"Even having a conversation about the imbalance becomes emotional labor"
September 28, 2017 9:20 AM   Subscribe

"Women Aren't Nags—We're Just Fed Up: emotional labor is the unpaid job men still don't understand."

Writer Gemma Hartley also notes that children who live in homes where gender inequality is a dynamic will learn their own, unequal gender roles and communication patterns from their parents.

Emotional Labor, previously. Also.
posted by zarq (286 comments total) 124 users marked this as a favorite
 
Begin the beguine.

(Dividing emotional labor is still a vexed problem no matter what the starting population is, but not starting with trained asymmetry is nice.)
posted by clew at 9:23 AM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


I could tell, as I walked him through it, that he was trying to grasp what I was getting at. But he didn’t. He said he’d try to do more cleaning around the house to help me out. He restated that all I ever needed to do was ask him for help, but therein lies the problem. I don't want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.

This this this.
posted by Lexica at 9:26 AM on September 28, 2017 [108 favorites]


...what I asked for...

...but what I wanted...

“I don’t want to have to ask.”

Really?

Communication and divergent needs and expectations seem to be the main issues.
posted by CheapB at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2017 [17 favorites]


Yeah, I don't want to have to ask someone to do basic things like pick up the box we are both tripping over constantly that you put on the floor two days ago, god damn it.

I don't want to have to ask someone to be a contributing, functional member of my household.

"Oh, I didn't see that the cat barfed on the stairs, even though I was the first person to wake up. I just walked right past it. If you had told me, I would have cleaned it up!"

What the actual fuck. Yes, I do not want to have to ask for basic decency in my own home.

As you can see, I have had it up to here with the men in my life who refuse to do emotional labor, refuse to notice things, refuse to see what is plainly in front of them because a woman (me!) is always there to pick it up. Fuck everything about that. Pay attention.
posted by sockermom at 9:37 AM on September 28, 2017 [214 favorites]


No, this is not about divergent needs and expectations. This is about men refusing to pay the fuck attention to their surroundings and to the impact they have on other people. It's absolute garbage.
posted by sockermom at 9:38 AM on September 28, 2017 [171 favorites]


> I don't want to have to ask someone to be a contributing, functional member of my household.

Defining a contributing, functional member of the household is key. Maintaining communications about values and expectations is hard work.

Expectations seem obvious.

What you see may not be what others see.
posted by CheapB at 9:38 AM on September 28, 2017 [17 favorites]


Communication and divergent needs and expectations seem to be the main issues.

Yeah, they are. He's being an ass. Even a toddler can learn that when you pull something off a shelf you put it back. Her husband waits to be asked to do it. Why? Is there something wrong with him?

It's not just that he's not listening. It's that he clearly has an expectation (being expressed through his actions) that certain elements of housework and child-rearing and jobs to do in their relationship are her job as a woman and a mom. This is what's expected of her. When he does similar things, he gets praised for stepping outside gender expectations, just as her daughter quietly cleans her room each day, but it's her son who receives praise when he does it.

As lexica's quote notes, she wants an equal partner not a micromanager. When she expresses this, does he get it? Apparently not.

She shouldn't have to ask. She certainly shouldn't have to ask every single time. That's entirely the point.
posted by zarq at 9:41 AM on September 28, 2017 [82 favorites]


> "Communication and divergent needs and expectations seem to be the main issues."

So you communicate your need and expectation. And then find you have to do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again ...
posted by kyrademon at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2017 [137 favorites]


Have we all read the original emotional labor thread? Because all of this "defining expectations" stuff is old news. We have been over this. Not wanting to live in squalor is not about expectations.

And do you know what happens when I try to define my expectations to the men I have lived with? Scorn, yelling, ridicule, anger, punishment -- or on the positive side of the spectrum, which I have not really experienced but I know happens, is the phenomenon of doing it once, and then it becomes invisible again, so I have to continue asking over and over, until the end of time. Why is that my job?
posted by sockermom at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2017 [60 favorites]


"My husband is a good man, and a good feminist ally.

...

I want a partner with equal initiative.

However, it’s not as easy as telling him that. My husband, despite his good nature and admirable intentions, still responds to criticism in a very patriarchal way. Forcing him to see emotional labor for the work it is feels like a personal attack on his character. If I were to point out random emotional labor duties I carry out—reminding him of his family’s birthdays, carrying in my head the entire school handbook and dietary guidelines for lunches, updating the calendar to include everyone’s schedules, asking his mother to babysit the kids when we go out, keeping track of what food and household items we are running low on, tidying everyone’s strewn about belongings, the unending hell that is laundry—he would take it as me saying, “Look at everything I’m doing that you’re not. You’re a bad person for ignoring me and not pulling your weight.”"

Ma'am, your husband is not a good feminist ally.
posted by supercrayon at 9:43 AM on September 28, 2017 [28 favorites]


And once again, women take up the EMOTIONAL LABOR of explaining to men what emotional labor is, in a thread about an article that explains emotional labor.

RTFA.
posted by agregoli at 9:43 AM on September 28, 2017 [168 favorites]


CheapB, I STRONGLY STRONGLY STRONGLY suggest that before you jump in here with your comments you a) read the entire article and b) read the previously zarq included in the post. The entire fucking thread.
posted by barchan at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2017 [101 favorites]


We’ll be here in a few days when you come back. Promise.
posted by sio42 at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2017 [64 favorites]


If emotional labor is just about noticing cleaning chores, I finally get why I've been doing it wrong. I thought it was about dealing with difficult emotions honestly and doing the hard work of processing feelings (which, if you've got some kind of avoidant attachment disorder, you aren't likely to do very well regardless of what the blank for "sex" on your birth certificate says, as I've seen in practice more than once over 43 years as a human being).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Emotional labor is a big suite of things, including but not limited to "noticing chores."

Note that in the article, when she asked her husband for something specific that would help her, as a gift, he instead refused to give her what she asked for and did something that created more (albeit different) labor from her. So, as a woman, how am I supposed to ask for things? What do I have to do to be actually heard?
posted by sockermom at 9:49 AM on September 28, 2017 [65 favorites]


If emotional labor is just about noticing cleaning chores, I finally get why I've been doing it wrong.

It isn't "just" about any one thing.

Dudes of metafilter: try harder to make this thread into a place that isn't reifying literally every trope of TFA.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:49 AM on September 28, 2017 [125 favorites]


“Look at everything I’m doing that you’re not. You’re a bad person for ignoring me and not pulling your weight.”

This is soooo common. It comes up all the time in AskMe. Every woman you've ever met has experienced it. I just wish that when people felt like they were being called out, and being called a bad person they would stop and ask, am I a bad person for not pulling my weight? Am I fucking up? How can I be better and not get called out? For some reason this introspection NEVER occurs.
posted by bleep at 9:49 AM on September 28, 2017 [42 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. Cut it the fuck out, CheapB.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:54 AM on September 28, 2017 [90 favorites]


However, it’s not as easy as telling him that. My husband, despite his good nature and admirable intentions, still responds to criticism in a very patriarchal way. Forcing him to see emotional labor for the work it is feels like a personal attack on his character.

That's because it is a personal attack on his character. It just is.

“Look at everything I’m doing that you’re not. You’re a bad person for ignoring me and not pulling your weight.”

This entire article - and a lot of discussions around emotional labor - feel like this. I happen to think that being an overgrown manbaby that can't determine what needs to be done and won't do it is really, really shitty, and a absolute dereliction of partnership.

But communicating the idea that "I resent you because you don't do any of the emotional labor in the house but if you respond negatively to my overt implication that you're a bad person then it's patriarchal" falls somewhere on a spectrum between passive-aggressive and straight-up gaslighting.

I was in a relationship where the emotional labor was imbalanced as hell. I did my best to do household chores - cooking, laundry, dishwashing, managing the relationship with the cleaning lady - and still, there were times when we disagreed on stuff and these conflicts came up.

However, I also labored to get my ex to understand that it was normal for couples to expect to spend New Year's Eve together in addition to Valentine's Day, and that my birthday was also a day that I wanted to spend with her.

I guess what I'm saying here is that a disagreement and imbalance between household work is fairly normal, and I agree that it's normal to think it's lame that most men expect a cheerleading squad for standard assistance.

But for fuck's sake, call it what it is.

Also, have you considered just divorcing? It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me, but it did enable me to find a partner that resonates on my emotional wavelength.
posted by chinese_fashion at 9:55 AM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


What she explicitly wrote to everyone but her husband was that she wanted was him to research services and get recommendations (as she would).

No, she wanted him to research services and then pick one and pay for it and manage the process so that it resulted in them having a cleaning service. Those are all parts of getting a cleaning service. She didn't ask for recommendations. She asked for the whole job to be completed.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2017 [67 favorites]


Really, really stoked to have more exciting hot takes in this thread on what women are doing wrong— asking for presents on special occasions in the wrong way, asking for help with basic human tasks at all, existing, writing, talking about their lived experiences, not divorcing men promptly enough for the sake of random people on the internet, not stating facts gently enough, really really helpful stuff
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2017 [162 favorites]


That's because it is a personal attack on his character. It just is.

No, it isn't. No more than trying to make people understand that systemic racism exists is an attack on their character.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2017 [59 favorites]


Among the illustrations I thought the french ones were interesting. I wonder if that kind of advertising was an imported concept or homegrown.
posted by adept256 at 10:03 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Really, really stoked to have more exciting hot takes in this thread on what women are doing wrong

if you get tired of that, this got posted at Hacker News too
posted by thelonius at 10:07 AM on September 28, 2017 [18 favorites]


Lol wow from zero to totally shitty in like 10 comments

Well done dudes

Well done

So where do we sign up for the beguinage?
posted by schadenfrau at 10:07 AM on September 28, 2017 [12 favorites]


I'd like to remind everyone that the literal title of this thread is: "Even having a conversation about the imbalance becomes emotional labor."
posted by sockermom at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2017 [111 favorites]


My husband is actual proof that men, if they are truly feminist allies, can learn this shit. He used to be terrible at this kind of stuff. Now he is significantly less terrible. It took about 54987 conversations about household management ending in him saying, "You just need to tell me what to do in this specific way and I'll do it!" and me very quietly freaking the fuck out, but the central message did in fact get assimilated. Now, amazing things happen like when he takes our son to his last gymnastics class of the session, he then registers him for the next session. Or when we both suddenly realize "Oh shit, if we want to go to that thing, we need a sitter" he talks to the nextdoor moms about who they use as a sitter and can we get their number. When he's got some extra time, he picks a thing to clean and cleans it. It's great! A+ grownass adulting, I highly recommend. (I now kind of feel like I might be the one slacking, but I am le tired from the previous decade+ of doing all the things.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2017 [80 favorites]


This isn't hard. Being a supervisor is work. Supervisors get paid more than the people they supervise. Supervisors don't usually do a bigger share of the same work the people they supervise are doing unless those people are brand new to the job and finding their feet. An employee that remains in that position of doing less work than their boss and only able to do the work the boss explicitly tells them to do deserves to be fired and replaced with someone who shows more initiative. Such an employee is completely deluded if they see themselves as an equal partner to the boss who does more work and has to constantly tell them how to do their job.
posted by straight at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2017 [97 favorites]


After my husband and I had been living together for about a year, I pointed out that he had never vacuumed. This was especially annoying because he insisted on us owning this heavy industrial vacuum someone had given him instead of a regular one. Even though I knew he had never vacuumed, I said something like "I feel like I do almost all the vacuuming" because I didn't want to provoke a defensive reaction. He was still defensive. At one point, he said "You know, I do a lot of work around here without you asking me" and then I just lost it.

I pointed out, furiously, that we are two grown adults who live together. The idea that he cleaned as a favor to me without asking was so ridiculous. He was huffy for a little bit and then he realized he was wrong. Now he tries to keep more track of chores that need to be done, and he does all the vacuuming. But, I still had to be the one to start the conversation, to maintain my position and explain the problem (and the whole general trend of woman-keeps-track-of-everything) and sometimes still point things out. If he weren't a naturally clean person the whole thing would be hopeless.

I swear men choose to forget how to use a single cleaning tool the moment a woman lives in the same house as them.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:09 AM on September 28, 2017 [31 favorites]


"Even having a conversation about the imbalance of emotional labor becomes emotional labor." - easily my favorite line from the article, and a fitting thread title. I read it, read it again, and read it some more.

So not only do I have to manage the household, think of all of the things that need to be done, take care of all of the things that need to be done (else they are on hold in perpetuity), I also have to carefully and gently explain why it is absolutely exhausting to do all of that. Only to be told I "didn't ask right", or that I "am not appreciating what he does do", etc. As if I didn't give enough gold stars and cheering that one time he cleaned the kitchen (sort of).
posted by jet_pack_in_a_can at 10:13 AM on September 28, 2017 [29 favorites]


To elaborate or my previous snarky comment: feminist dudes of the world, you are not a feminist or an ally if you don't practice feminism in your own home. It's nice that you say all the right woke shit in public, but if you practice regressive gender role bullshit in your home then you are not walking the walk.

Having your wife act as your personal assistant because you don't feel like doing otherwise is not ethical unless you pay her. I think the going rate for PAs is 30k per year so please pony up thanks.

Further you are not a good feminist or ally if you are unable to handle criticism without sulking and changing the subject to how attacked you feel. Your emotions are not more important than your wife's labor. They are not more important than your wife's emotions.

Women of the world, refuse to be gaslit. You are not nags or crazy or wrong for wanting to be partnered with a fully functioning adult man rather than the emotional equivalent of a teenager. It doesn't matter that you have it "better" than some other women you know who have the misfortune to be married to complete cretins. You are allowed to set your standards to whatever height you deem fit and then expect your partner will meet them.

If your partner does not meet your standards you are allowed to be angry, disappointed, and exhausted. You are further allowed to communicate this to your partner. If it hurts his feelings so very much to hear you would like him to take equal responsibility for running the household you mutually share and enjoy, you are allowed to tell him to drink a glass of concrete and harden the fuck up.
posted by supercrayon at 10:14 AM on September 28, 2017 [97 favorites]


But communicating the idea that "I resent you because you don't do any of the emotional labor in the house but if you respond negatively to my overt implication that you're a bad person then it's patriarchal" falls somewhere on a spectrum between passive-aggressive and straight-up gaslighting.

Nonsense. If a woman says to a man, "I am upset with you because you don't do your share of the work it takes to run this household," and it is indeed objectively true that he isn't pulling his weight, and he responds to this valid criticism by lashing out at her or otherwise carrying on about his feelings instead of addressing her justifiable concerns, he is the one acting passively aggressively and/or gaslighting. This kind of behaviour stems from an attitude that she's the problem for criticizing him, that he is entitled to not do his share of the housekeeping and not be criticized for it. And that's patriarchal as all get out.
posted by orange swan at 10:14 AM on September 28, 2017 [91 favorites]


Taking care of children and a home is hard work. It's frustrating and distracting and doesn't leave much breathing room for the rest of your life. It's not easy to have "what did you do today?" discussions at dinner and realize that what you're actually talking about is what your kid did today, because what you did today boils down to "I maintained". I intellectually understood this before I became a stay at home dad, but I don't think it's easy to really grasp until you're actually doing it. And I'm lucky in that I have an incredible wife who gets it and lots of resources and have the lesuire to actually do this in the first place. I love it, but it is difficult.

