making decisions so often we've gotten pretty efficient at ruthlessly evaluating all the options and distilling that research into a decision. (And if we don't want to do that work, because tired or whatever, we get criticized or nothing happens or we get a partner who takes foreeeeever to make a choice, because he has no experience having to care.)
(Also I know this isn't the give-men-advice thread, but since I just recently discovered pinterest for real, maybe try pinterest? I know it's coded very feminine, but in the app at least, and I assume the website, you just type in a few adjectives and it generates a lot of visual references for you, even for men's fashion. Like I just typed "men's haircut spiky" and got a ton of photos of men's haircuts. It's actually a very magical tool for this exact female responsibility a lot of people are talking about, i.e. curtains and stuff. Female magick. /derail)

I used to be Little Miss Anxiety and just simply could not make a decision on my own. Then I realized what it was doing to my relationships and I learned how. The "then I realized what it was doing to my relationships" part is what so many straight men seem to lack.
posted by easter queen at 12:16 PM on July 17, 2015 [26 favorites]


The "I don't know how" and "ugh, you do it" things always feel like dudes asking me to be the internet for them. It's like, you know, I wasn't born knowing how to scrub a toilet. Or fold fitted sheets (hell, I still look that one up every time). Or what colors looks nice together. Or any of the million other things I've been asked to do because hey, I already know how, right? I've got no 'intuitive grasp' on these things that are coded feminine, but when it comes time to do a thing and a dude says "I don't know how! It's faster / easier / simpler for you to just do it" I want to remind him that we are living in the future now, and he has a computer in his pocket upon which all manner of information can appear. I am not the equivalent of Let Me Google That For you. Yeah, I took the time to learn. So can you.
posted by lriG rorriM at 12:31 PM on July 17, 2015 [29 favorites]


That's what I always say... "there has literally never been a time in human history where you would have access to more information than you do now. You, too, can learn to cut an avocado."
posted by easter queen at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


Which by the way, I learned from television, not from my mother or my innate womanhood. I saw it on TV and thought, "Hey, I like guacamole, better file that one away." Like the rugged self-sufficient pioneer woman I am.
posted by easter queen at 12:36 PM on July 17, 2015 [41 favorites]


not because he's Doing The Thing but because I'm afraid he'll Do The Thing

Yep. My partner calls it "waiting for the other shoe to drop" and wants me to stop expecting shit to fuck up and for him to turn out to be an ass in X way and I am just like "BUT YOU DON'T GET IT SHIT ALWAYS GETS FUCKED UP" even though in this particular instance he has given me no reason to think he'll pull those things. It's a lifetime of subtle emotional trauma.
posted by Phire at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


Another terrible thing about emotional labor at work is that women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"; but when guys do it, it's called "leadership".

Oh, wow, yes!
Work anecdote: Me, late 20s, sole woman; web designer in an office with three male middle-aged programmers and one male middle-aged head of IT. Every month, our somewhat chatty, affable boss would take us out to lunch as a team. The lunches were dreadful, not only because the restaurant was inevitably nasty, but also because I felt like a talk show host with a panel of reticent guests. I realized just how much effort I was putting into keeping any kind of conversation going the day I had a horrible cold and couldn't talk. We drove six miles to the restaurant in total silence. It might have even been after the sodas got to the table when my boss finally cracked and tried to start a conversation.
posted by mimi at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2015 [29 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese: "...I get all twisty inside over trying to cope with the Thing I'm Afraid He'll Do but He Hasn't Even Done and I argue with myself about it in the shower and then come out and he's folding laundry and I feel like a dope, oh lord."

Oh god I'm not the only one! Right down to inventing arguments and scenarios in my head while in the shower. Of course only to come out and find my partner being a completely decent person and feel all guilty and stuff for imagining him as anything but.

Death of a thousand poisoned cuts.
posted by erratic meatsack at 12:48 PM on July 17, 2015 [24 favorites]


/me joins this club
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:52 PM on July 17, 2015


Actually, Let Me Google That For You is a great example of this whole issue. It's a gag that people came up with to point out how demands on people's emotional/cognitive labor can be tiresome and are rarely appreciated. Rather than googling for themselves "how to fold a fitted sheet", they ask someone to do it for them. I can't tell you how many times I've started an AskMe and then part way in realized "oh, this is something I could just spend 15 minutes figuring out on my own but don't want to, I shouldn't post this".
posted by skewed at 12:53 PM on July 17, 2015 [37 favorites]


Now I know how to fold a fitted sheet!
posted by bq at 12:55 PM on July 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh god I'm not the only one! Right down to inventing arguments and scenarios in my head while in the shower.

The worst part is when he pokes his head into the bathroom to be like, "do you want some coffee" and because I've been fighting the patriarchy in my head for 10 minutes I'm like WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN -- oh, uh, yes please.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:58 PM on July 17, 2015 [73 favorites]


I love this thread. It's made me realize the amount of emotional labor that is dumped on various people / departments at work and that tbh I really have no desire to have to do this kind of labor for colleagues on top of what is actually required for say clients.
posted by oneear at 12:58 PM on July 17, 2015


The gender-coded Leadership vs Teamwork is a brilliant observation. As mentioned above, "gossip" is also gendered feminine (and destructive and petty) but "networking" is male and necessary for most careers. My organisation has a volunteer Board that ensures an arms-length distance between our funders (politicians) and the decision-makers. It is an important job to be on the Board and set policy, but it is also one they do in their free time and perhaps may not have the big picture of the Public Library world as they don't actually perform the work or have direct experience in operations of non-profit organisations (so business experience may not be directly translatable).

A lot of the meetings then is really using a lot of emotional labour (I have a three hour one last night on top of my eight hour say so it is fresh in my mind). When a concern is brought up - last night it was purchasing iPads of all things - in addition to intelligently speaking on the technological aspects of getting various software and hardware to play nice together and a bit of future-casting because I am expected to know what the life-cycle of hardware is and what the "next big thing" will be - I have to identify the emotions beyond the questions and comments and address THOSE as well. But not let them see the gears turning as I subtly shift what I am emphasising and de-emphasising as I gauge their reactions.

In public libraries we have the reference interview where someone comes with a question and you use a systematic process to identify the REAL question and provide the correct information quickly, in an efficient way that the patron (unspoken) expects to receive the information. A true pro does it so well that most patrons don't even realise it has happened and think they got the "right" answer because they asked the "right" question right off the bat.

Kind of like the idea that a good conversationalist makes you think they are the most interesting person in the world, but a GREAT conversationalist makes you think YOU are the most interesting person in the world. That is what double-edged sword of emotional labour is, in a nutshell, doing such a great job of convincing the other person they ares so interesting, worthy of love, and attention that they don't even realise it was actual work to get to that point and that it should be reciprocated. It is finding out what other's expectations are and then meeting those expectations so naturally it makes the expectations seem reasonable and normal (when most of the time they are not - as any parent of a teenager can attest).

It is however very rewarding. I have a huge circle of friends I can call on in crisis - actually, I don't even have to call on them, they just know exactly what need to fulfill, and step back without adding expectations. When my husband was at his most worst, in the hospital for months, my family and friends stepped up in so many ways - part of the stepping up was visiting him in order to lessen the burden on my travel time back and forth to the city, as well as spending hours talking to him, delivering clothes and food he liked (and hadn't asked for!) but mostly it was focused on me. Because he didn't understand the value of emotional labour not one (of his) family or friend visited him in all those months - let alone help me with childcare or a shoulder to lean on. Their lack of emotional labour when he was in crisis prolonged and deepened his crisis for years. The emotional labour also betters the community I live in FOR ME.
posted by saucysault at 1:11 PM on July 17, 2015 [55 favorites]


One is the question of what is actually necessary, equal-level give-n-take work required in any kind of good relationship, what is the expected, unappreciated emotional labor, and what is Just Trying to be a Good Person? They're different yet intertwine.

This is so spot-on, barchan. Interestingly, over the past few years I've realized that the "expected but unappreciated emotional labor" category also encompasses some habits that are actively counterproductive to both my happiness AND the the person I'm trying to accommodate, but it's really hard to break out of patterns that you've been socialized into since you were a kid, even if they are no longer serving anyone very well. It's really hit home as I've had front-row seats to my in-law's marriage this year; he's an alcoholic (in very recent recovery) and she's been working on improving some of the dysfunctional marriage dynamics that she's feeding into. It turns out that if you amp up performing emotional labor on behalf of your partner to its final end-point, you end up codependent. As many people in Al-Anon would point out, a codependent relationship is doing no favors for either party.

It's been freeing in my own marriage to wrench myself back from trying to manage my partner's emotions in low-stakes situations, and to realize that in most cases we're both happier that way. For the most part this has involved trying to plainly state my preferences or needs without hedging or taking into account what my partner wants or needs, and trusting that he can take care of his own side of the house (so to speak). This thread has given me a lot to consider in terms of other places where it might be appropriate to step back and let him take care of his own stuff. And also what types of emotional labor I neglect but are high-impact and important in the sense of Being A Good Person, and could more be more usefully attended to. More sending unprompted emails with pictures of my kid to the great-grandparents who would appreciate the connection, less trying to manage situations in a way that magically accommodates the feelings of fully grown adults who can use their words if they have a need not being addressed.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:18 PM on July 17, 2015 [24 favorites]


erratic meatsack: "Right down to inventing arguments and scenarios in my head while in the shower. "

One day my dad came home from work and my mother announced, as he came in the door, "I had a fight with you in my head about something that didn't happen, and you lost. It's going to be faster if you just apologize now."

He apologized and made her a scotch.

Sometimes I tell my husband this. "I have been having a hypothetical fight with you in my head and now I'm really mad at you." And he'll be like, "Well, I'm sorry imaginary me did the hypothetical thing and I'll make sure not to do it next time." Part of a healthy marriage is the emotional labor of coping with the other person's fevered imaginings!)

easter queen: "But if I needed to buy a car-- I would do the research! I would care! And I would not be like "ugh idk, boyfriend, just pick one out"-- because I realize that I actually DO care and there are probably aspects I haven't even thought about until I look into it further. And I would value his expertise and ask him questions/advice, but I'd want to be an active part of that process."

One of the nicer things about a long-term, healthy relationship where both people do emotional work is that you actually CAN offload some of that work on your spouse/partner and trust them to make a good decision for your family that takes your needs into account. When I needed a new car, I told my husband just a vague universe of what I probably wanted ("six seats? but pretty good gas mileage? I don't know, I hate this stuff.") and he came back having researched the universe of small minivans and narrowed it down to a few options he thought I would like and would suit me, and he knew what kinds of things I actually want when I drive and what things I don't give a crap about, it was like having a car-picking concierge. We have this one chair that slightly sticks out into the walking area that he is always banging his shins on, and just today I measured the space and ordered a NEW CHAIR that won't protrude so he can stop banging his shins. I didn't even think to mention it to him, I just kept thinking, "Oh, I should really solve that chair thing so he'll quit tripping on it." Just like my car choices are magically narrowed only to ones that really suit me, his environment magically fixes itself so he doesn't trip on things or his ties are organized.

If I were the only one doing that, it would be onerous and I'd be resentful. But since he also magically improves my life and takes on shit so I don't have to think about it, I feel good about magically improving his. In fact I may not tell him about the new chair and just gleefully wait for him to realize he stopped banging his shins on it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:21 PM on July 17, 2015 [113 favorites]


women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"; but when guys do it, it's called "leadership".

Holy shit.

HOLY SHIT.

Well...there's my career described in a single sentence.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:32 PM on July 17, 2015 [182 favorites]


If I were the only one doing that, it would be onerous and I'd be resentful. But since he also magically improves my life and takes on shit so I don't have to think about it, I feel good about magically improving his. In fact I may not tell him about the new chair and just gleefully wait for him to realize he stopped banging his shins on it.

Yeah, sometimes I wonder if a lot of these dudes never get that frisson of anticipatory joy from doing a tiny thing that will just perfectly improve the life of a beloved person... and if so, that makes me sad. Because noticing a small thing that's bothering someone beloved and figuring out just the right thing to fix it so everyone is happy is just such a good feeling! Like, you get to feel smug and self-satisfied and no one is going to get irritated about it! You just get to bask in the reflected joy and the knowledge that you did a thing no one else could have done.

And when you trust your partner or your friend to return the favor somewhere down the line, man. On this foundation is built a castle of love. How can you not care enough about your loved ones to pay attention to the little things, the care-taking things, and figure out exactly what it is that would make those little life improvements? How can you forego that feeling? It boggles my mind.
posted by sciatrix at 1:33 PM on July 17, 2015 [52 favorites]


This has been such an incredible thread.... thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and perspectives. I've spent the last three days having a million revelations about so many situations and relationships in my life.

This story is kind of silly in comparison to all that. But. On the "Let Me Google That For You" front...

When I was much younger I was in a long term, live in relationship with a dude who was guilty of a lot of this, especially the logistical and decision-making aspects. A couple years into our relationship, I noticed that he had gotten into a habit of asking me how long he should microwave things for. Like, every single time. And I would always make some random guess, like, "Uh... I dunno, a minute and a half I guess?"

Then one day it suddenly occurred to me. He was a latchkey kid who'd grown up making himself snacks and meals in the microwave pretty much every day. Meanwhile my childhood was a lot more cooking from scratch. He probably had like five times the overall lifetime microwave experience that I did. But it was just easier for him to ask me for input rather than figuring it out for himself. And the result was that every time he wanted to eat a plate of leftovers or something, he'd interrupt me and demand a fraction of my attention and mental resources.

After a year or something of this, I just kinda blew up at him, although in a joking way (because I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings!), like, "DUDE! You've spent most of your life feeding yourself via microwaves! You can handle this! In fact, I should be asking you!" He was like, "You're right, lol." And... kept on doing it.

That whole microwave situation was pretty much a microcosm of our relationship as a whole. That dynamic manifested itself in *everything,* and it's pretty much the only reason we broke up.

(Obviously, the break-up wasn't about the microwave. I just reached a point where I realized I couldn't trust him to handle or remember or take care of anything, culminating in a sobbing breakdown for me the day after Christmas when I'd just spent the last week exhausting every last emotional and physical resource to keep both our families happy, and... you know the rest.)
posted by the turtle's teeth at 2:10 PM on July 17, 2015 [33 favorites]


Ha! That used to happen to me, in an old relationship of mine. I would always say "'til it's warm." Eventually I just become a smartass. #FeminismThroughDadJokes
posted by easter queen at 2:19 PM on July 17, 2015 [82 favorites]


#FeminismThroughDadJokes

*acquires this for personal use*
posted by XtinaS at 2:29 PM on July 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


Can we please make #FeminismThroughDadJokes a thing? Cuz that really needs to be a thing.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 2:30 PM on July 17, 2015 [26 favorites]


"Where's my [thing]?" "Wherever you left it last!" #FeminismThroughDadJokes

"I'm all out of laundry!" "SOCKS TO BE YOU" #FeminismThroughDadJokes

"When are we supposed to get to [event]?" "When we get there!" #FeminismThroughDadJokes

"I'm hungry!" "HI HUNGRY, I'M XTINAS" #FeminismThroughDadJokes
posted by XtinaS at 2:35 PM on July 17, 2015 [236 favorites]


women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"; but when guys do it, it's called "leadership".

Holy shit.


Yeah. I've thought a lot about this. So much of the emotional labor that women do, like: organizing a group of people and their tasks, logistics, getting shit done & doing things no one else does, listening, weighing everyone's desires, motivation and incentive through various means including providing structure for individual/group effectiveness, creating an atmosphere of unity, effective communication, grasp of knowledge & knowledge transfer, work done on behalf of the group instead of personal gain, relationship building, and CARING, all in pursuit of a common goal - so, so, so much of it falls under the commonly recognized work of leadership. Even if it's just listening to a guy talk about being heartbroken and leading him down to the path of what's to be done or getting kids out of the door in the morning: much of emotional labor is similar to, if not exactly, what we consider leadership traits. . . if applied to a different gender or in a different context.

I haven't come to a clearly defined conclusion yet, but currently I'm floating around two ideas: men coined leadership to recognize when their own gender exhibits those traits, or, OR how men view leadership is actually someone making decisions without actually or being perceived as taking into consideration the needs/desires/impacts of the group, then expecting people to do their bidding due to their "authority". . . which could actually be pretty bad. Like I said, I'm still pondering it because leadership is very complicated and messy, but I'm also coming to the conclusion this must also relate to women being called "bossy" and other terms like aggressive. Whether that's because we step from one kind of leadership to another or because we're simply doing the emotional labor that's expected of us, but in a work environment, I don't know.
posted by barchan at 2:36 PM on July 17, 2015 [29 favorites]


SO: My mum, auntie, uncle are coming down on Wednesday, would you be up for dinner?
Me: Sure.
SO: Where shall we eat, how about X or Y?
Me: How about Z? Its on the way home from where they are planning to be for the day and is lovely.
SO: OK, that is very nice in the summer. I will book it.
All: What a delicious meal, in a beautiful location!
Friend we bumped into as we were on the way out of the pub and he was going in: Hello!
Friend we bumped into on the way out, later on facebook: We just met the super hot bloke who plays Poldark (US: sexy dwarf from The Hobbit) in the pub! And you totally missed him!

Conclusion: Its all my fault.

Don't worry, I will cope.
posted by biffa at 2:44 PM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Random thoughts:

This thread just made me remember my ex-bf from the time my mom died. MY mom died, and HE had an emotional crisis, because he'd never (we were mid-20s) conceptualized his parents' mortality before. So on top of handling the logistical details for the memorial service, navigating birth family drama, and doing my own grieving, I spent the first week after she died comforting HIM. I didn't realize exactly WTF was happening so it took me that week and some family friends saying, "Oh, it must be wonderful to have super-nice [bf's name] to support you and cry on his shoulder at this painful time!" before I said to him, "Wait, MY mom died, why aren't YOU comforting ME?"

One of the daughters in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club tries to embody this effortless, invisible caring and making everything work ideal. She succeeds so effectively that she erases herself. The bf I was with at the time didn't understand what the message of that storyline was, and I didn't have the vocabulary to explain it. I only ever saw the movie though. Maybe the book spells out the problem clearly.

"Empathy is the highest form of respect" is a quote from a book that overall didn't impress me hugely, but this one line punched me in the gut. It explained why I was so miserable navigating my MIL relationship, where everything she said was so courteously worded and superficially nurturing, and simultaneously denied that she'd damaged me physically (chronic M(ethicillin) S(usceptible) S(taph) A(ureus) , also fleas that must have developed serious pesticide resistance from her lackadaisical, intermittent flea bombing -- first she disagreed that any of it was a big deal, then she denied being responsible at all, I must have gotten them elsewhere. Have gotten rid of both by now, but it wasn't easy).

I felt shitty for years before figuring out it was really truly okay to distance myself from her (ie, hurt her feelings). Her "no insults+ polite words + genuinely believes she's nurturing me by correcting my perception of what should & shouldn't be a big deal" masked her complete lack of empathy for me in this one matter.

Hell yes, empathy, and emotional labour in all its tangible and intangible forms, are the deepest form of respect. We learn from birth that people of lesser status owe it to people of higher status, and too many higher-status people can't be arsed to think about reciprocating because reciprocation is what you do for those you respect, whose esteem you honour and can't take for granted.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:45 PM on July 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


I've been thinking about this for a while in terms of ask and guess culture. I've always been an asker, and this led to all kinds of difficulties with my family, who are guessers and find all this asking business very rude and strange, and also tried to instill in me a lot of my Invisible Logistical Wonder Woman tendencies (rather successfully, to my dismay). I'm considering at the moment the ways invisible support and emotional labor relate to the unwillingness of some folks to state preferences. I can see a pattern here of it-helps-to-be-psychic female identified people navigating these social dynamics, trying to shoulder all kinds of burdens and getting frustrated at the lack of help from others, while simultaneously being unable, unwilling, culturally conditioned against, or just clueless about how to ask for that help. I love that this conversation is happening here. I love that we can point to all these things, all these efforts, all these ways emotional labor is a thing. I think it's super helpful and we could actually distill all kinds of helpful advice for people about how to be aware of these things. I just wish we could mainstream this.
posted by lriG rorriM at 2:57 PM on July 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


whose esteem you honour and can't take for granted.

Scratch that. Thinking about my mom and countless others, it's "whose wellbeing you honour and take as much care of as your own," or something, too.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:06 PM on July 17, 2015


women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"; but when guys do it, it's called "leadership".
Holy shit.


Hey...I think this is part of how women in programming & STEM get sidelined into "project management," which somehow never has the actual authority and actual money of actual management?!

So much head-deskking I am doing from this (fascinating and marvelous) thread!
posted by mimi at 3:12 PM on July 17, 2015 [61 favorites]


Everything said here resonates so strongly, and I appreciate so many excellent comments.

Before my husband died, our marriage was an epic seven year war on just these issues. We were working on it from both sides and things were getting so much better by the time he died, but still not quite there...

One of the things I was no longer doing was keeping a list and ever so gently reminding him of tasks he needed to do. He was supposed to suffer the consequences of things not getting done.

Item 1 found on desk after his death: life insurance policy executed by me six weeks previously. Not executed by him or sent in with the policy payment and therefore not effective.
Item 2 found in drawer after his death: life insurance policy previously obtained by his parents, which his father and I had both done the paperwork to change the beneficiary two years previously, but which hadn't been submitted by him.
Shit.

And the work we had done didn't extend to immediate family, so as a widow suddenly at 34 I was expected to manage everyone else's feelings. (Those that actually gave a shit about my feelings I still treasure dearly. But they were appallingly few and far between.)
Here are some gems:
-my mother told me I wasn't being understanding enough of her pain and that I needed to be more considerate of her because I was doing so well (mind you, being 'considerate' of her meant undoing all of the things that were helping me heal and letting her run my life)
-MIL prepares a list of all the awesome things my husband had done. Literally every single one was something I had either done myself or pressed him to do. I didn't say anything.
-MIL told me she didn't need to see her own therapist because I should just call her every day.
-FIL told me that if I had been a better wife and more focused on my husbands needs (this is specifically related to career choices) that my husband wouldn't have died.
-BIL told me that he was treating me just as a woman in my position should expect to be treated and that I wasn't supportive enough.

My parents are out of my life until my mother actually puts in the work with a therapist to heal. I won't and cannot do it for her. I basically haven't heard from my parents in more than two years.
The in-laws I just stopped putting in the high levels of emotional labour they expected me to do to benefit them (while I was trying to do my own intense emotional labour of healing) and they faded out. I have since heard from others that this is apparently my fault.

It has been three years to the day. I'd really like to date again, but I'm terrified. Terrified of having to do the emotional labor of managing some new guys feelings through: (1) I'm a widow, but that's ok (2) I'm estranged from both families and that was the best choice for me (3) (advanced practice!) I expect you to pull your weight on emotional and domestic labour and actually be a feminist. And that if I by some miracle make it through those steps intact that new guy will then die too. Which fuck that.

So I am unsurprisingly single because I am so done with doing the emotional labour.
posted by susiswimmer at 3:19 PM on July 17, 2015 [117 favorites]


women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"

Well, it's like Simon Baron-Cohen says, if someone has the "extreme male brain", they're "systematizers" who are great at science and engineering, but if they have "extreme female brain," they're naturals at leadership. Ha ha, just kidding. He said that they can be "wonderfully caring" and thus persuade someone to fix their cars.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:22 PM on July 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


#FeminismThroughDadJokes

"Make me a sandwich." "*Poof* you're a sandwich!"
posted by mudpuppie at 3:59 PM on July 17, 2015 [111 favorites]


Next time someone won't leave me alone about why I date women and don't want to date men, I'm linking them to this thread.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"

A lot of the problem seems to be its not called anything at all, since its not even noticed.
posted by biffa at 4:53 PM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


My dad is in his mid-70s, and he claims one of his lifelong friends made his first sandwich last year, after his wife died. His friend had gone from his mother making his sandwiches to his wife making his sandwiches, for over 70 years. Over 70 years and not one self-made sandwich. Just a small thing, but...

what the hell dude
posted by sallybrown at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2015 [42 favorites]


sallybrown, my father has never in his life made a salad. His family and uni friends and my mother can attest to this. He has never in his life made a salad. The closest he gets is watching me chop it and criticising my piece size. He once cooked for six months while my mother was sick over thirty years ago, and he uses that to claim he shouldn't ever have to do any cooking again since he heroically cooked for two people for six whole months! (Imagine what my mother thinks of this.)

He'll eat vegetables, but he won't touch them to chop them or boil them either, and he will never under any circumstances help. Never. I've seen him sit at the kitchen counter taking up precious space with an enormous newspaper and refuse to move while my mother and I tried to cater for a twenty-person party of friends and relatives. If it can't be grilled, he won't do it either, and he'll only grill certain things besides, like steak and mushrooms. He also won't touch the steak if I cut it up since that makes it MY territory and not his since I've broken the sanctity of the t-bone or something, but if it's whole he'll cook a whole steak the way HE likes it and expect to be praised out the arse.

I have been genuinely and quietly concerned for YEARS that if my mother ever dies I will find him dead of scurvy. I mean, he can make sandwiches. If they make sandwich veggies that he can tip out onto the bread and then eat like that, then maybe he'll eat some veggies. Maybe?!?! I'm ... kidding, but nowhere near as much as I would like. :( :(
posted by E. Whitehall at 7:15 PM on July 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


I just want to be clear: I love and adore my father to death, but he's been a fantastic model of the things that I will never in my life put up with ever again after he dies. Watching my mother quietly and silently put up with him treating her with such tiny thoughtless contempt as though it's a joke to treat himself like a hero for cooking for six months in a row (THIRTY YEARS AGO) when she gets so exhaustedly grateful when I cook and she gets to rest -- I mean, fuck him. FUCK HIM. Fuuuuuuuck hiiiiiim and dudes like him.

I love him, but: NEVER DOING THAT TO MYSELF.

(by which I mean, never dating men again)
posted by E. Whitehall at 7:19 PM on July 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


by which I mean, never dating men again

And as the children of Metafilter looked back on the last 60yrs of this heroic bastion of enlightened and enlightening conversation many wondered why some of the great contributors of old never married or had children, leaving the Metafilter Tribe without cousin relations to such luminaries such as E. Whitehall, NoraReed, Divinded by Radio, and many many others. "Thank goodness," they said, "we were conceived before the..." and their voices go quiet... "the great UEL-Thread of 2015. That's when so much changed." And there was silence for all the unborn and sadness for the unfathers who just couldn't get their emotional labor skills up to scratch in time.

Meanwhile, on an island far away, a large group of crones are dancing in the moonlight and high-fiving with the hands not holding the margaritas.
posted by Thella at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2015 [166 favorites]


Yeah . . . my dad, as far as I can tell, decided to never actually figure out how to wash his own hair. I mean, he must have done SOMETHING during those years in Burma in WWII, but when I was growing up (only girl with two brothers), part of my household work was to regularly show up when he summoned me to the laundry room sink, and scrub his head with Prell, and hand him the towel. And I mean, he was in his FORTIES at the time.

I will never stop admiring my mother, who grew up in the 20s/30s and who knew no world beyond the one where women's job is to care for the men, who was finally able to kick his ass to the curb and construct her own life, for the little time she had before she died.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:02 PM on July 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


This thread is fantastic, and I'd like to add my story.

I 'm a cishet woman. I'm forty-six and am finally in a relationship with someone where we care for each other, actively work to improve each other's lives and do an equal share of the emotional labor. My partner is my cishet woman best friend. I really can't explain how amazing our friendship is and sometimes feel sad that we both believe that it would be impossible to have anything like it with a romantic/sexual partner.

We're actually considering getting married because we each want to ensure that the other is taken care of in our old age.
posted by 1066 at 8:32 PM on July 17, 2015 [66 favorites]


I am finally reading the study, thanks to sockermom, and wanted to share several parts of it.

Among the questions for couples: "[Using a 7-point scale (1 = partner does all, 4 = both about equal, 7 = self does all),] write the number that best shows who does what now in the left column. On the right side, please write in the number that best shows which way of sharing would suit yourself best.

Emotional Work
1. Setting and enforcing standards for child(ren)’s behavior
2. Giving emotional support to your child(ren): being understanding, listening, comforting
3. Helping partner with problems, advising
4. Helping child(ren) with problems, advising
5. Doing things to improve or maintain your relationship
6. Giving emotional support to partner: being understanding, listening, comforting"

"...Emotional work, however, is less readily transferred or exchanged. It is specific to relationships, defined largely in terms of an individual’s emotional needs, so paying someone else to do it undermines the premise of care and mutuality. Women could “cut back” on emotional work, but if this does not induce husbands to increase their inputs (and it is hard to see how it would), they face the possibility that no one will do it (Thompson, 1993)."

From the discussion:
Emotional work is demanding and can affect the emotions of those who do it (Strazdins, 2002). The gender imbalance in emotional work is a key to its health consequences because it erodes women’s experience of their marriages as caring. When women do more emotional work than men, it diminishes their sense of being loved and increases their feeling of conflict in the marriage, compromising the supportive and health protective functions of marriage. This in turn has consequences for women’s psychological health, placing them at increased risk of depression. Not only does a gender imbalance in emotional work create material disadvantages for women (England & Farkas, 1986), it affects their health.
If men do not recognize the existence of emotional work, let alone its significance ... that suggests that men and women are having fundamentally different experiences of their partnerships. You can argue about the whys--but the fact of the imbalance can make women ill. There is a reason why "exhaustion" and "exhausting" have come up so often in this discussion.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:10 PM on July 17, 2015 [59 favorites]


I have learned a lot from reading the stories upthread, so thank you, everyone.

