The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down
February 8, 2017 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Like much of the feminized work done more often by women than men, thinking, worrying, paying attention, and delegating is work that is largely invisible (warning: autoplay video), gets almost no recognition, and involves no pay or benefits. posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? (114 comments total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
 
Absolutely true. It is draining, and takes away the focus from not just your career -- but you. I think the worst of it is that people around you take it for granted, and to assert yourself just a touch just gets people around you upset, and being very, very unfeeling.

It's amazing how everything falls on the shoulders of a woman, from remembering who has to do what when to just keeping tabs on what's going wrong.

Women are born free, and everywhere they are in chains -- that would be a more accurate quote. I remember my psych classes where cognitive tasks were done less well when people had more things to remember or do, and I think it is hard to put your foot down when it comes to people you care for -- partly because you want to be a peacekeeper, and partly because you're the one stuck with the task of cleaning up the messes when you let those same people fend for themselves.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:07 PM on February 8, 2017 [18 favorites]


If she were gone, you bet her husband would start noticing when the fridge went empty and the diapers disappeared.

Would he, though? Or would he start looking around for a way to live by consuming only one kind of protein shake which only made people poop once per day, thus alleviating the need for so many diapers?

And if problems started to develop later, it would be far too late to fix them by just readjusting diet or buying some more stuff.

I think that the _value_ of doing a lot of these things (eating/preparing a variety of good food, getting the right kind of toothpaste, social obligations) still needs to be explained and quantified. I know it's important, you know it's important, but there are people who legitimately don't get it because the pieces haven't been presented to them in a way that lets them put them together.

This is true of so many things - people don't have a way to think about or talk about why they're valuable.

It's fine for one person to remember stuff, as long as the other people realize, deeply, how much effort and time it takes and how important it is.
posted by amtho at 6:09 PM on February 8, 2017 [20 favorites]


I think that the _value_ of doing a lot of these things (eating/preparing a variety of good food, getting the right kind of toothpaste, social obligations) still needs to be explained and quantified.

There's really no better way to grok the value of something than by suddenly losing it.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:13 PM on February 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


It's fine for one person to remember stuff, as long as the other people realize, deeply, how much effort and time it takes and how important it is.

Except too many people think that's your job, and not to do it is a lazy and selfish thing, and think they are owed a domestic unpaid intern.

And that list never ends. It's like a hamster wheel you get thrown on because, on the face of it, remembering everyone's doctor's appointments or buying lightbulbs seems like not much of a thing, except it is. I know from my own personal experience, I can do fifty things to keep things going, but without a thank you -- or worse, a question whether I got around to do something that not even the Flash could possibly fit into a schedule in such a short amount of time.

Women burn out and are frustrated never quite realizing that it's these tiny little tasks -- and the assumption that you are divinely obligated to do them in order to keep things going that is a secret soul drain. I think if we want the next generation of young women to break a barrier, the first thing is to make sure that being a "good girl" has nothing to do with being distracted by other people's laundry lists. You can get suckered into being helpful -- and then watch as people who never got that memo can devote themselves to themselves.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:22 PM on February 8, 2017 [44 favorites]


*sits down on floor, weeping*
posted by Lyn Never at 6:32 PM on February 8, 2017 [14 favorites]


Tomorrow we are going on vacation, my husband and I, and I planned the whole trip. Today I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off as I try to ready the house and the pets for our absence. When my husband packs, he packs his things. When I pack, I pack my things, and then I also pack OUR things, like the bug spray, the sun screen, the beach towels, the phone chargers, the ibuprofen, the air freshener, the theme park tickets. All the little things that we both need that will be my fault if they are forgotten. And then he wonders why I'm so tired now. But the thing is, if he helped more, it would just be more work for me because not only would I have to tell him what to do, I would have to check that he did it, and it's just easier for me to do it all myself.
posted by jenjenc at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2017 [72 favorites]


Would he, though? Or would he start looking around for a way to live by consuming only one kind of protein shake which only made people poop once per day, thus alleviating the need for so many diapers?

I once knew a friend of an ex who lived solely on ham sandwiches between girlfriends. Slice of ham, two buttered slices of bread, done. I asked him about vegetables once. "That's what girls are for."

It was memorable.
posted by E. Whitehall at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2017 [24 favorites]


I am willing to entertain the idea that I might be genuinely more skilled and talented at this stuff, and that it would be impossibly difficult to teach it to an adult who isn't currently able to do it well, but only if it were somehow given equal gravity to the job-oriented stuff that people are more easily able to value.
posted by amtho at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


This thread, so much. but -
Sometimes I enjoy this kind of stuff. Am I just a blind prisoner of the patriarchy?
posted by bluesky43 at 7:18 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Well this is timely
posted by kwaller at 7:28 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


There are many, many social signals that we should find all our caretaking to be rewarding, that just the fresh smell of laundry detergent alone should make it all worth it.
posted by Dashy at 7:30 PM on February 8, 2017 [16 favorites]


(And by 'rewarding' I surely don't mean financially)
posted by Dashy at 7:33 PM on February 8, 2017 [6 favorites]


Since the previous emotional labour thread, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have cooked dinner. I know that cooking dinner is not emotional labour, but actual labour, but hear me out. The biggest change was that it was no longer my problem whether there was food in the house. So I stopped having to hold a mental catalogue of what was in the cupboard and the fridge, what was about to go off, and what we've eaten recently, planning on eating soon, who is home for dinner when, and what my husband likes and doesn't like to eat. I don't even think about that stuff any more. I have no idea right now what is in the pantry or what we are running low on. I don't stop at work in the afternoon and start planning whether I need to go by a grocery shop on my way home.

What happened for the first couple of months is that we ate kind of weird dinners, and ran out of food entirely a lot. A dinner was planned, and then the plan had to change because we didn't have all the ingredients. A grocery shop was temporarily much cheaper, but oops, it had to be done every second or third day because he kept forgetting about staples. Sometimes he went to the supermarket twice in one day.

And now there's a whiteboard list system, and the pantry kind of follows a system, and groceries appear at the right times, and I think we are eating healthier than we used to as well.

It's a beautiful thing. I sometimes miss the actual process of cooking meals. But I do not miss the mental catalogue-keeping in the slightest.
posted by lollusc at 7:37 PM on February 8, 2017 [89 favorites]


Fuuny, because thinking, worrying, paying attention, and delegating are also leadership qualities. Suggesting that women are being accidentally trained by society to lead. Hmmm. I'll just drop this here btw https://www.emilyslist.org
posted by supercrayon at 7:40 PM on February 8, 2017 [34 favorites]


I remember a great Google doc or something, maybe a PDF somewhere, that collated a great deal of discussion on this topic from Mefi.
Anyone know where it is? I can't see a link here, or on the earlier threads linked to. Funnily enough I was just thinking about looking for it yesterday.
posted by 8k at 7:44 PM on February 8, 2017


I read these articles and feel guilty, because in my house that emotional labor of laundry, chores, cooking, etc., is all taken care of by my partner. He went away for two weeks and we both joked that I would starve to death. I didn't, but there was a lot of mac and cheese.

I'm a very, very lucky woman. I don't know what I'd do without him.
posted by rednikki at 7:50 PM on February 8, 2017 [17 favorites]


Fuuny, because thinking, worrying, paying attention, and delegating are also leadership qualities. Suggesting that women are being accidentally trained by society to lead.

My growing fear is that women are trained to lead but punished when we accumulate power.

"Power behind the throne", sure, until the rightful King arises - but a woman with power is a thing to be feared and insulted in almost every context.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:53 PM on February 8, 2017 [50 favorites]


this emotional labor doc?
posted by kokaku at 7:53 PM on February 8, 2017 [7 favorites]


My experience is that this stuff doesn't grind on me nearly as much as the combined insult of also having to work full time. When taking care of house and family things is all I have to do, I find it an extremely rewarding job. But it's not financially possible for us to live on a single income.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:15 PM on February 8, 2017 [20 favorites]


Sometimes I enjoy this kind of stuff. Am I just a blind prisoner of the patriarchy?

I used to enjoy it very much until I realized how unappreciated those things are. You interpret it as showing affection or caring about others, and then other people just see it as theirs to take for granted. Give a person an inch, and they think they're a ruler. It is a patriarchal mindset that makes it irksome because doing those things are very matriarchal -- being the gatherer, but when it's seen with a hunter's filter, the interpretation completely alters its meaning. It becomes a shackle that defines your role in a dynamic.

I think women inadvertently place themselves in a position where they are gathering every grain to make life as easy to their loved ones as possible, but it is not respected, and is often exploited. You will never be refreshed if you are constantly having to worry about things other people are perfectly capable of doing themselves. People think you're desperate or lesser for keeping things running smoothly.

My growing fear is that women are trained to lead but punished when we accumulate power.

I think you may have this backwards -- women always have power, but are punished when they try to lead with it, and hence, are thrown every misdirection imaginable so she not only does not lead, but never sees her full power, and can never properly experiment with it to see everything she can do with it and gain experience in employing to its full potential. We are not being trained to lead. We are being distracted time and again with all these little things that we don't need to bother ourselves with. I hear women talking about how women are better at building consensus than men, and I just shake my head -- that's draining a woman's resources, time, and energy, and to me, at least, it all stems back to when we're young and wanting to be helpful, and trying squeeze in every grain of goodness and make sure everyone has their fair share. I see it as an art teacher who almost exclusively works with young girls -- they are so kind, sensitive, and helpful, and it worries me very much how they are going to get whacked in life being that way.

If we could teach young girls how to better channel and use those matriarchal blessings, a lot in society would radically change overnight.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:20 PM on February 8, 2017 [21 favorites]


I used to enjoy it very much until I realized how unappreciated those things are

I think thats the key. Someone has to do most of these things, whether it be a woman or a man (today its almost always women, but not 100%). Whether that work is all on one member of the family or split up, if people appreciate and acknowledge it it's going to be a lot better.

For a variety of reasons my wife and I have a fairly traditional division of labor, but I make an effort every day to show her (a) that I appreciate everything she does, and (b) that I view our contributions as equally important. (We are both really good at thanking / appreciating each others contributions).

Even if you had a "real" even split, I think it would be important for both / every person to acknowledge/thank/appreciate the work the other person/people do. Taking things for granted is a great way to create resentment. Especially since for the time being the rest of society is unlikely to view everything as equally.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:46 PM on February 8, 2017 [7 favorites]


Discovering the "Emotional Labor" thread finally gave me the language to explain so much of my life. I'm actually even LESS tolerant of it now. Not just in romantic relationships, but when I realize an expectation of me carrying a burden.... I give a lot of reflection on whether I will just not be having this shit today.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 9:06 PM on February 8, 2017 [17 favorites]


I certainly love when my own bathroom is clean, or when I tidy up my own desk. Nothing wrong with that.