As with so many things in this world, when someone with a different experience in life tells you "this is hard" and it's not obvious to you, just take a break from your normal defensiveness and fucking believe them, okay? Maybe even help out? this is also useful for discussions of race gender and class, just internalize it, it's like a one-step program for being a better person, you're welcome
posted by phooky at 10:15 AM on September 28, 2017 [79 favorites]


I find it helpful to distinguish emotional labor, managerial labor, and reproduction-of-labor actual labor. The romantic dyad nuclear family sure tries to blur them all together, but that doesn't make it right.

My household finds the same issue-tracking systems that we might use at work handy for managerial labor, and the management keeps track of the actual labor. The remaining unanswered questions are usually emotional labor.
posted by clew at 10:18 AM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


Jesus christ did not a single one of you who are complaining about this thread read the previously where we hashed all of this "omg men can't talk" and "sometimes men do the labor yes we know but MOSTLY women do it stop doing #notallmen in this thread" and "Look THIS is what emotional labor is and why it's important and why it's work"?

no? No one?

You all get a F- for the day. Go do your homework before speaking up.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:19 AM on September 28, 2017 [33 favorites]


have you considered just divorcing?

Whenever someone, especially someone marginalized, is telling me about a problem they're having and I start to hear "have you considered just...?" coming out of my mouth, I take it as a sign that what I actually need to do is shut up and listen. Because clearly I don't yet understand the problem.
posted by praemunire at 10:20 AM on September 28, 2017 [119 favorites]


Imbalance of labor is frustrating and does not necessarily fall along gender lines.

Bro there's fuckin statistics out there you can read.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:20 AM on September 28, 2017 [55 favorites]


I don't understand why so many guys fail at this bit. It's not even that hard! I mean, yes, it's a lot of work, but it's just work that I do, same as brushing my teeth or taking a shower. I keep up the Google spreadsheets for our home projects, I create the shopping lists, I contact the experts. We divide the labor, and since I'm an earlier riser than my wife, I find the best time to get chores done is often on those Saturday and Sunday mornings before there are the distractions of the day. Before she'd ever need to ask.

Though to be fair, I grew up in a household with a single mother and my sister, so perhaps I never had a negative male influence to guide me. But it just seems to be a part of being partners, to me. She's the love of my life, I want to surprise her and make things nice for her; if it's gotten to the point that she even has to ask, I've failed.
posted by explosion at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2017 [16 favorites]


[Y'all, I know this thread got off in part to a dumb start and that even with deletions and a day off it's hard to put that toothpaste back in the bag, but let's maybe try and re-tube that cat anyway a little and redirect this to a discussion of the article rather than a meta-analysis of the deleted stuff or past annoyances in these discussions. I'm taking it on faith that this post was about an interesting article and not just Emotional Labor Open Thread 7.0, so let's try and aim in that direction.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2017 [20 favorites]


Explosion, I'd be interested to see how many of the men who struggle with this also have to be reminded to brush their goddamn teeth. Or brush their kid's teeth twice a day.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:23 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


As to not abuse the edit window, I realized that I may have gotten a little too #notallmen in my post above.

Emotional labor is real, and it sucks that it's so hard for guys to even acknowledge it. We need to get our shit together.
posted by explosion at 10:24 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Link
by Martha Grover

I ask my father to read an article about male entitlement and
emotional labor.
“Can you just tell me what it says?” he says.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2017 [120 favorites]


As a man who works full-time outside the home, with a wife who stays at home to take care of young children, how do I make sure that I'm doing a "fair" amount of housework?

Obviously, since I'm outside of the house for 12+ hours a day, earning the money that constitutes our household budget, I'm not going to do as much cleaning, tidying, and laundry as my wife at home. On the other hand, I don't know that this is a sufficient excuse to kick my feet up the moment I walk in the door (which I don't do).

Typically, in the evening, we talk about our day, and I do my best to acknowledge and affirm the very hard work that my wife does during the course of the day. And I like cooking on the weekends too.
posted by theorique at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


Yes, fellow men, emotional labor is not doing the thing, it's noticing that the thing needs to be done and then doing it

1) The trash is full
2) The dishwasher is full
3) Something is on the floor that should not be on the floor
4) The front door is wide open
5) Something is on fire/dirty that should not be on fire/dirty
6) It is your mother's birthday
7) It is your dog's birthday
8) The dog is limping and the dog usually does not limp
9) Etc, etc, etc
posted by Automocar at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2017 [104 favorites]


As a man who works full-time outside the home, with a wife who stays at home to take care of young children, how do I make sure that I'm doing a "fair" amount of housework?

Pretty much the answer to this is "Talk to your wife about it" but right now you're asking to make this thread about you and your question. There's a whole other site where you can ask this and get good answers.
posted by bleep at 10:29 AM on September 28, 2017 [52 favorites]


I do have some frustrations with the term "emotional labor" because to me what she is talking about in the article is 2 kinds of labor. One is household management, which her husband did not do even when explicitly asked. The second is emotional labor; her absorbing a lot of the fallout from bringing a source of conflict to the surface.

In my story above I think the more frustrating part was the emotional labor. Asking extra nicely and still getting blowback. The vacuuming was secondary. I do a lot of our household management and wish I did less, but I think now when I point out a way in which we are out of alignment, my husband is receptive to hearing it. But it took work on my part even to get that far.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2017 [24 favorites]


If you know someone long enough to marry them, you should have learned how to, at least to some extent, anticipate their needs and wants. You should then act on it. You should want to treat your spouse well. We all have blind-spots, but those blind-spots should decrease with time because, as a loving partner, you don't want to make the same mistake twice.

If your spouse anticipates your wants and needs, and you fail to do so, you are literally taking your spouse for granted. That is shitty behavior. If you fail to do so repeatedly, that is shitty character.

I know men aren't allowed to have a voice in these threads but I can't believe this shit still gets onto Metafilter. Labor division doesn't need to be framed from a gender perspective every time, although it's so much more convenient and facile to do so.

If you would like to put together a fpp about labor division within marriages that isn't looked at through the lens of gender, feel free to do so. Also, I'm a dude who is posting in this thread, and I'm sure most here will agree with the first few paragraphs of this post. So I guess I'm allowed to be here. Also, please note that those paragraphs remained gender neutral. You could have done the same thing, but instead you just complained because it is more convenient and facile to do so.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2017 [49 favorites]


For the challenge of dudes not having a framing, an obligatory xkcd's ten thousand; and personally, for this GenXer's, consciousness, uh, nineteen fucking eighty-six that shit: B-52's Housework.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


I want a partner with equal initiative.

I love how this is worded. In some ways this is what frustrates me the most - just the sheer obliviousness. But Oh! The whole wanting to be lauded for doing the simplest things. Or - oh gawd- the narrating aloud on what they're doing. I've seen this so many times. Just this Sunday at the coffee shop there was a young couple with a toddler and a baby, and he was on the phone while she wrangled them and asked him what he wanted and got the coffees - it looked like he was texting because he was laughing and smiling- or he was just sitting there doing nothing. When one needed a diaper changed while she was feeding the other, she asked him to do it, and he heaved this big sigh, and then said, Ok, I'm taking Cayden to the bathroom now to change his diaper, and when he came back, he detailed exactly what he had done changing the diaper, handed the kid off like a football, and then just stood there until she said, "Oh, thanks," - and only then did he go back to his phone.

It was everything I could do not to go over to her and say, "It doesn't have to be like this." There's so many times I've wanted a little card that said something simple along the lines of "Please read about emotional labor - in loving support, another woman who understands" and hand it out to women. It would be hard to get the phrasing just right and not seem like a pamphlet giving person on the corner, but geez I'd love to do something like that sometimes.

Being a supervisor is work.

Ha! My husband and I have turned it into a joke where I will say, "I'm not your supervisor!" (a la Archer) when it's one of those situations but it took a lot of communication to get there.
posted by barchan at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2017 [44 favorites]


Maybe let's put this in work terms.

You work in an office doing Job. You would like to be good at Job because that's why you took this position.

You notice that Process needs someone to take care of it/improve it. You do the research, find out more, talk to your coworkers and improve Process.

Wow, you are doing well at Job!

Now replace Job with Being an Adult in a Relationship. And Process with Mundane Household/Life Task.

Too many men are being like that coworker we all hate, they one who does the bare minimum, often with sighs and moans, refuses to learn any new program or process, takes no interest in the larger goals of your company, and dumps as much of his work as possible on his fellow coworkers. And when you call him on it, he has a meltdown.

Are you that guy in your relationship? Don't be that guy.
posted by emjaybee at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2017 [114 favorites]


One bit that was fascinating in the article to me was this exchange:
When I brush my daughter’s hair and elaborately braid it round the side of her scalp, I am doing the thing that is expected of me. When my husband brushes out tangles before bedtime, he needs his efforts noticed and congratulated—saying aloud in front of both me and her that it took him a whole 15 minutes. There are many small examples of where the work I normally do must be lauded when transferred to my husband.
This little scene speaks volumes. It teaches the daughter that when a man who says he loves her does something routine for her, that it is to be congratulated and lauded. It teaches the wife that this is still kind of her job. It teaches the husband that he deserves praise for doing "women's work." It frames the hair-braiding, when done by dad, as a favor. It frames what is a labor of love--braiding hair--as a chore, when dad does it, rather than as an opportunity for him to talk to his daughter, to hang out, to spend time with her. On and on it goes--and it's no wonder that the daughter just does the things she needs to do to be a person in the morning, while the son asks for praise when he does the same things. Fascinating.
posted by sockermom at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2017 [98 favorites]


"I don't want to have to ask" reminds me so much of my last relationship. I know it sounds like a lot of the same "you just have to tell me and I'll do it" but this involved things like "you're not doing the right kind of sex with me, and that's a dealbreaker" as the first mention of a desire for something to change. There were enough incidents of this nature that I became convinced I was failing him by not anticipating these needs, but also felt I was being treated unfairly by things going from never-before-mentioned straight to "dealbreaker."

What Groundhog Week said above, "If you know someone long enough to marry them, you should have learned how to, at least to some extent, anticipate their needs and wants" was pretty much my thought during this period in the relationship - we'd been together for five years and still could not communicate any more effectively than in the initial stages of the relationship. It didn't last much longer as I felt that even if I capitulated to these demands, not only would it not result in an improvement in the quality of our communication, but that more "dealbreakers" could spring up at any moment.
posted by seiryuu at 10:37 AM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


Further you are not a good feminist or ally if you are unable to handle criticism without sulking and changing the subject to how attacked you feel. Your emotions are not more important than your wife's labor. They are not more important than your wife's emotions.

Quoted again for the TRUTH.

Sure, Partner A can honestly say they feel attacked or hurt. But if that's in response to Partner B making an explicit request to do more chores, for example, then the PARTNERSHIP is served by both people figuring out how to ask differently, maybe, AND making sincere progress on Partner A doing what's asked. And this whole FPP is about how, incredibly often, Partner A makes no progress here but still expects Partner B to accommodate their request.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


Author's husband sounds like he's acting like a jerk for sure.

However, defining "emotional labor" as encircling all the shitty sexist stuff women have to deal with from men is not helpful, imo. Last time this came up, I learned something here. from ernielundquist:

Both the terms emotional labor and emotion work were coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, and a key part of the difference in the terms is that emotional labor is an aspect of paid work specifically, so you are literally being paid to perform specific emotions, and failing to do that has direct financial consequences. Emotion work is the term she coined for the cultural expectations to manage your and others' emotional responses in social spheres.

While office management of household stuff is indeed often pushed on women, without thanks, by men, I don't think it fits the definitions of emotional labor or emotion work: calling vendors is not (generally) about contorting one's own emotions or managing the emotional responses of others.

I agree this is a problem, and I have no issue with any of the good points raised by the author.
Maybe I'm being pedantic, but my thought is: let's not turn off and confuse the people we are trying to educate: this is simple sexism and unfair expectations/burdens placed disproportionately on women.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:40 AM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


I do have some frustrations with the term "emotional labor" because to me what she is talking about in the article is 2 kinds of labor. One is household management, which her husband did not do even when explicitly asked. The second is emotional labor; her absorbing a lot of the fallout from bringing a source of conflict to the surface.

That is one of the challenges with discussions of emotional labor. There tends to be this definitional blurring of (1) specific physical tasks (usually housework of various kinds) (2) the conversations around the assignment and completion of (1).

Some of the tasks involved in (1) tend to be more easily categorized as emotional labor as they are the often-unseen social glue that binds families and friends together (sending birthday cards, checking in on sick relatives, etc). And some of them don't really fall into that category, but are nevertheless necessary tasks that contribute to the running of of a household. For example, can we really consider taking out the trash as "emotional labor"? - it's just a necessary household chore that gets done, or not. (Of course, there can be extensive emotional labor associated with deciding who takes out the trash, or confronting someone who promised to take out the trash and didn't, and similar scenarios.)
posted by theorique at 10:47 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


cortex wants us to talk about the article, so I’ll say this: when she asks for the “gift” of a housecleaner, one of the things she is asking for is for the cleaning to be transactional. Someone will do the work, to a high standard, and they will not require any payment other than money.

It is interesting to me that her husband rejects this transaction. He instead does a substandard job, while making her life harder, and is offended when she doesn’t offer him praise after the fact.

“A clean bathroom” was only part of what she asked for, as a gift. But because he didn’t agree with her desire for that gift, he made it all about the bathrooms.

Some people here have criticized the author for not being more explicit about why she wanted the gift, and what it would take to get the gift, and what steps her husband should take to acquire the gift, etc. etc. But not having to do or explain any of those things was ALSO part of what she was asking for.

Also, let me say, I am heartbroken for the low opinion so many men have of their fellow men. The idea that an adult male might need help to do something so simple as to hire a housecleaner is simply absurd. The Yellow Pages still exist. The internet exists. Craigslist exists. Nextdoor exists. Asking friends and neighbors for tips still exists.

If this husband had been at work, and his boss had asked him to hire a graphic designer for an upcoming project, are we to believe that he would have been reduced to a state of panic by this request? Would he have procrastinated until the day beforehand, hoping that his boss would change his mind because his boss was really being unreasonable? Would he tell his boss that graphic designers cost too much, are you sure you really want that? Would he then scribble out a new logo himself, and be angry if the boss didn’t give him enough praise for it? Of course not, because no one would operate that way in a managerial relationship that they took seriously.

The problem is not his capacity to do a simple task. The problem is that he disagreed with the task’s necessity, desirability, required level of expertise, and any number of other things. He decides that what she wants is wrong, and gets annoyed that she isn’t “convinced” of his logical decision when he proceeds to make everything painful and worse.

Sometimes, the context of emotional labor isn’t the thing itself. It is swallowing down the consequences of someone refusing to do the thing, or pretending not to notice that the thing exists, or doing the thing badly (on purpose to make a point), or doing the thing badly (for who knows what reason) or doing a mediocre job and demanding a crown of laurels for being so selfless, or doing the thing just fine and proceeding to brag about it for the next five years.