Among other things, this thread has made me realize why my job often frustrates me: there's a huge amount of emotional labor involved in getting even the simplest tasks done. (And my workplace has a sort of macho culture that isn't big on acknowledging that kind of work.) Today my boss didn't understand why I couldn't just get approval for a request, and I was having trouble articulating the reason. But now I think it's because of the emotional labor. While filling out a request form is stupidly simple, I also had to expend a lot of time and energy coaxing two different sets of people into doing things that are a basic part of their job description.

I have to engage in this kind of maneuvering pretty frequently in my workplace. I definitely don't want to be rude or anything, but having to constantly be empathetic and placatory when asking for routine things is totally exhausting, at least for this introvert.

Also, barchan's comment about "leadership" versus "teamwork" resonates with me a hundred percent. I had a high school teacher who told me I'd never be a leader. Good thing I figured out how to engage in teamwork, via running group projects and supervising people! Ugh.
posted by ferret branca at 9:11 PM on July 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


From Monkeytoes's article, above:

..
.Quantitative and qualitative data from a sample of 102 couples with young children show that the gender imbalance affected women’s, but not men’s, experience of love and conflict in their marriage. Through this erosion of the marriage, the gender imbalance posed a health risk to women and helped explain gender differences in psychological distress. Couples preserved a sense of mutuality by accounting for the gender imbalance as something beyond men’s choice or control, or in terms of women’s excess emotional needs, thus entrenching gender differences in the performance and consequences of emotional work.


And again:
. . . When women do more emotional work than men, it diminishes their sense of being loved and increases their feeling of conflict in the marriage, compromising the supportive and health protective functions of marriage. This in turn has consequences for women’s psychological health, placing them at increased risk of depression. Not only does a gender imbalance in emotional work create material disadvantages for women (England & Farkas, 1986), it affects their health.
Christ, this is actually making me nauseous with recognition.

And how fucked up is it that I feel guilty for letting this dynamic emerge, both because I'm the one who was supposed to know better (you know, the "emotionally intelligent" one,) and because I've failed to be the sort of take-no-bullshit, ferocious femme who doesn't let herself get treated like a doormat?
posted by Harrogatha Christie at 11:27 PM on July 17, 2015 [42 favorites]


Damn. I. Just. Damn.

All The Feels.

On home: three of us are far to the introvert side of the scale. My husband is the youngest of six by ten years and basically free range. He doesn't really understand eating regular dinners with the rest of the family except maybe once or twice a week because it's just not on his radar as a thing and after 20 years of marriage, I gave up fighting that and many other battles (good night kisses when he trundles off to bed five hours before me were an early casualty as well).The youngest daughter is my feely extrovert who actively seeks out connection. My oldest is like living in A Glass Menagerie, which is to say very similar to me at that age. We're a strange feral bunch. My mother is an extrovert and however she came to be this way is very good at emotional labor work and genuinely enjoys the connections it has brought her. I can do the work but it's exhausting and too goddamn much of it is spent at work.

Which brings me to work: Another terrible thing about emotional labor at work is that women "stepping up" to get things done is not just expected and unappreciated, it's called "teamwork"; but when guys do it, it's called "leadership".

This thread made me realize that with our business unit's reorg, I lost out on promotion because of this perception. I was jettisoned back to front line management to "build a new team" (which granted has strong interest from a VP, but was also a misguided assumption that it would make me happy) while I watched dude who couldn't pull his head out from his own siloed team take on his team and my team (all of which used to be mine but I to wasn't allowed put any structure in to support me so set up to fail much?) because my current boss has no clue what women in leadership roles look like. I've jokingly-not-jokingly said he needs me to be around to be his wife (NOT TO HIM) and remind him that he needs to schedule team mtgs with his managers and remind him of basic shit that needs to happen at his level and.... Fuuuuuuu. My boss is my career limiting move. I stopped doing a bunch of that emotional labor for him (he tells me I'm right and ignores the recommendation). Started focusing it on the stuff I need to do and he and his boss are acting all surprised and shit that I'm getting stuff done like I was put in place to do and... I'm supposed to feel good about this role that literally erases my last six years of professional growth, even if it is something on the VP's radar, and even if it is something I'm good at, because... Why exactly? There is no growth opportunity in this role beyond this role for me. In no way does this help me get to the next level, it proves, again, that I can do the same work I've been doing for 12 years. And. I. Am. Furious. Like social anxiety me (that nonetheless was successfully dealing and doing a damn fine job of climbing the career ladder I want to climb) got myself a therapist levels of cannot fucking deal.

I can deal with feral family and I'm as feral as they, and all things considered, I think my husband and I balance our weaknesses and strengths out pretty ok. But this work bullshit just is nope all over.

And I couldn't do the argument in my head thing because three hours into reading this thread, my sweet husband comes upstairs and says, " you know, when I die, if someone besides you goes through all the horror books I've got, they're going to be so disturbed... Because scattered through them are all these shmoopy cards and letters from you." He says doesn't really care about cards and we're pretty random about when we give them to each other, but I'm pretty sure he's never thrown away anything I've written to him and I know he goes back and reads them because he'll come upstairs and tell me stuff in them.

Guess this might be what I'm talking with my therapist about on Monday...
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:55 PM on July 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


So I've been following this thread all week, taking notes, looking for opportunities to step up. We just moved to the Bay Area, near my wife's extended family, and I've been bugging her to ask them over. They helped us get settled in when we first moved, after all. Tonight after a glass of wine I said to my wife, "So. Why don't you give me your aunt's cella, and I'll set up a dinner or something?"

"Stay away from my family."

"Okay!"

Later. "I want to control how close my aunts and my cousins get, not you. Okay?"

"Yep."

So. Ask first, fellas!
posted by notyou at 12:00 AM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Notyou, this is literally not you, but that sounds more complex than "I offered to do a nice thing of emotional labor and my wife said NO." Like - "hey wife, instead of me asking you to set up dinner with your family, would it be helpful if I took over the scheduling and planning and talked directly with them? You can just give me the times and dates that work for you, and I'll co-ordinate so you don't have to have that on your plate too."

My ex has a pattern of making offers for emotional labor that will create havoc. I used to think it was ineptitude, now I think it's a mix of deliberate wilful ignorance and sabotaging so I will take over. He would make plans with people I didn't like or who had harmed me and my children, without checking ahead with me because then I would be trapped into a draining and difficult situation socially, and then act hurt if I refused or said it was an awful experience, because hey, he MADE the effort and I was ungrateful.

So sure ask first. But ask with clarity and comprehension and listen to her answer in full. Think about what you're really offering.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:30 AM on July 18, 2015 [34 favorites]


The thing I learned, dorothyisunderwood, is that the scheduling is the least of it. There are realms of understanding that I don't currently have access to, because I haven't asked, or because I haven't looked carefully enough, or most likely, both.
posted by notyou at 12:40 AM on July 18, 2015 [26 favorites]


Yeah, sometimes I wonder if a lot of these dudes never get that frisson of anticipatory joy from doing a tiny thing that will just perfectly improve the life of a beloved person... and if so, that makes me sad.

I started making a Christmas stocking for my mom a few years ago, and it's become the delight of my Christmas. She always does stockings for the rest of us, and it bugged me how hers was always empty because (of course) she didn't make one for herself. The first year I roped my siblings into it; the second year I got disorganized and so did it all myself; this year I think I'm going to try to get the sibs into it again. My step-dad always pays some money into it, though, and works with me to get her away from the stockings so that I can fill hers up without her noticing and the glee we both get from the subterfuge is enormous.

I was thinking of this in terms of some friends where I'm essentially playing chairperson for an endeavor they're doing together. They all get prickly at each other if they disagree too much, but I can step in and organize things - and one of the steps I added this time (in part as a response to this thread) was a "check in" so everyone could say how they were feeling and what was going on in their lives - moods which could affect the meeting. I think it really set the stage for a productive meeting because everyone was kind of cranky or upset about something (except for me) so we all put in extra effort to be kind.

I'm wondering if one of the effects of Second Wave feminism and the whole focus of "act more male for more power" has led to some of the disconnections in contemporary culture along with reinforcing the devaluing of this sort of work. We were talking about at work (I'm a therapist/case manager) how the relationship between clinician and client is often not taken into account by the people in charge of setting the regulations organization and rules, and how in many cases we have clients who are doing well who would decompensate rapidly if they lost that crucial relationship and had to start over from scratch. I've talked about it with clients as well, as many of them have to go through the hard work of remaking relationships over and over again as clinicians leave.

I was also wondering how much this tied into the "educate yourself" aspects of social justice work. I keep running into this fundamental conflict between the people who have power, and thus no need or desire to educate themselves about those without power, and how when errors are brought up or critiques are made the conversation is quickly bent towards "stop making me feel bad" even if the critique was not personal. Given some preliminary research that the higher in social order one is the less empathetic one tends to be, I'm wondering if this isn't all of a piece. There seems to be a fundamental issue in social justice which can be boiled down to "I don't really thing members of X group are people with internal experiences I should think about" that we're stubbing our toes on over, and over, and over again - and it seems to be tied up in the empathy and respect of this sort of emotional/love work.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:32 AM on July 18, 2015 [42 favorites]


Meanwhile, on an island far away, a large group of crones are dancing in the moonlight and high-fiving with the hands not holding the margaritas.

i hope there are also daquiris
posted by NoraReed at 1:34 AM on July 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


All the love and wonder forever for this thread. I have been greedily eating it all up for days now, and don't know where to start with the gratitude. Thank you, amazing mefites.

Also, this island of crones, where do i send my application?
posted by sic friat crustulum at 3:28 AM on July 18, 2015 [29 favorites]


with the hands not holding the margaritas.

i hope there are also daquiris


Why shouldn't they all get good drinks?
posted by phearlez at 4:29 AM on July 18, 2015


How about mojitos? Mmm.

And whiskey.
posted by sio42 at 4:36 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am working my way through Deoridhe's comment, but particularly this and this:

when errors are brought up or critiques are made the conversation is quickly bent towards "stop making me feel bad"

"I don't really thing members of X group are people with internal experiences I should think about"


The quick bend *does* something. It's a rhetorical jump toward steering the conversation along a particular line of certainty, an alleviation of discomfort, and a foreclosing of any other possible responses, such as quiet self-examination, or articulated empathy, or recognition that this is a real dynamic for others that one has never known existed. The quick bend is a continuation of the refusal to see how it is for someone else. It comes across as dismissive and defensive, and as a rejection of a good faith effort to explain a subjective experience.

Your momentary discomfort and recognizing my humanity puts us on more congruent terms of discussion. As long as your first and only response is #notallmen, you are re-creating the dynamic that I am trying to explain to you. Believe me. Actively process what I say. Make listening, empathy, and self-examination options in responding before resorting to "But I don't do that." See whether it makes a difference to the shape of the subsequent conversation.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:11 AM on July 18, 2015 [37 favorites]


Shout out to the mods who I sure are engaging in some significant emotional labor tied up with monitoring this thread, which has been a wonderful conversation and an exemplary example of why the best $5 I ever spent was on MetaFilter.

Several months ago, in one of those "How to be a feminist ally if you're a man in a hetero relationship" lists making the rounds, it mentioned something like "Make your own doctor's appointments so your partner doesn't have to. Men routinely don't do this, and it not only sucks to make a woman step up, but men skipping out on preventive health care has ripple effects if it means you end up unhealthy and less able to pull their share of domestic labor around the house than if you had just taken your doctor's healthy living advice in the first place!"

I think about this a lot in the context of how women and men age differently -- there are tons of studies that show women tend to age in a more healthful way because they are so practiced at maintaining social networks. Men tend to rely on their partners for social networks, and if they divorce/she dies, he often has very few people in his network because he didn't do his share of lifting to create a social network. I know a lot of older men who have great friends from college/childhood, but seem to have difficulty creating networks as they move through time.

I see this occasionally with my own father -- I am an only child (daughter) of an aging father who lives alone. My dad is actually pretty feminist for being on the older side of 80, and is pretty respectful of my schedule and personal boundaries I put in place re: what I am willing and not willing to do on his behalf. But it is occasionally emotionally exhausting to think I am his one main source of "connection" to the world around him. He attends a great church where he likes most of the people, but he occasionally gets grumpy with it for petty reasons and thinks about quitting, and I try to do everything in my power to keep him going - for his sake, as well as my own. He needs more outlets than just me. He has some solid buddies he knows from his college/army days and regularly emails with them. That makes me glad, too... it's just too bad they're not local, because I know how much joy that would bring him.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:11 AM on July 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


Meanwhile, on an island far away, a large group of crones are dancing in the moonlight and high-fiving with the hands not holding the margaritas.

Booking my next vacation for CroNatia. Better lay in a supply of CronRona beer.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:17 AM on July 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


Surely Cronenbourg?
posted by biffa at 5:37 AM on July 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


After some time to think about all of this, it honestly shocks me that this is an accepted norm for straight people. My personal stories about this - I was raised by straight people. My mom raised me to be a people pleaser and to take on emotional labor. I was very aware that she wasn't giving my brother the same socialization and I was pissed about it.

My parents - and every other adult in my life - told me that I would grow up and marry a man and have children, and no alternatives were ever discussed. Looking around me, I never thought the married women I knew seemed happy. They seemed stressed, and like they did more work than the men. I didn't get why the men didn't clean up after holiday meals, and asking about it didn't get me any real answers.

When the light finally came on that I'm attracted to women, it was an intense relief. Not only did all the ways I had been uncomfortable with the pressure from my peers to talk about boys! make sense, but I knew I didn't have to marry a man and have children and spend my life giving up the things I actually wanted to do to clean up after people who didn't even notice it and didn't care if I was happy.

I'm not a kinsey 6, but dating women for me is the norm so when I've tried dating (cis) men I've been acutely aware of how much they were unwilling to do emotional labor and have seen this unwillingness as a failure to be invested in the relationship or as disinterest in me. If you care about someone, you care about how they're doing and you're aware of what you're asking from them. Reading people's accounts here of men who can't be bothered to even be aware of their emotional labor and then make extensive apologies - "he's really got other great qualities! I swear I'm happy!" - is intensely sad to me. I may be unusual in that I'd rather be alone than deal with this crap, but that's where I am. I want my personal life to offer me solace from the strains of this world, from, among other things, sexism and homophobia, and the idea of coming home from my already more than full time job to an adult who is supposed to be a partner but instead behaves like a child, or who wants a cookie when he understands something basic about my experiences and the expectations placed on me - no. Just no. I honestly don't get the appeal.

I'm not going to say that dating women is all sunshine and roses especially given the ways our culture is about LGBT folks, but I'd rather have a relationship where my partner and I fight oppression together than one where sexism is constantly played out in my home, via unequal division of emotional labor or just the standard cultural sexism most men absorb.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:16 AM on July 18, 2015 [73 favorites]


We were talking about at work (I'm a therapist/case manager) how the relationship between clinician and client is often not taken into account by the people in charge of setting the regulations organization and rules, and how in many cases we have clients who are doing well who would decompensate rapidly if they lost that crucial relationship and had to start over from scratch. I've talked about it with clients as well, as many of them have to go through the hard work of remaking relationships over and over again as clinicians leave.

Deoridhe, we had a very similar conversation at my workplace, when my manager basically wanted to get rid of having one assigned case manager per client and turn it into more of a "Who's good at whatever the client's current issue is?" issue-management thing. And we had just all attended (except, notably, my manager) a forum in which former clients all identified their ongoing relationships with their doctors and case managers as being the most significant component of their recovery process and (as you mentioned) cited case-manager turnover as causing turmoil.

It's ridiculous when mental-health professionals are ignoring the importance of relationships.
posted by jaguar at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2015 [31 favorites]


It's ridiculous when mental-health professionals are ignoring the importance of relationships.

I've wondered before if a lot of people who prefer alternative medicine practices do so, at least partially, because alternative medicine practitioners do more emotional labor than conventional medical professionals.
posted by Green With You at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2015 [56 favorites]


It's ridiculous when mental-health professionals are ignoring the importance of relationships.

I definitely agree. But, I want to throw out that many western cultures seem to encourage men to believe that they should barely need relationships (even if they do). That they should strive to be lone wolves or tough cowboys or something.

When we teach women "you must nurture this list of relationships" are there messages taught to men that say "you mustn't nurture?"
posted by puddledork at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ultimately, in my experience, any woman's refusal to choose a restaurant is based on the often-correct suspicion that whatever choice you make will be wrong anyway, so let's just go where he wants to go, it makes things so much easier.

This contributed to the demise of my last actual relationship. What's worse than dating a guy who tells you to just pick a restaurant and then passive-aggressively picks apart all your choices while insisting he really doesn't care? A guy with an untreated eating disorder, who is aware of his disorder, but who also seems to feel that management of this very personal and delicate area of his life should fall to someone else and who then becomes slowly more and more emotionally withholding when you fail to read his mind and correctly guess what he really wants to eat for every meal that you're together. You know that thing about managing your own mental health, how you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help anyone else with theirs? Looking back on that relationship, a lot of the time I felt like I was trying to draw oxygen from a mask with a broken strap, while also trying to strap a similarly broken mask on a recalcitrant ferret.

Anyway. Sorry that I won't be able to high-five everyone else on Crone Island all the time, because my hands will be devoted to drinks and tacos. We're still getting that taco bar, right?
posted by palomar at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2015 [52 favorites]


For those of you who are dealing with the "oh shit, unpaid emotional labor has been the defining thread of my career" - ugh I am so with you. I think I first posted here two days ago and I'm STILL pissed. I was basically passed up for a promotion and that's why. "But you're in project support, what makes you think you would be a good leader?" ARRRRRRGGGHHHHHH.

ok.

So last summer, my husband and I were arguing about his lack of energy and his lack of doing something about his lack of energy, and the repercussions of said lack of energy. He knew he had issues, he can get up the energy to go game twice a week or online for hours at a time, for fuck's sake he can make a doctor's appointment and go to it. Seriously. And at one point in the discussion, he says:

"So what do you think I should do about it? What do you suggest?"
And I said, "I DON'T KNOW, I WASN'T PUT ON THIS EARTH SOLELY TO MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER. FUCKING FIGURE IT OUT, YOU HAVE AN IQ OF 135, GOOGLE, AND REALLY GOOD HEALTHCARE BENEFITS. START USING ANY ONE OF THOSE THINGS!"

and it was like I'd thrown a glass of ice water in his face. He just stopped. And then went out to the patio for about 20 minutes. He came back in, called and made a doctor's appointment, and then started a load of laundry.

A year later, it is much better. He does the little surprise things, and bigger things like choosing all the colors for the inside of the house and cooking all the dinners. But I think that moment is going to stick with him for quite a while, if not forever. And it's so stupid that it got to that point.

But he still doesn't understand why I swear I will never get married again if he dies first or leaves. I saw that Gartner study and immediately understood why the majority of women said no to being married again and the majority of men couldn't wait to get married again. "Of course not," I thought. "THe societal expectation of being married as a guy means you don't have to manage your own shit, who WOULDN'T want that????"

Argh.

Also, threads like this - where you see men come in and act completely clueless - are why I (as a white person) shut the hell up and listen when people of color talk about race and racism. Listening is so much more important than talking when people of a background not yours are sharing what it's like to live as them on a daily basis. I have occasionally said to friends one-on-one, "I want you to know that I am silent because I am listening, and that I support you and what you have to say, but I am not going to comment because the conversation isn't about me. It's about you." Sometimes it's really not about YOU, except in what you can learn and apply from listening to other people's experiences.

This thread has given me so much. Thank you to all of you.
posted by RogueTech at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2015 [133 favorites]


I want to print out this entire thread and format it into a book to give to every person I know.
posted by dysh at 10:24 AM on July 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


dysh, please make the cover of this book a woman riding her nopetopus to Crone Island, where other happy women greet her with tacos, drinks, and high fives.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:53 AM on July 18, 2015 [79 favorites]


I'll bring amazingly delicious cheese with me to Crone Island.
posted by Jalliah at 11:01 AM on July 18, 2015 [33 favorites]


I couldn't really put in enough time to grow the feminist discussion forum thingy I tried to start, but I definitely know now what it should have been called.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:12 AM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


My husband just asked me if I'd remembered to buy *my* father a present for his birthday tomorrow.
posted by Lucinda at 11:28 AM on July 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm mostly a lurker, but I want to thank everyone for sharing your stories. There have been so many "yes, this!!" lightbulb moments about things I've experienced and observed. And for real, I've never before felt so close the other women of MeFi.

(Consider this my application for Crone Island, which sounds like an amazing place.)
posted by Salieri at 11:58 AM on July 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


This thread is so wonderful! Thank you so much for it.
posted by SarahElizaP at 12:19 PM on July 18, 2015


Crone Island: Cheese of the Patriarchy confiscated at entry.
posted by susiswimmer at 12:24 PM on July 18, 2015 [37 favorites]


This is a wonderful thread.

Although it contributed to some post-yoga rage yesterday:
After my class, a few folks were waiting in the lobby for the next class to begin. One man was partially blocking the cubbies where shoes are kept during class. I said "excuse me" to him and waited for him to move.
I, or any woman, would have apologized for being the way, and moved for me.
He laughed, said "oh, I'm right in the way" and did not move at all.
So, I awkwardly maneuvered around him to gather my things and left, fuming all the way home.

After reading this thread, lack of empathy and emotional labor were the first reasons I thought of for my expected reaction vs his reaction.
posted by natasha_k at 12:34 PM on July 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


I apparently have a gift for mojitos, and I volunteer to keep the residents of Crone Island well-supplied.

Thanks for this thread, everyone. I appreciate the food for thought about how my relationships work in a number of spheres, the renewed appreciation for some outstanding men in my life, and the reminder to make sure the amazing friendships I have with women that feel effortless aren't because I'm not the one putting in the effort.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:44 PM on July 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is such a great thread! Just as an aside, I've got the Kathleen Edward's song "Asking for Flowers" in my head right now, and wanted to share some of the lyrics....which are totally about emotional labor.

Asking for flowers
Is like asking you to be nice
Don't tell me you're too tired
10 years I've been working nights

Every pill I took in vain
Every meal for you I made
Every bill I went and paid
Every card I signed my name
Every time I poured my heart out
Every threat you made to move out
Every cruel word you let just slip out
Every cruel word you let just slip out

posted by aka burlap at 1:00 PM on July 18, 2015 [28 favorites]


I want to print out this entire thread and format it into a book to give to every person I know.

So I was just walking down the street--well, oozing really; it's hot here today--about an hour ago to meet a friend. I ended up behind a late 20s/early 30s couple, one presenting male and the other presenting female. The part of the conversation I heard:

1: Want to go to $nicerestaurant for lunch?
2: ugh no
1: How about other $nicerestaurant?
2: ugh no
1: Oh, $decentrestaurant is near here, you said you wanted to try it
2: I don't want to go there
1: Fine let's go to $okayrestaurant then
2: no

(at this point we parted ways, until!)

An hour later I was walking back home, and saw the same couple.

Carrying McDonalds bags.

I was wishing for one of the crones to drop out of the sky with The Book.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:15 PM on July 18, 2015 [63 favorites]


Life is too short to be a bonsai human

Of all the gems and lessons I've learned in this thread, this one really stands out. Thank you for the phrase, I'm totally stealing it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:31 PM on July 18, 2015 [62 favorites]


Life is too short to be a bonsai human for someone else's toleration and convenience.

this is perfect. Thank you.
posted by gaspode at 1:36 PM on July 18, 2015 [25 favorites]


The author of the piece is pleased with the discussion happening here.
posted by almostmanda at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2015 [23 favorites]


Get over here, Zimmerman! I'll give you the five bucks, if you want.
posted by lauranesson at 1:40 PM on July 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


Only halfway through the thread, but a few things that have now clicked for me about having a relationship with greater-than-average equality with emotional work (I'm a woman, he's a man):

-We get coded as queer more often than other straight couple friends, even ones that happen to be way farther over on the Kinsey scale. My husband gets independently called an honorary lesbian all the time. I just figured it was some ally cookie giving, but I think this emotional work is getting picked up on.

-Older female family members lose their minds over him. While I understand why this can be problematic, I'm looking at this thread and realizing why their minds are so blown. There have been a lot of conversations about how happy they are to see the feminist work they did actually amount to something in their children's and grandchildren's generations. It is in no way perfect, but the progress is real.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:49 PM on July 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


I want to print out this entire thread and format it into a book to give to every person I know.

For those who missed it, gwint presented their mefi2book tool for converting a thread into a PDF last December.

It's unfortunately the sort of thing you need to have mad programmer skillz to use, though here are step-by-step instructions for a Mac. Perhaps someone who isn't in a mobile-device-only situation as I am at the moment would care to run it on this thread and post the link...
posted by XMLicious at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


XMLicious: That is amazing and now I wanna try it on this thread.
posted by XtinaS at 2:32 PM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was wishing for one of the crones to drop out of the sky with The Book.

Be the crone you want to see in the world!
posted by bile and syntax at 2:36 PM on July 18, 2015 [39 favorites]


(I am in fact trying this PDFifier thing out now, and shall post a link once it's done.)
posted by XtinaS at 2:40 PM on July 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Thank you all for this thread. Just reading it got me to pay my $5.

Life is too short to be a bonsai human for someone else's toleration and convenience.

So much this, and I was immediately reminded of Marge Piercy's "A Work of Artifice":
The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

posted by pibkac at 2:43 PM on July 18, 2015 [228 favorites]


Thanks for the vote of confidence, bile and syntax, but if I've learned anything here it's: dude telling women how to do life is not ok.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:48 PM on July 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


fffm, I was thinking the thing would be to tell the dude off. But probably even a superteam of crones armed with books would hesitate here just because he wouldn't be up for listening, she wouldn't be ready to DTMFA, and the whole thing would just cause more stress for her.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:06 PM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


omg omg omg
you guys

this is why it's so freaking annoying when dudes suddenly swear loudly! and/or make some loud! grunty! noise! while doing some sort of task, and you startle and ask what's wrong, for the reply of "nothing, it's ok, this jar lid was tight / this piece of software sucks / $dumbwhocares"

That too-well-trained part responds to this demand of emotional labor. Your fight-flight is ready for action and it turns out to be something a) trivial so it's ridiculous to hand out a pat on the head, and b) that emotional labor reaction is treated so dismissively in response by the one who instigated it.
posted by mimi at 3:15 PM on July 18, 2015 [38 favorites]




Oh wow I'd never read anything by Marge Piercy and now I have to go read her work!
posted by winna at 3:38 PM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


this is why it's so freaking annoying when dudes suddenly swear loudly! and/or make some loud! grunty! noise! while doing some sort of task, and you startle and ask what's wrong, for the reply of "nothing, it's ok, this jar lid was tight / this piece of software sucks / $dumbwhocares"

Displays of anger are also pretty fucking scary and often are precursors to abuse, especially coming from men. I had an ex who did this when driving and it always scared the shit out of me and made me completely shut down to hear someone yelling like that; it's just something I'm socially trained to be afraid of. People with a history dealing with abusive, violent outburts probably deal with that even worse.
posted by NoraReed at 3:54 PM on July 18, 2015 [33 favorites]


i find it scary, frustrating because of the emotional labor part, and it pisses me off because for some reason men yelling out like that, or punching walls, or getting in your face, or other masculine coded outbursts aren't seen as "being emotional." they often get called passionate, or fiery, or a million other words that obscures the fact that if we were going to pick a gender more prone to being "emotional" it wouldn't be women...
posted by nadawi at 3:58 PM on July 18, 2015 [39 favorites]


I keep drilling down my Red Flag List and I've added yelling at stuff in a way that scares me to it. It's sometimes just a sign of male socialization that doesn't escalate, but even if it is, it's a huge emotional drain to have someone do it around me, and that's not worth it.
posted by NoraReed at 4:06 PM on July 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


That too-well-trained part responds to this demand of emotional labor. Your fight-flight is ready for action and it turns out to be something a) trivial so it's ridiculous to hand out a pat on the head, and b) that emotional labor reaction is treated so dismissively in response by the one who instigated it.

Oh, so true, so true.

I have been thinking about intersections of emotional labour with other human-interaction situations. On the one hand, emotional intelligence - people who are aware of emotional labour are higher on the emotional intelligence scale (opinion, not data-verified fact). But then, those lacking emotional intelligence are unaware of their emotional labour deficit.

On the other hand, co-dependency. In many ways, I think co-dependency is co-morbid with a lack of emotional intelligence and labour in the other partner. Co-dependency comes when we think that we have to do all the emotional labour just to remain safe.
posted by Thella at 4:07 PM on July 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yeah, that scary on a whole other level...I just meant the louder-than-grumble attention-seeking variety that simultaneously tries to pretend it's not attention-seeking.
posted by mimi at 4:09 PM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


pibkac, thank you for sharing that poem. I may have to get it printed and framed.
posted by jaguar at 4:17 PM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Finally delurking. Thank you to all the women on MeFi who articulate your rage in these threads; you make me happy.