I am married to someone who is simultaneously the very-most sympathetic liberal thoughtful guy and also That Guy to an extent that if a friend was married to him I would implore her to leave him because it couldn't be possible that someone was that clueless. It's a real fucking bullshit bit of socialization that creates a man who can overlook an unspeakable amount of responsibility-shirking with hardly a twitch in his conscience, but that is absolutely a thing that happens. Apparently. I hope.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:28 PM on February 8, 2017 [26 favorites]


My ex just asked why the grocery bill is so high each month as he can shop for less when he buys the kids' food to cook for dinner. I pointed out that he's excluding the monthly and weekly supplies that 'magically' appear in the pantry and cupboards like toilet paper and aluminium foil and shampoo and sanitary pads and the big bottles of oil and the refilling tubs of rice and cans of tuna and tomato that are always in the pantry for emergency meals.... The magic free grocery fairy brings them. And remembers to buy them. It takes me about two hours once or twice a month to sit down and shop online at a cheap online grocery store for the heavy stuff, checking per/unit based and remembering costs against the other supermarket to make sure I'm saving about $100 a month over just buying everything downstairs as I need it.

That's an actual direct cost that is invisible, the amount household managers (almost always women, very often stay at home parents or part-time workers) save by careful budgeting or replacing things that would have to be paid for if they were working/absent. I'm directly saving $1,500 a month now in childcare and carefully budgeting has shaved off about $300-$500 a month on other bills, which is over my last take-home full-time pay even excluding the associated costs of going to work (I freelance now). But it's indirect invisible money so it doesn't count.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:57 PM on February 8, 2017 [56 favorites]


I struggle so hard with this.

Yeah, the patriarchy made us all this way.

Then why am I the one paying attention?

My husband should do more emotional labor.

How does it possibly fall to me to fucking teach him all this?

He doesn't care about holidays or birthdays, I should do as I like.

How can I explain to him that I don't deserve oxygen, much less food, if I don't perform holidays and birthdays properly?

That's the thrust of it. Girls are for vegetables. Men are dust-blind. It's drilled hard into all of us that the world is just that way. So how to convince men who are blinded by privilege that the very lives they are living are made smooth for them in ways they will never see? In ways that alienate them from their partners, an alienation that they also will never see?

I love him, as I love and have loved many other men in my lifetime. But it's getting unbearable to me and I hate that I know that's a function of developing self worth as I age and look back on the bullshit.

I don't want to be away from him, I don't want to be away from my male relatives and friends. But I will never feel understood by them the way I do by women, even if they're near strangers.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 10:49 PM on February 8, 2017 [28 favorites]


Since the previous emotional labour thread, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have cooked dinner.

Holy crap, I thought it was just me! I've basically only cooked dinner when I'm cooking for myself. Otherwise I occasionally "help" by like, finding some silverware or cutting a vegetable, if asked. I am very aware of how not-equal this "help" is, and I fucking cherish it. I evangelize this approach to other women in my life, in a slightly self mocking way that in no way hides how awesomely freeing this change has been. "Yeah, I just roll in from school/work and am all hey, I know you've been working all day for your actual job, but what are we eating? I'm hungry, can we eat now? Sometimes I'll make a big show of doing something big to contribute to the household like emptying the dishwasher."

Cleaning the house and travel planning are still a shitshow on the EL front, because he doesn't care as much or get the same immediate feedback as being hungry, but flipping the tables on dinner and food procurement so that I have no actual responsibilities to our household has been glorious.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:15 PM on February 8, 2017 [16 favorites]


This thread, so much. but -
Sometimes I enjoy this kind of stuff. Am I just a blind prisoner of the patriarchy?
As a man who does all the emotional labour in our household* I too find it gives me a genuine happiness to do these things for my daughter and I think this may be one way that it can be explained to men in a way they may understand.

Yes, this is Mansplainingception but I kind of can't avoid it.

The majority of men I know have a fear of not being able to provide for their families and yet this is one area in which they fail to provide. So explaining it as providing for their families or loved ones may get them to see it in a different light. It feels good to provide for their families, they understand this.

I hate these threads though because it makes me feel like #notallmen made flesh.

*Lone parent ftw
posted by fullerine at 1:15 AM on February 9, 2017 [20 favorites]


I'm not a woman, but i totally understand this feeling.

Whatever household i live in, i'm always the responsible one who makes sure the bills are paid, there's milk in the fridge, the dogs have their shots and meds, the dishes are done, the floor is vacuumed, etc. It falls on me because no one else will do it.

Call it the curse of the responsible person -- I can't focus on my work or enjoy an episode of a TV show until the chore list is done. It confuses and annoys me that my fellow men will let all the small things fall by the wayside, and either laze about or get obsessed with "big" projects that usually cause more trouble than they are worth.

Yes, I was raised by a single mom.
posted by ELF Radio at 1:51 AM on February 9, 2017 [9 favorites]


My partner has always taken on the cleaning and groceries and cooking EL. But I have always gotten flak for this and felt like I am woman-ing wrong. Mostly I describe myself as a terrible roommate. Somehow my father does not feel he is a terrible roommate.

And yet I run our social relationships, the gifts, the checking in, the relationship maintenance of initiating conversation about marriage and how things are going and family and love and fights. I do the budget and figure out how our goals can merge. Until this last year of post-EL-thread therapy, I have been the only one able to identify and describe emotions. To tend someone.

And I am the project manager for projects as large as gutting our condo and rebuilding it. I find the designer and the contractors and am the point person for those thousands of decisions and check-ins. I do the monitoring work.

And of course I do the laundry because he traded me that for dishes and we both think we won.
posted by sadmadglad at 4:25 AM on February 9, 2017 [9 favorites]


Pro tip: always keep your own secret stash of tp just in case you decide to go on strike.
posted by sammyo at 4:53 AM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Well this is timely
posted by kwaller


Indeed.

I didn't read the Epic Thread linked above, but will go back & do so. That being said, Kudos to all of you for keeping the discussion alive & visible, because it's another step closer to making respect (and self respect) for women the default.

I don't recall the source, but a recent remark about the Womens March I read, said, "I don't know why people are so surprised; women have been organizing things since forever."
posted by yoga at 5:14 AM on February 9, 2017 [11 favorites]


I always find these threads really interesting, as someone who struggles in all the same ways it seems the "average man" (however I should phrase this) does. I know a lot of people think no one could possibly genuinely struggle with doing these things, it is in fact quite possible to really struggle with these tasks. While I have all the emotional aspects of feminine caregiving as a deep aspect of who I am- I have never been good at organizing or noticing the physical world around me. Being adopted, it was nice to find out that both of my biological parents have similar problems, which while it sucks for them- it was the first time I felt like maybe I'm not just a horrible awful person.

So when I read this I can't help but also wonder genuinely if there are also biological factors associated with these tasks in the brain. I know that it's not popular to talk about differences in men and women's brains (and of course, the fact that regardless of what a person looks like they may biologically have aspects of biology more common in either gender) but I really feel like we might be missing out if we assume that has nothing to do with it which seems a counterproductive reaction to the also harmful belief that biology has everything to do with it.

I have been single for some 15 years of my adult life (which is essentially all but a few months of it) so there is no one to do these things for me and I have simply had to learn to hobble along doing as little of these kinds of things as one can possibly survive while doing.

This makes me really sympathetic to the fact that possibly some men are dealing with a similar way of experience life. I don't think you can explain to people with normal functioning executive function what it's like for your brain to not work right in this way, to just not noticing anything at all when you walk into a room no matter what polka dots someone has painted all over the wall or whatever. My adoptive mother still doesn't understand it and to her she thinks learning my biological family has the same struggles means that now I can just fix it by trying even harder harder (which is really exactly what she thought before). I've learned tricks, like keep a laundry basket at the location I tend to dump all the laundry on the floor- accept that I will never fold laundry and have a designated location where the clean laundry pile lives. But my coping mechanisms still look ridiculous to someone who keeps a tidy and functional home.

I know the socialization is a real and powerful part of this narrative; but I wonder if there aren't things that having women biology creates a hardship for (in which case maybe we should help women out) and I also wonder if men have some of the same things. I think in some ways, as someone who wants to create supports for people of all abilities, I wonder if being opposed to discussing ways the biology of gender might add difficulties creates a hardship in understanding areas that some may thrive or struggle because of biological specialization.

I also know there are a lot of women who really struggle with being able to do these things so I hope discussing how unfair these standards are to put on women is also part of the discussion and not just that men should be required to be judged and shamed on their performance of these things. Just like I don't like idea that women should be judged by masculine standards of fighting and aggression and dominance, which are things I don't even want. Since I'm big on epigenetics, I really am curious if there isn't a combo of physical functioning and rearing environment that actually changes brain functioning such that these things might be harder for the average man and if that isn't a portion of what's going on somewhere within the social factors already discussed. Just a glance at research on parenting styles impact on executive functioning in children seems to indicate there is likely to be a role, with harsh parenting offering negative impact. There could also be ways that people unconsciously (or consciously) rear male identified children more harshly or with different expectations, levels of warmth, etc and all of these things could impact later brain functioning in various ways.

I've grown up my whole life hearing my adoptive family truly believe the issue is that I just don't care and don't try hard enough-- so when I see people making those assumptions about anyone really I just want to point out it is at least possible that some men actually struggle with these things.
posted by xarnop at 5:48 AM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


In retrospect, I think I was greatly helped by marrying a guy with a working mom and two younger siblings. He learned early that he coukd caretake. Also I am a feckless youngest child so my default if I don't exert myself is "let someone else do it." He may at this point actually do more than I do. But I do bills and plan social events and most of the cooking and kid clothes shopping. So maybe it's a wash.
posted by emjaybee at 5:49 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


The EL thread was so very useful. Having the words to describe an idea is the first step to solving it, and my husband and I both needed the words before we could understand why we were both feeling so overworked.

After many discussions, some more and some less heated, we got trello. Now he's better in the loop about what needs done and we can both see the cards that the other one did. He's also more understanding about how much of my contribution to the household is in my head, the cognitive stuff. The EL thread is what got us talking and solving.

I've always been a fan of this guy, obvs., but the EL thread got us to an even better place. So, it can be done, it's worth being done, there are good guys out there.
posted by arabelladragon at 5:52 AM on February 9, 2017 [12 favorites]


You know what, I have executive functioning problems, too. But I'm a woman, so I get judged for it. Men otoh can make a half-hearted attempt to clean the house and make dinner once and it's a goddamn event.

It's seriously amazing to me how much men get away with just a shrug. Lots of us struggle with parts of adulthood, but only some of us get a pass. That is the very essence of the bullshit.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:09 AM on February 9, 2017 [73 favorites]


My partner and I split most household stuff down the middle, but I'm in charge of shopping and cooking pretty much exclusively. I enjoy it, and I don't feel like I'm getting a raw deal at all... but that's probably because I get a thank you and a smile every single time I cook a meal, at lease from my fiancée, and often from my stepdaughter; and my fiancée periodically checks in to make sure I'm not feeling taken for granted.

Honestly, I know for sure I almost never said thanks to my ex, who did all of the cooking for most of our marriage. When we go to my parents I sometimes cook or help my mom cook, and she always says thanks and makes a big deal out of it... but my dad never does.

It took me 40 years to learn, but I guess it's never too late.
posted by Huck500 at 7:18 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've grown up my whole life hearing my adoptive family truly believe the issue is that I just don't care and don't try hard enough-- so when I see people making those assumptions about anyone really I just want to point out it is at least possible that some men actually struggle with these things.