Sometimes it is the memory of the last time you asked someone to do the thing, and it turned into an enormous ordeal that ensures you will do the thing yourself for the next five years. (But be warned: at the end of the five years you will hear "but I thought you LIKED doing the thing!!")
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:47 AM on September 28, 2017 [193 favorites]


But it's not just about calling the vendors. She's saying that her husband called ONE vendor, and then came up with a wonky DIY that wasn't what she asked for, and got huffy when she wasn't 100% thrilled with his solution, so she had to explain why and handle his feelings about it. That's emotional work.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:50 AM on September 28, 2017 [23 favorites]


The real gift I wanted was to be relieved of the emotional labor of a single task that had been nagging at the back of my mind.

You can't talk about single tasks: every living space has multiple tasks, all of the time (task A requires time, tasks B through K are pending, and tasks L-Z are developing/worsening, and B through Z keep happening while you're still finishing task A), and feeling solely responsible for getting them done and then NOT getting them done causes an ever-accreting guilt. Add to this others' obliviousness to the tasks and their consequences, and to the way they ignore multiple fucking polite requests for help? YES, I MIGHT BE ANGRY BY NOW. Your resentment at my ask then requires me to take time and energy to deal with your hurt feelings even as the chaos increases, as do my guilt and pissed-offedness.

You know, other organizations on this earth take it as shared understanding that:
* toilets get flushed.
* corpses get disposed of.
* animal scat draws insects, and should be dealt with.
* heavily-used spaces develop unhealthy levels of grime and dust and germs.
* objects left in a walking path are tripping hazards.
* others deserve consideration, whether in special celebration or daily habit.

These are not, please note, inherently women's values or unbelievably high expectations. As I have explained them to my dear ones roughly one million times, I am beginning to believe that maybe, just maybe, the problem is not me but that they don't incorporate these principles into their outlooks. Guess that developing empathy through action is just...an unrealistic expectation. Or, y'know, too much work if there's an emotional laborer doing the job already.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:50 AM on September 28, 2017 [20 favorites]


I am a woman with ADHD, and in every. single. emotional labor thread that is on MeFi, I am bewildered by the stories told.

(The blurring of actual emotional labor and household chores doesn't help either.)
posted by Lucinda at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2017 [14 favorites]


What does ADHD have to do with it?
posted by FritoKAL at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


(The blurring of actual emotional labor and household chores doesn't help either.)

They are different, but not unconnected, especially if that household/family/relationship labor relates to the (un)happiness of those who share living space.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:58 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I feel like my wife and I didn't truly understand each other until after she got a job and I stayed home with the kid. Suddenly I understood why she used to call and pressure me into coming home on time. Ha ha. I also learned to do dishes and laundry all the time, not just when the sink or hamper got full.

Luckily I married a wonderful woman who is just as slovenly as I am, so we ignore the housework about equally. We've traded off being the One Who Pays the Bills and we both screw it up from time to time. I'm terrible about buying Christmas presents, but I've tried to get better (even though I hate it).

I certainly have my failings. I don't get up with the dog in the middle of the night as much as I should. I get grouchy when I'm reminded to do something that I was already going to do. But it's been one of my core values as a man to take care of as much of this shit as possible to allow my wife to do more of the things she wants to do and feels called to do. Reparations, man. I don't need to be out there leading--white straight dudes have done way too much to screw up the world. I do try to do what I can, but that mostly means support. Cooking, shopping, picking up, mowing, sitting on hold with AT&T or Blue Cross. She does a ton around the house, too, but I try to do more than my share.

And sometimes that leads to fights, too. Sometimes, despite my professed core values, I feel underappreciated and I get sulky. I know, right? I can be a jerk. I really can. Ain't none of us perfect, ain't no relationship that doesn't take work. I wish I did better than I do, but I look at the last 20+ years, and I feel like I'm still making progress.

So that's my humblebrag for the day. Men are often raised in an environment where they don't have to pay attention to emotional labor, and can be teased if they do. But if you grow up a rational human being, you have to start noticing and taking responsibility.
posted by rikschell at 11:03 AM on September 28, 2017 [14 favorites]


I was "female" in my marriage and transitioned to male about a year after my divorce. We had the exact same imbalance described in the article (minus the children). I haven't been in a relationship since, in part because I fear replicating the same dynamic with another partner, even though we're both men.

It's hard to shake off the "manager" role even if you want to, because it's likely that your partner, having no/little experience with emotional labor, will fuck up his first 7 tries at completing something (e.g. hiring a housecleaner, as in the article). It's like watching someone load the dishwasher wrong or type a URL into Google. Nails on chalkboard. It's often easier to just do it yourself, and then the cycle continues ad infinitum.
posted by AFABulous at 11:03 AM on September 28, 2017 [14 favorites]


Replying to cortex' meta comment, but also to the thread and addressing the article:

I (naively) did not expect this thread to go in the direction of proving the post title right. I apologize for that. Perhaps I should have placed more emphasis on other aspects of the article right up front, including why I posted it:

I thought the 'children learn gender roles from their parents' perspective in the article was fascinating and so did my wife. It's something we struggle with ourselves, and especially try to work against when it is imposed on our kids from outside our home. We send our kids to Hebrew school at Chabad, and one of the things they do is teach girls and boys that they have certain, separate roles to play in the home and in Jewish religious life. (such as "Boys say kiddush (Sabbath blessing over the wine) and Girls light Sabbath candles") We do love the education they're getting about what it means to be Jewish and about Judaism as a culture and a religion and that's why we keep sending them, but the gender role emphasis is most certainly not our way, so every once in a while we find ourselves re-educating our kids when they come home. It is frustrating. Deep down, we don't want to send my kids to any kind of school where they're learning the wrong lessons. But for now, this is the best we have.

For parents who are devoted to equality and making a strong case to our kids that they are equal and no one should ever be discriminated against or told "you can't do that," it's not enough to talk about it. We have to set an example for them in our own lives. I don't do that as well as I would like in my relationship with my wife. I'm working on changing that. And it was the original emotional labor thread that pushed me to act. Our kids (collective "our," not just mine) listen and they pay attention. And they mimic their parents. Something that I hope I'll keep in mind in the future.

The 'conversations about emotional labor become emotional labor' also rang very true. It's important for men to recognize that listening non-defensively and being willing to make changes is vital for a healthy, fair relationship.
posted by zarq at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2017 [27 favorites]


The problem with trying to distinguish between "household chores" and "emotional labor" is that knowing you're the one who is ultimately responsible for household chores... is emotional labor. Vacuuming the hallway is a household chore. Walking down the hallway three dozen times on my way to do something else and seeing the crumbs and dust bunnies in the hallway and knowing that I don't have time to vacuum right now but I really need to do it soon... that is emotional weight and it becomes emotional labor to hold it.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2017 [68 favorites]


~sputtering rage~

(The name of my thrash metal cover band. The lyrics to every song will be screamed as GOD FUCKING DAMN IT, repeated throughout.)
posted by corvikate at 11:08 AM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


Almost none of the work described in the article felt to me like it should be called "emotional labor." People seem to want a phrase that means "all the things women tend to think are important that men either don't think are important or don't want to handle" and they've latched onto "emotional labor" for that purpose, which is confusing.
posted by Redstart at 11:13 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


What does ADHD have to do with it?

Women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted.

And that's all the emotional labor I am willing to do on that.
posted by Lucinda at 11:13 AM on September 28, 2017 [33 favorites]


Lucinda, I have ADHD too, and diagnosed as an adult. I have a nascent theory that one of the (many) reasons why it took so long to be diagnosed, and why I had already developed a lot of tools/techniques to manage it, is because of the expectations and pressures placed on women since they're young children to deal with emotional labor (and all the other divisions of labor discussed here) - I ended up developing a lot of techniques just to have a basic handle on those expectations.

I'm. . . so, so grateful I have a husband who is awesome about things like having to remind me to cash a check 20x (and I tell him that too!). I cannot imagine the hell it must be for women who have ADHD - or any other disorder, like depression, yes? - to have to do all the emotional/household labor in a household without a roughly equal partner in the labor and supportive of the disorder. Can you imagine having ADHD with the pressure of being a perfect housewife in the 1950s? (Anytime, of course, but for some reason that era stands out to me.) It's horrifying to think about, I just get the absolute shivers.

With ADHD, even something like birthday cards can be awful from the emotional labor involved (keeping track, remembering, knowing it should be done) to actually doing it (remembering to buy the card, remembering to sign the card, remembering the postage on the card, remembering to pick the card up from the counter and take it to the mailbox - so many distractions along the way). Ugh.
posted by barchan at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2017 [36 favorites]


I apologize, I baited you with that question, Lucinda. I have ADHD myself and I am a woman. It means nothing in terms of the division of expected labor with regards to gender.

Despite my ADHD, my male partners (past and present) have still expected me to pick up the huge amount of emotional, organizational and management labor in our household. The fact that you have it does not mean you were not subject to those expectations, nor should it mean you should scoff at the stories from other women, nor should you assume that those women are NOT disabled, because -we are- subject to them, and many of us have it worse because of that disability.
posted by FritoKAL at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2017 [23 favorites]


I get what you're saying about having ADHD and then having the expectation of performing the emotional labor on top of it, but that's also true for partners of people with ADHD. He couldn't remember to pay his bills or where his keys were or to take his medication and somehow all that became my responsibility because I was the woman. I'm curious how that works in reverse - do male partners of women with ADHD have to shoulder that? Or does it all just drop through the cracks?
posted by AFABulous at 11:21 AM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


It drops through the cracks, I assure you. The giant pile of undone laundry that has somehow become my responsibility to manage can attest to that.
posted by FritoKAL at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2017 [18 favorites]


nor should it mean you should scoff at the stories from other women, nor should you assume that those women are NOT disabled, because -we are- subject to them, and many of us have it worse because of that disability.

Please point me to where I was scoffing at the stories from other women.

The emotional labor I'm tired of is having to explain that when I say "this is not my experience", I'm not saying "I'm scoffing at your story" or "your story doesn't exist."
posted by Lucinda at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


Okay, but if you don't relate to the topic at hand...I'm not sure why we should be discussing that. No offense intended, I could be wrong.
posted by agregoli at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


Stop saying "This is not my experience" when hundreds of other women are saying it IS theirs. Your contribution of "well I have never dealt with such a thing!" is not helpful, it IS harmful and it's incredibly painful to hear, especially when -other women with ADHD- are saying it is their experience. All you are doing is providing a chance for someone to point to you and say "well look that woman doesn't have to deal with this so the rest of you are just whining nags."

The fact that I have never been cat-called in my life doesn't diminish the fact that other women have been and in a thread about cat-calling my job is to shut up and listen, not say "well I NEVER"
posted by FritoKAL at 11:27 AM on September 28, 2017 [64 favorites]


I believe this. This is true. I have new prejudice about the women in my life.
posted by poe at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Almost none of the work described in the article felt to me like it should be called "emotional labor." People seem to want a phrase that means "all the things women tend to think are important that men either don't think are important or don't want to handle" and they've latched onto "emotional labor" for that purpose, which is confusing.

The physical labor of cleaning the fridge or making the appointments for the kids to get their vaccinations is easy to see. The hard thing for some people to see is that it's also work taking initiative to keep track of what needs to be done and negotiating who is going to do it. You could call that "intellectual labor," I guess, but "emotional labor" seems like a better fit -- especially if you have to get into emotional struggles with your partner to even talk about it.

And you need some label to capture the fact that even if you split up the physical labor 50/50, if one person has to be in charge of keeping track of what needs done and negotiating who is going to do it, the work has not been split 50/50.
posted by straight at 11:34 AM on September 28, 2017 [25 favorites]


" It’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation."

To which I would add: And the realization of working alone--being alone--in this while in a partnership is corrosive to the sense of both partners being in this thing together, both committed, both willing, reciprocating, taking turns, stepping up when needed. Equal initiative is foundational. Silently watching it become more imbalanced with every roll of gift wrap left on the floor, and then having its importance mocked and minimized with "All you have to do is ask" is deeply damaging to a relationship.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:41 AM on September 28, 2017 [25 favorites]


People seem to want a phrase that means "all the things women tend to think are important

I cut this quote off because what dozens of women are screaming into the void is that it's not things we THINK are important, it's things that have to be done. We've all heard all the "just don't send birthday cards" and "just be OK with more mess". This is more than that. There are DOZENS of stories in The Big EL Thread about being the parent who has to handle children's feelings about their pets dying, and remembering 4 kids' 4 different sports schedules because the children's emotions are affected if they miss practice, and planning meals for 7 days that 5 people will all eat because people are upset when you buy food they don't like, and and and. And even things like "buying a meaningful birthday gift your spouse will appreciate", yes, unless explicitly agreed otherwise, that is something that usually MUST happen for a marriage to stay strong. All of these things seem like "just labor" on the outside but they are all dependent on people's emotional life on the inside.

I guess I'm saying that I find emotional labor/work a perfect descriptor for all these things that HAVE to be done, that overwhelmingly fall to women, and I think the confusion is more that people still have a hard time seeing the "emotional" underpinning of all these tasks.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2017 [46 favorites]


Growing up I was aware by age four that I was being held to different standards of behavior than my male peers, and by age ten that I was being held to vastly different standards of responsibility at home. At six, I was expected to make my own lunches for school and put away my coat when I came home, neither of which my brother was expected to do even by high school. These are tip of the iceberg examples, I'm not going into the rest of it because a full accounting is not the point.

I have tried dating men and have had male roommates, and the only man in either category who pulled his weight was a bi dude who was a single dad and had grown up with five older sisters and their single mom. The rest felt they were justified in expecting me to deal with whatever it was, and conflict ensued.

Overall the expectations around gender and emotional labor have reinforced my feminism and desire to pursue relationships with women, and while this has had its downsides in terms of, you know, social and cultural homophobia, threats of violence, ostracism, and job discrimination, as well as having a very limited dating pool, it means that my home and my relationship provide solace from this kind of constant sexism.

This in turn poses some level of social difficulty for me because I can't relate very well to other women's experiences of having someone who is supposed to be a partner treat them like a servant, and why staying in a relationship like that would be appealing. At the same time, the people who get huffy with me about this generally do not try at all to understand what kinds of emotional labor are put on me as a queer woman, as a woman with a physical disability, and as a woman who does not have children.

I guess I'd really like to see more on emotional labor and LGBTQ folks and how dealing with heterosexist expectations that don't fit how we structure our lives impacts us.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2017 [32 favorites]


For example, can we really consider taking out the trash as "emotional labor"? - it's just a necessary household chore that gets done, or not.

The "taking out the trash" part is the easy part. The emotional, or intellectual, labor is the rest of the task:

Noticing that the trash bag is full.
Taking the full trash bag out to the garbage bin instead of just cramming your thing on top of it and pretending the lid still closes.
Putting a new bag in the trash can.
Noticing that we're almost out of trash bags.
Remembering to buy trash bags the next time you're at the grocery store.
Remembering that Tuesday is trash day and you need to roll your bin out to the curb.
Bringing the can back from the curb after the trash is picked up.
Believing that this task is your responsibility and performing all parts when needed, rather than just doing the "take trash bag out to garbage bin" part when the person who in your opinion is really supposed to be responsible for it asks you to.