I’m a cishet woman in my late 20s, and I’ve never been in a long-term relationship. My friends keep telling me I need to lower my standards and just date someone, anyone! But… why? So that I too can be emotionally exhausted by some inconsiderate dude who expends minimal effort and yet feels entitled to on-demand coddling and fucking? I know so many loving, empathetic women who spend their lives tiptoeing around moody, oblivious, energy-vampiric men.

Fuck that.

*sips margarita*
posted by crone islander at 6:46 PM on July 18, 2015 [146 favorites]


*hands over a fresh taco*

Welcome, fellow crone!
posted by palomar at 7:43 PM on July 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


"Ultimately, in my experience, any woman's refusal to choose a restaurant is based on the often-correct suspicion that whatever choice you make will be wrong anyway, so let's just go where he wants to go, it makes things so much easier."

Oh hell yes.

"I'm done with this "Oh, I don't care, pick whatever you want (but not really, what I mean is pick something that you have psychically divined that I want and then I can have all my needs met without having to make any choices or do any work!)" business."


My dad would pull this shit--ask where we wanted to eat every Friday night and then object to every selection, wouldn't put in his own. I finally just made a flow chart list of every restaurant by location, cuisine, price, etc. and would hand it to him and say "PICK ONE." It worked. I am slightly better about this sort of topic than I used to be, but it's a lot easier being all "no preferences, whatever you want" than it is to object if "he" says something, or suggest my own preferences and then get crap for it.

"Fiancee (F): What do you want?
Me: I just want everyone to be happy.
F: That is not a valid response. What do you want for our wedding?
Me: I don't understand what you mean! I WANT EVERYONE TO BE HAPPY!! THAT IS WHAT I WANT!!!"


I think this came up in a Carolyn Hax column recently. I get exactly what she meant: "I want everyone to be happy and NOT BE MAD AT ME AND FORCING ME TO PICK SIDES." Unfortunately, you never get that option in some cases.

In other news: I have to serve the public at my job and I never, ever hear the end of how shitty they think I am at it, no matter what I do. I think I've realized from this thread that it may very well be an emotional labor issue: I'm supposed to WANT to take on other people's burdens and move heaven and earth to solve their problems even if I have zero expertise in how to do it. I don't enjoy doing this, I frequently feel overwhelmed by humanity and neediness and I canNOT tell people to back off and give me some space. I don't do it with perfect female grace and ease--I'm stressed and you can tell I'm not a natural. No wonder they think I'm awful, I'm not doing my female job.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2015 [21 favorites]


There's a version of the "pick one" thing that I've seen work. You get the amount of people choosing, double it, subtract one. The first person picks that number of restaurants. Each successive person eliminates 2. The last person chooses from the remaining 3. (So with 3 people decision, the first person chooses 5 restaurants, the second chooses 3 of those, the last picks from those 3.) It won't work with the most recalcitrant of the won't-make-decisions-and-won't-suggest people, but it can be an OK system.
posted by NoraReed at 8:43 PM on July 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Co-dependency comes when we think that we have to do all the emotional labour just to remain safe.

Oh hell to the yes.

And it's not always about your partner (although I imagine the battle would be easier if you had more support in the emotional labour department.) I struggle every day to remind myself that I don't need to be the one that fixes all the things, at home and at work. Probably because growing up my mom did fix all the things (or tried to), and it was never enough for my father. So I must be even better at it than her if I want a chance at happiness, right? (I've done a lot of work on this, but have a lot yet to do).

This thread has been amazing and I recognize myself and my relationships and career in so much of it.

And I'm good at emotional labour and people clue into that very quickly - I remember when I was a high school student, even teachers would confide in me about their personal problems. But it was unbalanced, and it would pile up and pile up and pile and every three or four years I would melt down and shut myself away from the world, exhausted and depressed. I've always understood myself why that happens, but now I feel like I have the language to explain it to others, and that I'm not alone in this.
posted by scrute at 9:17 PM on July 18, 2015 [25 favorites]


This post is just fantastic. So many things. Reading this thread took a lot of time today, but it was worth it, because it gave me some vocabulary for and recognition of the ways that I've been doing so much extra emotional labor in addition to physical and wage-earning labor I do. I kind of knew that was the case, but this has helped a lot, and I thank you all for it.

My husband got either pity or adulation from women for doing this stuff; once it turned out I was alive and just not doing "my" job, I was treated with a lot of hostility. Yeah, dance tends to be gendered but this kind of thing happens all over.

When he's upset, my husband throws it back at me periodically that his family always asks where I am when I’m working a lot and says “We know limeonaire works a lot.” Or worse, he expresses with disappointment, they don’t expect me to be at certain things because work, and they're surprised when I show up, even though in reality, I've almost never missed an event his family has invited me to. So on one hand…victory, if they realize I have priorities beyond his happiness? But I think he sees it as a failing on my part to not seem more available. He also thinks I should be doing an equal share of cleaning even though he’s the one who cares much more about the floor being swept or the rug vacuumed than I do, and I’m the one who’s working full-time to support us. I am cognizant of how much this might make me sound like a '50s-era breadwinning man, though, and so I try to be giving in this respect and temper my frustration with understanding and action with regard to the chores. But this, too, is emotional work, just working through his feelings on the subject of how I behave and feel with regard to domestic labor.

I was raised by a mother who very actively challenged this kind of thing, even if it made her look rude. For example, if we visited my father's side of the family, all the women visiting would immediately head to kitchen to help with the cooking, while the men would kick back and relax on the sofas. This was in India, so if anything, patriarchal gender norms were even stronger. My mom just would not go into the kitchen and stay chatting with the menfolk about work or whatever other interests she had (she had a lot of them!) . As a child, this made me intensely uncomfortable, but she'd just tell me that I would understand later on (which I do).

Yep, I largely do not offer to help when I am over at my husband’s family’s house, even though all the other women are. I’m sure that this has been noticed, but I’ve been going to their houses for eight years now, and no one has ever said anything to me about it. I hang out with the kids and I talk to the guys and whichever women are sitting on the couch and I hang out and talk to those who are cooking at times but I do not do this work, and usually when I ask if I can help people don’t give me many tasks to do, and this is and should be fine! And yet I'm still always waiting for the other shoe to drop with regard to this, worried that someday, someone will notice and condemn me for not participating in this roundtable of women's work in the kitchen.

This also reminds me of the discussions about how we have to change our diet, which once my husband is off his feeding tube will mean cooking more, specifically me cooking more because I don't cook enough, and at this point in the discussion he usually gives me this mournful look like I’m the reason—me, and my job, and my not caring enough—that we’re collectively sick, fat, and out of shape. It's true, the stress of my job can contribute to my not wanting to do time- and energy-consuming things like cooking, and he cooks more than I do, but I think he sees this as a failing on my part.

Also, this thread has reminded me of the thank-you cards for our wedding. Thank-you cards have never been my thing, ever, and I'm really not the person who's ever been up for throwing myself on grenades of emotional labor. But when we got married several years ago, I bought thank-you cards, and I kept a detailed list of who gave us what at the wedding. I said, "OK, here's the list, I will write thank-you cards for my friends and family and you should write thank-you cards for yours. OK?" Well, I started mine, and due to life happening, never did get super far with them—but my husband never really started his, and between the two of us, we never sent them out, and to this day, it is his utter shame that we never did this, and I have this sense that he faults me for not making it happen, even though the burden was 50 percent his.

This thread reminds me somewhat of the work that private bankers do for wealthy people. It's been described to me as "emotional concierge" - the actual money stuff is 10-20%, and the rest is reassuring them about their decisions, knowing their family and personal issues, arranging personal crap like birthday presents and tickets, and listening to them endlessly. It's understood that you're being paid to make your client happy, because the actual financial service you provide is replaceable and minor. Surprisingly, the female private bankers I know tend to be pretty tough outside of work - they won't put up with it if they're not getting paid either.

Yes, I think being a project manager and doing some of the same things has also made me less willing to do it for free in my personal life.

if you are actually good at all that emotional labor type stuff and enjoy it, what are ways to capitalize on that that pay decently and are respected? I mean, we have plenty of low paid jobs, like waitressing, that expect this stuff and we have plenty of jobs that aren't respected, like sex work. Is there anything where being good at this actually pays what it should and is respected and all that? I wonder about that a fair amount and I don't know if I have any answers yet.

If you are good at this and also organized as hell, with domain-specific knowledge of the field you would work in, being a project manager might be a good job for you. But then there's the following to consider.

Hey...I think this is part of how women in programming & STEM get sidelined into "project management," which somehow never has the actual authority and actual money of actual management?!

Heh. I think the work I do is valuable, and I can see that value on a daily basis. I think I'm compensated pretty well for what I do. That said, I think as a former content creator and producer, I’ve even internalized that some of what I do as a project manager is “not work,” and it makes me both more willing to work longer hours and less forgiving of myself when the work is hard and takes longer than expected. And then there's this...

men coined leadership to recognize when their own gender exhibits those traits, or, OR how men view leadership is actually someone making decisions without actually or being perceived as taking into consideration the needs/desires/impacts of the group, then expecting people to do their bidding due to their "authority". . . which could actually be pretty bad.

I think it’s both. I run into this sometimes when I have to set up a meeting, for instance, by looking at everyone’s schedules on the staff side, consulting them to be sure their schedules are up-to-date, checking in with a client to see whether the times that work for us work for them, and sometimes repeating this and repeating it again. I sometimes get jokes about this in a workplace that is largely male—“Heh, who knew setting up this meeting was an afternoon's worth of work?”—and it’s like, "Yes, actually taking people’s availability and preferences into consideration does take time.”

We just had a (rare) all-hands meeting at work this week about showing appreciation to our coworkers. It was awkward as hell coming up with nice, useful things to say to people on the spot, but good to have the enforced practice for everyone.

My former coworker and I suggested an office party along these lines, basically like Valentine’s Day for intraoffice compliments. It was shot down almost immediately by male coworkers as hokey and unproductive. Neither of us works there anymore.

So now I work for a company where there is at least some acknowledgement of emotional work and its importance. What I like is that in my current workplace, when in my review I said I was specifically working on modulating my own emotional responses to client behavior and finding ways to express that among our staff such that the staff feels supported and heard (“Yes, that thing the client did made this more difficult, and I understand the situation you're facing”) but also such that I’m providing emotional leadership and not contributing to a bad dynamic between our staff and clients, the male boss who was present in my review got it and acknowledged that this sort of emotional management is work and that it is worthwhile work that the company in fact values and wants to find ways to nurture and improve. That was good to hear.

I've been away for the last three weeks house sitting for some friends. Its been great. I come back yesterday and even though my housemates weren't in, I got immediately angry because my being away for three weeks meant NOTHING had been done. There was no toilet paper left. The living room was full of dried washing that no one could be bothered to put away. The recycling hadn't been touched. My male housemate has still not paid me for three months of electricity bills, because I insist on emailing him or texting him to remind him when its convenient for me, and not when its convenient for him.

This scenario just reminded me of how my husband came home from the hospital a while back and was disappointed that I hadn’t spent the weeks he was in the hospital—while I was going to visit him there daily, working from my laptop at the hospital all day, and staying with him there until 9 p.m.—going home to clean the house while he was away, so that he could come back to a squeaky clean space. I actually did do some cleaning while he was away, but it wasn’t enough.

this is why it's so freaking annoying when dudes suddenly swear loudly! and/or make some loud! grunty! noise! while doing some sort of task, and you startle and ask what's wrong, for the reply of "nothing, it's ok, this jar lid was tight / this piece of software sucks / $dumbwhocares"

That too-well-trained part responds to this demand of emotional labor. Your fight-flight is ready for action and it turns out to be something a) trivial so it's ridiculous to hand out a pat on the head, and b) that emotional labor reaction is treated so dismissively in response by the one who instigated it.


Displays of anger are also pretty fucking scary and often are precursors to abuse, especially coming from men. I had an ex who did this when driving and it always scared the shit out of me and made me completely shut down to hear someone yelling like that; it's just something I'm socially trained to be afraid of. People with a history dealing with abusive, violent outburts probably deal with that even worse.

I went through this with my husband a couple weeks ago when he’d just gotten out of the hospital and I was used to every loud noise or alarm or “oh my God” being a life-threatening problem, so my startle meter was perhaps a bit turned up—and I’ve got a pretty big startle response already from years of physical and emotional abuse as a kid—and instead his “oh my God” exclamations were about things like fantasy football mock drafts. So I said, “Hey, can you try to not exclaim so loudly about stuff that’s not an emergency right now?” And he’s like, “That’s just how I talk, that’s the way I’ve always been, you’re on edge, what’s wrong with you, you should get therapy.”

if I by some miracle make it through those steps intact that new guy will then die too.

My husband is quite alive, but he’s been somewhat sick for several years and very sick for several months. And so I've spent a lot of time looking at the people around me in the hospital while visiting him there, noticing that they looked good and fit and healthy, then thinking about the fact that they were in a hospital and that probably meant that they had health issues of some sort or were getting tested for health issues and anyway they’re all going to die eventually anyway so what’s the point. Yeah, I am going straight to Crone Island with y'all someday.

Ultimately, in my experience, any woman's refusal to choose a restaurant is based on the often-correct suspicion that whatever choice you make will be wrong anyway, so let's just go where he wants to go, it makes things so much easier.

I am a super indecisive person, and I feel like a fiendish thingy just poked right at the heart of the reason why. When you're making decisions where you're prioritizing other people's preferences - often unstated or even unconscious preferences - it's damned hard to choose anything.

Yes.

Conversing with me rather than saying, "I don't care about that" or "Who cares?" when I talk about something.

I had a dream last night that Robert Downey Jr. surprised me with something he thought I would like, based on my interests: Himself, springing out of a pile of leaves by my bed, enthusiastically wearing a unicorn horn and hooves like a brony. The dream was so satisfying, I think, not because I really want this to happen, but because it was nice to feel supported in my interests, however silly they might be—my husband vocally does not support this interest.

Other thoughts: It's actually quantifiably true that men get more benefits from marriage than women do, especially when the man is older and the woman is younger. I also wanted to second The Managed Heart as a good resource for understanding emotional labor in the workplace. I read this during my first job after college, working at a bookstore, and it's something I still mentally refer back to a lot.

Also, these are some related links to thoughts I've had recently that dovetailed with this thread:

the liberating realization that I'm not obligated to sew buttons back on things if I don't want

being told by my S.O. with G.I. issues that I use a lot of toilet paper

dealing with being a caregiver when I'm not particularly caring by nature

being the one who still lives in my hometown and so is expected to deal with my father's affairs without error or complaint, and how invisible this is to most men

being part of an office morale team tasked with remembering birthdays and continually having this work dismissed as unimportant to the team's goals or to life in general

How the work women do in these respects and actually caring about family members' well-being makes travel difficult too

Why "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours" is bullshit

I feel like what you are getting with this comment is an outpouring of my resentments and frustrations, and by reading it, you are probably performing emotional labor as well, but that said, reading this thread has been very cathartic and has helped me recognize some of the things in my life and my relationships where there's an issue or inequality in this regard. Thank you all for voicing the things you have here, and giving me a space to do the same.
posted by limeonaire at 1:04 AM on July 19, 2015 [51 favorites]


I have been avidly reading this thread for days, and laughing and crying and wondering which story of mine to share. And yet it was only 20 minutes ago that I realised I don't call my mum often enough, leaving it other to initiate conversation when I know that she is more extroverted than I am and can't rely on my dad for anything. Crones gotta stick together. I bet she'd love a margarita and a taco.
posted by harriet vane at 3:46 AM on July 19, 2015 [16 favorites]


I have been thinking about how this part of the idea of charging for this as emotional labour is that it would make it visible and quantifiable and it would tip a lot of under compensated work up to the surface. But what's the point if there's no buyer? You still have to do the work and sell it to a market that consistently devalues and pushes down the price.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:31 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


The bit of emotional labour mismanagement that nearly killed my marriage and may well still because 18 months later I still can't really understand or deal:

About 14 years ago I was raped. I've talked about it a few times here. It happened in the week between Christmas and New Years'. I was very drunk, didn't deal well; ignored it for years, finally got some therapy, ignored it more. The rapist was a friend of my husbands, a long time ago.

So the Christmas before last, he and his brother and his partner bully me into seeing Anchorman 2. First bit of emotional labour - going to see a movie I don't want to see, know will probably upset and or hurt me, but keep the peace hey. So we go, and we're sitting down and my husband says as he turns his phone off "oh, X-the-rapist contacted me on facebook."

Cue everything falling apart.

Total disassociation (I did laugh at the scene with Steve Carrell and the pants). Everyone realised something was wrong but I haven't even disclosed I'm a survivor to these people. So I just...shut down. When we left the cinema I got dropped off at home and rang my doctor, made an appointment, then went to bed. This was two days before Christmas, which is something I struggle with anyway, is a time of year when I'm on edge anyway. But my husband couldn't manage to emotionally deal with the message on his own, couldn't even imagine a way of doing that, work out how to tell me in a supportive way. That's not his job. His job is to throw these things at me and walk away, maybe critique my solution and say I take things too seriously, but never to deal with it on his own.

I don't think I could talk properly for a week or more. I got through Christmas on I don't even know what. I just couldn't think why he would do that. He said that he knew it was a mistake the moment the words came out of his mouth. I know he also sees me as capable and tremendously strong so able to withstand all of these things, but...god, it nearly killed me. It took three months for me to even consider having sex again.

(In the meantime his brother told me he thought "you should be over it by now, it shouldn't affect you like this")

(I needed to know that, obviously, because he had a thought and I should be aware of his very important thoughts on a thing he has no clue about and I'm a goddamn expert on, and I need to be fucking grateful that he shared and cares enough to have the thought and tell me about it)

And I still suffer the fallout you know? I know my rapist hasn't left the country, or even the city (the city I moved back to for my husband's sake, not my own, I hate it here). I have to live with the knowledge that even though my husband never turned my rape into his own rage-driven trauma, he still couldn't even care enough to think. We still go over and around this as a meta-issue, and he's getting better, but I still sometimes wonder if he actually cares for me or if it's just love+habit and I never truly cross his mind. He's really getting better at it but everytime I have to point it out, every time I have to say something about 'did you think about me?' or 'no I don't want to do that' or 'I asked for help, why didn't you help?' I feel that flinching agony again and the part of myself that just won't heal.

But hey, according to some other random bloke, I just need to get over it right? I'm letting grudges and point scoring kill my marriage. It's never the fucking asshole acting like an asshole over and over again, it's because my capacity for forgiveness doesn't extend to killing myself completely.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:58 AM on July 19, 2015 [99 favorites]


Like others this thread has led to me realizing quite a bit. This morning I realized that one of the main reasons I think my sisters husbands are so great is that they do emotional labor.

The even cooler thing is that they both didn't come that way. One did and the other has developed it and the skills over the course of their marriage. They've been through some pretty tough times. In relation to the thread he is an example of a guy who although the sensitivity and empathy is there he was never taught any of these sorts of skills growing up. Comes from a super dysfunctional family and his Dad modeled the macho, women here for us man type.

He's really is a great guy and I respect him a lot for the effort he's made over the years dealing with his family crap and doing the self work he's done. They've just adopted a 7 month old and it's damn poignant to see him and hear about how he is with the kid. My sister said she knew he be good but it's blown her a way. He comes home from work and takes over. Sends her off to rest while he looks after baby care all the way until the kid is bathed and in bed. No fuss, no muss, just does it.

While this sort of thing shouldn't be a big deal, should be just normal, in his case I find it a big deal because he's an example of how it's possible to learn new skills and in his case unlearn what was rolemodeled growing up. And even more get over having grown up with and abusive, alcoholic Dad who would have been horrified if he was alive to see how his son was acting now. His Dad would have let him know with no mincing of words that this was just another way that he was showing what a fucking pussy he is and how he would never amount to anything, especially MAN. (Guy was seriously brutal)

Not relating this because I think he needs cookies or anything but because with the desire to change it, good shit can happen. That all sorts of skills in this area can be learned. Yes he had our families and my sisters who already had the skills but the bulk of it was on him.

Also remember a conversation that he had with my other sister of how much just living around that sister and her husband helped him to see what a man in good relationship can be like. Like as an example, when I was going through a super shitty time with my own marriage I got a call from sister saying that they were paying for a plane ticket so I could come and visit. She was right it was exactly what I needed. I thanked her profusely and she said 'Don't thank me, thank BIL. It was his idea. He just came home and said he thought it would be a good thing so I could take a breather and spend some quality time with my sisters because emotionally I needed it. Just let him known the dates and he would arrange it all.' Good people.

I love both my BILs so much more now after this thread. And the best thing is that they're modeling to two young males who I expect will have these sorts of skills as well. My one nephew for sure, he's 12 and is already super awesome at emotional labor skills and my new nephew who will pick up on what his Dad is like now and not even know what it took to get to his normal.

So my advice to any guys reading who want to change and get better with all this, first it's super possible. It can be learned you just have to do it even though it can be hard and uncomfortable and two, find yourself some good male role models. Guys that already seem to have the skills and are good at it. Watch and see how they are and act even if you can't talk about it straight off.
posted by Jalliah at 5:09 AM on July 19, 2015 [45 favorites]


Oh my god, geek anachronism, that's fucking awful. He sounds like an inconsiderate jackass. Hugs if you want 'em. I hope it gets better.
posted by NoraReed at 5:21 AM on July 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


So I go away for a few years and come back to this amazing thread. Wow. So many interesting viewpoints. So much pain. Thank you to everyone who opened up and hugs to everyone who vented.

And now my horror story: How the Utter Lack of Emotional Labor Completely Broke My Relationship With My Dad.

28 years ago I was in the hospital going through a terrible labor followed by a C-section followed by the death of my first child. In the 6 days I was in the hospital my father did not come by, call, send flowers or acknowledge in any way that his first grandchild was being born. A few days after I got home, my husband and I arranged for a small memorial service for close friends and family. When I called to invite him, my father said "I have to talk to K (his wife.)" He called back the next day to say "We don't believe in that sort of thing."

Over the years I have tried to define "that sort of thing." Consoling grieving parents? Gathering with like-minded people to eat cake and drink wine? "Talking about death?" Making a ceremony out of the passage from earth of a much-anticipated human being who was only alive for 24 hours?

I grieved and moved on, but I could never bring myself to pick up the phone and arrange to meet my dad-- something that had always been my responsibility. His birthday came and went and I didn't bother to send a card, much less a present. Years went by.

Then 8 years later I was pregnant again. One day out of the blue my step mother called. She wanted me to come to LA to meet them at a restaurant for lunch, a 1 hour drive. I looked down at my 8 month pregnant belly and decided no, I didn't want to sit in the hot car for a 2 hour round trip to make work for myself. I knew the lunch would be very hard emotional labor indeed. "Your father will be so disappointed." she said in a very chastising tone.

I could not help feeling that if my father was so dreadfully disappointed not to see his only daughter again he could make a bit of an effort himself. Needless to say he never bothered.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:39 AM on July 19, 2015 [136 favorites]


Welcome back, SLoG!
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on July 19, 2015 [23 favorites]


I can't remember the name or the author but I once read a book that had the line "Every woman's story is a tragedy; the worst part is that many men would find them funny." This thread has so many tragedies.

Hugs if y'all want them.
posted by winna at 7:12 AM on July 19, 2015 [59 favorites]


I thought of this thread tonight as my ex blew up at my refusal to comfort him over his inability to pay child support. He left the house just now after threatening to kill himself in front of my kids, and I thought okay, now you reach out and I texted a female friend who replied immediately with comfort and advice.

Part of me feels so sad that he is that angry and self absorbed, but mostly I'm relieved that I didn't have to spend the entire night making him feel better about not making any financial plans or a budget. I don't have to do that work anymore!
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:35 AM on July 19, 2015 [31 favorites]


this is why it's so freaking annoying when dudes suddenly swear loudly! and/or make some loud! grunty! noise! while doing some sort of task, and you startle and ask what's wrong, for the reply of "nothing, it's ok, this jar lid was tight / this piece of software sucks / $dumbwhocares"

I don't know if it's better or worse, but I've only faced the inverse of this problem. It's usually when I'm cooking and I suddenly start shouting and swearing because I nearly chopped my finger off, or burned myself on the cast iron, or whathaveyou. And my husband, sitting mere meters away, won't even look up from his computer to see what happened. I could never quite put my finger on why that seemed SO incredibly rude until now. He's actually gotten a lot better since I started calling him out with a bitterly sarcastic, "OH DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME, YOU JUST RELAX, EVERYTHING IS FINE IN HERE". But god damn, I shouldn't have to worry that if I collapse in the shower, or choke on a cracker, or become otherwise incapacitated outside of his direct line of sight, the cats are the only ones who will notice and come to my aid.
posted by gueneverey at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2015 [25 favorites]


". . . but I still sometimes wonder if he actually cares for me or if it's just love+habit and I never truly cross his mind."

Damn, geek anachronism. I'm at a loss for words and I am so sorry.

I also wonder how many other women have this sense with just every day relationship burdens.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:18 AM on July 19, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'm letting grudges and point scoring kill my marriage.

The worst part with this kind of thing is that you (generic) know that if you let the balance of love get half as far in the red the other way, a tenth as far, you'd be the worst wife in the world. Hugs to you, geek anachronism, if you want them. You deserve so much better.

I've been thinking of so many relationships, including at least one friendship with a woman, that have fallen apart because I just couldn't do the emotional heavy lifting in them, or because the emotional labor of forgiving something awful and insensitive (like, say, "you feel that way because you're sick [with a chronic illness] and I'll talk to you when you're feeling better and more reasonable") was too much fucking effort. People hear about the straw that broke the camel's back in these relationships and they miss the fact that so much unacknowledged emotional labor on my side went unreciprocated, unappreciated, unnoticed for years before I said "fuck you" and quit--but I'm always the bad guy in these stories because I said enough was enough.
posted by immlass at 9:00 AM on July 19, 2015 [28 favorites]


This issue of thank-you cards, by the way, makes me think someone should go through Emily Post's Etiquette and annotate it with regard to all the things it prescribes that involve an outsize amount of emotional labor or domestic labor just to maintain supposed politesse. These things are relative, but it seems like there could even be a color-coding or star system for this: A red star or five stars for bending over backwards to make time for a task that is entirely emotional labor and is largely labor that falls to women, an orange star or four stars for labor that's a bit less intensive but still substantial, and so on. I have this suspicion that you'd find a lot of it falls disproportionately on women and supports a patriarchal division of labor, but maybe that has changed in more recent editions and I would be surprised.
posted by limeonaire at 9:05 AM on July 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm a single mother by choice. When speaking to married mother friends, they're generous with sympathy and support for how hard it must be for me. Parenting alone can be lonely and I rarely get the chance to ask for relief and never get to opt out of basic parenting duties. But the truth is, it's what I signed up for and I also don't have anything to compare it to.

What surprises me, though, is how often I hear straight-up jealousy from these same friends! How I don't have to worry about who's picking up which day, how I don't have to negotiate my parenting decisions with someone else, how I don't have to ask for / cajole / beg for / demand help with parenting duties.

Even though there are two parents in their households, my friends also rarely get to ask for relief or opt out. I may be doing it all, and it's certainly exhausting, but I'm not carrying around a load of anger and resentment on top of it.

The concept of emotional labor has really helped me understand my friends' jealousy in a new way and I will try to be more generous with sympathy and support for how hard it must be for them.

And this thread has driven home another point. While I sometimes fantasize about having a partner and a co-parent, the reality is if I'm going to bring someone into my life, he's going to have to demonstrate real value to make it worth my while.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences here and for the hard work you do in your lives every day.
posted by kittydelsol at 9:17 AM on July 19, 2015 [55 favorites]


Once upon a time, my mother literally offered me money to do the emotional labor of being her therapist. That this was a thing she considered appropriate and not at all boundary crossing tells you how little she understands emotional labor. Also, it turns out that merely adding money to the mix didn't make me want to do even more of the lopsided caring in that relationship.

I want to be paid for my emotional labor in emotional labor. I want a barter system where when I take the time to care and know about people they take the time to care and know about me. Keep your money, just remember anything about me ever.

As I was typing this comment my husband called me into the bathroom saying "stoneweaver, what's wrong with my face?" And I, naturally very worried that something was amiss, went in to tell him about the spot of psoriasis in his mustache that he's had for the last month and he is only just now noticing. A disease he told me about years ago. Which he is still unable (scoff) to identify on his own face.

And the thing is, he's still so much better at emotional labor than most men and it's still painfully unbalanced. And I feel like if I don't praise him for every little bit of it that he does, he'll do the huffy quitting thing that men do when their special efforts are not properly praised. Nevermind that their special efforts aren't even what would be baseline acceptable for women. Sisyphus indeed.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:23 AM on July 19, 2015 [50 favorites]


One of the issues with emotional labor is its invisibility. Dads, people without children, men generally... Just have no idea how time consuming it is to do this stuff. The neighborhood example is a great one.
Conversations like this make it more visible. But how can we all express the value of this labor without seeming whiny? How can I raise my (male) child to be better than the previous generation?
posted by k8t at 9:30 AM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'd rather live in the world where we encourage men to be more feminine, better listeners and better supporters than live in the world where everyone has one more guilt burden to be giving but not *too* giving. The author ignores that another reason why this role falls disproportionately on women is because men in our society no longer have strong connections amongst ourselves and maybe have never had a language to support each other.