I am sympathetic to this. I also struggle. But I am a woman, so I have no choice but to level up and do it, or fake it (and feel deep shame about it). Part of this--for cishet partnered men, to generalize, so it might not apply to your specific case--is a "fish can't see water" issue; you can't know how much work goes on behind the scenes unless someone lets you know. Also, many/most women are pretty talented at covering our ineptitude; just as often, we don't do [the tasks], but we let you believe that we did, using mind tricks we've devised over lifetimes of not having enough hours in the day. I think it's also a function of conditioning that makes men believe they struggle harder to do these things. Not quite learned helplessness, but close.

Another thought is that we all seem naturally inclined towards defensiveness when someone suggests we're not doing enough, or suffering enough. Something I hate is how quickly these conversations turn into contests about Who REALLY Has It Worse. It feeds a lot of resentment in my household. It's a problem, and I don't know what to do about it.
posted by witchen at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2017 [18 favorites]


Tangentially related: "we leave those jobs for women": boys, men not adapting to changing job market. (Canada-oriented)
posted by heatherlogan at 7:39 AM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


As the man who does a good chunk of this in my house (cooks 5 times a week, does most of the shopping, keeps lists up to date, does the laundry, usually calls the contractor, etc.) I can have some sympathy here. I don't do everything, but at least half. On the other hand, I still don't pay attention to non-family birthdays, holidays or the decorating. I don't dust or clean the bathroom every week. I don't do these things because I don't care. If my wife wasn't there to take care of those things, they just wouldn't get taken care of and I would have no problem with that. In our case, at least, some emotional labor is self-imposed.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 8:26 AM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


schadenfrau: There's really no better way to grok the value of something than by suddenly losing it.

Although sometimes that doesn't work out the way you might expect. Sometimes it can be a relief if all of that valuable work goes away as long as the tension and pressure that goes with it goes away, too.
posted by clawsoon at 8:35 AM on February 9, 2017


man i had another one of those Feels while recovering from surgery b/c holy sweet shit am i the one who cleans up after people in my house

and yeah that's "self imposed" or whatever but having a house that's not low key gross is neat, being able to half-ass clean as you go instead of wait until stuff is legit filthy and then be overwhelmed and cleaning barrage is neat

arrrgggGG
posted by beefetish at 8:40 AM on February 9, 2017 [9 favorites]


If my wife wasn't there to take care of those things, they just wouldn't get taken care of and I would have no problem with that. In our case, at least, some emotional labor is self-imposed.

I'm sure it seems that way! But who do you think would be blamed if a visitor came by and those things weren't done? Probably not you.

I'm also betting that you think nothing would change if those things went undone, but you might be startled by how quickly the social fabric begins to fray when they (the interpersonal ones) actually go undone.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:40 AM on February 9, 2017 [44 favorites]


The one area where my fairly equal marriage falls apart is for birthday cards. He remembers and takes care of his family just fine, but for some friends, he just doesn't do it. I have taken to sending those birthday postcards with just my name signed on it.
posted by Kitteh at 8:41 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Jacks Dented Yugo, what you're dismissing as self-imposed emotional labor is in fact a vital part of child rearing and social building. You can look up "meaningful family rituals" and find a lot of research showing that families with traditions big and small that attach them to their changes in time, to each other and their communities, show more positive outcomes for both families and children.

There's a point to the work of feminine-coded labor. It has real value. The aim is not to remove that labour but to recognise it as valuable and share it with more hands.

(Examples: telling oral stories about family events to young children that involves lists of family members and familiar places is particularly good at improving their overall memory later on. Children that learn to cook with a parent and eat with the family regularly go on to eat more healthily as adults)
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:46 AM on February 9, 2017 [39 favorites]


Add "explaining the value of the work" to the list of emotional chores we get to do.

When things are left undone, like "non-family birthdays, holidays or the decorating. I don't dust or clean the bathroom every week"--the best-case scenario is discomfort for others. Or maybe discomfort for yourself. The slightly-worse-case scenarios include making yourself sick by living in filth, losing friends by not marking birthdays and other occasions, and losing friends because your house sucks to visit and it's depressing.

As for this: unless one has a severe dust allergy one can actually survive in a cluttered environment on pickles and peanut butter for a while and find a path to comity.

...is a pretty elaborate excuse for not learning how to cook. Why would you want to survive this way, when the alternative is so much easier? Why on EARTH should a family settle for "pickles and peanut butter" when "actual meals involving vegetables" is within reach?

Finally, I got a nice big belly laugh from this: isn't at least partially the responsibility of the oppressed to decide to become less oppressed?
posted by witchen at 8:55 AM on February 9, 2017 [34 favorites]


a fiendish thingy: But who do you think would be blamed if a visitor came by and those things weren't done? Probably not you.

There's an easy solution to this problem: Never invite anyone over!

(Wait, what, breakdown of the social fabric, you said?)

In my experience, it can take a long, long time to realize the value of all that labour if it hasn't been beaten into you from an early age. When the social connections go away the blaming also goes away (unless the blaming has been beaten into your head deeply enough that it has become self-blame) so that solves the other part of the problem. Ta-da!

And then five years later you're eating peanut butter from the jar and finally realizing that you're lonely...
posted by clawsoon at 9:07 AM on February 9, 2017 [9 favorites]


> Jacks Dented Yugo, what you're dismissing as self-imposed emotional labor is in fact a vital part of child rearing and social building. You can look up "meaningful family rituals" and find a lot of research showing that families with traditions big and small that attach them to their changes in time, to each other and their communities, show more positive outcomes for both families and children.

Eh, no. I don't see a huge value to remembering Great Aunt Whoever's birthday. I make sure my parents get called, as well as my brothers and sisters, but no, I don't need to make sure I'm tracking the birthday of everyone who happens to stop by once or send a Christmas card. (You'll note I said non-family birthdays.)

And I also know quite well what my tolerance is for a dirty house. You people are talking like I just woke up one day married after moving out of my parent's house. I'm a grown man and I lived on my own for years and I don't think the place has to be dusted every week. I don't really care about decorating for holidays. I know my tolerance. I would be perfectly happy cleaning the bathroom once every two weeks or so. Now, if there was someone in my house who needed it dusted weekly, we can have that discussion (though I still feel the fact that I'm cooking, doing laundry, shopping and packing lunch excuses me from some of that).

I'm not criticizing anyone for doing this stuff, or excusing (mostly) men who take its completion for granted, but I don't think it's fair to conflate your comfort level for mine. I don't have to cook or pack lunches for everyone every day. There are alternatives. But I do it because I think it's important. Sometimes I get frustrated, but I also try to take the long view and look at what I might shed in order to do the things that are important. In my case that's decorating and cleaning the bathroom weekly.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:18 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


You can look up "meaningful family rituals" and find a lot of research

Eh, no.


Literally cannot make this stuff up
posted by schadenfrau at 9:22 AM on February 9, 2017 [47 favorites]


I don't see a huge value to remembering Great Aunt Whoever's birthday.

What a moving statement about the value you place on the lives and identities of people who cannot benefit you and therefore might as well not exist.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:25 AM on February 9, 2017 [41 favorites]


Sometimes I get frustrated, but I also try to take the long view and look at what I might shed in order to do the things that are important. In my case that's decorating and cleaning the bathroom weekly.

I think what people are trying to say is that the point isn't about what chores you decide to do or not do. The point is that you take that luxury for granted, and many people, mostly women, don't have the option if they want to be seen as responsible and capable adults.

What a lot of us end up "shed[ding] in order to do the things that are important" ends up being self-care and self-enrichment. Our extra hours of sleep, fulfillment of personal goals, leisure time and working on hobbies, etc., are shed away for your benefit, and you don't even notice or care. That's the problem.
posted by witchen at 9:32 AM on February 9, 2017 [46 favorites]


supercrayon: Fuuny, because thinking, worrying, paying attention, and delegating are also leadership qualities. Suggesting that women are being accidentally trained by society to lead. Hmmm.

Y'know, this has been happening in my corner of the industry, so I'm willing to believe that you're right. Men still get more of the creative jobs, because those jobs are more prestigious. Women get more of the "boring" organizing jobs - the thinking, worrying, paying attention jobs - first as production assistants, then production managers, then producers, then studio heads, then studio presidents. The directors and editors are still almost all men, but the the male sphere of decision-making is gradually getting smaller. Creative leadership is still mostly given to men, but all the other kinds of leadership are moving to women, at least in my corner of the world.
posted by clawsoon at 9:42 AM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


I don't think it's fair to conflate your comfort level for mine.

Doesn't this effectively impose your comfort level on someone else?

I don't see a huge value to remembering Great Aunt Whoever's birthday.

Why isn't the fact that this person is important to your partner value enough?
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2017 [19 favorites]


> I think what people are trying to say is that the point isn't about what chores you decide to do or not do. The point is that you take that luxury for granted, and many people, mostly women, don't have the option if they want to be seen as responsible and capable adults.

What a lot of us end up "shed[ding] in order to do the things that are important" ends up being self-care and self-enrichment. Our extra hours of sleep, fulfillment of personal goals, leisure time and working on hobbies, etc., are shed away for your benefit, and you don't even notice or care. That's the problem.


OK. There is a social obligation placed on you by society that you cannot shirk. I acknowledge this and apologize if it seems like I take those things for granted. I most certainly do not, which is why I make an effort to do many, if not most, of those things in our household. Not because I feel I am "helping" my wife, but because I feel it's part of my responsibility in a household to do those things.

But I am a bit defensive that because I don't send birthday cards to everyone in my family and social circle I somehow don't understand the value of social norms. That's totally unfair. We do plenty of family things including holidays and regular meals. I don't think it's fair to make that the focus of my discussion.

Perhaps I simply have the luxury of making a choice not to do some things because I am a man, I guess I can't know that. I guess all I can is continue make my contribution to our household.

> Why isn't the fact that this person is important to your partner value enough?

Of course it is. But if she didn't send that card, I do not think I would unless she specifically requested I do. That's the point I'm trying to make, I guess. It's important to her, so she does it. If it was not important to her, then she could not do it. Making five meals a week is important to me, where I'm sure she would be happy with take-out one or two days.

But as I said above, I understand that this does not apply to all families and I'm sort of sorry I brought up mine at all.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:53 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


In our case, at least, some emotional labor is self-imposed.

This would be the ideal scenario, wouldn't it? People freely expending emotional labor when they want to, not wasting it on unappreciative people or on tasks that society has dictated rather than their own preferences (and preferences of their loved ones).

Emotional labor isn't bad. It's the unequal distribution that's problematic.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting time in that a lot of men are stepping up and taking on much more of the household work and yet, omg, you have no idea how much work is still happening behind the scenes. That's what this article is about. The mental exhaustion from keeping track of it all. And every woman here could write out a multi-hundreds list of what we keep track of and the response would be to try to cut it in half and say "it's your fault for doing that thing. No one cares." Someone cares. That's why it's on the list. In fact double the list because often we've actually carefully thought about what should be on the list and, sigh, yes, decided the consequences of not doing it are worse.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 10:02 AM on February 9, 2017 [29 favorites]


Fish, fish, are you doing your duty?: Doesn't this effectively impose your comfort level on someone else?

Is there any creative compromise possible? Or is it all men imposing their low standards on women and women imposing their high standards on men, everyone imposing on everyone? Everybody feels resentful about it. The solution - from both sides - always seems to be, "I am totally in the right about this, and you need to be more like me." You need to step up. No, you need to relax. This is important work. That is pointless busywork.