That last step is in my experience the hardest one.
posted by Daily Alice at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2017 [96 favorites]


so she had to explain why and handle his feelings about it. That's emotional work.

Absolutely, but that's not what the author said was emotional labor. The author presents a definition of emotional labor that is simply incompatible with the definitions coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild.

It's right there in the first paragraph. When she says "The real gift I wanted was to be relieved of the emotional labor of a single task" and that task is "household office work" consisting of make the calls, get multiple quotes, research and vet each service, arrange payment and schedule the appointment". This is not at all what Arlie was talking about, this is not emotional labor, it's just a husband who has divided household work unfairly with his wife. Maybe we need a new catch phrase for that?

Look, I'm down with emotional labor/emotion work, and I'm down with fighting against unfair gender expectations. I think these and the gendered biases around them cause big problems in our world, both at home and at work.

But I'm not down with opening an article with a clear and direct mis-use of a term that is already hard to understand, especially for the people who most need to hear about it.

Or maybe I'm the crazy one. There's a lot of talk in this thread of noticing work needs to be done. In my world "noticing" is not an emotion.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


It's hard to shake off the "manager" role even if you want to, because it's likely that your partner, having no/little experience with emotional labor, will fuck up his first 7 tries at completing something...

Word. And I don't know if you can always blame it on the partner. I spent the first 15 years of my relationship being the sole emotional laborer. It's been ten years since my husband started down the path toward becoming an equal partner and at this point I'm sometimes taken aback by the agency with which he takes on things I used to handle singlehandedly. (Last weekend: Wait, you picked out a new coffee maker without consulting me?) Despite knowing our division of labor is equal, I still struggle with guilt over watching TV while he cleans the house, for example, or "letting" him do the dishes alone (despite the fact that I did all the cooking of the dinner).

I know he does not experience similar guilt when I'm the one doing my things and he's the one sitting on the couch. It's a really hard mental pattern to escape, even when you can somehow escape the patterns of behavior.
posted by something something at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2017 [18 favorites]


do male partners of women with ADHD have to shoulder that? Or does it all just drop through the cracks?

It drops through the cracks, I assure you. The giant pile of undone laundry that has somehow become my responsibility to manage can attest to that.


In my particular case, it varies. My wife has ADHD, and I often have to help her find her keys or look for her phone. Sometimes the keys are still in the lock of the door - more than once they've stayed there overnight. My keys are always either in my pocket or in the one spot next to the fridge where I always put them; similarly with my phone. It's weird to me that she doesn't have a single spot to keep her keys that's just Where They Go. But, OK, there it is - and I've generally gotten over having to help her and I try not to get annoyed (I used to not be as good at that, I admit) because A) it's not going to change; and B) getting annoyed won't help anything. It's part of who she is and I love who she is.

But I'm not saying for a second that our relationship is the inverse of the typical and I do all the emotional labor - it's just that one type of thing. In other ways - especially the kid logistics, making sure homework gets done and lunches are made and who likes which kind of sandwich (one kid wants jelly but no peanut butter and the other one wants peanut butter and no jelly? WTF?) and planning what needs to happen in the course of a given weekend to make sure our household stays on track - she does way more than I do. I try to help out, but I know I do less than my share, and I know she's tired of it, and I know she shouldn't have to tell me. I'm trying to get myself in the habit of thinking through everything that needs to happen, but I've got a long way to go. I just forget certain kinds of stuff, even though I don't want to, and it's on me to identify ways to avoid forgetting in the future. Hell, just last night it turned out I had agreed to drive the carpool this morning so she could attend an early morning meeting, and I was completely surprised when she referred to me driving the next morning - even though I remember the conversation in which I said I could do it. That's not fair, because if she can't trust me to remember to do things I'm happy to do, it's not much better than me being unwilling to do them. So I need to get better.

In conclusion, ADHD is a land of contrasts. And I'm trying, but need to try harder.
posted by nickmark at 11:55 AM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


The hard thing for some people to see is that it's also work taking initiative to keep track of what needs to be done and negotiating who is going to do it. You could call that "intellectual labor," I guess, but "emotional labor" seems like a better fit -- especially if you have to get into emotional struggles with your partner to even talk about it.

"Emotional labor" doesn't seem like a great fit to me. If you labeled the planning work "intellectual labor" and used "emotional labor" to describe the work of considering and managing your partner's feelings while discussing the issue, it would be a lot clearer than mashing together everything you have to do that your partner doesn't and calling it all "emotional labor."
posted by Redstart at 11:55 AM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


My wife and I talk about it in terms of household executive function, which, I agree, is slightly separate from the emotional-labor aspect of it (which is usually part and parcel of it, because if one person is not negotiating the work, not noticing it needs doing, and not doing it, there is usually an emotional component that will show up the instant it gets mentioned.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


"Emotional labor" doesn't seem like a great fit to me.

well, the important thing is that litigating the appropriate terminology is definitely the best use of everyone’s time, and in no way approximates the experience of attempting to explain emotional labor to an unwilling audience that already doubt its validity, so, whew
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2017 [156 favorites]


I think of it as partly asking one partner to bear extra "cognitive overhead," if people want an additional phrase. But emotional labor comes in the diplomacy of how partners negotiate (or don't negotiate) those household management tasks that entail a lot of cognitive overhead. So it gets bundled.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:01 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


I am all for people learning that the term Emotional Labor has its roots fundamentally as a Marxist idea, built upon by sociologists and if you trace it, lineage through Foucault as well. One of the issues I have is articles like this simplify and decontextualize the huge, nontrivial history of the concept. I fear that simplifying the ideas in these ways has costs—of course, I wish that more people would go deeper into this information but of course barely anyone has time for this kind of intellectual work!

At the very minimum, Hochschild herself has had really important contributions to issues around labor in the family structure, and I will simply quote Wikipedia which summarizes such an important facet/connection/context of the issues that people are still thinking about:

Other Hochschild books apply her perspective on emotion to the American family. In The Second Shift, she argues that the family has been stuck in a "stalled revolution." Most mothers work for pay outside the home; that is the revolution. But the jobs they go out to and men they come home to haven't changed as rapidly or deeply as has she; that is the stall. So working mothers end up doing the lion's share of the work—both emotional and physical—of tending the home, which leads her to feel resentment. Hochschild traces links between a couple's division of labor and their underlying "economy of gratitude."[10] Who, she asks, is grateful to whom, and for what?[10]

In The Time Bind, Hochschild studied working parents at a Fortune 500 company dealing with an important contradiction. On one hand, nearly everyone she talked to told her that "my family comes first."[11] On the other, working parents felt a magnetic draw to work. For about a fifth of these working parents, she found, home felt like work and work felt like home. Where, she asked informants, do you get help when you need it? Often the answer was work. Where are you most rewarded for what you do, work or home? Often the answer was work. One man told her, "When I'm doing the right thing with my teenage son, chances are he's giving me hell for it. When I'm doing the right thing at work, my boss is clapping me on my back." [11] Parents, she found, handled this strain in several ways. One was to reduce their idea of what they needed. ("Oh, I don't really need time to unwind.") Another was to outsource personal tasks. A third was to develop an imaginary self, the self you would be if only you had time.[11] The "time bind" refers to the lack of time parents had to themselves, the feeling that they were always running late and the thought that they were confined to the limited hours of the day.[12]

In an interview with Journal of Consumer Culture, Hochschild describes how capitalism plays a role in one’s “imaginary self”. She explains, “Many workers put in long hours, and return home exhausted. They turn to television as a form of passive ‘recovery’ from work. In the four hours of television, they’re exposed to thousands of amusing, fun advertisements. Those ads function as a conveyor belt to the mall. At the mall, they spend the money they’ve earned on objects that, I argue in The Time Bind, function as totems to a ‘potential self’ or hypothetical self – a self we would be if only we had time”.[9]


So even if EL is a misnomer, that first paragraph is a terrific combo—Hochschild played a big part in illuminating some of the ways we can think about what's going on with forms of of inequality and inegalitarianism that is specifically in but not limited to gender relationships.
posted by polymodus at 12:02 PM on September 28, 2017 [33 favorites]


In my world "noticing" is not an emotion.

Try "caring" instead then?

I notice thousands of things, at a subliminal level. The walls in this room are brown, and they are dry, and they adhere to the general angles and completeness and general wall-functioning of walls. Should any of those categories change, my brain would likely perceive that fact, but I would have to care that water is cascading down them to do anything about that state.

Now extrapolate that to caring the trash can is full or caring that the dogs' water bowls are empty or that one's partner sleeps two hours less than oneself in order to get chores done. Deciding that it's someone else's problem to manage, that they have to care about it instead and expend the energy to deal with it, is where the disconnect is.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:11 PM on September 28, 2017 [57 favorites]


"and I think the confusion is more that people still have a hard time seeing the "emotional" underpinning of all these tasks."

Yes, this forever. Naturally explanations expire after a few minutes and so have to be requested again and again (and again (and again...)).
posted by XtinaS at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2017 [14 favorites]


I have never heard a contrarian who insisted they had no problem with a concept, only that it is poorly defined, who then demonstrated a problem with the definition other than "The concept being defined does not exist."
posted by gilrain at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2017 [24 favorites]


As a trans woman I missed the part of gender construction where young girls are reinforced to do all this extra shit for boys and men, and now I'm later in life seeing how I have to unlearn all this "not having to give any literal fucks about a house and shit just magically gets done".

Basically this shit is real and men need to learn how to give more fucks about the home. And no, your fucking career does not give you a pass on having to do the dishes, because the way it plays out is that WHEN your wife starts her career, she'll then be expected to work full time AND pick up all your shit too.

I've lived on both sides of this story. Men: get better game on the home front.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2017 [62 favorites]


A real event from earlier in the week. I wake up and go out into the living room with my 3 year old; husband has an earlier class that day and has already left. I see a large amount of cat vomit on the rug. It's dried out. I KNOW it was there, right in the way, when said husband was up. I clean it up, because of course I do, because if I leave it for later, it's still going to be me cleaning it up, unless I explicitly tell him he needs to do it. I will come home to cat puke, I will be pissed, and I will still be in charge of it.

Later in the evening, I'm talking about finding the cat puke. His parents are there, so it's just day story sharing time, and he's not saying anything. So I point blank ask, "was it there when you were up?" And he admits it was, but that he was too busy to take care of it. I stare at him, and all I can manage is a sarcastic "nice job" with a thumbs up. What the fuck man. We are so close to a big ol' emotional labor "come to jesus" talk.
posted by bizzyb at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2017 [41 favorites]


I'm curious how that works in reverse - do male partners of women with ADHD have to shoulder that? Or does it all just drop through the cracks?

To try to answer your question, AFABulous, in my household, yes and yes.

I have an incredibly supportive and equal partner -so much that I can't believe my good fortune at times - who was raised by a very feminist mother (in most ways). And he shoulders a lot of the load. He will call the doctor for me, he will ask if I have my keys, he pays the bills. But we communicate about it. A lot. And it took a lot of communication and hard work from both of us to get here - there's certainly been struggles and frustrations on both sides. And, for example, though he pays the bills, I know just as much about our finances as he does, and can - and have - stepped up on occasion when it was useful. And while I might not be great at the execution part, I certainly do the noticing/knowing part what needs to be done, and there have been some arguments about that and his obliviousness for sure. And one thing that really helps is like a lot of people with ADHD I hyperfocus just as much as I get distracted, and occasionally I hyperfocus on organizational things that helps both our lives and household; I wouldn't hesitate for a second to say that a lot of that includes emotional labor. There's also the emotional labor of explaining over and over "I HAVE ADHD THIS IS HARD FOR ME!" but luckily that's diminished with time and experience.

Still, there's no doubt in my mind he does more than his fair share in a lot of areas - but I'm also very quick to acknowledge that and be appreciative as much as I can, which. . .well, if the reverse was true, might not be the same way. (I feel terrible about how much I didn't appreciate my mother's emotional labor growing up, and what extra work she shouldered for me.)

But I would also say we don't live a "normal" or conventional life and there's things that fall down the cracks that I think he doesn't realize "should" be done or I forget or don't care. Maybe a typical example would be our wedding photos. They were given to us as negatives. Conventionally, someone (probably the woman, yeah) would find a way to get them scanned, printed up, and then hang up a few around the house/give them to relatives (like our moms!), right? In our house, they've been sitting in the box for ten.fucking.years. Our moms are both really pissed at this. Still hasn't happened. It's a little thing (well, given the expense of hiring a photographer, maybe not that little) but it's just one of many, many things that have fallen through the cracks that a woman might be more typically expected to have done. And if you visited our house, it's probably pretty obvious that things fall through the cracks.

One of the big reasons we decided not to have kids is we had an honest conversation about my having ADHD, and what I could reasonably do, and things like. . .the emotional labor and labor of kids, what that meant for both of us, and we decided that it wasn't a good idea - for us, just us, mind you. But a big part of the discussion was my going, "I'm exhausted at the end of the day now trying to deal with everything, with the additions of being tired of having to remind you to pick up your shoes - what's it going to be like with kids?" Without knowing we were discussing it at the time, the conversation was kind of about my saying, "I don't feel like I'm in a place to handle all the emotional labor that will come with kids, and" - this was hard to articulate at the time, but we have since - "I don't think you [my spouse] truly understands what that entails, either." (I'm happy to say that situation has changed quite a bit over the decade of our marriage.) But I look back at that conversation now and it seems kind of amazing, especially after hearing from so many women in threads like this one, that we were even able to have that discussion, and have it go well, in the first place.

But I would say my relationship is probably the exception, not the rule. I have no doubt I'm extremely fortunate in my partner - it makes me extremely sad that most women are not in the same place I am. It's also awful to have to say "I'm fortunate" when it should be the norm.

Does that help?
posted by barchan at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2017 [21 favorites]


My wife and I are often the polar opposite of the traditional gendered couple - she goes to work for 7am in an extremely busy hospital job and location where she's basically incommunicado all day. My job's more malleable. I generally make all the appointments, run our social life, plan trips, organize the shopping lists, do all the paperwork for things like our mortgage and house purchase, and have the house clean and tidy and food cooked by the time she gets home. When a child comes into our life, I will be the primary parent for things like appointments, school pickups, and the like.

So - you might think that I would resonate with the emotional labour complaints as the primary doer of much of the emotional labour in our house. However - when I read these threads and the things women ask for of their partners (not to be the supervisor, to have a partner with initiative, to be recognized for the work they do) it affirms to me that WOMEN ARE 100% RIGHT and that's why I don't feel the burden that women in my situation do. My wife takes initiative, has gotten better at noticing things that are not being done (and notices some things I don't), and does a whole bunch of stuff without being asked. She thanks me constantly for taking care of things for her.

She does not see herself as "helping me" with the housework even though I am the primary. She sees herself as equally responsible for the general care and wellbeing of our lives and home, even if she's not doing the bulk of that work.