I can never get behind the idea that kindness (even to irrational actors like a romantically spurned person) is a limited resource. Time is the limited resource, and by all means if your friends are wasting your time, walk away, verbalize your conflict or send them a bill. Mental energy is a different kind of resource but that's something only an individual can affect for themselves.
posted by Skwirl at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was just thinking about this thread. I was in a coffee shop working on my laptop, and this guy asked me if I had an iPhone charger. I said no, but guess I looked hesitant because he was like, "yes or no?" I was like, "well, I have one but I need it." He was like, "ok, fine, forget it." I briefly thought of giving it to him but then just sort of shrugged it off.

Like in the space of thirty seconds we suddenly had a situation where we had this transactional relationship already set up, where I owed him something and he was mad I wouldn't give it. Even not in a romantic context, I feel like men are constantly asking things of me, directions, phone chargers, smiles, sex, etc, and then are angry if I don't give it up. It's frustrating that it felt like a small victory to me to just say "I have a phone charger, but I need it. For myself."
posted by sweetkid at 9:56 AM on July 19, 2015 [91 favorites]


Crones! I think we have our shibboleth, from this comment:

"A good way to find out about a man's true character is how he reacts when you say "no" to him."

Ok, maybe not a shibboleth, but a good start anyways.
posted by RogueTech at 9:59 AM on July 19, 2015 [21 favorites]


Sweetkid, you say he was mad... Was he speaking in an angry tone? Because his words do not sound angry to me.
If someone said that it was fine, I'd be tempted to take them at their word, and happily 'forget it'.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:02 AM on July 19, 2015


In any case, well done for saying no. You didn't owe him dick.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes. Yes he had an angry tone. Also, do you think it was appropriate for him to say "yes or no" after I initially declined? Because I do not.
posted by sweetkid at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2015 [79 favorites]


Demanding 'yes or no' is a jerk move even if he didn't have a mad tone.
posted by winna at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2015 [33 favorites]


Whoops jinx sweetkid!
posted by winna at 10:05 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Too-Ticky: The combination of "yes or no?" and combining three different ways of saying "alas" (individually whatevs, together overkill) gives off the strong vibe of an Impatient Dude. (Not to mention the part where sweetkid was, yknow, present at the time.)
posted by XtinaS at 10:05 AM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, that does sound pretty rude, I agree. I mean, you HAD already given him a no.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:05 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I’m sure that this has been noticed, but I’ve been going to their houses for eight years now, and no one has ever said anything to me about it. I hang out with the kids and I talk to the guys and whichever women are sitting on the couch and I hang out and talk to those who are cooking at times but I do not do this work, and usually when I ask if I can help people don’t give me many tasks to do, and this is and should be fine! And yet I'm still always waiting for the other shoe to drop with regard to this, worried that someday, someone will notice and condemn me for not participating in this roundtable of women's work in the kitchen.

My extended family is in the Midwest, and I've never seen them more than once or twice a year. Those times that I do see them, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the dynamics between them. Because they all live so near each other and are in each others' lives, there are ongoing dislikes and personality conflicts and such, but I'm never privy to exactly what's behind them. (And being stereotypical Midwesterners, they don't talk about them in anything other than passive-aggressive terms.)

One of my cousins is married to a woman I've always really liked. She's a lot more straightforward than anyone else in the family. Says what she means, and doesn't shy away from stating an unpopular opinion. It's refreshing! From the first time I met her, though, it became clear that a lot of my (women) relatives -- my dear, wonderful, loving grandmother included -- did not like her. I always kind of assumed that it was because she had the gall to speak her mind, but I could never reconcile that with the depth of the grudge some of them held against her.

I was up there visiting one time, and the cousin and his wife had been over for dinner, and things got so uncomfortable after dessert that, after they left, I finally asked what the hell people had against her. There had to be some deep dark secret that, living so far away, I knew nothing about. I was wondering whether she'd cheated on him, or beat their kids, or was a closet alcoholic -- I mean, it had to be something really dark.

The answer: She never helped clean up after dinner.

This was an awesome woman who was raising their three awesome great-granddaughters/granddaughters/nieces/cousins while being awesome herself, and they hated her because she'd never helped clean the table -- which, in my family, is a prescribed task for the women, and the women only.

It baffles me.

But hey, according to some other random bloke, I just need to get over it right? I'm letting grudges and point scoring kill my marriage. It's never the fucking asshole acting like an asshole over and over again, it's because my capacity for forgiveness doesn't extend to killing myself completely.

geek anachronism, this sucks so much. I faced a similar issue with my partner last year, in that an assault I experienced as a teenager came up in a sort of unexpected way. Unexpected to me, anyway. My partner dropped it as a bomb during a session with a couple's therapist, and she used it as her own personal weapon in an argument, designating the assault as The Thing that must make me Act The Way I Act.

In the moment was furious with her for doing that and I froze solid. Later that day, though, it completely descended on me like a flood. It was never something I'd dealt with -- never something I even told people about, other than that I'd had a "bad experience." It being sprung on me, like that, in front of a third party, was the motherfucking trigger to end motherfucking triggers.

I told her how much it had upset me, and told her she needed not to do that again. But when it finally sank in with her how much I *was* upset by it (hello, jumping at my own reflection in the mirror!), I ended up having to comfort her. Which, fuck no. My sexual assault is not something I'm going to make *you* feel okay about.

Allie Brosh's "Depression, Part 2" comic has this bit I've always loved, because it is so spot on. She's talking about how she'd become so depressed that she didn't want to be alive anymore. She didn't want to kill herself necessarily -- she just didn't want to be alive. And in finally telling that to someone, she had to make them feel better about it. ("I'm really sorry. Can I get you some juice or something?")

This is such an inherited thing. Our emotions (my depression!) and our experiences (having been sexual assaulted!) are things that make other people frown and furrow their brows. They make people uncomfortable. So we apologize. We fucking apologize! I've been apologizing for my depression for a couple of years now, rather than leaving this relationship that is partially causing my depression!

Jesus. Is there a tip jar in this thread anywhere? Because it feels like you should all be getting a therapist's pay. Or at least contributions toward the bar tab.

Secret Life of Gravy, I'm glad you're back!
posted by mudpuppie at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2015 [62 favorites]


The author ignores that another reason why this role falls disproportionately on women is because men in our society no longer have strong connections amongst ourselves and maybe have never had a language to support each other.

Gosh when was this utopia when men cared about emotional labor? Because I certainly can't think of an era when that was the case.
posted by winna at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


Part of my point is that it's not always men. Women in relationships can do this shit to each other too.

Which, on preview, is not a response to you, winna. Just a general comment.

posted by mudpuppie at 10:12 AM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh absolutely! I am so sorry, mudpuppie. Blindsiding you with your trauma to a third party to win an argument is absoute garbage.
posted by winna at 10:13 AM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sweetkid, you say he was mad... Was he speaking in an angry tone? Because his words do not sound angry to me.

You know, you could have just believed sweetkid when she said "he was mad" instead of requiring her to justify it. This is an extremely, extremely common form of emotional labor demanded of women and it SUCKS. Why do you get to be the self-appointed arbiter of whether he was actually angry?

Yes, that does sound pretty rude, I agree. I mean, you HAD already given him a no.

Oh, good, you do agree that her perceptions were correct. What a relief.
posted by Lexica at 10:14 AM on July 19, 2015 [92 favorites]


The author ignores that another reason why this role falls disproportionately on women is because men in our society no longer have strong connections amongst ourselves and maybe have never had a language to support each other.

Also, even if this were true, what does it have to do with the price of tea in China. It makes absolutely no sense in the context of this discussion, which is largely about how women are expected to do the emotional work in relationships, not about how dudes have trouble connecting to other dudes.
posted by winna at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


And now I want to link to this thread in every relationship question on the Green.
posted by jeoc at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2015 [22 favorites]


You know, you could have just believed sweetkid when she said "he was mad" instead of requiring her to justify it.
It was a matter of not understanding, and yes, I could have opted to believe without understanding. Sweetkid gave me a simple 'yes', which was a kind thing to do, and that was all I needed to know to both believe AND understand.
I'm not a native speaker of English and so I often miss nuances and emotions if I just have the words that were said, and no information about the tone.

Why do you get to be the self-appointed arbiter of whether he was actually angry?
I don't, and it's unkind to imply that I want to. I just wanted to understand the story.

Oh, good, you do agree that her perceptions were correct. What a relief.
Of course. Why wouldn't I? I wasn't there and Sweetkid sounds smart enough to know what was going on. I'm glad you're relieved.

And I'm letting this go now.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


... and they hated her because she'd never helped clean the table -- which, in my family, is a prescribed task for the women, and the women only.
...
It baffles me.


I suspect that if you could read their minds or get them to state the truth, the thought they are not vocalizing is "she thinks she's better than us." (Which is not at all what she thinks. She thinks the labor should be reapportioned in a non sexist way.)

(Man I just don't know if my reflex to guess what other people are thinking counts as emotional labor or if it's me just being unable to stop peering into other people's business and having opinions.)
posted by puddledork at 10:37 AM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I suspect that if you could read their minds or get them to state the truth, the thought they are not vocalizing is "she thinks she's better than us."

Possibly! I think it's probably more accurately "she thinks she doesn't have to follow the rules" in a culture (and subculture) where rule-following is good and rule-ignoring is bad, regardless of what the rules are or who made them.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:40 AM on July 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


Conversations like this make it more visible. But how can we all express the value of this labor without seeming whiny?

I can only speak for myself, but I didn't have a lot of good models for some of this growing up, and as a (still recently) minted adult, I'm struggling to find the best tack for myself. I think it would have been helpful to hear more of it spelled out while growing up: that relationships of all kinds require reciprocity and work, that your friends and family should be supported when they need it, that thank you cards and notes and phone calls are tangible reminders of friendship and support and that they can really matter. I wish I was better at thank you cards and phone calls because a lot of people have given me a lot of support, and the (usually) female relatives and friends who made it happen deserve to know that it mattered. I wish I had had been given the vocabulary of this thread growing up, that I could have built better relationships and sidestepped unworthy ones. And maybe, sometimes, I will express the value of this labor by not stepping up to volunteer at events-- events where the only volunteers are women, events run by and managed by only women, events that do not get credit and which are expected but not rewarded. I don't know how to not volunteer without causing more work for others, but maybe this thread will help me better articulate the value of this work when it comes up throughout the year, and maybe that articulation of the value will finally help it sink in so that these events are sustainable and supported by everyone.

Anyway, I don't have kids, but I will save this thread, and I will remember.

And the next time I'm in the same time zone as my best friends, they're all getting flowers. 'It is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too.'
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ooo, I've got a good one for you re: volunteering, jetlagaddict. You should read Susan Shapiro's essay "Quitting Guilt" in The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt. You do not have to be immersed in Jewish culture to appreciate it—I made copies of it for the women in my old office who were forever volunteering time they didn't have and then resenting it. I think it was also, looking back, part of an effort on my part to recognize and try to curb the emotional labor we were all being expected to perform for our male and female colleagues alike. This was another book I read and then bought during my time working at the college bookstore—come to think of it, that bookstore was pretty well-stocked with feminist lit—and I highly recommend it.
posted by limeonaire at 11:03 AM on July 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's frustrating that it felt like a small victory to me to just say "I have a phone charger, but I need it. For myself."

This is exactly how I felt today when a friend of mine who I had made plans with disappeared on me without telling me he couldn't make it. I am irritated when people do that, but, usually, I feel that making them feel comfortable is way more important than my petty irritation over friends being late or leaving me at a loose end after we had decided to do something together and I'd made the time and factored it into my plans. But today when he said, "Yeah, BTW, sorry I didn't reply to that message, I was busy with X", I squashed down my automatic reply ("oh, that's ok, I understand") and told him instead that in any case I did not appreciate it and I wanted to be notified in the future. I got a surprised silence at the other end and immediately felt ashamed... but didn't apologize. It was my small victory.
posted by Guelder at 11:05 AM on July 19, 2015 [46 favorites]


I don't know how to not volunteer without causing more work for others....

I don't remember where I read this, but the thought was basically: just let it happen or not happen without you. You'll often find that if you don't step up, it either slowly withers away or stops outright, and for the most part the world is just fine without it.

Now of course there are things which are worthy and serve society as a larger whole, but often those things aren't what we're discussing here. What will happen if you don't hold the bake sale? What if you hold an un-bake-sale? The scholarship development lead of a women's group I work with lost her shit at the beginning of the year and declared that this year would be the un-bake-sale year. Instead of staying up all night and baking stuff only to give it away 8 hours later because most people wanted to just donate money and didn't necessarily want the food, she suggested just putting up a table, with donation jars and a few people manning it with Square readers. They made almost twice as much money. But dear gods, back in January you would have thought she'd suggested slaughtering puppies for cash. "But people expect piiiiieeeesss!" Expect, yes, but want, no, and yay un-bake-sale!


Another good example was a local GLBTA* group of which I was a part .... a few years ago, I was the lead and I was the only one running anything, and people rarely showed up. There was another lead, but he was "just an idea guy" (eye-roll). So I quit. And there hasn't been another event since, but I don't think anyone misses it, because no one else is doing them so ... obviously they aren't missed?

Sometimes when you quit you're not creating extra work for others, you're just removing it from yourself.
posted by RogueTech at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2015 [51 favorites]


There are two small things I'd like to add here.
Where I work everyone is responsible for bringing in their own birthday treats if they want them. This solves a number of issues like: hurt feelings if people forget, what to do about competent but difficult people that are mostly disliked, and if you don't feel like celebrating at work you don't have to. It's your birthday and you get to own it in a way that isn't otherwise possible. I fully plan on advocating for a similar set up at any future jobs.

I've realized in reading this thread that I've had my own vocabulary and way of thinking about this for some time. Simply put, good will is a commodity and a perishable one at that. Every time you ask for a favor or someone's time, you are spending it. Doing favors or giving someone your time accrues it. This helped me understand why I don't always want a particular persons help, I don't want to owe them good will. It's perishable because what have you done for me lately is a legitimate question. Just because you did that one thing that one time however many years ago doesn't mean you are still entitled to whatever good will was accrued. Ill will is a separate but related thing that is much more shelf stable, earned from being some flavor of jerk, though you also spend good will to get it.
posted by Meeks Ormand at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


I am just now reading this amazing thread. I think my wife, my daughter and I will have a very interesting discussion about emotional labor at dinner tonight. My wife and I have been very happily married for almost 17 years now, and I think one of the reasons for that - which neither of us really understood well enough to put into words - is that I think we have a pretty decent division of emotional labor. I am eager to see if she agrees with my interpretation.

I have to say though, I was thinking about this thread and this issue so deeply while I was just in the shower, that I neglected to shampoo my hair. Who's doing that emotional labor for me, huh?

Thanks, MetaFilter, for changing my outlook on the world with a single thread yet again.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm going to make a special point of telling my brother that I admire how good he is at emotional labor the next time I talk to him. He's considerably better at it than I am, and miles better than any other man I've met who isn't in a caring profession. I don't really know how or why that happened, but I feel like I should let him know I appreciate what a good job he does with it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think for anyone trying to figure out how to be the crone they wish to see in the world (thanks for that phrase), the first step is to start talking out loud about emotional labor.

Tell your brother (and other people in the family about your brother), bring it up in your work reviews, ask your friends about their experience, call out abuse/misuse of it in those volunteer situations and the office "fun committee" and at home. Point it out to your kids when they do it, when they are exposed to it, teach them how to have boundaries and not exploit others'. Back your friends up when they draw a line.

You can't change anybody, is my refrain over in AskMe, but you can influence. And you can make it more difficult to blatantly disregard.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2015 [38 favorites]


I've been trying to keep in mind this thread the last few days.

Friday night I was hanging out w a group that is focused on a shared activity. I've been hanging out with them for a little over a month now.

There was this guy who had friended me on fb when i first started going, along with several other people. I couldn't remember actually meeting him in person so last week I re-intro myself. We have a nice chat about a d&d group I started and general chit chat.

This week on Friday after the group event many of us are talking about going out for a few beers. I'm talking to this guy and it's going really well. He gives me a ride there, we discuss getting lunch sometime since we discover we work near each other, I have a great time talking to him all night... The eye contact, the smiles. He offers me a ride home and I decline then he stays longer and i accept the ride. As we leave together, someone says "awwww, so cute!". I'm pretty excited, it was unexpected, and maybe that advice to join a group and meet someone is right!

I go to this group thing the next night as well, Saturday, (once a month it's both Fri and sat) AND HE SHOWS UP WITH A GIRLFRIEND. During a break they walk by me and I pretend to be digging in my bag for something.

Then I felt bad for ignoring him so blatantly . Where I'm not the one that spent all night fitting even tho I have an SO.

So then I felt Sooo bad, bc maybe I misunderstood and he was just being nice, that as I was leaving, I stopped and told the gf I liked her purse and we had a little chat about bags. He seemed confused and said not one word. I told her thank you for sharing about her bag and see you around to both of them. I didn't intro myself to her or call him by his name, just super casual. I know that almost every woman in this thread knows what I did and why probably better than I do.

I know to him it was awkward, she prob just thinks I'm eccentric (she was very nice) , and I am left wondering how many people in the group, who I've only hung out with a handful of times, will think less of me for having flirted all night with a taken man but won't think less of him.

And i see how even my still being pissed and confused about the whole thing is emotional labor. It is work to CARE.

And the thing is, before I even knew about the girl, I was thinking all day Saturday that dating in the group was a bad idea for sanity. So I'm not even caring about rejection.

I'm just so angry at feeling like I was toyed with and then having all this WORK to do to make MYSELF feel better about HIS behavior.

I've spent the last 24 hours asking myself if I was mistaking friendly for flirting and you know what, I wasn't. I know what flirting is dammit. I'm friends with other guys there. And if one of them gave me a ride home I highly doubt anyone would be saying "awwww so cute" as we leave. Because we wouldn't have been flirting all night!

This quiet invisible WORK isn't me being neurotic.... It's me trying to ensure that I remain considered respectable as a woman and that I'm not perceived as "going after" involved men.

Sometimes feels like nothing has changed since Age of Innocence and House of mirth.
posted by sio42 at 1:02 PM on July 19, 2015 [33 favorites]


Whoa, mudpuppie's comment about her family above clarified some things about mine for me.

My mom got along okay with my favorite aunt, who died a few years ago, on the surface level. More than once, however, I heard her refer to said aunt as "a bit humorless," and speculate that I got on with her so well because I have "humorless" tendencies myself.

I'm pretty sure now, having read this thread, that what my mom meant was " aunt does not perform emotional labor in the way I wish she would." My aunt did not sugar coat her suggestions and ideas to people; not in a cruel way, just a blunt one that did not involve her focusing her own emotional labor on comforting you. When I had trouble with my first job, aunt's reaction was along the lines of "okay, your boss sounds like a jerk, but she wants you to come up with a list of accommodations for your non-existent disability, let's come up with some that will help you while not totally bowing to your boss' bullshit." All business, just enough comfort to get me stable enough to get the business done. When I talked about my critiques of the musical Rent (topic for a whole 'nother thread), she asked me pointed questions to substantiate and engaged with me like an adult and, more importantly, didn't make me try and reassure her when she expressed different beliefs from me.

Meanwhile, mom's been on me for years about every thank you card, every host gift, every please and thank you, every time I tried to engage politically with her in a way that she disagrees with. It's the combination of her having rigid ideas about politeness, and me having vaguely spectrum-y tendencies, which makes her think that I take things too literally and won't remember to do emotional work unless she reminds me. (Woohoo autism stereotypes!) I think now that, in my aunt, my mom saw a successful, well-respected woman who didn't do the little placating things she was always on my ass about, and that felt threatening.

I love my mom, don't get me wrong, but my aunt is the model of feminism I aspire to.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:07 PM on July 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


It is work to CARE.

sio42, you just made me realize, not to get all "grand unified theory of emotion" about this, but this is where this thing I came up with maybe 10 years ago that I dubbed "stalker theory" might fit in, I think. I'm realizing that one of the things I've mulled over a lot regarding interpersonal relationships has had to do with emotional labor and caring or lack thereof, and who's allowed or expected to care about certain things. I always hated the word "caring" when I was a kid, and I think it's because I felt acutely that there was an expectation that as a girl I would be a "caring" person, but I didn't really receive modeling of what that meant (perhaps similar to how my kind of spacey artist mother never really taught me about hairstyles or how to dress up, and perhaps related to the fact that I've always been clearly genderqueer and mentally not super feminine). So when other girls were cooing over their mothers and writing them the expected cards for the Mother's Day writing contest, for instance, I just felt frustrated that I was expected to perform this vision of what it meant to care about my mother and celebrate her, one that all the other girls seemed to have a better vocabulary for.

But yeah, regarding stalker theory, I have a bit more nuanced view of this now, but basically, there's so much policing that occurs around what is an acceptable level of caring about other people and when caring is expected and when it's excessive. You care—about your feelings, this guy's feelings, and his girlfriend's feelings, as well as the feelings of any observers—and so you're turning this around in your head. It's not a bad thing to care, and as noted above, there are lots of cases where women are expected to innately care about others and their perceptions. But if you were to mention this to anyone in that circle, you would probably immediately be confronted by confusion and/or labeling, just by dint of being in a situation where someone else's lack of caring left your head spinning and you dared to talk about it. It's the kind of thing you can't talk about too much, lest people start to think you're inappropriately dwelling on something, when in reality, it sounds like you were totally being led on by this guy, as evidenced by his confused reaction when you spoke to his girlfriend.

This is the kind of thing that's crazymaking about being a woman in our society, and it's related to what all of us in this thread are saying when we mention we've often carried out entire arguments with people, frequently with men whose behavior we're second-guessing, in our heads. We have these conversations because it's deemed totally inappropriate and pathological to have these discussions pinning others down with regard to the emotional labor their actions have necessitated and/or letting them know we care about whatever might have happened once upon a time in the past.

It is messed up. And we have to find ways to talk about it. This thread is also great for that reason.
posted by limeonaire at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2015 [19 favorites]


Also, with my parents, caring on my mother's part just begot more abuse and more demands to modulate her voice and emotions and interests to suit my father, so that was perhaps another reason I grew up with out-of-the-box ideas about what exactly caring meant—and maybe, in some sense, that's a boon, because it's meant that I've thought more about this sort of thing than women to whom caring came more easily. Anyway, if anyone wants to know why I became a psych major and a journalist and then a project manager, rather than continuing on the development side of computer science (I took CS101 and Calc II with the idea that I might go in that direction in college), this might give you some background to understand that, too. It's the result of a fascination with people and process that started with some of these issues.

P.S. Why the hell was it a contest to show how much you loved your mother? I think that's another aspect of that whole thing that never made sense to me. It was like, not only do I have to perform the act of caring, I have to do it for an audience that will judge me on how well I evidence that I care for my mother. How fucked up is that?
posted by limeonaire at 1:44 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


... and they hated her because she'd never helped clean the table -- which, in my family, is a prescribed task for the women, and the women only.

I suspect that if you could read their minds or get them to state the truth, the thought they are not vocalizing is "she thinks she's better than us."


I think it's more like, "She thinks she's better than this work. Well, shit, I'm better than this work, too. Why can't I not do it, too? Because of him. He thinks he's better than me. I have to do this so he doesn't have to."

Somebody has to clean the damn table. As has been amply evidenced here, men will not clean the damn table. So if one woman refuses to clean the damn table, the other women have to spend more of their time cleaning the damn table than they otherwise would. That's not the main problem, though. That's not the main reason why they hate her. The problem and the reason they hate her is that the one woman's not playing the game makes the game obvious and makes everyone playing it have to look at it, and the game is scarily cruel and demeaning so that it hurts to see it. Cleaning the table is bitchwork. If you do it, you're a menial. By refusing to do it, your husband makes it clear he's not a worthless person. He's perfectly comfortable with you doing it, though. That shows you what he thinks of you.

This thread is so full of pain it hurts to read, and the worst of it is not the terrible stories of lost grandchildren unmourned, grandmothers abandoned at the ends of their lives, wives, lovers and friends left alone and unaided to recover from terrible trauma. The worst was that one liner about being afraid to ask the beloved person to read the thread. How many cringed like me? Because like me you'd had the same thought? You suspect your S.O. will not read the damn thread. And now that you've read the thread, you know what that refusal would mean. It would have been better not to have read the thread, if you were going to go on in the old way, ignoring the terrible thing and muddling along. And what is the new way? Crone Island is where?

So it is easier to hate the one woman who refuses to clean the table on Thanksgiving than to hate the man you live with who refuses to clean the table every night of your life because he doesn't really think of you as a person.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:10 PM on July 19, 2015 [185 favorites]


limeonaire ... Yep you are right about the crazy making... I somehow knew instinctively that i could never even hint or bring it up that "wow I didn't know he had a gf" without getting everything read the wrong way, that i felt too much for someone too soon, that he was just being a nice guy.

That it was my somehow my fault for flirting and then being hurt even when I DIDN'T DOTHE WRONG THING and I'm also supposed to do whatever it is to fix any skewed perceptions that result.

No wonder I'd rather stay home and find people and dating so taxing. I'm not an introvert, I don't like that I'm supposed to care about all this shit.

I've got some mantles of patriarchy to go toss in the river...
posted by sio42 at 3:23 PM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


The worst was that one liner about being afraid to ask the beloved person to read the thread. How many cringed like me? Because like me you'd had the same thought?

There was actually an AskMe I read awhile ago, and I wanted my partner to read it as well because I thought it might be useful to us, but I thought it also might be really upsetting and hurtful to him to hear how some of the users were characterizing behaviors like his (DTMFA stuff). He read the thread and had no feelings about it at all, because he didn't recognize himself in it. This problem in our relationship that has existed for years, and which I have told him about repeatedly, apparently didn't ring any bells to him in terms of his own behavior. Which was painful in its own way.

My partner and I have been together a long time and have kids together. In terms of a lot of the things that fall into the category of emotional labor, he is absolutely terrific: he's a full partner in housework and child-rearing, one of those guys that people used to always ask when our kids were babies and toddlers, "where did you find him?" or [blech] "how did you train him?" Recently I was hanging out with somebody else's six-month-old at a party: I played with the baby, fed the baby a bottle, held the baby while it napped. When it needed a fresh diaper, the mom went to take it from me, and I said, "Oh, no, I'm an old pro at this, if you just hand me the diaper bag, I can take care of this." A couple of people were surprised that I changed the diaper, and I know from my own experience that most people wouldn't. But I thought that, when I'd been having baby-fun for a good 90 minutes or two hours, tossing in a routine diaper change was no biggie. When I told my partner about this later, he was like, "Well, yeah. And besides, if you give back the baby for a diaper change, you might not get your hands on it again."

BUT! But but but but but.

He is one of those people (one of those men, I guess) who will do anything I ask him to do, but will never think of things on his own. If I don't feel well and say, "I'm going to go lie down, can you get the kids fed and to bed?" he'll say, "Sure." But he will never say, "Why don't you go lie down and rest? I'll handle things out here." And something I want very very much is, sometimes, not to have to ask. I want to be noticed and thought of before I bring myself to his attention. I want him to say, once in awhile, "You've been working hard. Why don't you take an afternoon to yourself this week?" or, "Sit down, I'll bring you a cup of tea."

I have a chronic illness, and sometimes it feels like he forgets about it from day to day. He'll ask how I'm feeling, and I'll say I'm not feeling especially well, and he'll say, "What's going on?" Which makes me feel like DID YOU NOT NOTICE THAT I'VE BEEN HAVING A REALLY BAD FLAREUP OF MY SYMPTOMS ALL THIS WEEK? I'd rather he say, "No improvement since yesterday, huh?" or something else that acknowledges that he is paying attention. Or I'll say I don't feel up to doing something, and he'll say, "Why not?" as if he has some kind of short-term memory loss when it comes to my health. And don't even get me started on the times he wants me to help him manage his disappointment that I can't go with him to an event. As if it doesn't suck for me too!

He also, I have now been able to articulate because of this thread, responds to me bringing things up by reacting to the factual rather than the emotional content of what I say. For instance, awhile ago he brought something into our house which he knew could trigger one of the symptoms of my illness. When I told him later that this bothered me, he said, "Oh, I thought it had all cleared out by the time you got home." Whether the house had been sufficiently aired out wasn't the point, to me: to me, the point was that he decided, without consulting me, to do something that might have made me ill, and that felt disrespectful and thoughtless. To him, the important question (until I said, "that's not the point of what I'm saying") was: Did it make me sick? To me, it was: Was he thinking about me and my well-being?

And, finally, he totally does that thing where if I try to talk to him about any of this, he gets upset and I can easily end up taking care of his feelings while still never getting a chance to know for sure I've been heard.