Ugh.

Surely there are people who have solved this problem better.
posted by clawsoon at 10:08 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I used to enjoy it very much until I realized how unappreciated those things are

Aha. Yeah. That's been a huge thing for me at work in particular, in part because I'm in a queer relationship and there are literally no men in my household, and I only really have one close male friend right now. (And he's frankly better at the friendship-relevant bits of emotional labor than me most of the time!) At work, I've been doing a lot less unacknowledged work because, well, fuck you, pay me.

One thing I wanted to talk about in the original emotional labor thread and which I forgot to bring up at the time, though, was the breakdown of this kind of unconsidered, unacknowledged labor among women/nonbinary people. Like, it's not as if women are all automatically good at this shit or even good at noticing everything around them.

Slightly awkwardly, in my home I do a lot less of the coordinating labor, in part because I am really bad at it (ahaha, hi ADHD), in part because my partner and I have different "THIS MUST BE DONE HERE" priorities and coordinating two people is genuinely much harder work than coordinating one, and in part because being partnered means that I have less control over the coping mechanisms I used to use to get shit done. (I am a Everything Is Scheduled Now So All Decisions Are Pre-Made kind of person. Partner has strong feelings about spontaneity being important and finds schedules terrifying, and would like to know why things can't just Happen without all the planning-out-loud and the schemes for getting crap done. This is probably the single biggest long-running contention in my relationship.)

I've been re-adjusting a lot, and it's taken a lot of habit-forming work to improve things. It's a lot of mental work to watch my habit processes and look at the effect that not having things be done when they need to be has on my partner. It's hard as shit and it is utterly necessary, and having conversations about conflicting needs and things that will work to make sure that things get done and systems work for both of us to use and put the work into is genuinely difficult.

On the gripping hand, dudes--I see a lot more women/nonbinary folk, especially queer women/nonbinary folk, who categorize themselves fretfully as part of the problem and then immediately start looking quietly for ways to improve themselves than I do men. I see more dudes going "well, women, why don't you X" and giving other people advice rather than looking for things that they can do themselves to address the problem.

I'm just going to leave that observation here.
posted by sciatrix at 10:15 AM on February 9, 2017 [30 favorites]


I am living such the opposite of pretty much everyone else in this thread, and it's fascinating (and occasionally frustrating, with the "men are like THIS and women are like THAT" that can pop up, because what does that mean? Am I not a woman because I'm not like that? Anyway.)

Men are dust-blind.

This past Sunday, my husband spent part of the afternoon DUSTING THE TOPS OF THE WINDOWS. Who does that?! Who actively thinks "gee, the tops of the windows are probably pretty dusty. I'd better clean them off"?!
posted by Lucinda at 10:17 AM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


You know what, I have executive functioning problems, too. But I'm a woman, so I get judged for it. Men otoh can make a half-hearted attempt to clean the house and make dinner once and it's a goddamn event.

Flagged as fantastic.
posted by sciatrix at 10:22 AM on February 9, 2017 [12 favorites]


It's odd, I realized that I fell back onto this sort of thing just yesterday. A while ago, I discovered that the really hoity restaurants in NYC have lounges. Food is prepared by same kitchen, but is smaller, not quite as elaborate and quite a bit cheaper. I proposed going to them with some of my female friends. But it had never gotten off the ground. Until one of them said, "ok, we're doing this, I created a facebook group." Really simple, but a bit of emotional labor that I'm not used to doing. I do my part to do what I can with EL with my SO, although it is a little different as we live in different locations, but I completely missed that it is either my SO or my female friends who are usually the ones actually doing the organizing for this sort of thing.

Just another part of emotional labor that even a fairly aware feminist guy can be culturally blinded to. It's extra mental energy for me to pay attention to that sort of thing, but, it's also extra mental energy for them. One more thing that I never really considered before.

In fact, I think men are culturally conditioned to do this only when planning dates in the beginning of a relationship. After that, it becomes women's work. (Like so many other things.)

On preview, sciatrix, I accept your challenge. I am going to work on this.
posted by Hactar at 10:24 AM on February 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln: The mental exhaustion from keeping track of it all. And every woman here could write out a multi-hundreds list of what we keep track of and the response would be to try to cut it in half and say "it's your fault for doing that thing. No one cares." Someone cares. That's why it's on the list. In fact double the list because often we've actually carefully thought about what should be on the list and, sigh, yes, decided the consequences of not doing it are worse.

I can recognize what you're saying intellectually, but viscerally it draws a blank. I see women who are resentful, exhausted, and miserable, and that's the most prominent result of all the work they're doing. That - from what's visible to me - is the main consequence of The List. The main visible consequence of not doing The List is self-loathing and blame. I look at all the work that's being done, and it seems to mostly be a factory for those things: Resentment, exhaustion, misery, self-loathing, and blame.

I clearly need to do more emotional labour to understand how the concrete outcome of all that work outweighs its negative emotional consequences. Because the negative emotional consequences seem pretty big.
posted by clawsoon at 10:25 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I mean, to me the concrete outcome is something like "having toothpaste when you're out of toothpaste", in which case the visible consequence is not just self loathing, it's "Can I get by with an Altoid on the way to work or do I need to run to a 24 hour drugstore before work and find a discreet place to brush."
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:30 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


We are doing some renovations at my house. We have had some project creep and each time it happens he says "it will only take the contractor X time to do" and this morning when it came up again just to add one simple ten-minute-tops outlet I said "no, it will also take me a full night after work to empty out the pantry behind it and box everything up so he has access to the wiring, and more time to rearrange the other boxes I've put our kitchen things in to make room for this box in our tiny house, and more time to find things that are in the boxes during the days we're out-of-kitchen, and more time to rearrange everything once he is done."

So he said "ok we won't add the outlet."

Which misses the point completely. I don't not want the outlet. Adding the outlet is a good idea. But I want it acknowledged that it's not a simple ten-minute-tops job. I don't mind doing the packing and moving and finding. But I want the disruption and my time and effort recognized. Or I want him to take on some of it.

I said these things to my partner and a light bulb went on. He is a good guy. We are all products of our upbringing and culture and habits. I think it's ok that we come into relationships thinking X is important and Y isn't, and he does this and she does that. But I don't think it's ok that we stay in those roles. I need to recognize that Y is important and he needs to value X more, if not because we already know it, then because we learn it from each other. When we start waving each other's priorities off as eh, not important (as evidenced in several comments in this thread), we wave each other off too.
posted by headnsouth at 10:30 AM on February 9, 2017 [29 favorites]


But if she didn't send that card, I do not think I would unless she specifically requested I do.
Do you not think that's, you know, a bit shit?

Or to put it another way, imagine if your partner was distressed because they'd forgotten Great Aunt Whoever's birthday and she always sends her a card and has loved the Whoever family since she was born and you said "oh yeah, I noticed you hadn't sent it so I sent one for you yesterday and I didn't mention it because that's just the kind of thing people do for each other and why are you crying yeah I know you love me you can stop squeezing it's kind of hurting"
posted by fullerine at 10:32 AM on February 9, 2017 [20 favorites]


So, my ex-boyfriends mom is dying a pretty slow, agonizing death, and it's really sad. Her extended family is very angry about this. They are angry at her, actively, and they are making it known that they are mad by telling her and yelling at her, because her death means:

- she didn't host the family Christmas party this year
- she doesn't make daily dinners for her husbands parents anymore, or make all of her husband's meals anymore either (they are both retired and home all day, for what it's worth)
- she doesn't call everyone as often, send cards, remember birthdays or important events as well
- she can't travel to see her son in another state or her sister across the country
- she's not doing the grocery shopping as much (she's still doing it sometimes, though)
- her husband is sad all the time, and when he is sad it makes other people in the family feel bad because they don't know how to help him feel better (read that again and let it sink in)

Her family members are making it known to her and to anyone who will listen that she is being, and I quote, selfish. Her death is selfish. People are more worried about her husband being sad than they are about her actually dying, because their emotional labor gravy train is leaving the station and they don't know what to do about it. You cannot make this shit up. She has resorted to calling me, someone who is not even in a relationship with her son anymore, to cry about this stuff. Her daughter is the only person in her family who understands and cares.

This is the price that she is paying for doing the emotional labor, constantly, for everyone in her family. Dying while being called selfish is the big reward at the end of her life. Countless meals served. Countless cards sent, gifts purchased, countless, countless thoughts of others. All blowing out into the wind and being replaced by the refrain of "well what have you done for me lately?"
posted by sockermom at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2017 [91 favorites]


I clearly need to do more emotional labour to understand how the concrete outcome of all that work outweighs its negative emotional consequences. Because the negative emotional consequences seem pretty big.

Take a tour of AskMe. A list of possible consequences:

-violence
-gaslighting
-emotional abuse
-abandonment
-being cheated on, then abandonment
-a series of protracted legal battles
-losing custody of children
-financial distress
-being ostracized from family
-being ostracized from social circle
-being fired
-being demoted
-being moved from FT to PT, losing health insurance

These are not hypotheticals. People have lived all these experiences. I have a friend who receives periodic verbal abuse from her husband when she stops cooking and shopping as often as he wants her to (even though, or perhaps BECAUSE, she is the primary earner). I have another friend whose spouse left her because “she disagreed with him” sometimes.

I love the notion of Crone Island, but let’s not forget that a lot of women who choose not to perform EL actually lose almost everything because of it, and their lives are made less stable and comfortable because of it. Maybe it is worth it! But the tradeoffs and risks are real. Pretending that every person is in a situation or relationship where you can say “I’m not doing this any more” and there will be zero consequences is absurd.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:34 AM on February 9, 2017 [56 favorites]


Who actively thinks "gee, the tops of the windows are probably pretty dusty. I'd better clean them off"?!

The person who's going to be stuck cleaning them at move-out? Especially the person who has historically been obligated to care about these things?

The main visible consequence of not doing The List is self-loathing and blame.

Look, I don't want to have to give all the shits about all this stuff. I'm not being an asshole about the house being in the vaguest fringe category of "not completely awful" because of my highfalutin' preferences but because squalor is really hard to deal with if you let things get to that point. I've lost keys for weeks before, I've had pets suffer because either their specific needs weren't taken care of to a sufficient extent or because the mess or lack of shopping meant they couldn't eat/eliminate/move about the place safely. I've lost money because a place I moved out of couldn't be cleaned appropriately in time. (So has my husband, but it doesn't seem to weigh on his conscience.)

I need food in my fridge in order to eat appropriate meals, I need a relatively clean sleeping space to get adequate sleep, I need clean clothes to work and socialize in, and I need a living environment that is at least clean enough that it is not actively stressful to be in it. Those are not insignificant "emotional" consequences they are serious threats to a comfortable, safe, and mentally healthy life. There are real-world consequences, predominantly negative, to these things not getting done.

And I live with a person who knows that if he just holds off long enough, I'll do it all for us. This is also incredibly unhealthy to me as a person, but it is what - in many cultures - men specifically are socialized to do: Let some fucking sucker do my shitwork, even if that means the fucking sucker is a person I am supposed to love and care about. Let the fucking sucker that we pay almost nothing to mow our lawn deal with half the dogshit because eh, I can't be bothered to pick it all up I'm a busy man. I'll spend all my time thinking about important things and let the help - the one I'm married to - spend Saturdays running errands instead of having a hobby or friends. She'll say something if she doesn't want to do it. Or, I mean, she'll say something again. Or every time. I'll just let her think about it all and delegate what she wants me to do. She's doing it, so that's probably fine.