I have zero patience for any of the "I'm too busy" or "I just don't notice" or "I can't do it to her standard" shit that men push back with - because my wife meets me as a fucking partner every day despite that stuff and carries the emotional burden too, which makes the labour a whole lot easier.
posted by notorious medium at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2017 [75 favorites]


"Taking the full trash bag out to the garbage bin instead of just cramming your thing on top of it and pretending the lid still closes."

I expect my husband would be shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to discover the level of incandescent rage his incessant games of trash Jenga sparks in me. And yet I have decided I'm better off swallowing my rage and just dealing with the trash instead of saying every few days, "Hey, when the trash is full, could you take out the trash instead of piling new trash on top of the trash, thus requiring me to make multiple trips AND handle a bunch of gross trash that half the time ends up on the floor and the cats and baby try to eat?" and having him explain the first six or seven times that he was going to but he was in a hurry/in the middle of something/it just wasn't convenient, and then after six or seven times have him get upset that I'm "constantly picking at him" about the trash and starting a fight about how I'm nagging him and sulking for hours. At least if I just swallow my rage and do it, the trash goes out and we don't have to have a fight. If I mention it, the trash STILL doesn't go out AND we have a fight AND nothing changes!

And if I tell him this when he gets home tonight, which I might do because now I'm extra-enraged about trash Jenga, his feelings will be super-hurt about the whole thing, and he'll be bewildered that I'm enraged over something as trivial as trash, and consider it profoundly unfair that I'm nursing white-hot anger over a minor household chore.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2017 [116 favorites]


I'm now living with my fiancee who has a much higher standard than I have ever had to live up to. I've been doing my best to step up and clean before she notices, as the environment will start to effect her mood and she's studying for her comps right now. At the same time, I realize I've still been expecting the constant praise for remembering that we're living in an apartment, not a barn. I've been doing all the dishes for the past week because of a cut on her thumb, and I was starting to get slightly grumpy about it. She is a.) studying for the exam that will let her write her dissertation and I should give her a break and b.) still doing more managerial work than I am. I never have to ask her to clean stuff up, she still has to remind me.

So threads like this are a periodic reminder that I, as a man, need to step up more. I know this is far down in the thread, but guys, if I, someone with ADHD, who was a complete slob, and was most worried about my relationship falling apart because of cleanliness issues, can learn to clean and spot problems when they occur, and remember most of the time to put things away (and usually put the seat down), you can too.

Now I just need to get off the mentioning whenever I do anything so that she'll thank me thing. That's my next lesson for myself. That and remembering to check the trash to see if it needs to go out nightly. And stop being annoyed at the coffee maker not being cleaned when I get up in the morning and cleaning it out at night so I don't have to deal with wet soggy coffee grounds when I make coffee. And a hundred other things. But mostly expecting thanks and praise. I live there too, I should be taking care of it because I live there, not to receive emotional reinforcement.
posted by Hactar at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2017 [40 favorites]


I've seen "mental load" as a name for the cognitive side of keeping things going, and I think it's clearest phrase I've seen for the subject.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2017 [16 favorites]


Absolutely, but that's not what the author said was emotional labor. The author presents a definition of emotional labor that is simply incompatible with the definitions coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild.

Okay, and I ask sincerely, so what? There are hundreds of words and terms in English that have different meanings, some that change over time, and Arlie Hochschild doesn't own this one forever. Hilary Rose also wrote on these ideas in the 80's and called it "caring labor", generally unpaid. The original EL FPP on Metafilter was the link here:

http://the-toast.net/2015/07/13/emotional-labor/

It's very easy from there, IMO, to see the concepts that this FPP is referring to. Many women in this FPP have no problem understanding and explaining this FPP's concepts. Perhaps we're all using the 'wrong' term from some semantic-purity standpoint, but the horse is out of the barn.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2017 [40 favorites]


"trash jenga" is hilarious and I am stealing that expression
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2017 [34 favorites]


Thanks, barchan. I don't mean to make this about ADHD per se, just that it was a major factor in my relationship and its dissolution because the labor was doubled.

As Annika alluded to, trans people get a unique perspective on this. I'm gay so I won't be in a relationship with a woman, but I hope straight trans men are more sensitive to this than cis men are. Most of my friends are queer so I can only think of one in a relationship with a cis woman, and my friend has told me she was pretty astonished at his thoughtfulness relative to cis men. Regardless of what gender we're assigned at birth, and what our true gender turns out to be, we're all socialized in who's supposed to play what role.
posted by AFABulous at 12:51 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


he'll be bewildered that I'm enraged over something as trivial as trash

OH GOD THIS. "Why are you making a capital case over [minor issue]?" was repeated so often in our house. It's labor to think about whether you should bring it up the first time he does it, or wait to see if it's a habit. If he habitually plays trash jenga, and then you bring it up, it's "why didn't you say something earlier?" Emotional labor isn't always about managing other people's emotions, it's also your own. "How upset should I be" was a constant thought in my head.
posted by AFABulous at 12:56 PM on September 28, 2017 [32 favorites]


It's labor to think about whether you should bring it up the first time he does it, or wait to see if it's a habit.

Definitely. I dated a guy in college who was uncriticizable. If it only happened once, well it only happened once! What's the problem? If it happened twice, why didn't you bring it up the first time? I guess I was supposed to stop him a moment before time #2 began to occur.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:58 PM on September 28, 2017 [27 favorites]


I just feel really sad for the family in the article. I hope they have wonderful ups to those (mind-boggling to me) conflicts (or bottled up conflicts-to-be).

Exploring and discussing emotional labor, whether in the household care or interpersonal communications or what have you, does make me think about my actions in my household and with my loved ones and friends. I read, sometimes, to discover the widely different facets of the human condition - and the article and this thread are illuminating. If nothing else the phrase is a simple coat hook that can be brought instantly to mind, to be aware of, acknowledge, and act upon, the next time conflict arises.

So, yeah, thanks all.
posted by mrzz at 1:05 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


So - you might think that I would resonate with the emotional labour complaints as the primary doer of much of the emotional labour in our house. However - when I read these threads and the things women ask for of their partners (not to be the supervisor, to have a partner with initiative, to be recognized for the work they do) it affirms to me that WOMEN ARE 100% RIGHT and that's why I don't feel the burden that women in my situation do.

Likewise. This is so, so true.

I'm the man in a relationship like the one barchan describes: my SO has positively crippling ADHD, among a host of other health issues. I pick up the slack as best I can. I'm not great at it - I struggle with depression myself, and have picked up some pretty abysmal habits around housekeeping, but I do the appointments, planning, dishes, cooking, more of the cleaning that does get done and so on, and it does suck...

But it's still easier for me than a woman in my place because if I miss something, no one cares. If I just don't feel up to the trash, no one calls me on it. Even trying my hardest - and I really do - it's still something I'm deciding to do, rather than something absolutely everyone will judge and punish and ostracize me over.

I guess what I'm saying is: we need to do better, (me too), because even when we're doing a ton, we still have that back door to get out of it, and women don't. That really needs to be evened up on a cultural level, versus getting lost in the weeds about whether the terminology is best or whatever else.
posted by mordax at 1:06 PM on September 28, 2017 [20 favorites]


the term Emotional Labor has its roots fundamentally as a Marxist idea

There's also a Marxist term specifically for the unpaid labour of running a household, reproductive labour. As opposed to productive labour, which produces surplus value, reproductive labour reproduces labour power.

I think the (mis)use of 'emotional labour' as a term for the unpaid labour commonly expected/demanded of women might unintentionally reinforce the idea that housework is womens' work. To call cooking or cleaning or any other necessary household task 'emotional labour' obscures their physical, material demands. I mean, I've swept and mopped enough floors to know that ya don't do it with your feelings.
posted by thedamnbees at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2017 [10 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, please refresh before replying if you're having a "...what?" reaction to something.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:10 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


Except we aren't calling cooking or cleaning or any household task "emotional labor."
posted by agregoli at 1:11 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


The concept has only gained wide recognition under the term "emotional labor". It resonated with more people than the alternatives (which are mostly not available to those outside scholarship). The vagaries of language, eh? In academic publications a different jargon will probably continue to be used. It's fine.
posted by gilrain at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


(nitpicking the term is a distraction from culpability)
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2017 [66 favorites]


Except we aren't calling cooking or cleaning or any household task "emotional labor."

Well, the article does:

If I were to point out random emotional labor duties I carry out—reminding him of his family’s birthdays, carrying in my head the entire school handbook and dietary guidelines for lunches, updating the calendar to include everyone’s schedules, asking his mother to babysit the kids when we go out, keeping track of what food and household items we are running low on, tidying everyone’s strewn about belongings, the unending hell that is laundry...
posted by thedamnbees at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


Reminding him of his family's birthdays IS emotional labor. All of those things qualify....I don't understand your confusion.
posted by agregoli at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


Ok, we can all call it "just being a motherfucking halfway decent goddamn partner" instead of "emotional labor" if that pleases the pedants. Unreal, that we are fighting over the term rather than the impacts of the problem.
posted by sockermom at 1:25 PM on September 28, 2017 [57 favorites]


(Also, if you are confused, this is well-tread ground. The previous emotional labor thread linked above talks about all of this in great detail.)
posted by agregoli at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


It's moving just how important this issue is to so many men! They care so much, they'll turn the whole car around just to make sure the name is perfect! No, don't object, I really just want everything to go really well when we do, eventually, tackle this very important matter!
posted by gilrain at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2017 [81 favorites]


If I were to point out random emotional labor duties I carry out—reminding him of his family’s birthdays, carrying in my head the entire school handbook and dietary guidelines for lunches, updating the calendar to include everyone’s schedules, asking his mother to babysit the kids when we go out, keeping track of what food and household items we are running low on, tidying everyone’s strewn about belongings, the unending hell that is laundry...

It's the mental load of the task, not the task itself. "Doing laundry" is easy; being the person in charge of making sure your family has clean laundry for all of their expected needs for [duration of time] is a much bigger task, an unending hell of expected future labor that will never cease or be complete.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:27 PM on September 28, 2017 [44 favorites]


Emotional labor of another encompasses all things contained by "giving all the fucks that you yourself are unaware of existing".
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


agregoli, I'm not confused at all. In fact, the article in the previous thread makes the distinction quite clearly.
posted by thedamnbees at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


So I think the vocab discussion thing is challenging in this sort of thread because it's really two things going on at once:

1. Folks wanting to talk about terminology for the sake of understanding/unpacking/contextualizing the ideas under discussion. That there are multiple working definitions of "emotional labor" in different discursive contexts, that a few different ideas are packed into what has become the main MeFi-consensus meaning of EL that could be broken out into subsets: that creates an interest in digging into how things are named and categorized. That's a pretty normal MetaFilter discussion thing and not a problem.

2. But past discussions of emotional labor have often been fraught, and have people kind of immediately on edge as a result, and part of what's been fraught has been some less defensible attempts to sort of prevent discussion of the ideas by insisting on arguing about the terminology instead in tandem with being dismissive about the whole concept. Folks got tired of that shit and have stayed tired of it, and I think tend to react negatively to "hey, let's unpack the vocab" sidebars in a way that is understandable in the longer site context but may not be obvious taken as something just in this thread.

So the thing is: not everybody discussing this in this thread has read the previous several thousand comments of discussion of emotional labor on the site, and realistically that needs to be okay because this is a post on the front page of MetaFilter nominally about a specific article and not, as I noted earlier, just page 7 of a very long previous thread. That means we're gonna have a mix of folks who are long veterans of this topic on the site and folks who are coming to it relatively fresh.

I think we're gonna do better to try and accept and accommodate multiple subthreads of discussion in here, including both the continuation/contextualization of this article in the previous site discussions and stuff like people thinking out loud about terminology or unpacking details of this specific article. I totally get the instinct to cut off specters of old annoyances at the pass, but I think the sort of immune response reaction there is tending to take over the thread to the point where folks continue to come back to EL-as-MetaFilter-metatopic instead of digging in on e.g. the question of passively inculcating gender-biased EL stuff in kids that the article talks about.
posted by cortex at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2017 [23 favorites]


Sorry, your question didn't make any sense to me unless you didn't understand the definition, or so I (and others, apparently) thought. You appeared to be quibbling with the term, not the current article.
posted by agregoli at 1:40 PM on September 28, 2017


(And thanks, cortex)
posted by agregoli at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2017


Man, I used to be bad about this - similarly to some others, I noticed that my wife has really strong feelings about organization and cleanliness of things. I don't. It took a while, but I finally realized that I could go a long way towards making her life more peaceful and mellow if I helped stay on top of things. I cook our food, clean the kitchen, do the shopping, do the general straightening up, about half the laundry (because I'm dead certain I'm going to destroy some of her things with my set it and forget it laundry habits), the trash, walk the dogs, the bills, etc. She handles the organizational stuff and the decorating and her study work in addition to teaching. I'm not perfect at it, I still forget some of it from time to time.

You know what I suck at and can't find my way through to - the emotional care side of it. I'm lousy at comforting and being presently empathetic. That I know upsets her too, I try and figure out how to be better at it, but I'm miserable with it.

Want me to whip up a platter of appetizers for a study function - I'm your huckleberry. Want me to know when and how to give you a soothing hug - umm, want a plate of appetizers?
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:42 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


(because I'm dead certain I'm going to destroy some of her things with my set it and forget it laundry habits)

Do you think she sprang from the womb magically knowing how to wash those things? No, she read the label, or googled it, or asked someone. How do you do aspects of your job that you don't already know?
posted by AFABulous at 1:52 PM on September 28, 2017 [70 favorites]


in the case of her laundry - she's explicitly asked me not to wash anything other than jeans and t-shirts. (that request happened before any "bad" washing of stuff happened - probably a preemptive move on her part. Should revisit)
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:54 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


It's moving just how important this issue is to so many men! They care so much, they'll turn the whole car around just to make sure the name is perfect!

You think it's men who are angry about every unpaid and unacknowledged thing women do and think being classed as "emotional" labor rather than mental or physical labor, because female and emotional are such a natural pairing that any extra work a woman does gets brought in under the definition at some point? because I don't. I don't think men are the ones angry that, as "emotional labor" gains widespread popular currency, the exhausting physical strain of childcare and household labor is starting to be talked about as secondary to the strain of simply remembering it exists to be done. I don't ask that all the manifestations of male dominance be ranked in order of importance, that is silly, but it does matter that there's more than one kind of unpaid work that's forced on women, that it's not all just different permutations of the same thing.