We have a terrific partnership in so many ways. Our relationship is really strong. We are great at solving problems together, we're supportive of each other's interests, we enjoy spending time together, our sex life is very good, we are definitely on Team Us. But at the same time, there is this one little part of my heart that is always broken, and always being broken over and over again, because this doesn't seem to be a thing he can understand well enough to change. And I want it so fucking bad. And every day the are opportunities, big and small, for him to care for me in this way, and he lets them all fly right by him.

I can't decide if it's great that I read this thread, or if I should never have read this thread because talk about your re-opening of wounds. Thanks.
posted by Incoherent Cockroach at 4:17 PM on July 19, 2015 [97 favorites]


The thing with my husband, that I worked out on a long drive last night, is that probably a good half of his enormous fuck ups come from this idea that I am brilliant. I am strong. I do all this emotional labour while under stress so he just has to meet me half way, right? Except that, internalised misogyny and sexism means that his half way is so far on the other side that the amount of work I need to do to get there means I may as well just do it myself. So to him, he was giving me information and not keeping secrets and this is my area of expertise - he just chose a terrible time to do it. To my therapist he's an insensitive jackass. To his brother he's perfectly in the right and I'm a neurotic asshole. To me? I still can't really work out where to be. It's like that Sinfest strip where 'Nique wonders where the person is to look after her, then remembers 'oh that's right I'm a strong independent woman'. I don't want a partner who errs on the side of 'GA can't make decisions on her own' but fucking hell, a little care sometimes is necessary.

The long drive was from where he spent a quarter of his holidays cooking up freezer meals and kid wrangling and keeping chins up at a friend's house who just got a bad diagnosis. I didn't suggest, he didn't request, he just did it. So last night I told him how important that was, that he just did this thing instead of talking about it, or expecting me to do the actual work, and took time out from his holidays to go do it.

But that's still emotional labour. And we're back to the beginning. He realises it, works on it, changes, is changing, it's just with a fuck up that big I don't even know where to start. And I'm still where it starts.

This is the first time I've said anything to anyone about what happened, because I knew that (apart from his brother obviously) everyone would be horrified. And yeah, it's a bit easier to keep it inside and let it eat me than have to actually consider the damage done and expose the wound to the air, and do anything but shut down. And god yes Incoherent Cockroach, the reminding. Why is it fucking surprising and 'hilarious' how I sleep lightly and freak the fuck out when someone comes into my bedroom at night? Why is my flinching funny? It's trauma, but he (and his brother, see a pattern here?) need to be reminded that I don't just get to pretend nothing happened. I don't get to forget the way they do.

Mudpuppie I'm so sorry this happened to you too. I always felt like I was so lucky you know? My partner had never made it all about him, I'd never had to comfort him, I'd never had to do that labour. Then that happened and yeah. Trigger to end all triggers indeed.

And Secret Life of Gravy, that is awful. I can't imagine the thought processes behind that.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:21 PM on July 19, 2015 [36 favorites]


💔Dear All The Women Who Ever Existed Over The Entire Span Of Human History including every one above... 💗
posted by Thella at 4:34 PM on July 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


A lot of my emotional labor is tied up in caretaking for my husband, who has bipolar. It means I spend a lot of time reading and managing his moods. He'll do housework but only if I ask him to because he doesn't see it unless it's really obvious (a tower of dishes in the sink), but at least he'll do it cheerfully. And he'll usually pick up on whether if I'm particularly tired and will let me hibernate or will make dinner or whatever I need. But the entire relationship is very lopsided because of his illness, and frequently the whole business is exhausting because I feel like someone who almost always has to be taking the temperature of the room.
I was the oldest in a family with an anxious mom and she has said that she thinks that my childhood caretaking for her was good training for caretaking for my husband. I'm still trying to process that.
posted by PussKillian at 4:55 PM on July 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


And something I want very very much is, sometimes, not to have to ask. I want to be noticed and thought of before I bring myself to his attention.

Mine is one of the thousand pained, silent howls of recognition emitted by those who read and recognized this longing. Thank you for putting words to it, Incoherent Cockroach.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:59 PM on July 19, 2015 [44 favorites]


Except that, internalised misogyny and sexism means that his half way is so far on the other side that the amount of work I need to do to get there means I may as well just do it myself.

Conversation with (ex)partner during our time together developing and operating a boutique accommodation business.
Me: You don't recognise how much brain work goes into managing the bookings and the marketing, pre-empting problems, maintaining supplies, and making sure that our guests feel really cared for.

Him: I chop the firewood and I help out in the cleaning. I do my fair share.

Me: What's your fair share? 50%? 30%? 20%?

Him: (glaring). I do enough.
posted by Thella at 5:09 PM on July 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


💔Dear All The Women Who Ever Existed Over The Entire Span Of Human History yt including every one above... 💗

Thella, thank you so much. I was just in tears on the train.
posted by susiswimmer at 5:12 PM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, PussKillian. I hear you - as I've been reading and processing this thread, I've been thinking about my life as the partner of a man with bipolar disorder. So, so much emotional labor and such heightened feelings around what one can and can't expect of a partner with a serious mental illness. Especially when you have a mental illness too, as I do. It's complicated stuff.
posted by Stacey at 5:21 PM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I volunteer for Crone Island cocktail duty so long as I can drink some myself as we go along.

This whole thread, though. So amazing. I love you all. I make fantastic alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, and there will always be water on hand and I will never, ever judge your beer/cider tastes. And if you want to just have a jar of those little pickled onions as bar food you are so welcome!
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:22 PM on July 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


something I want very very much is, sometimes, not to have to ask

It's interesting, as this is something that my husband has voiced to me that he wants. You're talking about this in a bit different context than he is—you're talking about being exhausted with childcare and maintenance work and wanting support to come naturally from a recognition of that, rather than being something you have to request. But the language is parallel, and that reminded me of how even this can be turned on its head.

It's something I want, too, to have my desires and needs anticipated and understood and recognized and met. The line, for me, and when it flips into obligation, is when that desire becomes an expectation that one's partner will read one's mind and swoop in to meet any unvoiced need. Then you get into questions of ask vs. guess culture and how to navigate spoken and unspoken expectations and what the nature of the entire contract between men and women is and what you get when you get married. That's where you get the specter of the manic pixie dream girl, and all that that entails.

This makes me think of all writer Richard Bach said about obligation and its effect on relationships, yet how he married a younger woman after he and Leslie divorced.
posted by limeonaire at 5:30 PM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


along the lines of the "being noticed"...

my long term ex (6 years) who askme was instrumental in helping me eventually leave... well, he was never happy with my weight. (I was 5' 5", about 160).

i wanted to be healthier too. i was trying different things and came across the PaleoPlan site. i really liked it bc it was dead simple. he was totally on board.

so i pick a day to start AND THE VERY NEXT DAY he brings home this ginormous loaf of bread shaped like a dinosaur.

he walks by a bakery every day and usually gets a muffin or something once a week and he thought of me because of i like dinosaurs.

i had to pretend to not be disappointed because i had been talking to him for months about how i needed him to be more present and just do little things for me, like say i look pretty or smell nice or just freaking hold my hand. and my face fell when he showed it to me and he was all upset and i didn't want to fight. so i ended up making a big deal out of it.

in short: the day after i start paleo, he brings me home a loaf of bread and wants me to be happy about it and give him a pat on the head for remembering i like dinosaurs.

picardfacepalm.gif

and after my most recent short-term relationship ended in the spring and then this little snafu with the boy from the weekend i mentioned up thread, i'm so ready to just never get laid again.

i will not put up with being treated this way.
posted by sio42 at 5:35 PM on July 19, 2015 [19 favorites]


Treats at work! Oh god, treats at work! I hate hate hate this. My office is all women (sometimes there are male interns) and we have to make a giant to-do over every birthday. There are three senior managers and the ritual is one brings a baked good, one brings fruit and one brings beverages. Any one of these is kind of a hassle for me - we're a one-car family and my husband commutes to work, so most days I don't have a car handy to make a special grocery run. If I walk to buy beverages from the relatively small selection in town, I'm lugging home gallons of selzter and juice. I don't want to spend my time at home baking. Fruit seems easy but it still requires a grocery run and, unless it's berries, you have to cut it up nicely and arrange it on a plate. Then someone has to get a card, and we all have to sign it, and we all have to participate in eating and having a birthday ritual.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but I've always felt like this is a set of activities I personally don't need in the workplace. I get that birthdays are fun and it can be fun to wish your co-worker a nice birthday, but the production goes above and beyond what I feel is reasonable. Personally, I'd rather just have people say "Oh, it's your birthday? Happy birthday!" and then celebrate in my personal life - I can always invite them to happy hour if I want to hang out. This has always made me feel like an idiot who doesn't know how to relate to co-workers, and that might in part be true, but I also recognize it's that I feel it's misplaced emotional labor.

The whole 'treat economy' at work bugs the hell out of me - the women (always, always) who bring in cookies and brownies for the maintenance team, etc., to express appreciation to that staff for doing their jobs - what is this all about? I feel like if there is a healthy culture of appreciation and recognition in a workplace, baking shouldn't have to be part of our influence model, but you can't fight it. You either participate or become one of those people that never brings cookies. It makes me feel like a grouch that I hate this stuff, but I kind of do. But I have to get along well, so there you are.
posted by Miko at 5:41 PM on July 19, 2015 [43 favorites]


the treat also makes no sense because it seems like every woman at work is constantly talking "watching their weight". then why bring in bagels and cake and shit and have candy on your desk?????

it's so self defeating and mind boggling.

and then YOU'RE the weird one when you're like nah no bagel for me, i had one a few days ago.
posted by sio42 at 5:52 PM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Miko, it's so funny you mention that because reading this thread made me think about how emotionally tough the last few weeks at work have been, and how everyone has been stepping up in amazing ways.

I was going to buy muffins tomorrow, because I'm noticing that folks are worn out and need a treat, and it's a cheap way of doing that. (Conversations about promotions are happening, too, but I have fuller control over the muffin timeline.) So I guess it comes from a place of wanting to reward staff and lacking the seniority to do so at will. And I could see that women in the workplace are more likely to be in that position. And crap, now I'm not sure WHAT to do.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:02 PM on July 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


On being noticed, unasked... Growing up, I did not mow the lawn. Now I mow pastures. Last time my husband mowed an overgrown pasture, he accidentally ran over something living, and he felt so awful about it. Knowing that, I have volunteered for thigh-high pasture duty, which is not only slow work, but work that needs to be done twice to chop the weeds fine enough. When I offered to mow this morning, I hoped he would understand why and verbalize it. After, he thanked me for cutting the pasture "because it really needed it." Likewise, when the piglets were born yesterday morning, I dealt with the placenta and the stillborn so that he didn't have to, didn't have to do the necessary and sad thing; was first out to the newborns so he didn't have to discover the scene. Yes, I would like an explicit acknowledgment that he sees this. It's painful not to hear "thank you for doing that so I didn't have to." And it's not that he doesn't do this work too: he has put a pig out of its misery, he has buried cats. But when he does it, I am there to absorb some of the sadness and to help and to say "That was hard. How are you doing?" I will often choose to do this difficult stuff to spare him, and he does not ask how I am, does not acknowledge the care and forethought and understanding that undergird the gesture. It's reassuring to hear "Good work," but an explicit "Thank you for taking that on for love of me" is what would make a difference. It's possible to be a good man and yet to have a blind spot about recognizing the emotional work behind a partner's physical labor.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:09 PM on July 19, 2015 [52 favorites]


It's something I want, too, to have my desires and needs anticipated and understood and recognized and met. The line, for me, and when it flips into obligation, is when that desire becomes an expectation that one's partner will read one's mind and swoop in to meet any unvoiced need.

I've been thinking something similar but having trouble articulating it. There is, and I think should be, an expectation that adults be able to identify their own needs and express those needs in a respectful but clear way (i.e., not passive-aggressively). That's certainly emotional labor, but I think it's a reasonable expectation for all adults. Things can get warped, especially in romantic relationships, when one partner does that emotional work for the other, trying to mindread what the other partner needs rather than expecting them to do the work themselves and communicate it appropriately.

I think what often happens is that the female partner in a mixed-gender relationship often overfunctions in that way, doing her male partner's emotional labor for him and (because women are socialized to ignore our own needs) then not doing the emotional labor for herself, which leads to a logical but maybe not healthy wish that he would do her emotional work for her (since she's to busy doing his!) and read her mind. When it seems like what might be better for everyone is for everyone to do their own work.

Which is not a snap-your-fingers-and-poof!-It's-fixed solution, and which is tangled up in many complicated layers of misogyny and patriarchy (like women being punished for being assertive about our own needs, men being punished for being emotionally aware, and men just opting out of doing the work to meet their partners' needs, even when those needs are clearly expressed). I know that my own solution, after my divorce, has been a mini Crone Island for myself, because thinking about getting into a relationship with another man just makes me feel tired and resentful. I figure my contribution toward fixing any of this is helping clients realize that mindreading, in either direction, usually leads toward resentment over time and that stating one's needs clearly and respectfully is sexy. (I'm not sure they buy it, but I'm working on it.)
posted by jaguar at 6:15 PM on July 19, 2015 [40 favorites]


And crap, now I'm not sure WHAT to do.

Don't overthink that plate of muffins. It's okay. :)

...stating one's needs clearly and respectfully is sexy.

Now I'm trying to fathom how MonkeyToes' husband could have expressed his need that she deal with the stillborn piglet in a sexy way, and it is going all kinds of wrong in my head.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:23 PM on July 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Now I'm trying to fathom how MonkeyToes' husband could have expressed his need that she deal with the stillborn piglet in a sexy way, and it is going all kinds of wrong in my head.

Ha! I was going more for the "Strong, assertive people who know what they want" are sexy, not that the assertiveness be couched in sexiness. "Stillborn piglets" and "sexy" should probably not be combined into one concept, I agree.
posted by jaguar at 6:29 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am trying to do my own work, as jaguar sensibly suggests, but advocating for fairness in corpse disposal is inherently unsexy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:30 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


But it's still probably sexier than simmering-resentment corpse disposal. On a very wide spectrum of "Sexy" to "Not Sexy."
posted by jaguar at 6:32 PM on July 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


MonkeyToes: "And it's not that he doesn't do this work too: he has put a pig out of its misery, he has buried cats. But when he does it, I am there to absorb some of the sadness and to help and to say "That was hard. How are you doing?" I will often choose to do this difficult stuff to spare him, and he does not ask how I am, does not acknowledge the care and forethought and understanding that undergird the gesture."

This makes me curious: Heterosexual couples, who is the one who takes the cats and dogs in to be euthanized?

We took the cat together so my husband could drive me home after I fell apart (as I am the much more emotional one here), but he fell apart SO COMPREHENSIVELY that I had to drive us home because he could not drive for like 24 hours after. I was like "I am so sad this is the saddest thing ever" and he was like "OMG I AM GOING TO DIE OF SORROW."

My mom makes my dad take the pets in for their final visit, but I don't know how long it takes him to drive home after.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:33 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's like the Kinsey scale, except in this case Kinsey was the name of the gopher that got in the way of the lawnmower.
posted by cortex at 6:39 PM on July 19, 2015 [32 favorites]


When it seems like what might be better for everyone is for everyone to do their own work.

I understand your larger point about an expectation that adults be able to identify their own needs and express those needs in a respectful but clear way however relationships are an entity of their own. If everyone does their own caring work for themselves, who is going to care for the relationship itself? And if no-one does, does it really exist?
posted by Thella at 6:40 PM on July 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thella, I was trying to get at more identifying and expressing one's own needs, not necessary taking care of all of them on one's own.
posted by jaguar at 6:44 PM on July 19, 2015


Everything makes me think of this discussion right now, but I was reading this article about cam-girls and got to this:
And just like at the bar, Valerie has regulars on MyGirlFund—guys she’s been messaging with since she joined. “I have this one guy who’s really awesome, and all he wants to talk to me about is literature and my tattoos,” she said. “He’s requested videos every now and again, but usually we just talk about books and tattoos.”

That kind of relationship isn’t atypical on MyGirlFund. According to Valerie, a lot of the men on the site are just really into the idea of having the somewhat-undivided attention of a young, flirty co-ed. “They’re just older—not like in a creepy way—they’re just older, and they like the idea of talking to a young, 20-something-year-old,” Valerie told Fusion. “Like she’s in college and she’s talking to me, her attention is on me.”
There's your payment for emotional labor.
posted by immlass at 6:44 PM on July 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Our office is big on treats. We're mostly a staff of women, and when the former male director tried to switch things over to a "you bring your own treats if you want something on your birthday" it wasn't received very well because he clearly saw it as wasted time that he wasn't interested in and his squashing of it was done with no tact. As soon as he was gone, it went back to the old way. Recently, a new male coworker has, since he started, been the most enthusiastic planner and will sometimes swoop in and arrange for treats before anyone else starts the process. Nobody minds it, and he seems to regard it as emotional labor that is worth it for staff morale (which also involves occasionally taking us out and buying a round of beers.) Thankfully, people can and do feel free to opt out of the birthdays, or to buy instead of bake, and nobody will harass you into eating. It's one of those dynamics that could go toxic but has so far managed to stay positive, I suppose because the labor is spread out over many people and stays a relatively light obligation.

Honestly, all of this makes me want to reread Gaudy Night again and I just got through with a reread. All the work that the women do to keep their college running - placating men from higher up in the university's administration, arguing about whether the secretary with the sick child should be allowed to take time off when it causes the rest of the department to run badly (and therefore maybe women with children shouldn't be hired?), worrying about whether they are being womanly enough or perhaps too womanly...there's a lot of thinking about emotional labor there although of course the term isn't used.
posted by PussKillian at 6:46 PM on July 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


Thella, I was trying to get at more identifying and expressing one's own needs, not necessary taking care of all of them on one's own.

Thinking about that more: I think there can (and should!) be an expectation that both/all partners in a relationship should be feeding the relationship (I like your idea of the relationship-as-entity) and doing thoughtful things for the other(s). I think that where I often see it going off the rails is when one partner desires another partner to do something in addition to what they're already doing but doesn't, for whatever reason, think that they can/should express that need, instead falling back on the idea that the partner "should just know" what they need.
posted by jaguar at 6:54 PM on July 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Stillborn piglets" and "sexy" should probably not be combined into one concept, I agree.

Bryan Fuller disagrees with you there.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:00 PM on July 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


God jaguar I wish I could just, like, hook you up to a megaphone and blast you directly into my ex's ears for all of time.

It's reassuring to hear "Good work," but an explicit "Thank you for taking that on for love of me" is what would make a difference.

This is an incredible thing to say that no one does, explicitly, and I am making it a life goal to say it, or variants of it, as often as possible. The difference between praising the quality of a act and praising the intention of a act has never occurred to me before except negatively ("You tried and that's what counts,") but it is profound.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:18 PM on July 19, 2015 [32 favorites]


Winna> "Gosh when was this utopia when men cared about emotional labor? Because I certainly can't think of an era when that was the case."

Winna> "Also, even if this were true, what does it have to do with the price of tea in China. It makes absolutely no sense in the context of this discussion, which is largely about how women are expected to do the emotional work in relationships, not about how dudes have trouble connecting to other dudes."

The "price of tea" part: That's fair. I can retract that part and restate the meat of what I was saying. If I couldn't lean on my friends for emotional work as a man ... I don't even have the words for how that would hurt. I would be voided, empty, hallowhearted. When I need the emotional work the most is when I'm least reasonable and least able to return it. They have no obligation to give this to me, but they do any way and that is a type of love. The thought that people in my life could be secretly bitter about vulnerable conversations we've had and not speak up is devastating.

My fear is that the implication that emotional support is a zero sum game is reinforcing traditionally masculine (and harmful) gender roles and encouraging those roles for women to emulate. That is, encouraging women to take on traditionally masculine and harmful roles of emotional distance, invulnerability, stoicism and social independence. "Be the crone." I feel like those values are on display in the "when was that utopia?" snark that was directed at my comment. The "sensitive man" is a media trope so I'm not totally making things up out of thin air.

Hopefully I'm wrong. Hopefully this discussion bouyies traditionally feminine gender roles of vulnerability, sensitivity, and sympathy for both genders to emulate. Those are traits that I've done hard emotional work to build up in myself as a man and I'd like to see other men do that work. Maybe instead of asking for cash money, the ask should be, "remember when I gave you emotional support? Could you copy that behavior and reflect it back at me the next time I need support?"

I see the snark as an opposing opinion to Brene Brown's TED Talks on vulnerability vs shame. "You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I'll show you a woman who's done incredible work. You show me a man who can sit with a woman who's just had it, she can't do it all anymore, and his first response is not, 'I unloaded the dishwasher!' (Laughter) But he really listens -- because that's all we need -- I'll show you a guy who's done a lot of work."
posted by Skwirl at 8:37 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm big on thinking of things as spectrums (spectra? What's correct?), but I think it's usually helpful. If there's a spectrum from "totally selflessly nurturing of everyone else" to "completely selfish and absolutely independent," it seems like women are encouraged to be too far to the "selfless" side of that spectrum and men too far to the "selfish" side. It would behoove everyone to move toward a more balanced middle ground, which means most women probably do need to become more selfish and most men probably do need to become more selfless. It doesn't have to be about valuing one over the other (though I know that the kyriarchy often forces a value judgement); it can be about making sure everyone's in balance.
posted by jaguar at 8:58 PM on July 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Maybe instead of asking for cash money, the ask should be, "remember when I gave you emotional support? Could you copy that behavior and reflect it back at me the next time I need support?"


Are you under the impression that we haven't tried this already? Because many of us have tried this. As a result, we have been told that we're imagining the imbalance, that the man buys all the stuff and thinks that's a fair breakdown, that he feels like a terrible person when we ask him to step up (which leads to him sobbing and her back patting, but no change from him), that other men are so much worse and really he's awesome, that we nag too much, that we don't remind him often enough, that we should use a different tone when we ask, that he does perform emotional labor and we just don't notice, that he knows he has privilege, but it's not his fault he was born male.

But before even getting there, you are also suggesting we ask men to notice when we need support. Which (not all men) men are already not doing, and must be taught to do. Or you are suggesting that we request emotional labor at the time we want it. (The classic example of woman complaining about her day at work and the guy offering "solutions" instead of saying "wow that really sucks and it sounds like you handled it well. Can I do something to help you feel better?" Or better still, he just does a thing he knows will make her feel better.)

Many women already/still do these things. Many women have given up because the arguments and assorted emotional labor that stem from such requests are painful and time consuming. Many women never did these things because they saw what it amounted to in the lives of their forebears.

Many women would consider it a great achievement to simply have our emotional labor recognized with any regularity.
posted by bilabial at 9:20 PM on July 19, 2015 [62 favorites]


Every time people talk about how we should subsitute x for the money I'm reminded of the scene from Mad Men where Peggy complains that she puts in all this work and no one ever says "thank you" and Don snaps "That's what the money is for!"

If only it were that straightforward for any of us. I mean I shared a story in which a man got mad at me, today in 2015, for not immediately handing over something that is legitimately my property. And then someone wanted to ask me in this thread if I was reading the situation correctly. I'm not even entitled to use my own things in public. It's ridiculous. The idea that we would ask for money for all these little moments of pushback, that we must do hundreds of times a week, honestly, in and out of the workplace, doesn't seem at all outlandish to me.
posted by sweetkid at 9:30 PM on July 19, 2015 [70 favorites]


I noped out of doing a lot of this about 10 years ago, before I had kids. I am a woman.

Now that I have kids, I live in a mostly white, upper middle neighborhood with lots of moms with similarly aged children. Many of these women have "caring" careers: several nurses, a social worker, even a former nun!

These moms cannot figure me out, because I refuse to spend days planning for "glitter and glue day" or take part in play dates with too damn many women watching a few kids while talking about Upper Middle Class White Mom Problems, much of which is this emotional labor. Nope.

However, I will meet them for drinks if they want to talk about problems beyond getting cloth diapers clean enough, and are ready to put their "mom" role (much of which involes being deep into doing a whole extended family's emotional labor) away for a while and be a real person and talk to me.

I'm the great enigma for these neighbor women. They don't understand why I don't care/participate in the emotional labor role. I occasionally hear that I am gossiped about, that I'm mean, that I'm not their friieeennnd, or even that one of them thought I was trying to be friends and was so pleased about it.
I really only do the work I want to do anymore.
I'm just done. I'm not doing this shit for me, I'm not doing it for my extended family, and I'm not participating in perpetuation of fretting over every tiny detail of every child's life in this neighborhood. Let the kids run free and eat some dirt now and then.
I'm so thankful my neighborhood has lots of stay at home dads, and my children are closest to kids with dads at home. The coordination is so much easier with the dads, and some days I can't even handle coordinating bringing my kid over to some homes because I'm expected to listen to rants about Whole Foods prices. I just don't have time for that. Just let me read a book.

My point is that opting out can make you a weirdo in your community. It can illuminate that you have some preferences for some people and some activities over others, and that makes some people feel rejected even if you aren't specifically rejecting them, but rejecting a flurry of unneeded planning/worry/events.
And my very traditional mother in law really cannot figure me out. Poor dear probably stays up late at night worried about me because I'm not throwing family parties and attending every ice cream social.
posted by littlewater at 9:56 PM on July 19, 2015 [33 favorites]


This thread has brought me so much. Thank you.

I'm wishing I could share its lessons with my grandmother, who is still alive, but who wouldn't want to read all of this. She was a flirty teenager; my grandfather was 18 and full of himself; they married when she was 16 and three months pregnant. My grandfather resented her, and the consequences *her* pregnancy had on *his* life -- suddenly he had to join the Navy and get a job and Be Responsible. When my grandfather died three years ago, they'd been married 66 years.

My grandmother lives in a retirement community, and found a boyfriend pretty quickly. When my brother learned this, he worried that Grandma would remarry. I laughed at him, and later, when I shared that with her, her response was resounding. She doesn't say, "Hell, no," but she did firmly say, "No, I've had enough of marriage." This thread has made me understand WHY.

My grandfather was a good man, if you consider what defined a "good man" in the postwar era. But he still demanded, when their youngest child went into high school, that my grandmother go get a job to "try to match his contributions." As though 30 years of cooking every meal from scratch and cleaning the house and growing & putting up food and sewing clothes for the family weren't a contribution.
posted by linettasky at 11:28 PM on July 19, 2015 [40 favorites]


"Be the crone." I dunno, maybe it's the Terry Pratchett (a man who understood emotional labour in his books) but to be a crone seems to me to be a person who is wise enough to see that the point of life is developing and sustaining a society in which relationships nurture and interweave to see the worth of the old, the very young, the vulnerable - that what's called "women's work" is really human work.

I'd like to be a crone. I think crones probably have amazing sex.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:50 PM on July 19, 2015 [37 favorites]


That is, encouraging women to take on traditionally masculine and harmful roles of emotional distance, invulnerability, stoicism and social independence.

I feel like this ignores a large part of the thread and the stories here. The freedom to risk vulnerability is also sometimes the freedom to think that walking away, being distant, refusing, won't leave everything important about yourself behind.
posted by E. Whitehall at 1:20 AM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


Skwirl: Hopefully this discussion bouyies traditionally feminine gender roles of vulnerability, sensitivity, and sympathy for both genders to emulate.

As evidenced by the thread, most women don't seem to need to be encouraged to do that more. And it might really be helpful for them to allow themselves, and for society at large to allow them, to do it a little bit less. Because, as you can hopefully see, it wears them (us) down.
So please have the sensitivity to let women choose their own paths here, and state their own needs, and don't tell them to stick to their traditionally assigned roles, for the greater good. That's not helping.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:29 AM on July 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


I'd like to be a crone. I think crones probably have amazing sex.

Amazing, but infrequent - because most guys are scared off by the age thing, and then another chunk are scared off by the "damn, she isn't going to buy my bullshit" part.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:18 AM on July 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


Guys, why are we even bothering to try to do Skwirl's emotional labor for him?

Let's all send him our bills. Let's work out the rates in MeMail.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on July 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


But how else will we really learn to be self-actualized and reach our full Ted Talk potential?!
posted by winna at 4:22 AM on July 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


"You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I'll show you a woman who's done incredible work."

Nah. That just sounds like an average Tuesday to me. Maybe you should talk to more women about the emotional labor they do, so you can grasp how utterly constant it is. We don't need to be lauded or called incredible, we need a damn break from having to do this every single day.
posted by palomar at 5:41 AM on July 20, 2015 [47 favorites]


There's a clear link here between comparative levels of emotional labor among members of a couple and expectations of "ask culture vs guess culture", but I can't quite distill it into text, but it's something I'm thinking about still.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:45 AM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was thinking more about this last night, and it struck me that part of the reason a great number of women have so much buried resentment about these issues is because men actually do perform emotional labor so willingly at the beginning of a relationship, which shows that they can do it and they are aware that it exists, right up until the relationship is secure enough that they can designate it “not my job anymore” and tap out.

Setting up special dates based on her preferences, wanting to talk about feelings (because the feelings are all rosy and nice at the beginning, but still), calling just to hear her voice, finding out the little things she likes so he can surprise her with them, being kind to her friends and family, we can watch whatever you want to watch (and meaning it), and on and on. But for a lot of men, these are the means to an end, where the end is a relationship where they never have to do any of these things again.