This is a terrible thing to have done to you, and it is also terrible for your character to do this to people. It is sexist, and given who is often involved if paid help is obtained, I'm pretty sure it's racist too.

That is not to say women can't do this too. There are certainly gender roles deeply in play here, but the gender roles mostly say men fix things, take out the trash, and do the lawn while women do everything that happens inside. And not only are we failure-women if we don't do it, we often bear the health and financial consequences as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:47 AM on February 9, 2017 [53 favorites]


> Or to put it another way, imagine if your partner was distressed because they'd forgotten Great Aunt Whoever's birthday and she always sends her a card and has loved the Whoever family since she was born and you said "oh yeah, I noticed you hadn't sent it so I sent one for you yesterday and I didn't mention it because that's just the kind of thing people do for each other and why are you crying yeah I know you love me you can stop squeezing it's kind of hurting"

But am I now a bad person if I also forget? That's what's at issue here, right? Women being judged because they cannot possibly manage being perfect, but the expectation that they are perfect is there. Shifting the expectation of perfection doesn't really solve the problem (i.e. accusing me of being "shit" if I don't remember). How this might work better is that she maintains a calendar of birthdays and ensures she gets a card and present onto a list that I maintain so I can pick it up when I'm out shopping. Something as simple as: milk, eggs, present for Great Aunt Whoever. Now we've both contributed in our own way to this project. Just as she can save me some of the burden of shopping and cooking by suggesting a meal, or just reminding me to take the chicken from the freezer. We both fail at these obligations sometimes, but that's life.

I agree with clawsoon, there's got to be a better way here. I see I am very lucky to be in a relationship where there is some balance.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 11:00 AM on February 9, 2017


I see women who are resentful, exhausted, and miserable, and that's the most prominent result of all the work they're doing.

No, that would be merely a semi-prominent result of the patriarchy.

You may think you're not interested in Great Aunt Whoever, but then a few years go by and you realize that you hardly see anyone anymore and when your kid gets sick you don't have cousins who immediately volunteer to bring over meals so you don't have to cook when you come home from the hospital, or you break a limb because you're getting a little older and more fragile and you don't even have your nephew's phone number so that tire on your car sure isn't getting changed by him...
posted by praemunire at 11:01 AM on February 9, 2017 [20 favorites]


I look at all the work that's being done, and it seems to mostly be a factory for those things: Resentment, exhaustion, misery, self-loathing, and blame.

OK, I have been debating whether I can wade into this without becoming an incandescent ball of rage. I'm gonna try it.

I will use for my example the single largest and most persistent flashpoint in my long-term relationship (woman in a relationship with a man, unmarried): the holidays.

Prior to being in a relationship, the EL surrounding the "holiday season," which for me is Thanksgiving-Christmas, was a factory for joy and satisfaction in equal measure to the stress or exhaustion involved. There was no resentment or self-loathing. As a single lady I did not have to weather much blame for "falling short" of expectations, because the expectations for "sad single lady in her 20s"* are pretty low tbh.

In every. Single. Heterosexual. Relationship. I have ever had, all of my holiday-related EL has been met with either outright resistance, passive-aggressive resistance, or subtle dismissal. Simultaneously, as a female participant in an Official Heterosexual Relationship, I AM now suddenly on the hook for all that gendered blame -- how come no hosting? How come no cards? How come no cookie exchange? Ahem Ahem all of the other ladies have been doing these things, you've coasted long enough. 100% more pressure, 100% more obstacle. Yes, the satisfaction-to-resentment-and-exhaustion ratio does shift. In a bad way. And you know what? The obstacle is worse by far than the expectations. I'm happy to rise to the occasion. But not when my partner is metaphorically grabbing my ankles from below and clawing me down.

The main visible consequence of not doing The List is self-loathing and blame.

Well, fine. The main invisible consequence of not doing The List (again, specifically as regards my holiday example) is that I grieve for the lost opportunities of building traditions and connections in a family that is geographically scattered, and I lose the chance to celebrate light in the darkness in a way that literally makes the whole rest of my year shittier.

So now you know.

*not my words, obvs
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:10 AM on February 9, 2017 [28 favorites]


Lyn Never: I need food in my fridge in order to eat appropriate meals, I need a relatively clean sleeping space to get adequate sleep, I need clean clothes to work and socialize in, and I need a living environment that is at least clean enough that it is not actively stressful to be in it. Those are not insignificant "emotional" consequences they are serious threats to a comfortable, safe, and mentally healthy life. There are real-world consequences, predominantly negative, to these things not getting done.

For a while, mostly under the influence of Metafilter, I was doing all of those things. The result was an angry, stressed me. The secondary result was my daughter's behaviour at school going all sideways. I could not do All The Things and be there emotionally for my daughter. Some people can; I could not.

Now I do all the things except for one: Our apartment is a mess. The sheets and clothes get washed every week, healthy food gets made every day (okay, it gets cooked once a week and re-heated the rest of the week), the keys don't get lost because they always go in the same place, and one shopping trip per week gets all the groceries we need. But the apartment is a mess, and I can give my daughter the time and attention she needs because I'm not completely stressed out.

But these threads... man, these threads make me feel like if I brought someone with higher standards into our tiny little family, stress levels would shoot back up and as a result behaviour would go all sideways again... even if the other result was that we did have a clean apartment.
posted by clawsoon at 11:15 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


clawsoon: Is there any creative compromise possible? Or is it all men imposing their low standards on women and women imposing their high standards on men, everyone imposing on everyone? Everybody feels resentful about it. The solution - from both sides - always seems to be, "I am totally in the right about this, and you need to be more like me." You need to step up. No, you need to relax. This is important work. That is pointless busywork.

Compromise is absolutely possible. I've been really lucky in this department, because my SO is aces at communication and EL. Both of us make an effort to be mindful of each other's standards, especially where those standards diverge, and to limit how much stress that divergence imposes. Some of this is explicit -- e.g., the system we worked out for bills (I'm neurotic about bill deadlines and he is very much not) -- and some of it is just cultivating a particular kind of awareness. This awareness is work, but since it's reciprocal and it improves quality of life for both of us we appreciate rather than resent it.

I think when most people think of the kind of compromise you describe, they're 1) segregating domestic labor into a sphere that doesn't touch anything else and 2) thinking in terms of a distribution of labor (I cook, you do dishes; I monitor toilet paper inventory, you keep gas in the car). I think it's more constructive to frame the compromise as agreeing to maintain a shared awareness that values both objective necessities *and* subjective priorities. To trivialize a priority is to trivialize the person who has it; conversely, honoring a priority you [the editorial you, not the personal you] don't share demonstrates that you recognize and respect them as a distinct person.

I'm probably not explaining this really well, so tl;dr: Mindfulness and reciprocity go a long way.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 11:17 AM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Women being judged because they cannot possibly manage being perfect, but the expectation that they are perfect is there. Shifting the expectation of perfection doesn't really solve the problem (i.e. accusing me of being "shit" if I don't remember). How this might work better is that she maintains a calendar of birthdays and ensures she gets a card and present onto a list that I maintain so I can pick it up when I'm out shopping.

Realising that tools and systems exist to help manage these things is a great first step; the next step is realising that you could in fact use those tools and systems to manage things yourself instead of expecting someone else to do it for you.
posted by emilyw at 11:18 AM on February 9, 2017 [28 favorites]


I am a Sad Single Lady(TM) in her fifties and I am here to say that as a female-identified person, even if I'm not on the hook for family-related EL, I sure as heck have been on the hook for it at work one way or the other.

It's a constant balancing act of "am I outshining some superior," "I didn't ask what the scope of my responsibilities is so I Better Find Out" (Bog forbid a male manager actually TELL you what that is), "am I being seen as arrogating power", bla bla bla.

There is no escaping it. None.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:25 AM on February 9, 2017 [18 favorites]


How this might work better is that she maintains a calendar of birthdays and ensures she gets a card and present onto a list that I maintain so I can pick it up when I'm out shopping.

You're talking about shifting the cognitive labor over to your wife, while not really acknowledging that cognitive labor is often extremely exhausting and takes away from her own fulfillment, especially if she does all/most of the remembering for birthdays, shopping, chores, etc.

Honestly, following a list is quite a bit easier than trying to remember dates, plan meals and shopping lists, or prioritize chores.

I'm not saying you're a shitty person or anything, but I'm not sure you're giving enough weight to the value of the cognitive and emotional labor that goes into keeping on top of those tasks. The great thing is that you can make lists too! What if you made her a shopping list for things that your family regularly needs or proactively set up a calendar of important birthdays*? I bet she'd dig it.

* Also note--I'm falling into the pattern of a woman doing cognitive and emotional labor here for free.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 11:25 AM on February 9, 2017 [33 favorites]


Am I not a woman because I'm not like that? Anyway.)

Yeah, I get that a lot too. Partly I think because my family wasn't as traditionally gendered as a lot are, but I was not raised to be a caregiver. My mom quit her job when they got married and had me, but my dad got up every morning, packed his lunch, and brought my mom a cup of coffee in bed before he left for work, he did pretty much all the shopping, and he was a very active and involved parent. He used to take me, his daughter, to work with him sometimes, because he correctly noticed that I was the one most inclined toward going into his line of work, whereas my brothers weren't as much. The idea of that sort of thing being women's work--either prescriptively or descriptively--wasn't something I grew up with.

So it came as something of a shock to me when I first got married, and my godawful mother in law came over one weekend to teach me how to take care of her son. Apparently, she'd been over to visit my unemployed husband earlier in the week while I was at work and was disturbed that, among other things, I didn't have matching dish towels and didn't cook for him enough. So she bought me some superfluous dishtowels, and then started showing me how to make horrible disgusting meals--like one was fried bologna sandwiches, and another was cans of beef stew with extra salt, topped with bacon and processed cheese slices. Fortunately, I was pregnant and constantly nauseated, so I think I put a stop to that by vomiting.

Maybe it's because I'm aware of it or something, but since then, I've always just made a point of avoiding babymen. I'm pretty explicit about it. So when I met my husband, I told him outright that I do not do Christmas card lists or keep track of adults' birthdays (nobody in my family does), and things like that. I do take on a lot of domestic roles, but I explain to him what I'm doing and why he should be appreciative of it, and he does most of the things I really hate, like cleaning. He every now and again is blissfully unaware of some sort of background thing I'm doing, so I just tell him. He listens. It's other people who don't. It's people who try to use me as a liaison to communicate with him or who assume that now that he's got a woman around, we're going to be going all in on regular card and gift exchanges, or that it's my fault that he dresses funny. And neither of us has a Facebook account, but he's never gotten shit about it. I make it a point to tell the men I know when someone gives me shit about some gender expectation I'm not living up to, pretty much every time, so they understand the volume and intensity of it all. Maybe I am just really good at picking and raising decent men, but they seem a lot more receptive to the message than the women who give me shit about things that aren't their business.