I do think that women who have thoughts about this topic are much, much more susceptible to taking it seriously when told to shut up, go away, do their "job" of shutting up and listening if they don't agree, et cetera, and this has the entirely predictable effect of making people with different opinions easy to write off as male "contrarians" -- because the women who have different opinions are sincere and care about this, so they fuck off when told to fuck off and you stop hearing from them. Consequently the ones who keep talking after being told to fuck off are more likely to be men.

that would be completely fine if people were not constantly referred to emotional labor discussions for a view into what "women" think about it. women who have different experiences or different explanations for their experiences have been explicitly directed not to talk about them. which is not, in itself, wrong. focus discussions, etc. but it is wrong to pretend that they don't exist just because they're more respectful and less insistent that they be listened to than men, on average.

anyhow, I agree with the vast majority of points made by the vast majority of people in the metafilter semifeminist consensus. emotional labor is real. men do too little of it. and it still seriously does bother some feminist women that the very necessary and reasonable desire to distinguish between thinking and feeling, or between acting and feeling, is belittled so violently. I care what you call what I do. I care that what is important to me is so breezily sneered away. LOL at words mattering, people having emotions(!) about them, and so on.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:54 PM on September 28, 2017 [22 favorites]


In my anger at men being unconvincingly obtuse (again), I didn't consider the impact my ill-advised satire might have on other voices. Excellent point, queenofbithynia. I apologize.
posted by gilrain at 2:00 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


My ex had mental health problems. I had mental health problems. I'm still working out with my therapist how being raised with all these expectations re: emotional labor led to my treating it like it was normal and okay that I was taking on the burden of both of our problems while my partner wasn't even engaged in basic seeking of health care without my constant assistance with all the inputs of that equation. She'd had the option of relying very heavily on her family and I realized far too late that this is exactly the pattern that I used to get into with guys: I was allowing her to feel more independent... by basically filling in the role of her parents in both financial and emotional support. It wasn't being healthy to either of us, but in the short term, it felt pretty good to her... and for me, I was sleeping like three hours a night worrying about her medical issues from multiple states away.

Able-bodied and able-brained men being dependent like this is awful, but apparently even no longer dating men doesn't fix the fact that something in the back of my head screams that I'm being recklessly irresponsible for not taking on responsibility for everybody around me. Leaving was so hard. Is still so hard. Learning to let other people deal with the consequences of their own actions or lack thereof is incredibly difficult, even when you're not talking about actual shared responsibilities like children.

I have the lowest housekeeping standards in the known universe, I'm ADD as hell, but I will somehow manage to set reminders to make sure other people get their laundry done even while I'm not doing my own. I can fail myself, but I can't fail other people. When cohabitating, I am substantially more fussy about housework, because I'm afraid of what other people will think/feel about it. Anybody who looks at the vast number of people who've been socialized like this and thinks, "Oh, yes, they just need to care less, I don't need to do more," I don't even know what to say to them. Part of my socialization is stuff I'm working out in therapy. But if the solution to the problem is that I spend a lot of time in therapy and you do nothing different, that's an asshole move. The fact that we're so often talking about spouses...I don't know how these guys live with themselves when their wives are so stressed and unhappy about this stuff.
posted by Sequence at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


I think queenofbythia makes an important point about distinctions. There are some types of work my husband or other men in my life can shoulder the burden on, and many of those are more managerial types of things. The things that exhaust me the most, that I will never, ever be free from, is the emotional labor required for dealing with other men in the world. Particularly in the workplace. Navigating harassment in public without become a shrieking, hysterical gargoyle takes labor too, and men who care about me can never take it on for me. So they can do the fucking dishes.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2017 [22 favorites]


The definitions matter and who is at the table demanding and determining the definitions matters as well. I won't do my minority bidding at the behest of a majority demanding it be done.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


"The question of passively inculcating gender-biased EL stuff in kids that the article talks about"

This is what I was trying to do.
My point was that using EL as a blanket term for ALL the unpaid labour that is demanded of women might passively inculcate gender biases. Why is it that managerial tasks in the household are 'emotional labour', but managerial tasks in the workplace are never referred to as such? What makes managing a household 'emotional' other than the fact that women are expected to do it (for free!) and the dubious gender stereotype that women are more emotional than men?
posted by thedamnbees at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


Instead of definitions, let's at look an example...

I am responsible for cooking/shopping and my wife is responsible for laundry [bedrooms on second floor, washer/dryer on first floor]. It is Saturday (shopping and laundry day) and I am walking up the stairs to grab my wallet and keys from my nightstand. As I go up my wife, who is on the first floor, asks "is x on the grocery list?" I say, "I dunno, I'll check in a minute."

While upstairs, I realize, "hey, even though it is not my job and since I'm already upstairs, I bet my wife would really appreciate it if I brought our hampers down to make doing the laundry easier for her." So I grab my wallet and keys, and then quickly consolidate her, my and our baby's hampers and bring it downstairs. I do this, even though it is delaying the execution of my own task: shopping.

Leaving the laundry by the wash, I go to the kitchen go grab the grocery list. As I walk I ask "hey, what was it I was supposed to add to the list again? (I have a terrible memory, and therefore so many lists)" She says, "Oh, detergent, but I already added it to the list for you."

This is a day that has happened in my marriage. It's a fairly normal one.

These are examples of anticipating your spouse's wants and needs (as I wrote above in an earlier comment), and emotional labor. While upstairs, I could have just said 'fuck it' and pretend that I didn't notice I could help, or I could show some caring and help my wife finish her task more quickly.*** My wife could have just told me to add detergent to the list if it wasn't there already, but she took 10 seconds to check the list and add it herself because she knows I have a terrible memory and therefore so many lists. Neither of us was asked to do what we did that day. We did them because caring means occasionally going above and beyond your assigned task. That motivator, caring, is the emotional labor.

Do those of you confused about this topic do any of the above? Is the above foreign to you? If so, your relationship could be so much better.

***It is only now reflecting on this that I realized I could have quickly stripped the sheets off of the bed too, but it didn't occur to me. Now I know another blind-spot to improve on.
posted by Groundhog Week at 2:16 PM on September 28, 2017 [54 favorites]


This thread is like the world's best anti-marriage advertisement, so kudos for that. I've personally found that emotional labour is so much easier to divide when you have only one person who is responsible for it, and no other superfluous team members beyond that one.
posted by some loser at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2017 [51 favorites]


SaltySalticid outlines some of the reasons I object to coopting of the term emotional labor (and even quotes me!).

In its original sense, it is a term used to describe an explicit requirement for paid work. It's the requirement that you manage the emotions of customers, coworkers, vendors, etc., which is incredibly difficult work that is both disproportionately assigned to women and, I'm sure totally coincidentally, almost always underpaid and underappreciated. That's a phenomenon that needs recognition and study as a discrete phenomenon.

That's not saying that 'emotion work' (the original term for the unpaid, domestic version of emotional labor) isn't a component of what we consider women's work, or that it's not at least as insidious and unappreciated. It's just different.

And I think that tossing everything in one "emotional labor" bucket minimizes and kind of flattens the problem. There is often a lot of emotion work involved in managing domestic duties, but there's also a lot of recordkeeping, maintenance, physical, and cognitive labor that's not emotion based. It is not emotion work when I compare cell phone plans. It's math and logistics and administrative work. But way back when, I had to convince my husband to even have a cell phone, that was emotion work, because he was being irrational and I had to talk some sense into him.

Similarly, it's really no more fundamentally emotion work to keep a mental inventory of the groceries and do the shopping. That's cognitive and organizational and physical work. Getting a fussy eater to eat their vegetables is emotion work. Understanding and tending to people's dietary needs is also not emotion work in itself, but recognizing someone's disordered eating and helping them work on the psychological underpinnings of it would be.

And personally, I reject a lot of the 'emotion work' type responsibilities that other people assume women do (not that I never do, but I don't do it as disproportionately as outsiders expect me to), so I really don't like having the stuff I do cast as that just because I'm a woman.

I get that, for some reason, people like the term, probably because that's just the term they first heard to articulate the phenomenon and because it's often an unacknowledged element of the things classified as women's work, and it seems unlikely that it'll be wrested back to its original meaning. BUT people pointing out the distinctions and taking exception aren't just trying to derail by nitpicking semantics.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:18 PM on September 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


Emotional labor isn't a gendered term though. There are certainly times and tasks men shoulder for the women in their lives. That society tends to put these things more on women is relevant, but the concept is gender neutral.
posted by agregoli at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm a teacher and I see so much of this enacted in the classroom. And now that I think about it, I am totally guilty of over-praising boys for doing stuff that the girls do all the time. Like, just today, I praised a couple boys (1st graders) at length because, at the end of class, they pushed in all the unpushed chairs and picked all the crayon pieces up from the floor without being asked. Girls do that kind of stuff on the regular, and while I always thank them, I don't go on and on about it -- because just like in adult life, I expect that the girls will take initiative wrt being helpful. I guess I hope that the praise will motivate the boys -- both these particular boys, and their classmates -- to be more proactive and helpful in the future. But it also means I'm reinforcing some toxic stuff, so...awesome.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:29 PM on September 28, 2017 [40 favorites]


I'm a teacher and I see so much of this enacted in the classroom. And now that I think about it, I am totally guilty of over-praising boys for doing stuff that the girls do all the time.

I talked about a very similar experience to this years ago on this site. I totally get you, goodbyewaffles.
posted by Groundhog Week at 2:37 PM on September 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


The definitions matter and who is at the table demanding and determining the definitions matters as well.

Well, then, as one of the people who took issue upthread with the confusing ways the term "emotional labor" gets used, perhaps it would be helpful if I mentioned that I'm a woman.
posted by Redstart at 2:43 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've said this in other threads, but will restate for data points: My ex and I had these issues, big time, and we're both women with ADHD.

For the first couple years of our relationship, I did all of the work around the house and seethed silently because she never noticed things that needed to be done. When she realized it was an issue, she pulled the "All you have to do is ask" card. So fine, I asked, and she generally did what I asked her to do without complaining. Except if I'd ask her to wash the dishes that had piled up on the counter over the past few days, she'd only wash her dishes. And if I asked her to clean the kitchen floor, she would, but I'd realize by the end of the day that I was getting the silent treatment. Why? Because I didn't notice how clean the floor was and didn't thank her for her efforts. (Which I started doing, because remembering to thank her for doing the thing she only did because I asked her to avoided a fight I didn't want to have. And that right there is the epitome of emotional labor.)

As the relationship deteriorated, and after we had countless talks along the lines of "but I don't want to have to ask you; it's not fair that things get done only if I ask," I finally just went on strike and stopped doing any housework at all. And guess what! Nothing got done, at all, for about six months! Then she finally got fed up with the filth and started initiating housecleaning on her own. By which point I was completely done with the relationship, and we filed for divorce not long after we got to that point.

And then, during the year-long divorce proceedings, she actually sent my lawyer an argument -- in writing -- stating that I should receive less than my 50% community property share of the house...

...because I never did any housework.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:52 PM on September 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


I"m aware that emotional labor is not a gendered term, but the perception of it often seems to be.

So from the article, calling housecleaning services to get quotes is office work, not emotion work. Noticing a box on the floor and putting it away is not emotion work, it's basic maintenance. Managing a household is managing. Delegating is delegating. Scheduling is scheduling.

This is the part that's emotion work: The crying, the snapping at him—it all required damage control. I had to tell him how much I appreciated the bathroom cleaning, but perhaps he could do it another time (like when our kids were in bed).

If shopping around for a housecleaning service is emotion work, is shopping around for a car emotion work, too? Is maintaining a kitchen different from maintaining a media server? And do perceptions about the type of work change depending on either the gender of the person doing it, or on the perceived gender roles of the task itself? I think they do.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:54 PM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


I (female) have a new partner (58 year old) male who grew up with a single parent (mother) and two sisters. He has repeatedly shocked me by noticing the trash is full and taking it out, by cleaning up the kitchen (even if it was mess made by me for a meal only for me), filling up my pill container and noticing when I'm running low on meds, food, anything, really. He doesn't require praise for this either. Sometimes, I even sit on the couch drinking a glass of wine while he cooks dinner. At the start, I found his behaviour really confronting because what the fuck was going on? Was he trying to get me to do something? Was he putting one over me? What the fuck? WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS GOING ON?

Discussions around this confused the both of us, because, yeah, he was doing his fair share, because it's the decent thing to do, and I was so suspicious because I'd never experienced it, never even seen it (take a look at hetero sitcoms and think about how many scenes involve hubby on couch while wifey talks to him from kitchen).

So it turns out I'm 50 and never have I ever before experienced a household where gender didn't matter in who got the fucking job done.
posted by b33j at 3:02 PM on September 28, 2017 [69 favorites]


Oh, and possibly related, I get as least as much oral sex from him as I give without ever feeling like it's an imposition, or a chore.
posted by b33j at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


Is maintaining a kitchen different from maintaining a media server?

I don't think it's different... if you're genuinely maintaining it because the other person cares about it as much as because you care about it. If you clean just because you want to clean, it does take a load off the other party in terms of responsibilities, but it's not emotional labor. If you do housework because you're aware that managing part of the housework is part of your relationship commitment to the other person, that's the emotion work part of it. Shopping for a car to take the stress off your partner can absolutely fit under the emotional labor, but isn't usually a routine part of anybody's lives. And I at one point found myself managing most of a car purchase process despite not even being a licensed driver, with one ex, so... yeah. Does your media server need as much maintenance as your laundry does? Probably not. If the other person only attends to the occasional stuff rather than the routine stuff, that's part of the problem.

I say this as a geek myself, but most of the couples I know, if they have a media server that needs maintaining and one half of the couple manages it, it's because that half of the couple is maintaining the media server as a hobby, and the other half of the couple would have been just as content with a Roku. That's why it doesn't count, not gender.
posted by Sequence at 3:06 PM on September 28, 2017 [17 favorites]


Also, maintaining a household kitchen requires much more frequent effort than maintaining a household server (unless you are doing it rong). And also the former is likely to get you paid less, and the latter may get you paid more.
posted by clew at 3:14 PM on September 28, 2017 [10 favorites]


I am forever glad to have found a man who does the things and if he's missed something I just have to tell him and he's all "thanks! that helps!" and when I get nervous about reminding him of something because of the way I have been socialized and expected to scrape and crawl to have any complaints he always assures me "you aren't nagging me. you've never nagged me. you reminded me to do something I said I'd take care of and I really appreciate it."

These men exist.

Is it perfect? Of course not, there are still some places where one of us feels the balance is out of whack. However, just having a partner who will work with me and not get angry or defensive if something comes up is a huge deal and I thought it was impossible to hope for.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh, and I am a housewife. Our division of labor in the home takes into account his labor outside of the home, but he doesn't get - nor would he want - a free pass to just leave it all to me so he can kick his feet up. We solved trash jenga by him being 100% in charge of the trash. He wants to do it on his schedule and doesn't mind messing with the tower, I go batty at the tower and don't want to deal with it every time, so he takes care of it. He hates washing dishes and I really don't care one way or another so I do all the dishes. The fact that he was so willing to sit down and have these discussions and not try to weasel out of anything or catch me on technicalities or exactly measure the effort involved in specific tasks is HUGE. And it shouldn't be!! It should be normal. Men should come into relationships ready to be partners and not looking to be raised and coddled.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:20 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


The part of the essay that was about emotional labor wasn't just doing the work of calling around to find a service, etc. It was valuing his partner's request enough to take some time to think about it, understand it, and fulfill it. What he did instead showed that he valued his partner's request so very little that he didn't think it required any time to think about or make sure he understood it.
posted by bleep at 3:24 PM on September 28, 2017 [44 favorites]


Shopping around for a car can be emotion work. If you're the one shopping and your partner has communicated what their needs & desires are but you're not really listening when they tell you this and you go ahead and get whatever car suits you. Or instead if you listen to what they said & carefully balance what you want vs. what they want to find a car that you both love.
posted by bleep at 3:30 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


I am 100% on board with showing up as a full partner, colleague, what have you, and will use "emotional labor" until a more felicitous handle comes along, because it's so goddam useful to have even a so-so name for this collection of ideas.