But for women who end up in relationships that start this way, it is hardly surprising that they feel cheated and duped when the mutual emotional labor disappears and she’s left handling it all by herself. She thought that this man was promising to live this way. She thought being noticed and validated would be long-term. Women consider emotional labor to be the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:47 AM on July 20, 2015 [229 favorites]


Yes, a fiendish thingy! Brilliant!
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:54 AM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


a fiendish thingy, that's part of the reason I'm not dating anymore... over the past several years I've dated men who have all told me in the break-up process that they never really liked ME. They liked the attention I gave them, the way I would take care of their needs and make them feel loved, but having to match that effort was too much to ask of them.

It's too bad I'm not wired up to be more sexually fluid, so I could date women and not have to be alone. But I'll take being alone forever over ever letting another man use me up and throw me away like that again.
posted by palomar at 5:58 AM on July 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yes, yes, a fiendish thingy, and also: WTF? Why would men stop doing these things when doing these things feels so good? It doesn't feel like work--in fact it isn't work--when it's appreciated and reciprocated. Doing "emotional labor" with my friends is rewarding and wonderful and feels more like... like eating than cooking, because it's all so beautifully repaid: we both leave feeling better and livelier. I don't understand why men are not into it. Doing it is as good for you as having it done unto you. Why, why on earth, would you give your beloved grandmother to your wife to care for and elect not to see her anymore at the end of her life? What in the hell is that if it's not a profound and profoundly hideous unrecognized mental illness afflicting (yes,yes,GDI,notall,GDI) the men?
posted by Don Pepino at 5:58 AM on July 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


> I can retract that part and restate the meat of what I was saying.

Dude, knock it off. I know you think you're stating Important Truths that Need to Be Heard, but actually you're just being That Guy Who Shows Up in a Thread about Women and Insists on Making It about Him. Listen and learn.
posted by languagehat at 6:02 AM on July 20, 2015 [53 favorites]


What in the hell is that if it's not a profound and profoundly hideous unrecognized mental illness afflicting (yes,yes,GDI,notall,GDI) the men?

(Hey, Don Pepino, I get where you're coming from and I know you likely mean well, but please don't with this bit? Especially considering this is a sensitive intersection of caring for a partner with mental illness and performing emotional labour for a lot of women, some of whom have mental illnesses themselves. I feel like putting it this way sort of flattens out the powerfully complicated issues at hand of choice and willingness and who learns to do this work and who doesn't and how, but that might just be me.)
posted by E. Whitehall at 6:06 AM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


So that's fascinating to me, fiendish thingy, because it taps into another discussion I've been having recently with a group of female friends elsewhere. Some of them have been divorced and are in the dating world again, involved with partners for several months, and trying to figure out whether these are people with whom they should try marriage again. As they talk this through with other people in the group this theme keeps coming up that these boyfriends should be dancing as hard as they can now to be the best possible partners and prove they're worth marrying, and that obviously after that they'll get lazy, that's to be expected, but they should be on their very best behavior right now until they can get a ring on my friends' fingers.

That conversation is confusing as hell to me, probably because I'm the only one of the group who has opted out of marriage in favor of a long-term (15-year) unmarried partnership, so I don't have the same framework for understanding marriage as those who have experienced it personally. Emotional labor has changed in my relationship over time in ways both good and bad, but not in relation to some specific milestone like a wedding.

So I'm pretty seriously weirded out to find that my good friends explicitly expect and plan for the men in their lives to start off acting one way to get married, and then to change after marriage and become a less-good partner, and that's just...the way it's supposed to be? It feels like something I don't have standing to challenge in these conversations because I know jack about marriage. But I really thought this pattern was something to expect men to break, not to just deal with it by expecting them to dance twice as well as you need them to before marriage so that when they slack off after marriage they'll still be somewhere in the realm of acceptable partners. I want better for my friends and it makes me sad watching them tie themselves into these knots for people they fully expect will let them down later.
posted by Stacey at 6:09 AM on July 20, 2015 [24 favorites]


I noped out of doing a lot of this about 10 years ago, before I had kids. I am a woman.

These moms cannot figure me out...

I'm the great enigma for these neighbor women. They don't understand why I don't care/participate in the emotional labor role. I occasionally hear that I am gossiped about, that I'm mean, that I'm not their friieeennnd, or even that one of them thought I was trying to be friends and was so pleased about it.
I really only do the work I want to do anymore.
I'm just done...
My point is that opting out can make you a weirdo in your community...


Take out the child factor and this is ringing so many bells for me I might as well be a cathedral. As my chronic illnesses have gotten worse, I've had to deliberately cut back on emotional labor and just focus on my own needs, and it's been amazing how that cuts me off not just in general social terms, but from being thought of as a woman in social and workplace situations. I've been putting a lot of it down to being childless and unmarried at my age, but after this long and informative read I'm starting to be more convinced that a large part of it is just my inability to nurture at all. I'm pulling down my own oxygen mask and probably a lot of people just don't know what to make of that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:40 AM on July 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


This. This. This. This. This.

I love my boyfriend. A lot. He is wonderful. But. That emotional labor thing. (apparently, this is something that has built up for a while).

I do fieldwork in West Africa; if I am lucky I get to use the internet and call home once a week (twice if things are sparkly and I'm flush with cash to pay 20 dollars for a forty minute phone call). And hey - fieldwork! In a rainforest! With monkeys! Cool stuff, good stories! And also, frustrating times with sexual harassment and frustrating dynamics with other researchers and field workers, and nobody who is an English speaker with whom I can de-stress! An opportune thing to use (at least a portion) of my twenty dollars to achieve.

After about 4 months, I realized that I would have to just say "This is what happened to me and this is what I am thinking about," because he would never ask. But I would hear the minutiae of departmental meetings and problems with students and just detail after detail after detail, and then when he was done, he would say "Well, I guess I'll let you go." Because it didn't occur to him that I would like to share something too. And it never changed. He's always interested, once I start, but it never occurs to him to ask.

We had a huge fight with his brother and sister-in-law, and then his dad had a stroke and all of a sudden things got so choked up and so bottled up and so full of emotion that he had nowhere to put. He was (is) angry all the time. Never *at* me, but - because I am the one who is there, always sort of at me. Driving an hour to visit his dad in the hospital would be an hour of listening to the same rant as the last trip, with me nodding and mhming and suggesting the same things I did during the last rant. His family - aunts, uncles, cousins - and father's friends all called and texted me for medical details after his dad's stroke and then asked me why he hadn't proposed yet. His niece was born and I bought the baby presents and sent the cards because I figured that at SOME POINT in time he'd want to be able to maintain a relationship with his brother and their daughter and he point blank refused to do it (though he agreed it should probably be done). I visited my folks over Christmas and when he called, it was 25 minutes of hearing about him being angry. I didn't receive a Christmas or birthday present because he just wasn't feeling like celebrating, but he really liked what I got him! Very thoughtful. My advisor makes snarky comments about me being a dutiful spouse - and he hopes it won't interfere with my writing as I'm dissertating... His cousin told me every time she sees me post something on facebook, she hopes it's an announcement that we're engaged - why hasn't that happened yet, after 5 years?

So I'm back in the rainforest for the summer, taking a few deep breaths and reevaluating. Feeling guilty that he dealt with our move by himself, that he's home alone without me to be a sounding board. I convinced him to start seeing a psychologist because I "wouldn't be around to listen" for the summer. Maybe things will be easier when I get home? I don't know. He's a great, great guy and I see from reading all these stories that they are almost all great, great guys. I don't know if I have the emotional reserves for any other great guys.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:40 AM on July 20, 2015 [77 favorites]


[Some comments deleted. There are many questions and areas of concern about the male side of this that might be great for another post/thread, but for this discussion, I'll refer back to restless_nomad's request a few hundred comments ago and ask again that we table the "but what about men?!" angle, pursuant to several recent MeTas. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 6:41 AM on July 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


Women consider emotional labor to be the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.

*learns to cross-stitch*

*cross-stitches this*
posted by XtinaS at 6:45 AM on July 20, 2015 [49 favorites]


taz, gotcha, thanks, and anyway v much do not want to be singling out a person bravely striving to help. E. Whitehall yes, such a good point, and I'm sorry for the blunder. I love this thread and hope it becomes a miniseries.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:56 AM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Re: treats for work - when I was leaving a job where my team was mostly guys, for some reason, my director suggested that a potluck lunch would be a nice goodbye party. Someone made a dessert, another colleague made a pasta salad. Two guys went to McDonald's and bought several large French fries.

At the same job, at one point, a director had suggested that we have a summer BBQ type party and she'd be happy to host if someone would plan it. Crickets. "Well, I guess if no one wants to do something ..." I said I'd handle it because it felt awkward. It wasn't an ordeal and as soon as I said I'd help, a few other people joined me but that was annoying.

Finally, at work, I have been known for keeping candy jars on my desk. I had a few colleagues who once in a while would bring in their own candy since they saw it as a community good, but only a few. That wasn't really emotional labor but it was annoying having to deal with some people who acted like they were trick or treating at my office.
posted by kat518 at 7:03 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


And I bet they didn't bother to show up in a fun costume!
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:05 AM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was the Candy Jar Keeper at a previous job. I liked keeping the candy jar in my office mostly because it was a way to get folks to come in and chitchat with me outside of scheduled meetings. Which I don't actually like for its own sake, because I am a super-introvert, but it was a way to sort of take the temperature of my supervisees outside of actual meetings. I found out about stuff that was stressing people out that I might not have known about otherwise that I could help alleviate, and also got to have some good friendly interactions with people that helped our work relationship. But at the cost of people all up in my introvert space. So, yeah - totally emotional labor, although a kind that paid off in a way that was worthwhile to me.

At my current job, my (female) boss keeps a candy dish. Every few months I bring in some candy to help her restock. She's always really appreciative - I don't think anyone else thinks to do that.
posted by Stacey at 7:14 AM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think that keeping a candy dish or jar stocked is, in fact, a form of emotional labour. After all it's one of those things you have to keep on your mental shopping list. Keeping track of that kind of thing, that's emotional labour too.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:21 AM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


There's a clear link here between comparative levels of emotional labor among members of a couple and expectations of "ask culture vs guess culture", but I can't quite distill it into text, but it's something I'm thinking about still.

The broader pattern of going to great lengths to avoid explicitly asking for something you want, and to instead manipulate and pressure others into determining to your wishes and acceding to them, (which the restaurant choice thing appears to me to be a specific instance of) seems relevant.

People who do this are training everyone around them to be guessers and to play along when anyone treats them the same way, and maybe even teaching that the manipulation behavior is the proper way to express your preferences and desires. So if you've got people whose experiences growing up conditioned them in this fashion, and that's the reason why they fall into the "guess culture" category, they might fulfill the same pattern when in relationships.
posted by XMLicious at 7:22 AM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have been in the same office for about 10 years. When I started, there were a lot of women, all of whom were sort of working together really well. I loved joining this team. Work got done, potlucks were planned and birthdays were celebrated with everyone sort of chipping in to get it done. At some point, we got a new manager who was a man and suddenly there was competition. Oddly, not over who would plan the best potluck, but over who could have more traits like this person - meaning, doing less of the "emotional labor" in the office. It's been a weird transition and I, unfortunately got quite burned by it. I mostly stay away from any group activities for the past 4 or so years. It's a bummer, because I'd like to like my co-workers - but I'm really not interested in competing for the man's attention - so, nope.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:27 AM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Women consider emotional labor to be the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.

Yes, voluntary, ongoing reciprocity, shown with kindness and with an awareness of someone else's fundamental humanity and unique self, is kind of a big deal.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:32 AM on July 20, 2015 [33 favorites]


This thread has brought several levels of recognition and realization for me. Its given me renewed appreciation for my amazing male friend, who earlier in the year sent me bath powders, soaps, and lotions because he knew I was having a hard time and needed some 'treat yo self' time.

It also gives me renewed anger at the statement my boss recently made that people don't come to me as a position of authority, they see me as a friend.

Bullshit.
posted by sweetmarie at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


…Men actually do perform emotional labor so willingly at the beginning of a relationship, which shows that they can do it and they are aware that it exists, right up until the relationship is secure enough that they can designate it “not my job anymore” and tap out.

…She thought being noticed and validated would be long-term.


Yes! This is exactly what ruined my last relationship. My ex was very sweet at first, but a few months later, I was suddenly “fucking hysterical” if I said that some of his actions were upsetting me. Plus comments such as that he had absolutely no wish to know what goes on in other people’s heads – and why couldn’t I “lighten up” and stop overthinking things and just “inspire” him?

But if, say, I complimented him on a piece of his work but not in the way he wanted, then I was not thoughtful enough and had to work on my wording. And if I wanted to discuss something unpleasant in our relationship or try to work out a better way for us to communicate, that was called “killing the inspiration”.

I am still so insanely happy all of this is over. I’m really reluctant to enter another relationship now.

He's always interested, once I start, but it never occurs to him to ask.

This, too. “If you have something to tell, you can do it. Why should I have to ask?” No amount of asking to change this behavior works.
posted by Guelder at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


I was thinking more about this last night, and it struck me that part of the reason a great number of women have so much buried resentment about these issues is because men actually do perform emotional labor so willingly at the beginning of a relationship, which shows that they can do it and they are aware that it exists, right up until the relationship is secure enough that they can designate it “not my job anymore” and tap out.

Setting up special dates based on her preferences, wanting to talk about feelings (because the feelings are all rosy and nice at the beginning, but still), calling just to hear her voice, finding out the little things she likes so he can surprise her with them, being kind to her friends and family, we can watch whatever you want to watch (and meaning it), and on and on. But for a lot of men, these are the means to an end, where the end is a relationship where they never have to do any of these things again.

But for women who end up in relationships that start this way, it is hardly surprising that they feel cheated and duped when the mutual emotional labor disappears and she’s left handling it all by herself. She thought that this man was promising to live this way. She thought being noticed and validated would be long-term. Women consider emotional labor to be the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.


Holy shit, this, A THOUSAND TIMES. IN HUGE BLINKING TEXT.

I want better for my friends and it makes me sad watching them tie themselves into these knots for people they fully expect will let them down later.

It IS sad. Because a man who is cognizant of and fully invested in developing his role in emotional labor is so rare. And there are a lot of women who do not want to fully opt out of relationships, because there are a number of pretty big consequences in doing so. I won't speak for other women, but I know for me a man just showing signs that he is trying and open to being guided is huge, because they take this SO personally and get SO defensive and as mentioned countless times above, the emotional labor required to soothe their feelings and tell them that they personally are not bad people, that it's just a bad system, is VERY draining . I think lots of women just don't even bother. It is less draining for me personally to just carry on in a relationship doing all the emotional labor while the guy remains happy and clueless about my needs, than it is to try to soothe the hurt feelings and resentment that he gets after I attempt to suggest that he maybe could do more. Honestly. This is up to men to not only educate other men on the issue, but also to teach them how to just listen and if they have questions or concerns, how to voice them. In this sense, I see it as being similar to the conversation on race and how, even when you might feel hurt, offended or defensive, it is critically important to just stay quiet and not only listen but to believe everything that someone is telling you about their own experience without reservation or questioning. This comment from the Key & Peele thread is really relevant here:

Privilege doesn't mean your opinion doesn't matter. It means that, on some issues, you may be lacking information, and unaware that you lack information.

Being aware of my privilege doesn't condemn me to silence, it reminds me that I always need to be listening if I don't want to stumble around blindly hurting people by accident. In the end I may speak a bit less and listen more, but the reward for me is that when I do speak I'm less likely to regret what I've said
.

If you have a question about something that you've been unable to resolve by educating yourself first, I personally would be totally okay if you asked me and phrased it along the lines of "I'm really working on doing better to shoulder the burden of emotional labor in relationships. I've been reading a lot about it and I've learned a lot, but I need clarification on something and I just haven't been able to find a good answer through my usual channels. I'm wondering if I could run it past you and get your thoughts on it. I will listen to and absorb your reply and not get defensive or argumentative. I genuinely want to know how to do better and will keep a completely open mind."

If someone asked me something in the above spirit, I would be more than happy to help. Because I know it's hard for a lot of men. Because patriarchy in our society means that most men have literally gone their whole lives not having to do that and I think I can understand the challenge of having to adapt a new way of thinking that is such a second nature to most women that we don't even have to think about it most of the time. Even if we don't do it (either because we opt out or are not very good at it to begin with), I think we at least know when it's expected of us and that we should be doing it, because we've had our whole lives to live with the resulting consequences when we don't do it. So I think I get that it's a challenge, and I am happy to help, because I have a vested interest in men being better at this. Keep in mind that this is just me and some women might not be an interested in doing it, and I don't blame them for it. This is very specific to the individual. But as mentioned above, a lot of men already know how to do this to a certain degree, because they do it when they're first dating someone, or on job interviews or in any situation when they're trying to impress or win someone over. So it's not completely foreign to them either.

I'm still waiting for someone to post an askme on specific things men can do to improve in this regard. Because, again, I have an interest in men getting this information, and I think that most men won't bother to read this long thread and pick all the little gems out of it, as good as it would be for them to do so. :-/

Also, big hugs and much love to the dudes who have stayed with it the whole way and are continuing to read and absorb all of it.

posted by triggerfinger at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2015 [74 favorites]


I have pondered this unequal 'holding' of a relationship's (and its attendees) needs a lot in my relationship lives over the years, and privately called the phenomena "Kin-Keeping" - the work a (usually female) partner does to create connection and community with others in/outside the primary relationship - a maintenance of Kin.

I started a relationship 20 years ago where I vowed not to do it out of step or proportion with my partner. I verbalised this notion at the first missed birthday: '"it's on you dude, to remember your family members' birthdays/ and also, while we are at it: you can also: make appointments to see a doctor/lawyer/dentist/ choose your own shoes/shirts/pants/shampoo / write job applications/ know when your bills are due/pay them / clean your own shit off the toilet bowl/ buy us all loo paper etc" Doing all this stuff for a bloke is exhausting and invisible in its expectation - from the guy himself and the family and community he inhabits. Yet, fifteen years on, the It's Probably Just Easier To Do It Anyway aspect of holding this line, or breaking my line, killed the relationship.

As was so quickly and earnestly contested early in this thread to abdicating blokes ("Well, duh Ladeez, stop doing it if you hate it so much") there are consequences of losing this core Kin Keeping work. If you stick to this line of behaviour you have to do without all those things you'd love for yourself. You close off that labour supply and hopeful expectation of reciprocity and maybe, like me, you realise you're better off alone.

The awful and also validating part of this thread for me is the knowledge that I had the observation, the intuition, the awareness of an unhealthy, unfair and hurtful paradigm already locked down in my early 20s, with my private words for it. I am supposed to run around after other people. I am a People Pleasing Supply Unit.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:09 AM on July 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


Men actually do perform emotional labor so willingly at the beginning of a relationship, which shows that they can do it and they are aware that it exists, right up until the relationship is secure enough that they can designate it “not my job anymore” and tap out.

This may be the most cynical thing I ever say out loud: I find this curve is the same curve as New Relationship Energy sex.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2015 [35 favorites]


My husband just walked into the living room and said "Hey, FYI, I'm out of shaving cream." (He has very sensitive skin and uses a particular type of expensive shaving cream that you have to get at the Fancy Dude Store or online, not the drugstore.) Then he walked back out again. As he was on his way out he did a heel turn and came back into the living room and said "OK, so pursuant to that Metafilter thread: I have run out of shaving cream, and I was hoping not to have to use a different kind while I wait for new shaving cream to get here from the Internet. So if your life arranges things such that you find yourself near the shaving cream store, could you pick some up for me? If not, text me at work and I will either get it online and wait or go out this evening after dinner. Thank you so much, I appreciate it -- and you -- a lot."

WINNAR
posted by KathrynT at 8:28 AM on July 20, 2015 [207 favorites]


I personally would be totally okay if you asked me and phrased it along the lines of "I'm really working on doing better to shoulder the burden of emotional labor in relationships. I've been reading a lot about it and I've learned a lot, but I need clarification on something and I just haven't been able to find a good answer through my usual channels. I'm wondering if I could run it past you and get your thoughts on it. I will listen to and absorb your reply and not get defensive or argumentative. I genuinely want to know how to do better and will keep a completely open mind."

I was only half way through this paragraph and already thinking that it contained more apologetic words and disclaimers than a man would be likely to use even talking to a very high status man, like the President, Warren Buffet or the Pope.

It's really hard for me to imagine a man being that apologetic, even when trying to negotiate a plea bargain. I'd like to understand better how different genders are socialized about their speech patterns. (And I have read a couple of Deborah Tannen's book.)

(re: the offer of suggestions, I've got a 21 year old son that husband and I are still raising. I'll take your tips for improving his nurturing while I still can, but woman asking for man is kind of undermining the shift of responsibility we hope to see.)
posted by puddledork at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm still waiting for someone to post an askme on specific things men can do to improve in this regard. Because, again, I have an interest in men getting this information, and I think that most men won't bother to read this long thread and pick all the little gems out of it, as good as it would be for them to do so. :-/

Part of me totally wants to make this ask, because as a woman in a queer relationship I'm not as good at pulling my share of the emotional labor/mental planning in my relationship as I'd like to be, and I've been in the process of improving that over the last couple of weeks.

A bigger part of me is incredibly resentful that no actual dude has bothered to invest the effort into doing that or thinking of how to frame that Ask, including the ones who have brought up exactly that question in-thread. Like, that thing--"how do dudes do better"--is that a conversation a woman has to start too? Do I--should I--be devoting my time and energy to helping guys on the internet achieve personal growth even when they can't necessarily be bothered to read a larger thread without prodding? It's a fairly disheartening thought.
posted by sciatrix at 8:46 AM on July 20, 2015 [41 favorites]


Re: Ask vs Guess.

We are examining gender roles in relation to emotional labor through a multitude of frameworks. While Ask vs Guess may play a role in the degree of emotional labor performed, but I'd be wary of linking the two, especially when offering judgement between the cultures.

By assigning emotional labor to Guess Culture, and labeling that culture as manipulative, it's not a huge leap to think one could dismiss the comments here, because they identify as an Ask. (and this thread is nothing, if not about how women's emotional labor is dismissed and devalued!)

While I'm certain that gender intersects with expectations within the Ask vs Guess culture, I'm also sure that bases the popularity of this post and through reading every comment, that not every woman [who commented here] belongs to guess culture.

How Ask vs Guess plays a role, and the resulting dynamics is something that I'm thinking on. I have some ideas, concepts based on my experiences, but I can't quite formulate it. I hope to be able to speak on it (& the role of guess) later. For now, though, I wanted to caution against taking a larger phenomenon and reducing it to ask vs guess.

On another note: since Ask vs Guess Culture is a framework that can be applied to both individuals and wider ethnic/cultural practices, I'm not sure either practice should ever be judged. It's a way of understanding actions that seem foreign to us, and as a spectrum, either aspect of the Ask vs Guess framework can be taken to a pathological level.
posted by bindr at 8:48 AM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think I'm seeing a link to ask v guess because I (a cis woman) am in a relationship with another cis woman, so there's not the gender divide going on for my personal experiences in my relationship. There are spectrum and non-neurotypical issues at play, though, which sort of mirrors some of the gender divide, maybe? Idunno.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:01 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is an interesting idea to look at the intersection of Ask vs Guess, but as a woman who is very much an Asker, but far more fluent in Guess than most native speakers (probably coming from the fact that as a woman, an immigrant, and working class meant I had to be far more tuned into other's unspoken expectations), I think the experience of Ask and Guess culture is very gendered - and I am sure that has been commented on before on Metafilter.

A man using either Guess or Ask is generally acting from a position of power; women are not. Look at the gendered language used to identify the behaviour within the the two types of interactions. An Ask-man is decisive, clear, a leader; an Ask-woman is a bitch, bossy, uppity. At best, both would be considered "rude", but men's rudeness is often hand-waved away as "well he didn't know any better" whereas women ARE expected to know better and think of others first - don't ever do a direct Ask unless you know for sure the answer is yes, lest you risk someone feeling bad about themselves. A Guess-man is nuanced, diplomatic; a Guess-woman is manipulative, a team player.

A woman probably will get more results by using Guess and a Man would have more impact from using Ask language. This can be reflected back into the frustration that men sometimes express when they realise an un-expressed expectation from a woman has not been met: "Well, why didn't you just ASK for it??" In their experience, direct Asking produces results, whereas women know that unless they are coming from a position of power, Guess language (and the potential face-shaving for men especiallu) is more effective to achieve many goals in interpersonal communication.
posted by saucysault at 9:09 AM on July 20, 2015 [48 favorites]


sciatrix, that is exactly why I haven't made a post. Because I have questions too, but me making the post is just more emotional labor I would be doing on behalf of men. Which, tbh, is pointless. Because if a guy wants to know, he'll ask. Otherwise it's more of the same of just women shouting into the abyss.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:12 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My take on the restaurant thing is twofold: first, there are real medical issues in play in our house (e.g., diabetes/low blood sugar and regular low-level nausea) that mean sometimes one or the other of us has trouble thinking of something that we like. When it's me, and it often is, I try to be open about "nothing sounds good because I'm not feeling well" because I know how immensely frustrating that is.

Second, some of this stuff sounds like "please me if you can", and without a reason (see: I can't figure out what I want to eat because I'm ill), that is a game I just don't play. I've had guys pull that on me with no medical reason or excuse, and it never ended well for me, so I gave up trying to please them.

My mother used to call that kind of emotional labor (the stuff where you prove you're thinking about the other person by going above and beyond to soothe somehow-wounded feelings) "patting their poo-poo", and it's become a very useful phrase for me. It doesn't just signify the work, but the unreasonableness of the need for it because someone else can't get what they want and they demand soothing or care or something from me to make up for whatever they're not getting that they want/think they ought to.
posted by immlass at 9:12 AM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Dear gods, you guys. This thread. So much resonates.

When the husband and I first married, his grandmother gave all of the sisters in-law an address book for Christmas one year. It had all the addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries of the entire family, including extended family. The husband is number 6 of 7, all 7 are married and have kids. Many of the cousins have similarly large families. I looked at the book and said "Jesus christ, that's a fucking lot of family."

And never did a godsdamned thing with it, because it was not my family.

The nagging started pretty much instantly. "Why didn't you send Jan and Steve a card for their anniversary?" "Who"? "Jan and Steve, my cousins in Elyria." "Never met 'em. Not my family." And there was grumbling. The next event came around. Why didn't I send a card to this person for their birthday? "Never met 'em. Not my family." This went on for a couple years, with him nagging me about using the address book, and me finally getting fed up and pitching it in the trash.

Time passes, various bits of the family moved around, and he started complaining about never seeing his family. We had a screaming row about it one night, and he threw a huge tantrum about how I never send cards or call people, and it was upsetting to those people, and he never sees his brothers, and why don't I ever make any plans? My screaming response was "THEY ARE YOUR FAMILY! If they're mad because they're not getting cards and you're mad because you don't see your brothers, that is 100% on your shoulders, because they are YOUR family, NOT mine, and I am not your fucking social secretary." It had never occurred to him that it was HIS responsibility to maintain relationships with HIS siblings!

He does not make friends of his own. The few friends that he has, he has because I talked to them first. He's very proud of the work that we do for a small MI winery, and likes to make a big deal of the fact that we are now on the Board of Directors, but the fact is, we would never have even started volunteering there if I hadn't been the one to become friends with the fascinating and hilarious vintner and his wife. When I want to do things with my friends, he wants to be included. When I want to do things with my friends and I don't want him along, he sulks. And when he's upset with me and fussing because he doesn't have the same kind of relationship with my friends that I do, he refuses to understand that it's because I have done ALL the work of maintaining those relationships, and he has done none. When he's feeling especially sorry for himself, he complains that if we ever split up, he wouldn't have any friends any more, and that my friends would be right there to help me move out. Well, duh. That's because I'm the one who makes plans with them, talks to them about everything and nothing, makes them feel welcome and happy in my home when they visit.

It has only been in recent years that he has finally gotten it into his head that my emotional needs matter, too, and that he needs to get out of the habit of expecting me to be his everything. He is finally understanding that I cannot fulfill his every want and need, and he needs to take responsibility for his own social life.

The notion of women as the Caregivers of the Entire Fucking Universe is so deeply ingrained in some people, and it weighs heavily. Performing this sort of work only when I WANT to, rather than when it is expected of me helps ease the burden somewhat, but stars and stones, it is still a heavy burden when your partner is willfully clueless.
posted by MissySedai at 9:12 AM on July 20, 2015 [99 favorites]


His grandmother gave all of the sisters in-law an address book for Christmas one year. It had all the addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries of the entire family, including extended family.

This is my version of Hell. Exactly this.
posted by littlewater at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2015 [44 favorites]


When I was responding to rmd1023 above, I wasn't trying to generally characterize guess culture (which I've considered as more of a quick phrase to describe multiple types of behavior than strictly a culture, but I may not fully understand the concept) but just saying that for a particular category of manipulation, both the manipulator and the people manipulated may exhibit behavior that would make them seem "guess culture". (While there would also be many other reasons why someone would behave in ways to make them fall under "guess culture".)
posted by XMLicious at 9:23 AM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think Ask/Guess is a matrix more than anything, because it's not just going to be affected by gender, but also by culture, subculture, linguistics (some languages are more Ask by nature, some are more Guess, and then there's the language you're speaking vs the language you think in vs the language you grew up speaking/thinking in, and then there's that whole thing all over again but with the people who raised you), personality, life experience, and situation.