I'm not a big fan of coopting the term "emotional labor" to describe those things, but I am really glad to at least see that people are recognizing the phenomenon.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


I am a Sad Single Lady(TM) in her fifties and I am here to say that as a female-identified person, even if I'm not on the hook for family-related EL, I sure as heck have been on the hook for it at work one way or the other.

Yeah my example pretty much was meant to apply solely to holidays in the US, where if a 27 year old single lady wants to go all-out for Christmas or whatever, it's like a bonus, whereas a married or relationshipped lady of a few years older is expected to slot herself seamlessly into the Default Hostess Pinterest mode.

I have always been on the hook for a shitload of EL from family and work in other respects, from like, age 6.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:29 AM on February 9, 2017


man, these threads make me feel like if I brought someone with higher standards into our tiny little family, stress levels would shoot back up and as a result behaviour would go all sideways again

I had super high standards with an ex. Super, super high. I did not want our apartment to contain giant roaches, mice, and fleas that caused our dog to bleed everywhere and whine in misery all day every day. These standards are not too high. My standards are not too high. He could not stand living with me and we broke up because he preferred to live with roaches, mice, and fleas crawling all over our poor, sweet dog -- he preferred that over living with me, despite the mind-boggling amount of emotional labor I did for him and the household.

I am so tired of this "I don't see the mess" and "your standards are too high" nonsense. I'm a pretty easy-going person as far as these things go, but I am allowed to draw the line at "bleeding whining sad innocent dog." Any reasonable person would.
posted by sockermom at 11:29 AM on February 9, 2017 [35 favorites]


Why do these arguments always get snippy about cards. In the EL thread it was Christmas cards. Now it's birthday cards.

Do men just hate cards? Does it make you feel unmasculine to send it or something?

Anyway, the answer to Great Aunt's birthday card argument is:

Talk to your wife about why Great Aunt's card is important. Maybe Great Aunt gave her money for college, or was there for her when she was 9 and her cat died, or is otherwise a really important person who shouldn't be allowed to just have birthdays all alone with no one giving a shit until she dies sad and unnoticed.

Or maybe GA is an asshole who will cause endless trouble if she doesn't get a damn card, and your wife sends one because it's less of a hassle than getting yelled at the next time she sees her. And your wife has enough hassles in her life that making this tradeoff is worth more than just never seeing her family again.

In short: just assume for once, that if your wife/SO is worried about something, that you should give a shit because you love them, dammit. Find out why it matters. If you can be of assistance (maybe you can help her by buying bulk birthday cards and setting up Google Calendar notices, whatever) THEN DO THAT.

Standing on the sidelines rolling your eyes because Those Women and Their Stupid Priorities, Amirite? is not going to make you a better partner.
posted by emjaybee at 11:37 AM on February 9, 2017 [45 favorites]


"You know what, I have executive functioning problems, too. But I'm a woman, so I get judged for it. Men otoh can make a half-hearted attempt to clean the house and make dinner once and it's a goddamn event."

I am also a woman so I bristle at the level of judgmental assumptions made here that anyone who struggles with this just doesn't care and doesn't realize how "easy" it is to cook fresh food and clean it all up every night.

That feeds into the assumption that women can't possibly struggle with this or that people who do are inferior and I dislike when these conversations seem to be reinforcing that assumption.
posted by xarnop at 11:40 AM on February 9, 2017 [11 favorites]


Who on earth is saying these things are simple and women can't struggle with them? We are literally saying that these things are in fact hugely draining on both a physical and a cognitive level for MOST women. They would be a huge toll on anyone who had to do them singlehandedly. That's the whole reason it's bullshit for all of the EL responsibility to fall on half the population the way it does.

The only people who argue that Emotional Labor is so easy and painless are the people who argue that women should keep doing 100% of it. And those folks are a lot of places, but not in this thread.

People arguing that EL is *important* even if difficult are not saying that it isn't difficult.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:46 AM on February 9, 2017 [28 favorites]


I've always just made a point of avoiding babymen.

This. So much this. My parents were and are stuck in the "traditional" (read: patriarchal bullshit) relationship where she does ALL the EL and pretty much everything else and he wants a fucking medal if he TURNS ON THE (full, with the powder already in it) DISHWASHER.

No fucking way was I ever going to be in a relationship like that. Either I lucked out when I met my husband, or I was subconsciously attracted to him, because he is in no way anything like the "traditional" man. We always joke that he's a much better housewife than I am, except he doesn't like cooking and I really love it. Otherwise, he's got the leg up on me in pretty much everything else. When I was our childrens' primary caregiver and didn't work outside the home, I took care of doctor's appointments and playdates but my husband wanted to know when all that stuff happened so he'd feel a part of their lives. Now that we both work full time outside the home (except he works from home, so there's that), it's pretty much split down the middle w/r/t making appointments, etc. I do the Christmas cards because I like it. If I didn't do it, he wouldn't complain and if anyone else did (MIL, aunts, uncles, etc.) he'd tell 'em to stuff it. He takes care of his family birthdays, and I take care of mine. Friends we do together. He makes the grocery list, I go to the store. I cook, he cleans. He washes and dries the laundry, I put it away. He cleans the litterboxes and I bathe the dog and trim his nails. He makes his own doctor/dentist/specialist appointments, I make mine; we both make our daughter's. Etc., etc.

Actually, our son's birthday is Monday, and he's off at college. I've been super busy at work lately so my husband volunteered to do the research for the sound card the kid wanted, and chose a bunch of graphic novels for me and my daughter to yay or nay for him, we went together to pick out the card, we wrapped the gifts together, he put the box together and took it to the post office.

That's an equal division of all the labor required to celebrate your adult child's birthday, and it never occurred to either one of us that the other was pulling more weight or shirking duties. It's something we came to after discussing what our schedules looked like and what we wanted to do for him. And that's how we pretty much do everything in our relationship. Because I saw/see what my mother's life is like and no fucking thank you very much.

Looking back on what I wrote, please I hope no one takes it for bragging. It's not intended to be. It's an example of what an equal relationship can look like. We talk about it all the time, we really do. Neither of us came into our relationship knowing exactly what we wanted it to look like, but we figured it out together, and we both value the other's opinions and desires. Have there been hurt feelings? Of course! But we work through them, we occasionally partake in couples therapy, and we commit, every day, to being a partnership.
posted by cooker girl at 11:50 AM on February 9, 2017 [17 favorites]


Who actively thinks "gee, the tops of the windows are probably pretty dusty. I'd better clean them off"?!

Um, someone with asthma and the people who love them and don't want them to be sick? I swear, sometimes it feels like my husband spends more thought managing the environment to protect me from my chronic health conditions than I do, and I'm the one who would otherwise suffer.

Also, quoted for truth:

Who on earth is saying these things are simple and women can't struggle with them? We are literally saying that these things are in fact hugely draining on both a physical and a cognitive level for MOST women. They would be a huge toll on anyone who had to do them singlehandedly. That's the whole reason it's bullshit for all of the EL responsibility to fall on half the population the way it does.

The only people who argue that Emotional Labor is so easy and painless are the people who argue that women should keep doing 100% of it. And those folks are a lot of places, but not in this thread.

posted by bookdragoness at 11:56 AM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is very interesting to me, because my husband and I have a pretty equitable distribution of labor, emotional and otherwise, and I used to think it was because I lucked out and now I'm wondering if I'm just bad at being a person, like the stereotype of a dude that doesn't see dust. (I'm female).

My husband is more likely to cook. I am more likely to remember appointments and arrange plans. He is better at cooking and is kind of absent-minded with appointments and plans; I once accidentally put wood into a smoothie but I remember everything ever with great ease. He is the one who notices if we are out of toilet paper/paper towels/napkins. I am the one who knows how to travel to any neighborhood we need to go to. He is a more conscious user of absorbent paper goods, and I am a transportation planner by trade. We are equally likely to notice dust and go get the dust buster to dust bust it.

Here is a thing about cards: As mentioned above, I am woman. And I hate cards. I hate sending them and I hate receiving them. I watched my parents deal with Christmas cards for my entire life (they even had me writing their letter for them for awhile), and it took up entire weekends and I just didn't see the point. We are Jews. Why must we do Christmas cards? Why?! So as an adult, I just never did it. I never did it as a single adult and I'm not doing it as a married adult, and my husband never did it either, and we feel good about this. Are people really secretly judging me (if so, I don't really care, but I'd be astounded if any person who has ever met me would consider me a candidate to send cards)? Are cards really a thing in our generation?? We don't send birthday cards either. No cards! What a waste of mail! If anything, call! Or send a real letter! No cards! Seriously, fuck cards!

BUT. Thank you notes. We received wedding gifts. Thus, we had to send thank you notes. Neither one of us wanted to do it, and were putting it off, but it bothered me more to put it off, so I just did it. However, because I did it, I deposited all the checks into my account and not his. No unpaid labor in our house!
posted by millipede at 11:56 AM on February 9, 2017 [11 favorites]


I think cards may be such an issue because there are so many steps involved and it seems superfluous until you realize it's all about kin-keeping:

0. Remember to send someone a card
1. Select a card
2. Write something personal
3. Find the address and label the envelope
4. Find a return address label or label it yourself
5. Find/get stamps or postage
6. Mail the thing

Each of those steps involves thought, and especially when the card itself feels like an obligation instead of something you want to do, then each step adds resentment too. Are you remembering to keep stamps in stock? I carry stamps and return address labels in my purse, but that's yet another example of planning ahead.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:03 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


"Who on earth is saying these things are simple and women can't struggle with them?"

There are a number of people writing in here that it's ludicrous to struggle with these things.

"...is a pretty elaborate excuse for not learning how to cook. Why would you want to survive this way, when the alternative is so much easier? Why on EARTH should a family settle for "pickles and peanut butter" when "actual meals involving vegetables" is within reach?"

Because that is really hard for some of us?

My concern when people say only some of us get a pass is that what they seem to want (just what it seems, do share if that is not the point!) is for everyone to be chewed up and shamed as much as women are. I'm just hoping we can make it clear that it's ok for women and even men to struggle with this.

It's ok for men and women to struggle with doing manual labor or excelling at sports or other masculine labelled activities and it's ok for women or men to struggle with feminine labelled activities. Right?
posted by xarnop at 12:03 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Are cards really a thing in our generation?? We don't send birthday cards either. No cards! What a waste of mail! If anything, call! Or send a real letter! No cards! Seriously, fuck cards!

Here's the thing. That is fine. Nobody cares if you, personally, hate cards. If you and your partner both hate cards, fuckin' awesome! Fantastic. If cards aren't how your social web keeps itself knit, then they aren't, and y'all won't find yourselves paying some unforeseen price down the line. Or maybe you're cool with shedding the kind of people who would find that important.

What would be shitty is if your partner really loved sending and receiving cards, and had to choose between denying himself that enjoyment, or spending each year writing them through the haze of your furious dismissal. It would also be shitty if your partner insisted that you write the dreaded cards anyway, because Reasons and Traditions. These are the kinds of EL imbalances we are talking about here. It is separate from whether X tradition is Objectively Good.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:05 PM on February 9, 2017 [15 favorites]


I am living such the opposite of pretty much everyone else in this thread, and it's fascinating (and occasionally frustrating, with the "men are like THIS and women are like THAT" that can pop up, because what does that mean? Am I not a woman because I'm not like that? Anyway.)

Men are dust-blind.