That said, I have found that it can trip people up in conversation, and I do hope some better term comes along some day. My efforts at coining something have not been fruitful, so far.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:43 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: I didn’t click through, though. Who exactly was going to make it worth my while?

(From sciatrix's earlier link.)
posted by Coventry at 3:53 PM on September 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


Just to articulate something that I think is probably important to my perspective. I work in heavily male dominated industries, and have been in a few workplaces that were super explicitly sexist. And one very common manifestation is that my job expectations have often been very heavily gendered.

Men expect me to take care of their emotional needs in the workplace. I can easily get shoehorned into an unofficial kind of counselor role. But also, they believe it is my primary job to make them comfortable and to manage their emotions, especially when I'm managing a project. Yes, that's part of managing a project (and I only manage projects, not personnel) but it's a discrete part, and I'm always held to much higher standards for that than men are, because some seem to see it as my entire job description.

So my main responsibility to them will be to make a schedule, delegate work, and hand out deadlines and requirements, but then, I'm also expected to explain all of my choices to their satisfaction and then hold their hands all the way, reminding them of their deadlines, cajoling and coddling them like I'm their mommy. Which is all discrete, separate, EXTRA workplace emotional labor that I'm expected to take on to a much greater extent than men in my same position.

And that is one big reason it's important to distinguish which parts of various tasks are emotion work and which aren't, because I need to be able to distinguish for others the parts that are my responsibility and the parts that aren't.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:56 PM on September 28, 2017 [22 favorites]


Oh god this reminds me of my last partner. There was always a contentious issue that if I didn't make the plans, we would never leave the house. I constantly got 'but you're better than me at that. I don't know where to look. I don't know what you like', etc. So I put him on easy mode and gave him links to all of the local calendars I check for fun stuff to do or look at or listen to. I gave him access to my personal calendar where I would pop in some things in the future that might look cool if that day turned out available. NOTHING HAPPENED.

One time we were at breakfast (going to breakfast was my idea, of course) and it came up again and he pointed to an ad in the RFT for a show at the art museum and said he'd like to go. I don't know if he actually wanted to go or if it was just conveniently on the page at the time, but I agreed. I believe my answer was 'Ok'. So the exhibit comes. And goes. We haven't gone. In fact he hasn't said anything about it. He brings it up in one of his pout fits 2 months later that we never went and I said 'You never picked a weekend, you never bought tickets. How could we go?'. He said 'But you said ok' His assumption that if he pointed to a shiny thing and said 'want' was that I was still on the hook for making said shiny thing actually happen.

For the remaining two years of that relationship, I never made plans for us again. I was done with that discussion. DONE. I went out by myself. He still never made plans.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:01 PM on September 28, 2017 [84 favorites]


My dad and mom have a really fair split going for them when it comes to this, and part of it has to do with the fact that my dad has a lot of anxiety which manifests as “I want/need to handle all the things in exactly my way.” He subsequently does the vast majority of their household chores, manages the budget (my god, he loves his spreadsheets and the points), etc. He has everyone’s birthdays memorized and notifies me and my mom in case we’ve forgotten. He picks out the birthday cards unless I beat him to it. He is 100% an Acts of Service giver, and what he asks in return is to be listened to. It’s hard being on the receiving end of that kind of love when he doesn’t understand that his actions are overbearing. He has always been thoughtful, and is sad and hurt when his friends (and family of origin) do not do the same emotional labor that he does.

My mom bore a tremendous amount of emotional labor as a young woman. Her parents died within weeks of each other after horrendous cancers wrecked their bodies, and since her older brothers are absolutely Why Are You Mad At Me Just Trll Me What To Do men, she was the one who handled the aftermath. She was the one who (along with my dad) adopted her younger brother and raised him. She had been raising him anyway since her parents were ill for so long. She continues to deal with the emotional burden of helping my dad work through his anger management issues (depression, really). She continues to raise her younger brother, my beloved uncle, who has bipolar 1 and schizophrenia and unresolved PTSD from the loss of his parents at the age of 10. She shoulders that stuff with my dad’s help. And she parented me, in the way I needed to be parented (Words of Love).

I don’t know what led to my parents finding this balance. It has its flaws. Those flaws have taken a specific and not insignificant toll on me over the course of my life, which you might not expect if you knew me in person.

These are the ways my parents demonstrate love to each other. They listen (most of the time), they research together, they fight as one, and they have made a habit of taking care of each other in the most kind and respectful ways.

I used to be very concerned that my parents weren’t in love because I never see them kiss or hug. But my god, their other actions and their shared emotional labor far exceeds my very childlike view of what True Love looks like.

And now I’m crying in my car outside a pizza place that I went to on a late lunch break and people are looking at me concernedly and all I can think to do is roll down my window and say, “Look, I just really love my parents, okay?”

Be good to your spouses you guys. Honestly.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2017 [51 favorites]


On the topic of noticing.

My dad notices everything EXCEPT his emotions and the way he expresses anger and fear.

But my mom and I notice. And our biggest challenge with my dad is getting him to notice, too.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


I've personally found that emotional labour is so much easier to divide when you have only one person who is responsible for it, and no other superfluous team members beyond that one.

SAME. I have not made any attempts to start dating or pursue any romantic relationships since my last one ended a couple years ago. This surprises people and many imagine me to be pitiful and lonely (the fact that I have a bunch of cats probably doesn't help). But my relationship indifference isn't born of heartbreak nor because nobody's showed interest. It's because all my prior relationship experiences have taught me that relationships are a time-suck and a chore, involving taking care of other's needs while getting very little back, and right now I'm quite happy to live how I want to without shouldering all of that crap. Also it makes traveling so much more enjoyable when you don't have an adult to tend to.
posted by schroedinger at 4:35 PM on September 28, 2017 [37 favorites]


That said, I have found that it can trip people up in conversation, and I do hope some better term comes along some day. My efforts at coining something have not been fruitful, so far.

I've had similar thoughts about the term 'privilege' in the past - I actually hate that word for the associated concept. The thing is, the jargon's not usually the problem. Can be with a small number of people, but for the most part, the problem is that the idea beneath the term is so inconvenient to the audience.

At the end of the day, whatever we call it, accepting the premise of emotional labor will always mean:

1) We have to do more hard, shitty work. Some of us are cool with that. A lot of people will always push back against taking on more duties for the same 'pay.' (It's true that I have come to find aspects of this very rewarding, but it's a long view - in the moment, being responsible usually sucks.)

2) Admitting we made a mistake by not accepting this sooner. A lot of people don't do nuance well - it's very hard for them to separate 'I did something bad' from 'I am a bad person,' and just reject the premise whole hog. That's immature, but there's a lot of that going around.

tl;dr: we can call this whatever we want, but a lot of people will try to duck it via any rationalization they can come up with because they just really, really wish it wasn't true.

That said, if you or anybody else comes up with something a smidge better, I'll listen. I just don't think it's the primary way to come at persuading people - like, a lot of us believe that more technically correct arguments are a good way forward because they work on us, but we're not the people we're trying to reach, if that wasn't too convoluted? Personally, I think tailoring the message to the audience is better - emotional appeals, metaphors that make sense to a particular audience. I don't think linguistic silver bullets are a thing.
posted by mordax at 4:40 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


A little ways upthread, AFABulous wrote "OH GOD THIS. "Why are you making a capital case over [minor issue]?" was repeated so often in our house.

For anyone reading along who resonates with that incredulity, I recommend reading the essay She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink. The author is a dude that gets it, albeit too late to save his marriage. From the link:

But I remember my wife often saying how exhausting it was for her to have to tell me what to do all the time. It’s why the sexiest thing a man can say to his partner is “I got this,” and then take care of whatever needs taken care of.

I always reasoned: “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.”

But she didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.

She wanted me to figure out all of the things that need done, and devise my own method of task management.

I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.

posted by Sublimity at 4:49 PM on September 28, 2017 [44 favorites]


Or, an even more relevant quote from that essay:

n theory, the man wants to fight this fight, because he thinks he’s right (and I agree with him): The dirty glass is not more important than marital peace.

If his wife thought and felt like him, he’d be right to defend himself. Unfortunately, most guys don’t know that she’s NOT fighting about the glass. She’s fighting for acknowledgment, respect, validation, and his love.

If he KNEW that—if he fully understood this secret she has never explained to him in a way that doesn’t make her sound crazy to him (causing him to dismiss it as an inconsequential passing moment of emo-ness), and that this drinking glass situation and all similar arguments will eventually end his marriage, I believe he WOULD rethink which battles he chose to fight, and would be more apt to take action doing things he understands to make his wife feel loved and safe.

I think a lot of times, wives don’t agree with me. They don’t think it’s possible that their husbands don’t know how their actions make her feel because she has told him, sometimes with tears in her eyes, over and over and over and over again how upset it makes her and how much it hurts.

And this is important: Telling a man something that doesn’t make sense to him once, or a million times, doesn’t make him “know” something. Right or wrong, he would never feel hurt if the same situation were reversed so he doesn’t think his wife SHOULD hurt. It’s like, he doesn’t think she has the right to (and then use it as a weapon against him) because it feels unfair.

“I never get upset with you about things you do that I don’t like!” men reason, as if their wives are INTENTIONALLY choosing to feel hurt and miserable.

When you choose to love someone, it becomes your pleasure to do things that enhance their lives and bring you closer together, rather than a chore.

It’s not: Sonofabitch, I have to do this bullshit thing for my wife again. It’s: I’m grateful for another opportunity to demonstrate to my wife that she comes first and that I can be counted on to be there for her, and needn’t look elsewhere for happiness and fulfillment.

Once someone figures out how to help a man equate the glass situation (which does not, and will never, affect him emotionally) with DEEPLY wounding his wife and making her feel sad, alone, unloved, abandoned, disrespected, afraid, etc. … Once men really grasp that and accept it as true even though it doesn’t make sense to them?

Everything changes forever.

posted by Sublimity at 4:52 PM on September 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


That said, I have found that it can trip people up in conversation, and I do hope some better term comes along some day. My efforts at coining something have not been fruitful, so far.

Silvia Federici argues (persuasively, I think) that we should just call it work, because it IS work:

"one of the most important contributions of feminist theory and struggle ... is the redefinition of work, and the recognition of women’s unpaid reproductive labor as a key source of capitalist accumulation. In redefining housework as WORK, as not a personal service but the work that produces and reproduces labor power, feminists have uncovered a new crucial ground of exploitation that Marx and Marxist theory completely ignored."

https://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/silvia-federici-precarious-labor-and-reproductive-work/
posted by thedamnbees at 5:02 PM on September 28, 2017 [10 favorites]


We talked about Divorced Dishes Dude in this thread
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:06 PM on September 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


Yeah, he's not totally perfect, but he does nail the whole part about the perils of being stubborn in his cluelessness.
posted by Sublimity at 5:14 PM on September 28, 2017


This seems like a reasonable place to put this.

Oh my GOD if you don't clean the damn trash can before you put in a new liner IT STILL FUCKING REEKS LIKE GARBAGE

AND NOW SO DOES THE KITCHEN

Just... finish the damn job.

Lord.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:16 PM on September 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


That said, I have found that it can trip people up in conversation, and I do hope some better term comes along some day. My efforts at coining something have not been fruitful, so far.

After reading zarq's link, and then sciatrix's from 2015, it seems like the meaning of the term might have expanded over time. In the 2015 essay it's quite easy to see what she's referring to by "emotional labor," whereas in this one the issue is ostensibly housework and the acknowledgement of performing household duties. My wife explained her understanding of the connection to me, and I see the value of a short-hand term for it, but it was pretty confusing for me at first, because the surface issue of housework is a form of labor, but the actual emotional labor seems to be finding ways to negotiate and account for the management of the housework without irritating her husband. From that perspective, it seems to reflect a power imbalance.
posted by Coventry at 5:22 PM on September 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


...my relationship indifference isn't born of heartbreak nor because nobody's showed interest. It's because all my prior relationship experiences have taught me that relationships are a time-suck and a chore, involving taking care of others' needs while getting very little back, and right now I'm quite happy to live how I want to without shouldering all of that crap. Also it makes traveling so much more enjoyable when you don't have an adult to tend to.

Same here. Occasionally I respond to questions about why I stopped dating with: "It's too much like a job interview." People often laugh, and I may smile as I say it, but I'm absolutely serious. Not looking for a second job, thanks, and I've got decades of experience plus many other women's stories to back me up when I say that in many cases, taking on a male partner is equivalent to taking on a second (or third!) job. I've already got a day job plus my creative work and an active spiritual life. No thanks. I already 'gave at the office', for the past 40+ years. My eyes have been opened, thanks to MeFi. Now I evaluate all bids for my time and energy through the lens of my raised EL-awareness.

My life is great now. After five years of struggling and barely scraping by while running an exhausting solo housecleaning business (in which I was usually hired by women whose husbands didn't do housecleaning), this year I finally managed to snag an awesome freelance writing job that allows me to work remotely. One of the things I love about this job - and my singlehood - is the freedom from EL that it affords me. In a few weeks I will turn 50, and I've booked a solo trip to Sweden to celebrate my birthday. It'll be my first time traveling to Europe. I've wanted to make this trip for 10+ years, and finally I am going to do it.
posted by velvet winter at 5:37 PM on September 28, 2017 [74 favorites]


My parents briefly separated before deciding to stay married until they die. It was amazing how much my father suddenly knew how to do when he had his own apartment. He went from never cooking, cleaning, shopping, doing laundry, or gift shopping to being a person who could do all of those things without prompting or nagging or haranguing. He even did these things to a reasonable standard of completeness and with some care and thought.

Now that they live together again, he has continued to do his laundry and vacuum. Everything else is back to being my mom's job to supervise. He was able to cook meals for his girlfriend during the separation and now pretends to be incapable of reading a frozen pizza box or operating the oven. He leaves peanut butter on spoons and knives, crumbs all over the counter, and sits at home while my 70+ year-old mother grocery shops alone with COPD and a bad back.

So I'm basically tired of the excuse that this unequal labor is about incomplete communication about expectations. Now that I've seen this bullshit unfold before my very eyes, I have become quite committed to being single for the rest of my life. I don't want to feel resentful 24/7 the way I did when I lived with various partners.
posted by xyzzy at 6:01 PM on September 28, 2017 [38 favorites]


There is often a lot of emotion work involved in managing domestic duties, but there's also a lot of recordkeeping, maintenance, physical, and cognitive labor that's not emotion based. It is not emotion work when I compare cell phone plans.

So, you don't do this work because you care about your family and you care whether they have the best cell phone plan you can provide them? At work you would be doing this task for pay. At home, you're taking it on instead of pushing it off on somebody else or just letting it go undone, because it's a way of taking care of the people you love.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:02 PM on September 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


I've been struggling to articulate this, but Hartley's article, along with a recent Guardian essay from Kathleen Alcott (fpp), are speaking to me about over-compromise in partnership.