Also, Ask/Guess are one side of the equation, and the other side is not obliged to be the polar opposite - either side can also come in Don't Care, Not Listening, More Important Than You, Trying To Take Advantage etc. Also, a single person can be Ask-down but Guess-up or one million other kinds of combos.

There's also "I shouldn't have to ask" which is a common refrain among people who feel they're being burdened with the majority of the emotional labor in a situation. That's a different situation entirely.

This issue cannot be solved in one neat paradigm.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:35 AM on July 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


His grandmother gave all of the sisters in-law an address book for Christmas one year. It had all the addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries of the entire family, including extended family.

Ho-lee shit. This is not just passive aggressive. This is just fucking aggressive!!! They are lucky they see you at all.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:38 AM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


His grandmother gave all of the sisters in-law an address book for Christmas one year. It had all the addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries of the entire family, including extended family.

god, what a fucking nightmare. I would be like "oh good, I'll hand this over to [husband] right away! he must be heartbroken that he lost his copy" and then smile brilliantly before galloping away at top speed
posted by poffin boffin at 9:39 AM on July 20, 2015 [60 favorites]


Maybe this should be a new post, I'm not quite sure, but the author of this piece (Jess Zimmerman) has a new piece up about burning her life down and starting over and what midlife crisis looks like for women that touches again on some of these issues of the amount of our life we expend managing other people's needs and expectations. Killing it this week, Jess is.
posted by Stacey at 10:00 AM on July 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


I really can't stop thinking about this thread and parsing it into my own life.

With one exception, the few women (not from the group) that I've told about the Group Activity Guy then questioned me along the lines of "well, did he do anything to make you think he wanted to be more than friends?"

YES. WHAT I JUST SAID. He flirted with me all night and didn't mention a girlfriend!

Arrrrggh.

I'm still struggling with doubt over misread signals and how it was my fault somehow, but I've remembered other incidents over the years that don't need added to this very long thread that were very similar, only they have gone on for much longer. In fact, if I had not gone out Saturday, I would still think this guy is available. Ugh.

And I know I can hear the chorus of (some) men and (some) women saying that he was probably just being nice and all that, but what this thread has shown me is that men are really not aware of the agony and WORK they cause women in relation to other women when they do not make their status clear (if they're not wearing a ring). Sure, I could just not care if other women think i'm a man-stealing hussy, but unfortunately, I haven't leveled up on Crone Island enough to not care.

While I think this particular group doesn't think that, remembering that I've had multiple past experiences where it WAS thought has made me alert to "fixing" things that weren't my fucking fault to begin with.

Argh.

I hope I level up soon because I do not want this shit anymore.
posted by sio42 at 10:05 AM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Wow, Stacey, this...

What had happened was this: I realized that, like many women, I had made all the decisions of my life on someone else’s behalf. I knew how to figure out other people’s expectations, and how to try to dodge their disappointment, and how to stay out of the way and not nag and not need things. I didn’t know what I actually wanted, at all.

...totally explains my adulthood, and I'm only three paragraphs in.

Thanks for posting the link to it.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:06 AM on July 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


Holy crap. Yes.
posted by sio42 at 10:14 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My head might detach itself from all of the nodding.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:18 AM on July 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Whoa, does anybody remember the song "Excuse Me Mr." from No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom? I first got that album when I was really young (5th-6th grade?), so I could never fully wrap my mind around the lyrics. Something about a dude ignoring her...won't give her the time of day. But THIS. Unreciprocated emotional labor is what that song is really about. (I think.) How much of this labor has a woman got to pay out before dudes will do anything in return? Seriously, what's the price? Because we've been doing this shit all our lives, yet we've never saved up enough goodwill to have our needs acknowledged. We've asked politely and waited patiently, but we're made out to be the bad guys for even bringing it up.
posted by gueneverey at 10:29 AM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


man, that article is amazing. empahsis mine
I feel guilty about what I did, the selfishness of it, but for once I don’t feel regret. The new adulthood I’m finally stepping into, belated as it is, feels more authentic, more whole, less constrained by what people want and need from me. That’s selfish too, by definition—but the reset, regrown version of me has room for a little selfishness. For once, she has a self.
posted by sio42 at 10:51 AM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


A common lament from anyone who has done college-level teaching of any sort is the apparent inability of students to read the syllabus. This leads to the boring tradition of the instructor reading a syllabus aloud to a class of adults who, because they are in college, can almost certainly read and understand the document on their own. Everyone agrees that this is a waste of time, but from the instructor's side, it is a necessary waste of time, in that 'wasting' this time here reading the syllabus will likely save me more time down the road as it will reduce questions about things that are addressed in syllabus.

Reduction, alas, does not mean elimination. Some students will plunge ahead and ask questions about due dates, requirements, readings and so on that are explicitly addressed in the syllabus. These emails are truly wastes of time. The students waste their time writing up an email then waiting for and reading the response, when they could have just clicked on the course site and been done. The instructor's time is wasted by having to read and craft a response to that email, even if the response is just 'Please check the syllabus for this information.' And of course, such a brief response will be read as rude by some students, and there are ramifications in student evaluations for female-presenting instructors who are seen as cold, terse, or rude that are not present for male-presenting instructors. Not choosing to reply is not an option at all, because that only ensures that I receive follow-up emails until class.

I have long thought about building the cost for asking such questions directly into the course grades, in effect charging my students for their abdication of responsibility for course materials. My thought has been a one percentage point penalty for each emailed question that could have been addressed by the student reading the syllabus or course announcements first. On the one hand such a policy would have costs in my student evaluations, which could have negative career implications, but not having such a policy contributes to a less pleasant work experience, which has the negative career implication of prematur departure.

While surely both male and female instructors experience this phenomenon, I can't help but feel like a male instructor who implements a penalty system would be able to make a couple wry comments and students would accept it at the nature of the course, while a female instructor would have to explain the situation at greater length, be more apologetic about it ("Gee, I hate to have to do this, but..."), and probably give a few warnings before actually penalizing people without taking significant hits to her course evaluations. While course evaluations are not the end-all be-all, they are still important components of the academic hiring process and emotional labor plays a large role in the quality of evaluations female instructors get. Still, since I am by nature a down-to-business person, I probably will end up putting something like this in a future syllabus, damn the costs to my course evaluations.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that just as emotional labor has costs, so too does opting out of emotional labor. On some level, most women who perform free emotional labor have done the cost-benefit analysis, and made the best choice they could make within their circumstances. For example, I would never begrudge the adjunct professor struggling to get by a more forgiving standard of student communication - she has her own calculus of job security, time, sanity, and income needs to balance. The people who would advocate, 'Then just don't do the thing if you don't like it' have done an incomplete analysis of the costs and benefits of doing the thing - they are only looking at the costs of doing it. This suggests that these advocates have not been made to feel consequences of opting out of emotional labor, and are unaware that such costs exist.
posted by palindromic at 10:52 AM on July 20, 2015 [59 favorites]


This thread has been so amazing and I have had so many thoughts, too many to even post or participate, all about my mother and my father, and my own personality and my job and my annoying father-in-law who makes us pick the restaurant even though he's the one who won't eat anything foreign or spicy or interesting or go places where the portions aren't big enough to stun a water buffalo, so why the fuck doesn't he just tell us where he's taking us because I'm not actually free to pick what I'd really like, such as the new Vietnamese place down the road. Ugh.

And so thank you to everyone.

Thanks in particular to people who have posted about being women in academia. I'm academic staff - I coordinate all the degree programs for a single department at a large university and I do academic advising for undergrads. A large part of my personality (inborn? rebellion against my mother? example of my father?) has always been to resist being forced to do emotional labor I have no interest in. It can be a really strange position to take in advising, despite this not being a job that requires any kind of social work or psychology background.

I was the weirdo in a meeting a few years ago, pushing back against the notion that a customer service survey for students should have the question, "I feel like my academic advisor takes the time to know me as a person and asks me questions about my hobbies etc." I was really resistant that we as advisors should be rated on unpaid emotional labor rather than say, being really good problem solvers or getting people graduated on time.

The whole duration of my career here I've been struggling to disengage emotionally from the job as much as possible because the stress and guilt was killing me. This past year, I've gotten much more removed, but have been under some stink-eye from faculty because I've gotten pretty vocal about what I do and don't see as my job (hint, no emotional labor) and because my emails are too terse and factual and don't blow smoke up enough asses anymore.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


Protip for the guys asking how to start picking up the emotional labour in your heterosexual relationships: talk to your gay male friends. We simply don't have the privilege of offloading our emotional labour onto women, so we have to figure it out for ourselves. So, ask your gay friends how they do it. This has the double effect of 1) learning, and 2) not making it a woman's job to tell you how to contribute your fair share.

Here's one realllllly simple way to start, free of charge: if your female partner is cooking dinner, you do the damn dishes. NB: that doesn't mean leaving them to soak. It means clean the kitchen until it's sparkling again. If you're using a dishwasher, you unload it. For the 201 class we'll be discussing How About You Cook Most Of The Meals For A Change, Women Don't Have Some Cooking Gene That Men Don't.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:12 AM on July 20, 2015 [46 favorites]


One of the really weird things that cropped up with my ex that I'd never run into before was this strange belief that emotional work was something to be done on one's own. I'm pretty sure that, if you asked him, he'd say he'd done a ton of emotional work in response to me saying, "[X] is a problem for me," but I was never privy to it and or asked about it or involved in it in any way. I tried repeatedly to open up dialogue about how do we fix our communication problems, but he wouldn't engage with me on that level -- if he was doing emotional work, he was doing it by... I don't even know? Suppressing his own reactions? Trying to change the way he approached me without telling me anything about it or asking what would work for me?

This lead, at the end, to accusations that he had "already changed a lot for me" and "you're never happy and if you're not happy I'll just hear about it again later" and "I'm never comfortable around you." The worst was when he said, "Everything I say upsets you and I've tried everything!" and I pointed out that he had tried everything to stop upsetting me except asking what upset me he told me, "That's because it's totally random! It's not coherent and it doesn't make any sense!" Which, like, dude, I get that it feels that way at this point, but holy shit that didn't ring any 'oh, perhaps i am approaching this the wrong way' bells? He would also say that "You bring up problems and it's always about "us" but then I have to fix it!" after discussions where I appealed to him repeatedly to help me figure out how to make things better or presented possible solutions (which he never had any ideas or suggestions or feedback or anything else about except a vague, "We can try it.")

At the time it was hugely painful (all right, I'll be honest, it still is), but now I'm a couple of weeks out it's also just fucking bizarre. Like, you're willing to do emotional work to try and make me happy, but not to bring me in on it? You'll do stuff for me, but only if it doesn't involve collaboration?

So, dudes who are interested and reading this thread: don't be emotional work martyrs because you think that's the only way. Just as the women in your life shouldn't have to carry alone, neither do you. Women-- or at least this woman-- want to be and have partners on difficult and heavy emotional work. Something like setting up a wonderful date for your SO, well, that's a great thing to do in a quiet way so that it just happens for her. But the big stuff... the big stuff has to be tackled together.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:15 AM on July 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


> Maybe this should be a new post, I'm not quite sure, but the author of this piece (Jess Zimmerman) has a new piece up about burning her life down and starting over and what midlife crisis looks like for women that touches again on some of these issues of the amount of our life we expend managing other people's needs and expectations. Killing it this week, Jess is.

That's a great article, and this:
It takes a perverse kind of bravery to start over—it’s a selfish and deluded thing to do, and you need that courage to deal with what comes next. It’s one thing to burn your life down and walk out of the ashes, but nobody tells you the phoenix is born as a tender, featherless baby bird.
...made me think of this post on being released from prison, which made me realize that all too many marriages and relationships are all too much like prison. Not a new insight, I know, but I thought I'd mention it.
posted by languagehat at 11:18 AM on July 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Of course women also have feelings about aging, but those feelings are seen as more concrete, more explicable: we have biological clocks, empty nest syndrome, menopause. Depending on whom you ask, we’re either too silly or too competent to concern ourselves with grand neuroses about mortality; we don’t have the cognitive capacity, or else we don’t have the leisure to be so self-absorbed. Either way, the existential collapse is a masculine enterprise.

No, no, I'll sit here quietly stunned at recognizing how true those words are for me.
posted by Kitteh at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


For the 201 class we'll be discussing How About You Cook Most Of The Meals For A Change, Women Don't Have Some Cooking Gene That Men Don't.

Heh. Just last night my partner said that if I would make a marinade for the steaks and do the prep work, he would grill them. I asked why he didn't just do both jobs, and he said 'Well, I only know the one marinade recipe and these steaks are too good for them.' I was all, yo bro, I would just google steak marinade, you too can google steak marinade, we live in the best possible place and time to learn a new steak marinade. He seemed astonished that I didn't just have a variety of steak marinade recipes ready to go off the top of my head.
posted by palindromic at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2015 [69 favorites]


Oh wait no, the worst part was when he told me, "I can only be around you for short periods of time," and "I can't talk to you about anything and I have to walk on eggshells around you," or maybe, "I'm miserable around you." It's so terrible to not know what was his trauma and depression and immaturity, which I can't touch, and what's a legitimate criticism of my tendency to hold my significant others to very high standards and/or present myself too aggressively when I have problems. So now I've gotten handed post-breakup a huge bundle of emotional work, both his and mine, and I can't tell which is which so I can do my own and not touch his with a ten-foot pole.

I would like to sign the "other people's trauma" opt-out form for emotional work now please.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:27 AM on July 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


Further Emotional Labour courses available:

102: How To Pick Up The Damn Phone And Call Someone You Want To Be In Touch With
107: The Washing Machine Is Not A Terrible Eldritch Horror*
115 (compulsory course): How To Pay Attention In A Conversation And Ask Meaningful Questions
210: Saying Thank You For The Little Things
211 (offered Fall Term only): How To Buy Christmas Presents Before 24 December
301 (double credit): The Grocery Store; Navigating the Pitfalls of Shopping and Meal Planning

* Something we have yet to educate our 66-year-old male neighbour about. My female neighbour does his laundry because Old Man Can't Learn Things? and she's the only one in the building with her own washer, and she's away on tour... so naturally I have to do it, and am doing so right now. Because pressing two buttons and pouring in a measured amount of detergent is somehow Too Much To Handle.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:30 AM on July 20, 2015 [45 favorites]


My dear friend who's the one I was thinking of when I wrote that reciprocated emotional labor feels like the opposite of work, she has elderly parents. Her mother, in her eighties, takes care of her father, who is slowly dying of dementia. It's stevedore-hard work and getting harder even as my friend's mother gets older and less able to do it. (He's been incontinent of bladder for some years, now, and starting to lose bowel, too. He's under doctor's orders to get up from his wheelchair and walk around the house several times a day; it's up to his wife to hector him until he gets up and then coach him to use his walker correctly so he doesn't god forbid trip and fall. He's still getting sent to doctors' appointments all over the place for, like, mole checks and so on to make sure he doesn't get melanoma or prostate cancer, all of which is increasingly exhausting as he gets increasingly impossible to load into a car. And this is just the stuff I know about.)

This--watching her mother exhaust herself and very likely shorten her own life--is my friend's major malfunction in life, worse than her own career woes or problems in her own love relationship. She puts in hours at her parents' house daily, trying fruitlessly to lessen her mother's load. Her mother will not "put him in a home" or get more home health aides in. She doesn't want to leave her beloved husband in the hands of strangers, and caring for him is her duty. She can't not do it, and my friend's efforts to get her to think of other ways to handle it only make her mother feel worse and worry more, so she's desisted. She goes over there every day and is miserable every day, terrified and depressed and helpless. Feeling afraid, sad, and helpless all day every day is her and her mother's allotted emotional labor. They've been doing it for years.

I was thinking about this thread the other day and I asked my friend, if the tables were turned, do you think your father would care for your mother the way she cares for him? My friend told me that when her mother was recovering from C-section after my friend was born she had to be assisted to walk. One day she asked her husband to help her out in the garden so she could sit in the sun. After an hour or two she needed to use the bathroom, so she called her husband. When he finally heard her, he came out in a pet because she'd disturbed him while he was working. He helped her inside, complaining the while, and that was the last time my friend's mother got to go outside until she'd recovered from her C-section and could walk on her own.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:35 AM on July 20, 2015 [37 favorites]


Conversations like this make it more visible. But how can we all express the value of this labor without seeming whiny?

In my relationship (where my wife and I are about 70% nontypical on these issues and 30% insanely, sadly common) it is a flat-out statement of "can you do X? I just do not have the energy in me for it and Y as well" where such things are emotionally/mentally draining, not just time or physical energy. We don't do the level of value-assignment that the beeminder folks I linked above do, but there's for sure some effort at a sense of equity.

I doubt there's any painless way to drop it into the outside world. (And also in relationships with partners hostile to it) People don't like to reframe their idea of how the invisible world works. Introverts get pushed to do things they would find draining and it never gets easier telling new people no, I really don't have it in me to do two of those mixer things in a week. And that's a case where you're not asking them to recognize a deep layer of sexism in their way of thinking & behaving.

Beyond just the two person dynamic - where I just do not understand how anyone manages to have a happy relationship without a fairly constant low-level amount of communication about juggling this stuff - I think you pretty much have got to have allies "in the other camp" to make it work.

Mudpuppie's cousin-in-law can't opt-out of the table clearing without some amount of unfair mental flack without some male ally standing up and just being a part of table cleaning. In an ideal world it's her husband. But without any man standing up and just picking up a plate without being asked there's that perception that she's asked 4 other women to each increase their share of the work by 25% One of the layabout men needs to stand up and draw attention to the fact that no, she's just opting not to do 200% of her part of the shitwork because of magic Palmolive girliebits or something. Only Nixon Could Go To (Help With The) China?
posted by phearlez at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


Nthing fffm's suggestion for guys to talk to their gay male friends about this -- but don't be surprised if their relationships also have an unequal distribution of emotional labor. I brought up this thread last night while having cocktails with, among others, two married (to each other) gay men. One of them immediately identified himself as the partner who does all the emotional labor, and the other was basically and unapologetically like "yep, he does."

Thanks to this thread, I have lots of thoughts swirling around in my brain. I'm AFAB/transmasculine, and most folks in my personal and professional spheres use he/him as I've asked, but I am still expected to provide emotional labor in so many of the ways described above. I'd like to believe that's resulting from my spheres holding men to a higher standard re: emotional labor .... but I'm pretty sure that's not what's happening.
posted by zebra at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


OMG, F3M, the washing machine!
1: my cats disagree :)
2: When I was 10, my mom was hurt in an accident. My Dad tried to get *me* to explain how to use the machine. He had never cleaned a piece of clothing. My brother and sister were grown adults away from home by then. He had gotten through 2 kids going all the way to adulthood without learning that. 2 divorces! When he was single, his *mother* came over once a week to do laundry.
posted by Ambient Echo at 11:37 AM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


107: The Washing Machine Is Not A Terrible Eldritch Horror*

BRB, I need to go call my mom and thank her again for when she called me over at around age 8-10 and said here, let me introduce you to this thing called "a washing machine." I mentioned that to her once years back and she laughed and said she had no recall of that at all. Which is one of so many reasons I believe that the way we model our behavior - not what we tell them is important - is what's important for us as parents. Mom surely did more laundry than anyone else in our house when I was growing up, but it was one of a billion things that were discussed as this shit does not just happen by magic events.

211 (offered Fall Term only): How To Buy Christmas Presents Before 24 December

No no no no no no no. It is offered all year, but if you wait till the September course offering to sign up to start learning you just get an automatic F and are told you need to sign up for the Jan-May offering to retake it.
posted by phearlez at 11:48 AM on July 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


This issue cannot be solved in one neat paradigm.

Lyn Never captured what I was trying to say about applying the Ask vs Guess framework.

However, like rmd1023, I want to draw parallels to Ask/Guess in my same-sex relationship where neuro-diversity is also involved. My wife does perform emotional labor (social navigation) as described in my first post, and at first glance, it seemed like an even exchange.

However, as more women added their experiences, I've realized that emotional labor comprises of more than I expected, and I do the bulk of that labor. As expressed by others, this emotional labor aspect speaks to a nagging, previously unarticulated discontent that I've repeatedly dismissed.

Perhaps all told, we both perform more emotional labor than heterosexual couples, but in my relationship, an imbalance does exist. I'm not sure, and am too unversed in queer theory to know or understand.

For awhile, I've recognized Ask/Guess dynamics in our relationship, and as someone who comes from a pathological Guess background, I've had to revise not only my approach, but understanding towards her behavior. Part of this involves recognizing that Ask does not yield the the Power my Guess assumes.

I say Power, because the same-sex aspects seem to speak to something involved that influences more than just gender - something that my pathological guess background wants to label as "entitlement" - an unfair judgement that I now associate with Ask.

Instead, perhaps, disparity of emotional labor speaks not to a single paradigm, but the relationship and influence of various forms of power dynamics to the value of emotional labor.

Which is why, XMLicious, I cautioned against what you wrote. I wasn't trying to call you out. My initial thoughts were along the same line and I was inclined to agree with you, but seeing it in black&white (or Blue), and knowing how well it fit with my pathological guess background (which I'm not accusing you of!) encouraged me to rethink this.

As it stands, my wife won't read this thread. I asked in a guess way, and she responded in an Ask, rejecting the idea of performing this emotional labor. Impasse. Power dynamics. The question remains how to implement change?

Resentment and crone islands aren't the paths for me. Clearly the value of emotional labor needs to be inflated. Attaching a hypothetical price raises awareness and prompted this conversation. Seems to me that my natural inclination to package things neatly may too soon shut that conversation down.
posted by bindr at 12:00 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


but don't be surprised if their relationships also have an unequal distribution of emotional labor

Oh, well yeah. I think though, for heterosexual men, it might be eye-opening to see imbalances when it's two guys (or two women but not being a woman and therefore not privy to the internal dynamics of woman-woman relationships I can't comment); perhaps they'd see "oh wait that's not fair is it?" and apply it to their own relationship.

Oh, and the 100-level course: when a woman spends time listening to your problems, say "Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to me. It really means a lot." And then--this is the lab portion of the course--show her how much you appreciate her listening by reciprocating.

As it stands, my wife won't read this thread. I asked in a guess way, and she responded in an Ask, rejecting the idea of performing this emotional labor. Impasse. Power dynamics. The question remains how to implement change?

Maybe: "I need you to read this thread because I feel like the emotional labour in our relationship is unfairly imbalanced, and I need us to address that together. Step one is me needing you to read this thread by the end of the week so we can sit down and have a long conversation about it." Which, yeah, sucks because it's forcing you to be an explicit Ask person when you're a Guess person by nature.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:04 PM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


This makes me curious: Heterosexual couples, who is the one who takes the cats and dogs in to be euthanized?

This and MonkeyToes posts got me thinking... when I was a kid, I had a dog and a cat. The dog was given away when I was in my early teens and the cat ran away (I think someone let it out on purpose) and I never saw either of them again. I heard later that the dog got mean because the new owners left her outside and overfed her and generally mistreated her. Even thinking of it now (and the fact that now she is either quite an old dog or dead) fills me with this deep, awful sorrow and feeling that I should've been an obnoxious little kid and done everything possible to save my dog and cat, even if it wouldn't have changed anything. Instead I just let it happen to me, because my parents were going through a divorce and my grandmother had just died and I was used to the knowledge that awful things were inevitable and that I had to deal with my emotions myself, and also feeling that abdicating control made these emotions easier to deal with. Just letting bad things happen with my stone face on instead of fighting it or letting anyone know I was sad. (I had younger siblings and my mom left suicide notes around the house when my grandmother died, so I felt like I had to "be strong" for them.)

Anyway, putting aside the massive amount of female conditioning in that paragraph alone, my last ex was such a broken mess about his cat who had died... ten years ago. Of course it's awful, of course it's sad, but if I spoke of his cat in anything but hushed tones he'd get rather mopey and upset if he thought I was being glib. Did we ever talk about my childhood pets? Did he ever bother to process those emotions and think of them as his own to deal with and not to unduly burden others? No, of course not. There was no maturity in how he dealt with the situation. Whenever I mentioned the name of a local town that contained the name of his cat, there was always a hushed "moment of silence" to reinforce how important his emotions and attachment were and that I was responsible for fielding them at any opportunity.

I just thought about at least three other adult men in my life who deal with the death of pets in the same way. I think it ties in with the idea that women experience menopause and empty nest syndrome (it's all about children and fertility, naturally) but are incapable of existential crises. No, we are not. We are just used to processing them and realizing that no one else will be there for us when life goes on.
posted by easter queen at 12:13 PM on July 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


Thank you sciatrix, for getting the ball rolling on all these stories. I'm only halfway through all the comments but already have my head full of new ideas on how I can set clearer boundaries with the hubby and kids and more effectively "own" my own behavior.

And I more fully understand my giddy delight and glee in spending 24 hours all by myself in a new place before my husband joined me for a few days with my parents. We enjoy each other and had a great 5 days on a 31' sailboat...but that one day in which I went everywhere, did everything, met everyone, learned everything, ate where I wanted and never once had to ask anyone what they wanted or how they felt? Priceless. That was the real vacation. Hubby thinks we should send me out as the advance scout on all future vacations. Yep. Gonna happen.
posted by heidiola at 12:13 PM on July 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


Hurray for Maecenas, who has asked the question.
posted by wintersweet at 12:19 PM on July 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


Sigh. I love that dbr linked the Jesse Zimmerman piece separately on the Blue, but am loving less the responses from male posters about it. Guess you can't have multiple female-oriented threads that go positively....
posted by Kitteh at 12:19 PM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think I found track one for the Crone Island mixtape: A New Villian by Amy Bezunartea
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, this makes me realize how my relative emotional denseness (I'm female) has resulted in inadvertent equity. He takes care of presents to his family and thank you notes in response to presents to him from my family, dealt with Christmas cards last year, is the pointperson for social gatherings with his people, has eagerly taken on independent relationships with certain of my people, assigns himself specific regular chores because he knows he's somewhat blind to as-needed chores, thanks me when I make travel arrangements etc, all without my asking...brb going to go hug my husband now.
posted by mchorn at 12:59 PM on July 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


I was so relieved that someone finally asked on the green that I instantly started crying. This shit is real. High five to Maecenas, who gets so many brownie points for doing something that a great number of women in here asked any dude at all to do. He (I think "he") did it well, though.
posted by lauranesson at 1:02 PM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is a great thread, from a man's perspective.

A reminder for the gentlemen out there: if your dad (or if you know of a dad who) did a fair share of emotional labor (both real and symbolic like house cleaning and dish doing), then just remember that's not common, as evidenced in this thread here.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:04 PM on July 20, 2015


Hi folks, author here. I made a MeFi account solely because this thread was so great (well, and because MeFi is reliably the best version of the internet, but that never made me pay my $5 before), and I thought seriously about whether I was going to out myself or not. But now the other thread is going kind of pear-shaped (last I checked; I put my boyfriend in charge of reading it for me) and this one is still great and so I thought it might make me feel better to weigh in so that's what I'm doing.

Here's the thing -- some of my friends have looked at this thread and been like "oh wow, your piece changed lives for people" but obviously it didn't. It just got the discussion rolling, and the discussion changed lives. Because I have read every single one of the 600+ comments here, and they made me understand what happened in my marriage in a way I have never understood it before. You guys grasped and articulated things about emotional labor that I didn't and couldn't. If I'd read this thread before I wrote the other essay, it might have been a very different piece.

I mean, or it might not. I never wanted to go on at length about my husband's failings in terms of seeing me, understanding my needs, taking me seriously and not for granted. It's not a hit piece! The intention was to show other women who might be going through a similar thing that they aren't alone, not to bellyache at length about my own painful details, though if I'd understood then how cathartic it could be to air such common grievances I might have done so. But now that reticence is, I guess, being taken as evidence that I had no reason to leave, or that my leaving was selfish (which it was, but you know... women get such a low bar on how selfish we're allowed to be). And I feel like -- here, only steps away, there are dozens of women hinting at why "I need to move and you won't do it" might be a big enough problem to kick off the slow torpedoing of a relationship! And yet, last I looked, people were still feeling defensive of my ex, and angry about my self-absorption. That's an understandable reading of the piece, given the water we swim in. But it's a bummer.

I guess the tl;dr version is that I wanted to say thanks -- this thread helped me better understand a concept I'd already written 2,000 words about, and a divorce I'd already written 4,000 words about. Crone Island forever.
posted by babelfish at 1:34 PM on July 20, 2015 [288 favorites]


Welcome, babelfish! I think you've stumbled upon one of the best MeFi threads on feminist topics.

And as far as "selfish" is concerned - men divorce their wives when the wives become ill at a much greater rate than vice-versa. So who is selfish then? (Note, I'm not saying divorce is bad, or you can't ever ever divorce someone who is ill. But "for better or for worse" ought to have SOME meaning.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:41 PM on July 20, 2015 [24 favorites]


Here's the thing -- some of my friends have looked at this thread and been like "oh wow, your piece changed lives for people" but obviously it didn't.