Oh, hell no. Men are not like anything. Women are not like anything. It's a fucking sick system that trains people into Gender, and like little soldiers fresh out of boot camp, we internalize that death is preferable to not being The Hero.

And some of us don't see it. But don't decide that I'm talking about biology or destiny or some shit and then #notallmen my pain. Good on you for finding a duster. I'm describing patriarchy, not your individual partner's exceptions to the rule.

I've been a hardcore feminist all my life. And I can look back now and see all the gendered bullshit I bought into while I was busy I'm-not-like-other-girls-ing.

Don't be the person who doesn't wear a seatbelt because their uncle lived through a crash by being thrown clear.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 12:06 PM on February 9, 2017 [26 favorites]


It's ok for men and women to struggle with doing manual labor or excelling at sports or other masculine labelled activities and it's ok for women or men to struggle with feminine labelled activities. Right?

Yes, but there is a difference between actually struggling at things, and at men who do something I like to call "Performative Helplessness" when it comes to any form of labor that they deem feminine. You can tell the difference. That is what was being referenced in the comment you cited-- men who magically lack the ability to perform basic tasks as soon as a woman is around who can probably be pressured into performing them in his stead.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:07 PM on February 9, 2017 [34 favorites]


I don't know that people can tell the difference though because seemingly intelligent people can have some very severe difficulties doing some seemingly simple task or keeping track of things. I know many have told me my whole life I'm perfectly capable and I just don't care and I don't think that's true.

By the way I most certainly have the feeling we are over-all on the same page, I was mainly trying to point out that I hope we can refrain from making this an opportunity to shame those who really struggle with these things while also encouraging those who ARE able to put forth some effort at these things.

I think there's a way to do both and I think in general that is most of our end goals here, as far as I can tell. I just know that to people without executive functioning problems it really can be bizarre and seem unbelievable that those with high IQ can struggle in certain areas of basic functioning that seem like simple tasks. Just reminding that's a real thing and it's very painful to deal with. I feel certain that some men just plain don't care because they were socialized not to have to care- and that there are probably some who really do struggle with it.
posted by xarnop at 12:08 PM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


I don't know that people can tell the difference though because seemingly intelligent people can have some very severe difficulties doing some seemingly simple task or keeping track of things.

The way we start to tell the difference is by having nonzero expectations of men on this front. Currently yes, it is very hard to tell if a dude is truly struggling or merely has the option of being helpless due to socialization. Only by expecting men, in general, to maintain a certain level of emotional labor and reciprocity in order to be considered "contributing adults" can we identify those who struggle in a genuine way and cut those people some deserved slack.

PS this is the only way women have any hope of getting cut any slack too. Because our culture is bullshit, "inability to perform task X" will only ever be recognized as legit when it Affects Menz Too.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:15 PM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Don't be the person who doesn't wear a seatbelt because their uncle lived through a crash by being thrown clear.

Oh that reminds me that we've raised our son and daughter to expect and demand the kind of relationship that we have, the equal partnership. Men cook and clean and women change the oil in the car, all that stuff. Our son hasn't had a relationship yet but our daughter has a boyfriend who is possibly more of a feminist than she is.

If we keep teaching our kids and also teach them by example, we can smash the patriarchy.
posted by cooker girl at 12:16 PM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


"...is a pretty elaborate excuse for not learning how to cook. Why would you want to survive this way, when the alternative is so much easier? Why on EARTH should a family settle for "pickles and peanut butter" when "actual meals involving vegetables" is within reach?"

Because that is really hard for some of us?


I'd like to re-emphasize that it is really hard for some of us women, too. Getting dressed and getting out the door on time in the morning is a herculean effort that hasn't gotten any easier over the years. Cooking food is the worst, and I hate it, and I'm not good at it, but if my partner doesn't have it covered (nb he does have it covered every night except when he's away. I am lucky), I sure am not going to settle in for a pickle meal. Because I can read, and I know how knobs on the stove work, and aside from some executive functioning difficulties I am able in a basic way to cook. So I owe it to myself and to my loved ones to figure it out. Even though it's really hard, I have the ability to do it, and I do it.

My concern when people say only some of us get a pass is that what they seem to want (just what it seems, do share if that is not the point!) is for everyone to be chewed up and shamed as much as women are. I'm just hoping we can make it clear that it's ok for women and even men to struggle with this.

That is not the point. The desired outcome is an end to chewing-up and shaming, and a more equitable and respectful division of labor. Which begins with recognition of some facts regarding emotional labor.
posted by witchen at 12:18 PM on February 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


I have lived with a family member who has trouble with executive functioning problems, and one looks nothing like the other, in my experience. When I say "you can tell the difference", my point is that the men who put on elaborate shows of Performative Helplessness enjoy the fact that it is a performance, and that everyone knows it is a performance, and that women will end up doing the labor for them anyway.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:18 PM on February 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


And, fwiw, I'm not saying "I struggle with this but I do it anyway" to flail around and get sympathy. I'm saying it can be done because even I can do it, and I've got issues like the rest of us, plus an innate laziness. If I can pull it together, I think a lot of other similarly-abled folks can do it too.
posted by witchen at 12:23 PM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


What witchen said.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 12:26 PM on February 9, 2017


witchen: I'm saying it can be done because even I can do it, and I've got issues like the rest of us, plus an innate laziness. If I can pull it together, I think a lot of other similarly-abled folks can do it too.

I discovered that I could do it, too, but the cost - after a certain point - hurt the relationships that were most important to me.

Sometimes there's a trade-off between having happy close relationships and maintaining distant relationships. Sometimes you can't have both at the same time. Sometimes you gotta choose. Sometimes your world gets a lot smaller when you choose close relationships over distant ones, and sometimes that's okay.
posted by clawsoon at 12:33 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I discovered that I could do it, too, but the cost - after a certain point - hurt the relationships that were most important to me.

I think we are coming at this with different examples in mind. I was referring to xarnop's comment about the "actual meals involving vegetables" is difficult to do, and agreeing about the difficulty.

I respect what you're getting at, though, from your situation, and I would almost argue that these points are null where single parenting is involved. The discussion gets really messy (ha!) when the parameters are set up to suggest universal truths, but then the details almost always align with reality for yr average fairly privileged, middle-class, hetero partnered couple. Which is far from universal. It'd be interesting to see a FPP or other work about division of emotional labor among other family structures and how they break along cultural and class lines.

TL;DR, a parent spending time with their child is the top priority and nobody should fault you for having a functional but untidy apartment, or for any other matters like keeping up with faraway friends, during this season of life.
posted by witchen at 12:52 PM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


In the 70s I read a short story in Redbook magazine about a woman who is out doing shopping, and she has some kind of brain aneurysm and dies, right there in the store, only, she can't die there, because she's gotta pick up the kids from school, and then she can't die then, because her husband comes home from work and needs a drink, and then she can't die then, because she's gotta fix dinner, and then she can't die then, because she's gotta put the kids to bed, and finally after all that she fills the bathtub and climbs in and is finally able to die for reals. (I was surprised she didn't have to have sex one more time too.) I do wish I could find that story again.
posted by JanetLand at 1:14 PM on February 9, 2017 [30 favorites]


witchen: and nobody should fault you for having a functional but untidy apartment, or for any other matters like keeping up with faraway friends, during this season of life.

Thanks for the validation. But then this season of life ends when I meet a "sad single lady in her 20s" (or 30s or 40s or whatever), and the "pretty low" expectations on both of us suddenly turn into how come no hosting? How come no cards? How come no cookie exchange? Ahem Ahem all of the other ladies have been doing these things hell. It's bad magic. Bad!

Which reminds me, I really need to get that envelope for Auntie Betty into the mailbox... one of these weeks... :-/
posted by clawsoon at 1:17 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Just want to say thanks to all who take on the emotional labor of educating, the huge emotional labor thread was very eye-opening and I think it has made me a better husband. I do know it's definitely made me more judgmental, I constantly find myself wanting to send that thread to friends, but I repress the urge. Anyways these are always very interesting.
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:48 PM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


"Even though it's really hard, I have the ability to do it, and I do it."

I would really deeply recommend that you not say that because you struggle but are able to do something that you know for a fact that others who struggle but are not able are lying.

It's a really hurtful thing that it sounds like you are insinuating.

This sounds like people who have dyslexia telling others with dyslexia "Oh hey I struggle but I still learned to spell accurately so everyone else with dyslexia can achieve accurate spelling if they just try."

It's not true that because one person with disabilities struggles and can do something, that everyone else who struggles will be able to achieve the same thing.
posted by xarnop at 1:58 PM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the validation. But then this season of life ends when I meet a "sad single lady in her 20s" (or 30s or 40s or whatever), and the "pretty low" expectations on both of us suddenly turn into

Just the fact that you see the expectations as also applying to yourself, in the event of partnership, puts you well ahead of the game though. For far too many dudes, the idea of meeting that eventual lady is appealing because "I can finally stop worrying about this dumb life shit, it'll be her problem now."

The whole point is that these tasks become more manageable and rewarding when they are equally prioritized by, appreciated by, and completed by more than one person in a household. Will you find the idea of calling a parent on their birthday as onerous when your partner has already noted and taken care of x household task, freeing up a half hour of your night? Will your partner resent doing the grocery shopping as much when you have already composed a list for her? Will wrapping gifts truly just be a hell-slog of doom if, thanks to both partners making a concerted effort, the house is fully stocked with paper, tape, easily located scissors, and a clean flat surface?

The work that goes into making life in a home or a family pleasant is definitely work, but when everyone is pulling their weight, it can be okay.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:03 PM on February 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


I also stopped cooking dinner thanks to the EL thread! But this thread may help me see the next steps better - because not only am I (still) expected to make dinner by society but even when I don't I am expected to manage the making of dinner. And when I jump on top of and crush society's expectations is also WORK. The WORK of it is at least 3 layers deep.

While reading "I am the person" list, I started to think of other things that I took for granted as stuff I just do but can now put these tasks, plus their responsibility and task distribution under the definition of work. This is "women's work" that I knew to do but did not even classify as work. Metafilter, you hold up a super mirror.

Also, we are all battling (or embracing) the patriarchy in our own heads. Yes, some version of it is in your head and dictates your assumptions, you allegiances, and your rebellions. Instead of saying, "not me" or "not my spouse," or "I choose this," or "I can't because reasons," why not just let it inform and detail to you what women's work entails. Can you accept this information without getting us off track?
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 2:04 PM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: Can you accept this information without getting us off track?
posted by Huck500 at 2:25 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


*squints* I'm confused as to who said women don't experience executive function issues, because in my household my partner is literally the only one of the three of us who doesn't have issues with executive function--and, uh, they're also the only non-woman here. And--well, there are occasional pickle meals (pause to furtively shove half-eaten box of Thin Mints into drawer, here), but at the end of the day, animals gotta get fed and mucked out after as first priority, dishes gotta get cleaned, clothes gotta be folded shortly after coming out of the dryer because that's important to T, counters gotta get wiped down because otherwise I'm grossed out, air quality's got to be clean enough not to set off K's lungs. You work out what has to get done immediately, what should be done soonish, and what can live without being done for a while yet/what hasn't pissed you off enough to angrily demand it be done RIGHT NOW OH MY GOD.