Well, here's one, if you're starting a tally.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Resentment and crone islands aren't the paths for me.

I guess I'm thinking of Crone Island a little differently. As a place where emotional labour is fully valued and repaid in kind. We offer to make each other drinks. No one worries about whether the dishes get done because we know all hands will cheerfully volunteer without having to be asked.

Look at this very thread- how much emotional labour all of the participants are doing each for the others.

Fully valued. Repaid in kind. Beautiful.
posted by susiswimmer at 1:44 PM on July 20, 2015 [55 favorites]


Well, here's one, if you're starting a tally.

And two.
posted by susiswimmer at 1:47 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


babelfish - the part about you saying you needed to move and your ex begrudgingly dragging his feet to agree a year later was such a well written punch to the gut. i can see how people (men) who aren't used to how grinding it can be to constantly quiet yourself for a relationship wouldn't see what a big bomb that section was - but for me it was one of my favorite parts and super illustrative of the things i went through in my previous long term relationships. thanks for chiming in here.
posted by nadawi at 1:56 PM on July 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


Three!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:58 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


mudpuppie: Don't expect your partner to be the keeper of all knowable facts, basically. Place some responsibility on yourself to know them as well. Keep a notebook, if you need to.

Thank you, mupuppie! I brought this over from the AskMe because while my husband does a lot of the emotional labor things discussed in this topic (buys the Christmas presents, sends the Christmas cards, makes his own doctor appointments, cooks for us or at least makes sure we eat, etc.), he consistently expects me to be the keeper of almost all knowable facts. Where are my keys, what plans do we have this weekend, is there a grocery list, how do you run the washer, how much money am I supposed to put in our joint checking?

And often these requests to access my brain storage space are made while I'm engrossed in something else, and I can get pretty frustrated when asked to stop what I'm doing so my husband can use me as the all-knowing locator of wallets.

How patient I am with him about it is probably pretty well connected to how many students and faculty have been doing the exact same thing to me at work.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:03 PM on July 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


some of my friends have looked at this thread and been like "oh wow, your piece changed lives for people" but obviously it didn't. It just got the discussion rolling, and the discussion changed lives.

These are not mutually exclusive things, nor did one happen without the other. Accepting thanks and credit for the work that started something doesn't diminish the work later done to build upon it.
posted by phearlez at 2:14 PM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah, we had several "I know you think I want to move and you need to stay, but actually I NEED to move and you need to stay" conversations, including some "here's what you can do to make this easier on me in the meantime" agreements that were never honored (one of those was the planned move to Baltimore I mention in the piece, but he reneged on that one). Until this thread came along, though, I truly just didn't put together how common that was, or where it came from, or how it tied into patriarchal attitudes about what can and should be expected of a man. I thought he was just naturally more cautious, more inert, lower voltage -- and he was, but he was also genuinely unaware of how much emotional labor he was shirking.

And that can be okay. I think there are several relationships that have been discussed in this thread that are going to be okay, or good, or great. But I'm never going to be the person who can provide 100% of the emotional work or 100% of the momentum, or even manage the extensive retraining it would take to get my ex to be fully present at the level I needed. I'm just too shitty at stuff! The people on the other thread saying "ugh this lady is a train wreck" are not wrong. Where they're wrong is in thinking that "I have more emotional needs than either of us were prepared for and you're not ready or willing to meet them" is an unfair reason for a woman to end a relationship.

phearlez, you're absolutely right and I didn't mean to be ungracious! My point was just that for me, the greatest success of the piece has been the fact that it spun off this conversation.
posted by babelfish at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2015 [38 favorites]


Where they're wrong is in thinking that "I have more emotional needs than either of us were prepared for and you're not ready or willing to meet them" is an unfair reason for a woman to end a relationship.

I would suspect it's a hugely common reason for why marriages end. I would cynically suspect that it's actually more "I have emotional needs and you're not ready or willing to meet them" is even more common.
posted by jaguar at 2:44 PM on July 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


And four.
posted by pemberkins at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


jaguar I think you misspelled 'realistically' there
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Babelfish, I am so glad you showed up here. Your story (and the resulting thread) has been a revelation for me and finally – finally! – given me words for something that has bothered me for so long and that I could never articulate. Count me in as another person who's life this has changed.

I haven’t read all the way through your second article yet, but so far it’s reminding me a bit of my own marriage breakdown. I had a good husband that I loved but because of one major issue, I had to leave him. He continues to this day to be confused about why I left. Which is nuts, because, being a big believer in open communication, I told him more times than I can remember – “Hey, [this issue] is a real problem for me. I feel scared/sad/worried/depressed when you do it. I can’t live like this. I love you but if something doesn’t change, I will have to leave.” I was that direct. I told him this multiple times. Then, when I finally did leave we had multiple long arguments about why I was leaving because as he said, he was a good husband! He never hit me, he never messed around with other women, he helped around the house, etc. I was like – that is BASELINE behavior. You don’t get awards for things you are or are not supposed to be doing to begin with! I reminded him I told him multiple times what my problems were and what I would do if they were not addressed. I actually reminded him of this MULTIPLE TIMES AS WELL. It was insanity. I was like, THERE IS NO WAY FOR ME TO BE MORE CLEAR ON THIS. He still doesn’t know why I left and that encapsulates it for me. He heard what he wanted to hear, what was convenient for him. If it didn’t cause him any issues, he had no problem listening to me and hearing what I said. If it did, he mentally disregarded it.

Anyway, that was five years ago. Fast forward to now and I’ve gone out a few times with a guy that I like. I know he really likes me too. I know he loves being around me. He is a very progressive, liberal guy and seems to be a feminist in every other way without even trying. Super respectful of women, takes them seriously, all of it. He told me he wanted to take things slow. Fine. We recently had a talk and he told me again that he doesn’t feel ready for anything serious but he loves hanging out with me and he’s not dating anyone else. I know both of these things are true. He said he’s trying to figure out why he doesn’t feel ready (he’s a few years out of a long term marriage), but he thinks it’s because he’s not ready for the emotional commitment of a relationship. When I asked him to elaborate he said he really likes hanging around with his guy friends because nothing is expected of him and he feels like he can relax. So I asked, then why even date women? Why not just hang out with your guy friends? And he said that he loves being around women because they’re kind, and soft and comforting and they make him feel relaxed and good in a way that men don’t. And I was like – you mean nurturing? And he was like – YES, nurturing. And so I then took the opportunity to tell him briefly about your article and how emotional labor is the glue that ties things together and makes things feel safe and comforting and everything else, but then he was distracted (conveniently) by a really bad storm that was going on outside at the time and I dropped it.

But essentially, this guy told me that he wants all the good things that come from being with a woman – the comfort and the care – but that he wasn’t “ready” to reciprocate in any way, i.e. he doesn’t WANT to do it. And the thing is - he’s actually an otherwise really nice and smart guy. He was super unaware of what he was actually saying. I think if I told him a similar story, but framed it as just some man who wanted to take from a relationship but give nothing back, he would be horrified by the guy’s behavior. And the reason is that I don’t think he sees it as actual WORK that women do. I think he hasn’t ever thought about it and just assumes that maybe being comforting and nurturing is just a part of a woman’s essence or something and that it’s natural and always just kind of magically there. Like a lot of people, he doesn’t see that there is effort behind it. Because he’s never had to see it.

Anyway, thank you again for putting words to this and getting it out there. You’ve empowered me and countless other women and I hope this is the beginning of a huge awareness-building era in our society around the invisible work that women do.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2015 [129 favorites]


This makes me curious: Heterosexual couples, who is the one who takes the cats and dogs in to be euthanized?

When my sweet and lovey Murphy fell ill with epilepsy, the entire family was a complete wreck. But on what turned out to be his last night on Earth, I was the one who dragged a futon mattress into the basement to lie with him on the floor while he recovered from a particularly awful seizure and I was the one who covered him with a wet towel and turned the fan on to get his temperature down. And when we rushed him to the emergency vet at 4AM because the seizures just kept coming and coming and coming, I was the one who demanded that the vet let me stay with him while he was sedated.

The next morning, when the vet called to tell me he was locked in status epilepticus, with very little hope of recovery, I was the one who had to make the decision to show the sweet boy love and mercy. The husband "couldn't", he said. So the Monsters and I went to be with him, to hold him and pet him and cradle him and tell him how much he was loved. We were with him when he breathed his last, and it was devastating.

The husband made a big show of slamming his fist into the wall and railing at the heavens about "his" dog after we came home. Younger Monster bluntly told him to stop making an ass of himself, if he loved Murphy so much, why wasn't he there to help him leave this world peacefully?

We have lost three well loved pets since then. He goes with us now.

It took being shamed by a 9 year-old for him to grasp what a burden he had expected us to carry.
posted by MissySedai at 3:07 PM on July 20, 2015 [106 favorites]


I can see EVERYTHING through this tiny little knothole in the fence of reality! It's the Aleph* of feminisim! {*The Jorge Luis Borges story of the same name}

Holy goats babelfish! And all you Crones! Thanks 10^9. So grateful.

I have sent my mom to this article and thread. Hi Mom!
posted by sic friat crustulum at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


This thread is incredible. Reading through all of your stories made me very grateful for a partner who handles his own dang crazy family and sometimes mine, as well, and on balance probably performs more emotional labor than me! But I was also reminded of a few things:

1. My father acting out his anger in so many ways, just short of physical abuse, but with terrifying outbursts, breaking things, and hurtful words, and never apologizing. I mean, never. The man cries all the time, can be so kind, but just doesn't. Get. It. He has three daughters and is often exhausted by our energy, but never understood that his own aggression, and our fear, and our anxiety about it, exhausted us too. And that my mom worked her ass off just to manage it.

2. When we were both in grad school, my ex-boyfriend suddenly had a mental breakdown and stopped going to class, didn't tell anyone, lied about it, avoided his adviser, just totally self-destructed. Once I discovered what was going on, we talked about it and I tried to help him decide where to go next. His parents were totally controlling and enabling, so he both felt justified in being catered to, while also frustrated that he had no control over his own life at age 23. But I remember that his mother wrote me an impassioned email - entreating me to help him come to his senses. She simultaneously treated us both as her spoiled children (when I'd been paying my own way and making my own decisions for years) while also assuming that she had to speak to me in order to solve the situation.

I remember agonizing over my response. I was kind of baffled and offended, but I also worked really hard to reassure her and just spent literally hours coaching my ex in how to talk to his parents.

Oh, man, I thought this would be my reality forever! And I thought I was a bad person for not handling it better! And I totally wish I could go back in time and give myself permission to respond to her email with "I am not your child, nor am I his caretaker. Please discuss this with him." THE END.

I'm very glad to now have a mother-in-law whom I enjoy, but am not obligated to contact. When life is rough, I don't have to keep it going, because my husband will. Thanks to all of you for providing another opportunity for gratitude!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 3:25 PM on July 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


This is my version of Hell. Exactly this.

Heh. Yeah, there was (and is!) definitely Hell associated with that book. But it was the act of ignoring the book that created the Hell for me.

For a very long time, I could not figure out why all but one of my sisters in-law hated and resented me. I mean, I barely know them. Save one, they're all considerably older than I am. We really don't have anything in common except that all of our husbands are brothers, and most of them live in other states. But...one of them had a little too much to drink at MIL's 80th birthday party and started running her mouth, and was all worked up about "Why doesn't Missy ever have to send any cards or call anyone for their birthdays? She never does her fair share! Why do all the rest of us have to do it?" All the other sisters in-law were silent and clearly quite uncomfortable. MIL (who was sitting right next to me, regaling me with tales of her forays into online Mahjong) laughed long and hard, while her sons and their wives and children looked on in confusion.

Once she collected herself, MIL said "Well, she's the only one of you girls with enough backbone to not let my son be lazy."

So now MIL is 85. I walk the 3 blocks to visit her and FIL just for shits and giggles all the time. I take her wine coolers, she asks if I'm trying to get her drunk. We're super tight. She thinks I'm hilarious. I think she's a scream.

That particular SIL, OTOH, hates and resents me even more, snipes about me constantly...and still sends out cards for everything, lest her husband whine. 20 years older than I am, still hasn't found her backbone, and blames me for it. If she weren't in a completely other state, I probably would have burned her house down already, she aggravates me so.

That, my friends, is the sort of Hell emotional labor can visit upon a family.
posted by MissySedai at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2015 [78 favorites]


This makes me curious: Heterosexual couples, who is the one who takes the cats and dogs in to be euthanized?

Me. Always me. Becuase it is vital for me to be there with them to soothe and calm and pet and love as they take their last soft breath. I did it for my mother's cat because she would have left it for the vet to do. I did it for my partner's cat the day we broke up because he would have passively chosen to let her die from kidney failure (within a week) rather than allow her a sweet loving soft landing.

Both of these people have acknowledged that I did something they couldn't do and have thanked me for it. But I told them in return that I would not have had it any other way. I had learned the hard way that both of them would always put their own needs above more vulnerable lives and I didn't want the lonely or painful death of a pet I had also loved on my conscience.
posted by Thella at 3:36 PM on July 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


We go together for any really worrisome vet appointments. My husband takes them in for routine stuff.

He does deal with all dead animals, though. We've had several die unexpectedly at home (plus the squirrels, birds, possums (Note: possums are known for playing possum, so he also deals with surprisingly alive! possums), and other critters that succumb to each other or our dogs) and I just...can't. I mean, I suppose I would if I had to, but it is significantly less distressing to him than it is for me and it is a thing he does for me.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:41 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]



... and they hated her because she'd never helped clean the table -- which, in my family, is a prescribed task for the women, and the women only.
...
It baffles me.

I suspect that if you could read their minds or get them to state the truth, the thought they are not vocalizing is "she thinks she's better than us." (Which is not at all what she thinks. She thinks the labor should be reapportioned in a non sexist way.)



This is really interesting to me. On occasion I have been the woman sitting on the couch. Unfortunately, I don't actually enjoy it; I do it more as a "fuck you" to gender role expectations but I have a voice in my head that tells me I am being a lazy self-important bitch. Then there is the pre-party phone calls with regards to bringing food and again, I try do what is expected of me (could you possibly make your fabulous sweet rolls?) and sometimes I counter with "I'll bring some grapes and a package of crackers." I mean, damn, the sweet rolls take 6 hours and are a major commitment. I don't get off scott free, I usually second guess myself on the day and feel guilty for showing up with food that took no effort even though all of the males show up with either a bottle of wine or bupkis.

I think the voice in my head is my mother. I think she trained me in emotional labor and woman's work because she is the absolute Queen Bee (and has a vast network of close friends and family to prove it.) The thing is I have realized in the last 10 years that all those times I got slapped for having a bad attitude was her way of trying to train me to "keep sweet." No she wasn't a religious fundamentalist, but she had an expectation of female behavior that women were always pleasant, kind, considerate, and emotionally supportive of everyone around them. Emotional labor done by a workhorse.

It has taken me years to realize that I don't have to be that person. I have empathy and can understand people's needs but that doesn't mean that I, personally, have to be the packhorse for everyone and carry it all.

When I married my second husband who is 11 years younger than I, I told him straight up: "I am not your mother." My first marriage went to hell in large part because my ex wanted a mother/secretary/mistress/friend while he got to be just the guy who brings the paycheck home. (Marriage as legal prostitution.) My second marriage is a lot more successful because I am a lot happier. (Pro-tip: Marry a guy who has been living in his own house for 10 years without help. He will know how to do the laundry and vacuum the floors.) I'm not his damn secretary and if he buys a gift for his father for Father's Day-- he knows where we keep the wrapping paper.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


I've been following this thread, listening and learning a great deal. About privilege, and many of my own unconscious assumptions. Thank you so much for sharing, everyone.
posted by zarq at 4:32 PM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


My father acting out his anger in so many ways, just short of physical abuse, but with terrifying outbursts, breaking things, and hurtful words, and never apologizing. I mean, never.

Oh god, yes, the rages, the truly operatic rages. One little shard of glass from the past is that I, being the daughter, was required to serve as audience for these performances, which were never actually about me--he lacked the, whatever, the guts, I guess, to be direct with his anger--but were about things going on at work, or bills, or politics. He needed me to listen, to affirm him, and every so often to answer one of his rhetorical questions, delivered at full bellow: "So, if YOU were in this meeting, and I said [whatever], what would YOU think I meant??" With, of course, the imperative that I had to answer correctly, so he could storm on about how even I, a twelve-year-old GIRL, was smarter than whatever co-worker he was pissed at.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:37 PM on July 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


(I was never sure what would happen if I was ever wrong. That was too frightening to think about.)
posted by Kat Allison at 4:40 PM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Pet euthanasia is a team thing. I can't imagine it otherwise. We've had to do it twice and I've been the more composed both times, but that's not saying a lot. Still, unless some major logistics prevents it, we are the 'parents' and handle it together.

Now, who spoon-fed the cat special baby food nicely warmed in the microwave for weeks after surgery and made sure all meds happened on time? Another story. Again, it's that mysterious thing - it's not lack of will or skill, it's that I'm thinking about it all the time, and often the only one doing so.
posted by Miko at 4:45 PM on July 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think the voice in my head is my mother. I think she trained me in emotional labor and woman's work.... The thing is I have realized in the last 10 years that all those times I got slapped for having a bad attitude was her way of trying to train me to "keep sweet."

Heh.

Thanksgiving. I was 10 or 11. We spent holidays with the family of a man my dad worked with. He and his wife were 10 years older than my parents and kind of took my parents under their wing when my dad started his job right out of college. They, and their kids, were always close family friends. An ersatz extended family, basically, whom we really only saw on holidays. There was only one kid in that extended family -- a boy who was a year older than me. I was always a tomboy, and he and I were good buddies and had a lot of fun together.

So, this Thanksgiving when I was 10 or 11, when dinner was over, all of the men excused themselves from the table to go outside and play horseshoes. My boy-buddy naturally went with his dad and uncles. I naturally went with my boy-buddy, because he was going outside to play and it sounded like a lot of fun, and why *wouldn't* I tag along?

Fast forward an hour, the men still playing horseshoes and all of the women sitting on the porch, relaxing after cleaning up the dining room and kitchen, putting the leftovers away, uncovering the pies, and setting the Cool Whip™ out to thaw.

My mom called me over from the horseshoe pit. She held me by the arms and put her face right in front of mine, sternly. She said, at a level that showed she wanted the other women to hear her, "Don't you know that when the men go outside after dinner, the women stay and clean up the kitchen? Did no one ever tell you that?"

Yeah. So.

First off, who would have told me that, other than my mother? Secondly, she was doing this so she could save face, because it felt to her like the other women -- all daughterless -- surely thought that she was raising a wildling who didn't know her roles and responsibilities. That day was the day that it was no longer acceptable for me to be a tomboy, I guess, and not helping with the dishes is what put that into motion.

I was always a good kid, and I always wanted to do the right thing, and her scolding me like that in front of these surrogate aunts made me cry. I had *no idea* that I had done something wrong, but I sure knew it now, and it devastated me.

And yet I still do help clean up the kitchen, or at least offer to, when I'm at other people's houses. It's not something I intentionally do in order to be the right kind of woman, it's just something that seems like a thing you ought to do when you're a guest in someone's home. The impetus for my doing that, though, isn't the desire to be a good guest. It's hearing my mother's voice in my head and not wanting to appear to do the wrong thing -- or, rather, not wanting to appear do not do the right thing.

Our mothers and the ways they unknowingly (or knowingly) educate us, eh?
posted by mudpuppie at 4:59 PM on July 20, 2015 [61 favorites]


We haven't had to deal with dead pets. But when I ended up in hospital my husband stayed home with out daughter, continued bed-sharing with her, feeding her expressed milk heated up next to the bed, soothing her, then getting up in the morning to take her into the hospital then going on to work (my brother would stay the day in hospital with me). She was two months old at the time. There was no discussion about it, no dilemmas, that was just obviously what would happen - someone would come for during the day to help me and at night he would have sole parenting duties.

Yet, we have friends who send their children to other people's houses rather than have dad be sole carer overnight. In fact I don't know of a single other dad in our friendship group or family who has willingly looked after his own young children overnight, by himself. Some have, because they couldn't afford to send their kid elsewhere, or it was too far to grandma's house for the school run, but yeah. That's the expectation we are surrounded by and what passes for normal. And that's what affects the perception of labour too - he gets so many props and so much praise for how he is, that any expectation of mine to be better is immediately framed as 'excessive'. Not by him, or by me, but that's the external pressure on our relationship and due to his total and complete enmeshment with his family, it ends up having far more sway than is healthy.

I think the 'emotional labour at the start' thing is about expectations. My husband, mentioned above, is also this guy. He is so incredibly, phenomenally, good at the emotional work of loving a rape survivor, someone with PTSD, that when he fucks up it is brutal. He has, in so many ways, gotten better. So when things like that happen, it hurts all that much more. Every time I'm furious about these things, I also remember the cup of tea he brought me when he picked me up from my last scan since he knew I'd had to fast. That he sat with our daughter while she laboriously wrote thank you notes yesterday. That he shames the other men for not making dinner, for not cleaning up, for not reaching out and trying. That he changes when I say "please do X/please stop doing Y". That we all have our own fuck ups - I am the goddamn ice queen sometimes, frozen solid to the core - and that the work of a relationship is getting through them.

It's just that sometimes the work seems like me doing all the emotional labour of forgiving, while everyone else just waits (with varying levels of impatience) for me to get over myself. Not that they're working on their own shit. Why should they, it's easier to wait for me to fix myself. Then demand I verbalise each and every single aspect so they don't have to learn, they can be taught and spoon fed basic decency.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:05 PM on July 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


My single mom began hosting the family Christmas after my grandma passed away. I think she hates a lot of it: cleaning, getting out all the good china, cooking all the "tradition" foods. She gets super stressed out every year and even the day of, because the day of everyone wants to crowd in the kitchen and have Family Social Hour while she's trying to cook. Ever since I moved away from home, I came back for Christmas and my default job was to be the "extra hand" of all that labor. And I did it lovingly, not wanting her to be so stressed out.

But, now I'm married and now it's extra work for mom to have 2 extra people staying at the house, plus her usual venting and banging pots and pans around and yelling is.... harder to make your spouse see, too, even if they are a good sport about it.

I don't get it: why doesn't Mom relax her cleaning standards, or cook a simpler meal, or just plain say she isn't hosting Christmas this year. But I do get it: so much of her identity is based on being the good daughter, sister, mother, etc that she feels she has to. And so I've always felt that I "have to" be the helper and take some of that away from her. Except, it sucks and it's stressful for me, too, so then I have to choose between being the dutiful labor-taker too, or leaving her to do it all herself. It sucks.

This is the first year I'm really considering not staying with my mom when we visit, and I am clearly struggling with feeling like I'm abandoning my duty to help out. But I also feel like I owe it to myself, and my spouse, and our little family, to have a nice holiday that's not just about me running around being the second cook and cleaner. I feel selfish. I don't know what else to do besides not come for Christmas at all, which I don't want to do.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:06 PM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yeah, we had several "I know you think I want to move and you need to stay, but actually I NEED to move and you need to stay" conversations, including some "here's what you can do to make this easier on me in the meantime" agreements that were never honored (one of those was the planned move to Baltimore I mention in the piece, but he reneged on that one).

I went through something related to this with my ex, except I ended up not going to do the thing I should have done, and then he was all "well, it turned out really great that I didn't bother to inconvenience myself for your life goals and it's better for you too that you had to give up your dreams since I got to keep mine!" He had no idea what a jerk move that was, even though my mother had told him when he and I got married that he really needed to live up to his promise to follow me onward for grad school.

Everybody owns a share of their own divorce, but wow, sometimes men have no clue how they sound.
posted by immlass at 5:17 PM on July 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Hah. Last Christmas someone asked my husband, in all angry seriousness "why is it important to have christmas with just GA and WeeGA?" because he'd dared to say he didn't want to repeat the 8 days stuck in the middle of nowhere with his entire family every year or even second year, and would like the occasional Christmas where it's just the three of us. The idea that his family that he made was important was enough to provoke them into anger. Not more important, just important enough to devote some energy to.

And he wonders why I opted out of dealing with it. Why I think it's unhealthy. I mean, sure, they apologised the next day but that doesn't erase what they did and also they didn't change their mind, they just realised that my husband wasn't budging and that the snapping outburst didn't change anything. So, true to history, it's now the long range manipulation and 'I planned this why aren't you acquiescing I did all this woooooooooooork and whyyyyyyyyyyy won't you doing what I tell you?'. He had always said yes before, it was only when he finally said 'nah' that he copped it.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Once she collected herself, MIL said "Well, she's the only one of you girls with enough backbone to not let my son be lazy."

She sounds awesome. Reminds me of a passage in one of Melanie Rawn's books, about a matriarchal culture. This old lady is asking her supposed granddaughter-ish person that she has a choice--she can marry a man who comes into a room and sits down when she says so, or she can marry a man who comes into a room and sits down without her having to say so. Trick question; the man she really wants to marry is one with his own mind and who neither needs to be told what to do nor displays unquestioning obedience. (Heavily paraphrased, can't be arsed to type out the actual bit.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:25 PM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, man, poor mudpuppie, you should have gotten a kid dispensation! Ach, that kills me.

Secret Life of Gravy, me too, I've been the woman on the couch and it's terribly uncomfortable. I feel like an imposter everywhere, though, no matter what I do. If I try to fit into traditional sex roles it's always a farce. At some signal I always miss everyone leaps up at the same moment and they all fall into a perfect prechoreographed routine and I'm left standing around holding, like, a single fork. Poking it at whoever's washing. "Here. Here's a fork I found. It's no problem for me, handing you this fork, here. Here you go. De nada. Could I maybe dry the fork for you once you're done with the washing part? Oh, I see, Karen's on dishtowel duty? Okay, no worries, plenty to do, right, ha ha!" Meanwhile all around me every female relative has some absorbing and necessary task and is killing it, comfortably and competently without a second thought and I can't see anything to do so I'm careening around, "can I help with that, do you need anything? Wait I know maybe there is another fork out there. No, no fork out here, dang how do they always get every fork every time? That fork I brought in was my own fork. I hid it from them under my napkin when they snatched my plate and cup from my feebly gesticulating fingers. I should never have relinquished my fork, it was all I had. Maybe I can hide in the bathroom or something. No way am I going out there with the uncles and force us all to participate in uncomfortable interminable stilted mixed-gender pseudoconversation like LAST year."

I think it's because my mom sucked at housework and didn't make me the houseworker child just because I was the girl--my brother and I both were supposed to take a hand. Except neither of us did and to this day left to our own devices we all live like enormous rodents except with less executive function. I live by myself, but I flounder around and make enough mess that I could be a family of twelve, so I pay a woman to save me from myself every two weeks. It's not her main thing--she's a sculptor--but she says she likes it, and she actually seems to. People clamor for her. I had to wait a year or something for some other client to die or move away. Her name is legend in our town. I'm not saying I would have done anything to speed the former client on their way because I didn't know then what I was missing. Now, though? Well. I still might not do anything illegal, but nobody better try to pull an Anatole-heist on me. She's the best thing in my life. So she says she enjoys it, but because that seems impossible to me and what seems more likely is that she hates it, I pay her as richly as possible. The emotional labor she does is the kind I suck at the most and resent enormously having to do but the kind I value the most after, like, talking to me and being my friend when I'm sadconfused, which is the bestbest kind. Next to that, though, cleaning is the most wonderful miraculous supportive emotional work to have done for one. Anyone who does it for another human person should be paid and paid and paid in delicious dollars, as many hundreds or thousands of them as possible, by the lucky recipient. Also, always tip hotel housekeeping way way way more than you think you should. I had to learn this from Judge John Hodgman, though it should have been obvious.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:31 PM on July 20, 2015 [71 favorites]


but nobody better try to pull an Anatole-heist on me.

Ahhh, fellow P G Wodehouse fan I salute you! and I laugh heartily at your fork story. Next time ask "Anything I can do? No? OK I'll just sit/stand here and listen to the gossip. You guys are so much fun to be with and I love all of you."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:32 PM on July 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


phearlez, you're absolutely right and I didn't mean to be ungracious!

Not at all; I just wanted to make sure you didn't fail to take your due.
posted by phearlez at 6:35 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


me too, I've been the woman on the couch and it's terribly uncomfortable. I feel like an imposter everywhere, though, no matter what I do.

oh god I'm suddenly flooded with memories of every wretched holiday meal at my great-uncle's place, when his mean scary wife and all but the very oldest and youngest female dinner attendees would swoop up at some unseen signal and practically wrestle your plate away from you, kicking off the aggressive dinner shutdown process, and all the men would meander into the living room to watch a sport and talk about what kind of horsepower their mutual fund has, and I would get confused by the sudden strict gender bifurcation of the group* and frankly terrified by the Stepfordian kitchen tornado betwixt meal-end and pie-begin, so I would always end up hiding in the den reading old copies of Reader's Digest and feeling an incredibly deep sense of shame for not understanding the dynamic well enough to grok my role in it as a girl-child.

*my adult male cousins often cooked but never cleaned up, which always struck me as weird, but I later put two and two together and realized they only do stunt-cooking -- grilling, deep-frying, poorly planned turduckens, anything involving an open flame, etc.
posted by palomar at