If tidying the house isn't on your household's list of priorities, it's not there. Note, dudes, that I said your household's, not yours--I'm about to get up off my ass and throw this set of clothes in the dryer again for the dewrinkle setting before I fold them right this time, because I've been too tired and worn out from other things to manage folding them when they just came out of the dryer, and that is important to my spouse--that our clothes not be wrinkly and poorly taken care of so people won't judge us for being sloppy. Left to my own devices, I would probably go 'aw, fuck it' on this one, but then my spouse would be frustrated and upset, and because I love them I'm going to devote some energy to doing that even though I just want to lie here and dick around for another hour.

I have a massive system of interlinked todoist and habitica and handwritten python routines linking them and followupthens and google calenders to keep this shit rolling. I use so many accommodations, guys, and it's my job to figure out what works for me and put the extra effort in just like it's my partner's job to work out what realistic expectations out of me are, and it's both our jobs to communicate with each other and say something if we are being overworked or having a hard time or feeling let down--just like it's then both our jobs to listen to that shit and take it seriously.

That's the thing that should be possible for everyone to do. Full stop.
posted by sciatrix at 3:36 PM on February 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


I love the notion of Crone Island, but let’s not forget that a lot of women who choose not to perform EL actually lose almost everything because of it, and their lives are made less stable and comfortable because of it

Yeah, this is really important to remember, and it has a corollary. If you, like me, have a tendency to read generalized statements about the costs of not performing EL or specific anecdotes in this thread and dismiss them because of any combination of: a) "but that's illogical and dumb so it shouldn't count!", b) "I know women who don't do this stuff and they're very successful/don't get flak," or c) "I am a women who doesn't do this stuff and not doing it works well for me," this is your privilege showing. The fact that your privilege aligns closely with how you wish the world would work for everyone does not negate either your privilege or the lived experiences of other women. I mean, I'm an outspoken feminist queer lady who shuns a lot of EL, dresses non-femme, and is pretty comfortable speaking up in boyzone workplace cultures, so I make it work. The fact that I can do this is awesome, but if I had to roll the dice and try again in a new life in our society, I don't think I'd be in a place to do this, or have the partner, family, and social toolkit to pull it off, at least 9 times out of 10.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:17 PM on February 9, 2017 [19 favorites]


But I am a woman, so I have no choice but to level up and do it, or fake it (and feel deep shame about it).

And every woman here could write out a multi-hundreds list of what we keep track of


(from two different comments)

no, every woman could not. I couldn't, because I don't keep track of shit. When this leads to disaster and I have to get someone to take care of my back taxes or whatever ghastly disaster I have created for myself, I hire someone to fix it for me and I pay her, because I don't care to excessively consume free labor any more than I care to generate it. But usually it doesn't lead to disaster, just to general disorganization and absent-mindedness. I will believe I am not in the majority, but I am also not special in this way.

I am a woman, and I not only have a choice but I exercise that choice. I am not representative of everybody, but I do know that and everyone else should too. also, I question whether doing other people's work for them constitutes leveling up rather than down. Please guys do not make up stuff to bolster a point that's entirely valid and doesn't need fake support to undermine it, because undermining it is what that does. There's a line between normalizing oppression in the sense that look, it's not just one unlucky woman, this is a system, we're not alone and we can support one another in resisting; and normalizing it in the sense that, well, everybody hates it but everybody does it and puts up with it, guess there's just no way to resist, best we can do is be furious but not stop, women never stop, the very idea of stopping is proof you don't get it. I don't think it's a fine line either.

It is not true that women have no choice but to do a bunch of demeaning service. What is true is that when we don't do it, there are consequences, and you can't predict what those consequences will be in a snappy so-there sentence because they depend so heavily on culture and individual temperament and family. One likely though not universal consequence is that if you have a husband, he won't be happy, or if you don't have one, you may keep on not having one. I realize this. but to say that there is therefore no choice is to say that any indignity and any level of oppression is worth it if that's what takes to make people tolerate your womanly existence. like: you have to clean up after a man and be his mother, or else! Or else what? Well, or else he won't allow you to continue living with him so as to clean up after him and mother him.

this, what I just said there, is usually responded to as if it's an attack or an unwelcome joke. because the idea of voluntarily suffering in your personal life so that you don't have to suffer even more egregiously in your personal life, because loneliness may be preferable to powerlessness, is not, for whatever reason, taken very seriously. but this is serious shit. isn't it?

this is actually a choice real women really make all the time. I don't tell people to do it, and I don't tell people which choice will make them most unhappy. but all women do not have to either do it or fake it, that's not true. I do understand about financial dependence and abusive relationships and coercion. but of those women who can decline to perform a job they did not apply for, without financial disaster or physical retaliation, a number of us do.

the other thing women have a choice to do is do all the caretaking and worrying that apparently some of us know how to do and think is worthwhile, but only do it for other women. The older women get, the more this seems to happen, and not only because at some point all the men start dying. I see it even in the least feminist of places and it seems like a very good idea already in practice.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:15 PM on February 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


I dunno. My view personally is that a) my executive function is shit, and b) I was never allowed not to at least try to compensate. I remember my mother teaching me how to clean silverware when I was four. Am I adept at that? Nope. Was I expected to know? Yes.

The gulf between what can be done practically by a woman and what a woman ought to know how to do is usually really, really large in a way it usually isn't for men.

For another example, the same vegetable guy I mentioned earlier didn't know the first thing about setting a table. He'd never had to. He knew "fork, knife, plate" but what went with what or how they were positioned was unknown to him. Me, I get distracted constantly. It's hard for me to finish setting two or three places without wandering off. But do I know how to and how to make decisions based on number of guests and the food and the event? Yes. Did he ever learn to set the table? Good question! But would that be asked of a woman?
posted by E. Whitehall at 6:22 PM on February 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


I find these threads so fascinating because holy shit I'm EL deficient .

Part of it is 1) I grew up in a chaotic abusive household with one disabled parent where normal emotional labor needs we not met. 2) having an abusive family means I don't have some of those obligations. 3) a history of neglect plus a disassociating means noticing means extra work and my tolerance for mess and disorganization is high.

At the same time, I do tons of emotional labor for my job as a social worker. It's just part of the job. It's part of the job I enjoy because some times the little things are the most important things.

My life suffers because I don't keep track of my friends well, socializing at my house rarely happens, my significant other and I argue over distribution if labor in the home. I'm not univolved but really I'm the kind of person who would eat pickles and peanut butter and not do anything about it until I was good and ready, and running out of food doesn't feel like an emergency for the first 24 hours or so.

My wife is not like that. She just isn't, and structure and things being organized help her be able to do her days. I really have to remind myself that doing work on her schedule is not her being inpatient, it's me being unfocused. There is so much I can do and even though some of it is unfamiliar none of it is unreasonable and I do benefit from household tasks everyday.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:11 PM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


I thank God for outlets like Metafilter without which I would never have learned the term Emotional Labor. Once you have the concept, you can see how it unites so many elements of your life, you can see where you got stubborn, where you gave in, you know what it does to you, and you know how it feels, and only then can you make a good conscious decision, knowing all the facts, and despite the context.

I'm not married, and I don't have kids. But I see emotional labor all around me.

My roommate is male, because of the cost to move in here, because of certain freedoms I get living here, because of space and place, I put up with the fact he has not cleaned the apartment once in 14 months. When I've queried him as to why, he says it's because he's not around much, which he isn't. But the fact is, even if he and I and the other guy (the one who's on board with cleaning, who only rents a room here for work purposes, and does not live here) all sat on the couch for three months and didn't move, it would still get dirty. Because of this, I think he has some responsibility to clean or find a proxy (e.g. put money toward a cleaner) to do it for him. I'm slowly moving in the latter direction with him or without him, but it's taken a toll, and several fits of suppressed anger, and this is despite the fact I really like the guy as a person.

A (former) close male friend drinks too much, and on a recent foray into my city, made himself so sick with drink I thought he was going to hurt himself. I was getting nightly calls from him in full panic attack mode, which would then switch to crying fits, and talk of the odd seizure. I was the only one he was confiding all this to, and I was so worried that he was going to hurt himself I contacted another friend of his to check in on him. When I later told the "drinker" what I had done, he said I was just like his mother, and promptly hung up on me.

Another male friend I have a burgeoning relationship with recently announced he was going to send me his writing, and wanted my feedback. Now I've been a professional writer/editor for more than two decades, and I know from authors. If they're a friend and want feedback you have to be especially careful not to hurt their feelings, to keep them excited about their projects, all while somehow hoping they don't keep sending you stuff to read. Over time, I've become more and more reluctant to read anybody's work nonprofessionally, and much of the time I refuse when asked.

But because he and I are sort of, kind of en route to some sort of relationship it made things especially sticky. So I told him that he might want to show his work to folks who would be more natural readers for the sociopolitical stuff he writes. When he didn't catch the implications, I then told him that most folks wouldn't dream of asking a lawyer or an accountant to evaluate their projects for free, yet no such compunction exists with writers, musicians, and artists. He wrote back semi-apologizing, and then I realized I'd hurt his feelings. So I performed the emotional labor of making nice, and explaining how easily writers (and other folks in the arts) end up feeling taken advantage of in these circumstances.

Later, reflecting, I realized that in an attempt to avoid the emotional labor of managing his feelings if he didn't like my manuscript evaluation, I then ended up performing emotional labor to explain why I didn't want to evaluate it. I don't chalk this up so much to the emotional labor of women; more the emotional labor of those in the arts and humanities who are expected to cheer on newcomers/work for free/make nice in a way no banker or engineer is ever expected to do. But it probably doesn't help that I'm a woman.

When I think about how much time I've wasted psychologically masturbating the needs of the men in my life, I lose patience with this kind of time wasting. I also don't think it's any accident that I've increasingly begun to work with organizations who stand up for women's rights.
posted by Puppetry for Privacy at 9:03 PM on February 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


Queenofbithynia, I think there is a tipping point, almost a sort of free rider, to women who refuse to do emotional labor in societies. The first few women are eccentric and unusual and can be admired, the next are beginning to be a bit pushed back, but there's no systematic backlash until there is a significant group of women refusing to prop up the system with free or unrecognised labor.

So one woman refusing to do the PTA because she's upfront that she doesn't get any recognition and her partner can do it instead - fine, they have a colourful bohemian marriage and she's a personality, isn't she cool. Half of the largely female PTA refuses to do it and handover to their mostly male partners who don't show up and the school's unpaid labor systems grind to a halt... That's hideous self-involved feminist mothers who put career over family and hate their children, etc etc.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:13 AM on February 10, 2017 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I feel like "just opt out!" disregards the fact that sometimes people want things. Sometimes people actually want society to get better, too, which is why we find ways to fight these fights at work and in our kids' schools/orgs and why we get out in the street these days to yell about stuff. Not everyone is obligated to do that, but that also means recusing yourself from the conversation about how to deal with the problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:25 AM on February 10, 2017 [6 favorites]


sockermom, oh, I wish I were willing to forego the emotional labor enough that I would read a post such as yours at the funeral of the kind lady. Followed by a mic drop, natch.

But my god, just imagining the judgement one would get for making everyone feel bad when they already feel bad (and "there's no kind lady here to make me feel better!!").
posted by vignettist at 4:41 PM on February 10, 2017


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