Alcott: "If I’m brave enough to identify the through line here, at the small compromises that add up to unhappiness, I know it is not the men in my life but I who chose them...We consent to the wrong life in small ways, less by what we say than what we don’t, maybe less by how we behave than by the behaviour we accept."

Hartley: "The whole explanation took a lot of restraint. Walking that fine line to keep the peace and not upset your partner is something women are taught to accept as their duty from an early age."

And Solomonic wisdom: "A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.” “Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.” The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

The baby is the relationship: accepting unfair compromises, small as they may be, again and again, and silently internalizing the resulting slow burn damages the relationship. Not giving a fuck and letting everything go to hell damages the relationship. There is no wise judge, only the potential for negotiation. And thanks to the problem of adult autonomy (thanks to a MeFite for that concept), you can't make a partner care. Until partners are OK using their words to express the problem, and are, in good faith, willing to hear and sit with another's unhappiness (instead of saying "Quit nagging" or "All you have to do is ask" or "Why are you being so sensitive about [small thing]?", equal initiative in demonstrating care about the quality of relationship will not happen.

To quote emjaybee for truth: "Too many [partners] are being like that coworker we all hate, they one who does the bare minimum, often with sighs and moans, refuses to learn any new program or process, takes no interest in the larger goals of your company, and dumps as much of his work as possible on his fellow coworkers. And when you call him on it, he has a meltdown.

"Are you that guy in your relationship? Don't be that guy."

Show. The fuck. Up. in your relationship. Do the work for fairness. It isn't about the dirty waterglass, it's about caring connection and mutual ongoing commitment to maintaining it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:12 PM on September 28, 2017 [33 favorites]


This is why I am not married and not interested in a serious relationship. I just can't take on more emotional labour. I have to manage the emotions of almost all the men in my life, and it is absolutely exhausting. My father, my colleagues, my landlord, even fucking taxi drivers all expect me to soothe them and compliment them and tread carefully around their fragile feelings. And I better do it, or I get an explosion of rage, or a lecture about my "tone," or a threat to my job or to my safety.

Men expect me to take care of their emotional needs in the workplace. I can easily get shoehorned into an unofficial kind of counselor role. But also, they believe it is my primary job to make them comfortable and to manage their emotions...

A former boss of mine confided to me that she had nightmares about breastfeeding the men in her department.
posted by Stonkle at 6:31 PM on September 28, 2017 [44 favorites]


So I’m checking to see if I understand the topic of emotional labor, as illustrated in this article, and in our previously article (and ho boy, the comments). ok, I’m speaking in generalities, and there will be individual situations that vary, gender isn’t binary, not-all-man-babies, etc etc. But am I understanding this right:

So domestic work: both the physical task, and the cognitive load of identifying what needs doing, how and when is unfairly falling much more on the shoulders of women than men, and is unpaid. In my life I think I haven’t seen anything but this unfair and uneven distribution - in mixed gendered college dorms, in cohousing and roomate-situations, and of course as the article highlight it is modus operandi of the American nuclear family. I’m not an anthropologist, but I don’t think its controversial to say this inequality is pervasive and persistent (even if some households have made some progress or are not as bad as others). I have no idea about how this plays out in other societies, but as I live in this one, it needs to be dealt with here at least.

And emotional labor is not just unpaid ‘chores’ associated with household maintenance. Women in their relationships, families and workplaces and on the street do a lot of emotional and cognitive work to anticipate the thoughts and emotions of those around them particularly the men, and the men with power, those same men do much less or no such anticipatory social management, relationship management, or the management of their own emotional status, communication and actions. An example to see if I understand a typical example. Swizzle corp lost the Hogo contract. Jim your teammate is going to be upset, but can’t admit it, or isn’t self-aware enough to know that he will be upset and not control it. So Linda has to be nice to Jim, or anticipate that he will lash out and avoid him, or ‘not take it too hard’ when he projects his feelings on to her, or yells at her, or violates what should be public norms about respectful acceptable behavior. She must deal with her own disappointment in the contract loss, but also the added emotional labor of trying to compensate for Jim’s failure to handle the loss. She will not be paid, or even recognized as having this unfair double responsibility, indeed, when Jim flies off the handle about something that is superficially unrelated, she will be blamed for this or at the very least, she, not Jim will suffer for Jim’s behavior. In workplace or relationship, even trying to raise awareness of this dynamic gets trapped (or can get trapped) in this dynamic and thus becomes projected onto women as being bossy, nagging, emotional, micromanaging etc. i.e. males double down on this imbalance.

Am I on the right track with what emotional labor means?

Also, if this is right, it is not praiseworthy, but rather the necessary but insufficient starting point that we should all be at (i.e. do we know what we are discussing before we discuss it). If this isn’t right, or if its missing a huge component, let me know. I have many blind spots that I have only discovered the hard way, by blindly blundering. As a person I hate once said there are unknown unknowns. Also, is this comment i'm posting an example of me expecting others, most likely the females in this thread, to perform uncompensated labor for me, so that I can know what i'm talking about, when it should be my job to go out and research and learn what i'm talking about so that i can do my part in this conversation without placing this pre-entry burden on others. I think I'm on getting this right, and should therefore remove this whole comment, but I want to be sure before I assume that my reading of the article is not a misinterpretation.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 6:56 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


On the bus last week, I ended up eyeing a text conversation of the guy next to me, who was picking "Connor" up from school, but running very late. We were stuck in Bay Area traffic, but no worse than usual. A female name texted him to ask where he was, what was his ETA, etc.. The guy said he was running late. A little while later she texted that she had called the school, and that the aftercare program really needed him by X time. He ignored this and continued to look at his ESPN app. She texted again; maybe Amy could pick Connor up? "Could you call her?" he texted, "I'm on a crowded bus." Turns out, Amy didn't have her car that week. Ok, the lady kept texting, what's your ETA now? The school called me.

That guy believed the task of picking Connor up from school was just that: physically retrieving Connor, which neglects the litany of other things the task actually requires. He didn't communicate his tardiness until this woman asked. He didn't draw conclusions about how his lateness would affect the aftercare program. He didn't call the school to let them know he was late. He didn't brainstorm alternate solutions, and then explore their viability. He didn't keep his wife/girlfriend/sister/whoever updated about his location. He didn't communicate any updates to the aftercare program. And he didn't know the rules of the aftercare program, which means he didn't identify and ask questions about his assignment. Lastly, traffic was no worse than usual, and I'm going to make an assumption that he didn't look up how long it would take him to get to the school, because he blamed the traffic for his lateness. Twice.

This guy didn't leave these all those things undone to do a "bad job" of picking up Connor. He made a woman do them. Likely, a woman who was busy doing something else, and needed him to step in that day. And she still ended up still doing the ENTIRE job except the ONE thing he did: physically retrieving Connor.
posted by missmary6 at 7:35 PM on September 28, 2017 [75 favorites]


In a few weeks I will turn 50, and I've booked a solo trip to Sweden to celebrate my birthday. It'll be my first time traveling to Europe. I've wanted to make this trip for 10+ years, and finally I am going to do it.

I did the same thing last year, except Turkey instead of Sweden (and without the birthday). Good Lord, I was looking forward to traveling solo but had no idea how glorious it would be. No being assured by your partner that you can depend on them, only to arrive at the destination and realize you can't. Nobody expecting you to throw out suggestions until you give one they like--or if they DO plan, doing a half-assed job that requires you to pick up the pieces. It's one thing to shoulder responsibilities if you're traveling with a child. Quite another to travel with an adult who behaves like one--and becomes pouty if you point it out. Now that I've experienced this I can't imagine it any other way.
posted by schroedinger at 7:44 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


In the 2015 essay it's quite easy to see what she's referring to by "emotional labor," whereas in this one the issue is ostensibly housework and the acknowledgement of performing household duties.

Ugh. No. In the context of this essay, as in the context of most of the previous discussion on MeFi, "emotional labor" isn't about performing housework or acknowledging the performance of housework. It's about the entire constellation of awareness that's involved in knowing what housework needs to be done, when, with what constraints, and all the other things involved. Saying "it's about housework" is the kind of simplistic, reductionist evaluation that's so frustrating to deal with.

I get that some of y'all feel an almost overwhelming urge to nitpick terms, but maybe (speaking as a recovering prescriptivist here) it would be more useful to stifle that "But—!" urge and listen to the underlying message.
posted by Lexica at 7:44 PM on September 28, 2017 [25 favorites]


And if I tell him this when he gets home tonight, which I might do because now I'm extra-enraged about trash Jenga, his feelings will be super-hurt about the whole thing, and he'll be bewildered that I'm enraged over something as trivial as trash, and consider it profoundly unfair that I'm nursing white-hot anger over a minor household chore.

Eyebrows I have an overwhelming urge to tell you to stuff the entire trash can into his car (assuming he has his own) and tell him you're going to keep doing that until he quits the trash jenga. And also that all trash duties are his now.

But that might be inappropriate of me to do, so pretend I didn't suggest it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:01 PM on September 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


I was looking forward to traveling solo but had no idea how glorious it would be.

Good news! It's also awesome (albeit in a different way) to travel with a female friend. Highly recommended.

I like to travel, and, when I think of the trips I've taken, the thought of frittering that precious time away managing a man-baby--! There are compromise in traveling with anyone, but, with another grownup who you actually like, the compromises are met with actual rewards.

Men, you can be decorative, but you are rapidly pricing yourselves out of the market. One doubts whether the market would even exist without millennia of violent coercion to participate.
posted by praemunire at 8:02 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


Props to everyone who reads through this thread and thinks about what they’re reading and the article itself and responds accordingly. I sometimes dread these discussions of emotional labor—I dreaded it when a friend posted this article on Facebook earlier, in fact—because it is emotional labor in and of itself to read and respond to this stuff. But it’s worthwhile.

Anyway, the original article is a little thin, but I appreciate that they put this out there, 'cause the more people talk about this, perhaps the greater our societal recognition of it will be.

And yeah, this is real: "It gets to a point where I have to weigh the benefits of getting my husband to understand my frustration against the compounded emotional labor of doing so in a way that won’t end in us fighting."

The socialization issues are so huge and daunting, though. This was good reading on that last month: https://www.metafilter.com/168779/The-Legion-Lonely. I bought a related book but haven't read it yet. Part of the difficulty here, which the current article touches upon, is that the socialization that leads to this starts to occur so early. It makes me think of this post on Girls and Boys Alone from this summer and how learned gender roles played into what happened when kids were left alone in a house: https://www.metafilter.com/167812/Yes-It-is-as-bad-as-youd-think.

It also reminds me of an afternoon I spent one day this summer reading through all the comments in this thread: https://www.metafilter.com/158362/shame-anger-alienation-and-other-hallmarks-of-the-masculine-psyche. Not long before that, one of my friends had shared with me some things he’d written, which I appreciated because he was being vulnerable enough to share something creative he’d made. Yet what he’d shared was wholly full of masculinities and machismo, all about dudes who did dude things, had lots of extralegal dealings, and rolled deep with tons of friends, all this masculine wish fulfillment, written for a male audience.

I spent that afternoon pondering how interesting that was and wondering what made that part of this otherwise sensitive man’s inner landscape... How many dudes have this stuff as part of their inner fantasy world because they were seen as vulnerable, growing up as skinny kids or short kids or sensitive kids or whatever, being perceived as weak, and being punished for it? Especially after doing the reading on the loneliness epidemic, per the article above, I have sympathy for that. And I think this plays into and is relevant to some of the issues we face with regard to emotional labor, because caring and treating one’s partner as a partner often gets coded as feminine, and thus unimportant, in the Byzantine structure of a dude’s mind that's been warped by societal expectations with regard to masculinity. I’m sympathetic to that, too—but not if the dude isn’t open to recognizing what’s warped about his perspective and attempting to do better when it's pointed out, and not if he fails repeatedly to remember what someone tells him about his behavior, modify it accordingly, and learn from that experience to take initiative.

That same week, my brother was visiting me, and I noticed that we each reverted to old childhood roles. Put us in a semi-stressful urban environment and we immediately start trying to get each other to change—he starts trying to tell me where to walk, and I start trying to tell him how to talk and what to do. That was interesting to recognize as well. Mindfulness and self-awareness go a long way from either end of things. All of that said, at some point, part of growing up is learning to recognize those things in yourself that are a reaction to something in your past and actively choosing to keep them in your life or do better. Owning those emotions and parts of your psyche and recognizing how they affect your interactions with others should be an important task for any adult human. Per the above links, guys fall behind in these areas because of socialization, but that doesn't make these things any less important for men. Men don't die alone and regretful because they're outliers on the bell curve. Learning to be better, more connected humans who contribute equally to and maintain adult relationships could help improve health outcomes for themselves and the women to whom they're married.


I do have some frustrations with the term "emotional labor" because to me what she is talking about in the article is 2 kinds of labor. One is household management, which her husband did not do even when explicitly asked. The second is emotional labor; her absorbing a lot of the fallout from bringing a source of conflict to the surface. …

While office management of household stuff is indeed often pushed on women, without thanks, by men, I don't think it fits the definitions of emotional labor or emotion work: calling vendors is not (generally) about contorting one's own emotions or managing the emotional responses of others.

Oh, but it is…SaltySalticid, this stuff doesn’t have to take place in a literal workplace for the definition of emotional labor to apply. One really important thing I hope people take away from this is in that Venn diagram, emotional labor and household management are types of work that overlap, with an associated mindfulness component. Household management involves an emotional labor component, taking up space in one’s head to remember those little details (recalling what kind of trash bags to use in what trash can so the bag doesn’t fall in, noticing that there’s a random empty bag on the floor that you dropped in the hallway, maybe not dropping bags in the floor in the hallway in the first place, taking note of the fact that we’re almost out of that one kind of bag that works best for the big trash can, listening to one’s partner when they explain that we shouldn’t get the ForceFlex bags anymore because they’re too small, not letting the big trash can get so full that the lid gets dirty in that game of trash Jenga, not spilling things on/next to the trash can and then not cleaning it up, not dropping trash inside the can without a bag then layering a bag on top of that mess, not using the heated dry on the dishwasher and then banging dishes around in it because it causes thermal shock and breaks glasses, recognizing that one’s partner doesn’t like loud noises due to childhood abuse and maybe choosing to not bang things around loudly every time you clean, not putting away dishes that didn’t actually get clean in the dishwasher, choosing a time to collectively clean that doesn’t disrupt previous plans or a business call taken from home, scrubbing dishes that have sticky dirt on them that would be baked on by the dishwasher, figuring out when to schedule doing your own laundry so it doesn’t conflict with a partner’s needs, etc.).

And see…I never thought I cared as much about cleanliness as my husband professes to, but look at that list. That’s just a small portion of the things I think about with regard to cleaning. I guess the word for that is indeed caring, and I do care about the details. What I’ve become good at, though—from growing up in a household where my father’s desire that no one ever stir up dust and clean after he tracked in dirt—is that thing called compartmentalizing. So yeah, I can live without cleaning regularly, and I can hold out longer than most. That doesn’t mean that’s how I want to or should live.


Why is it that managerial tasks in the household are 'emotional labour', but managerial tasks in the workplace are never referred to as such?

They should be, and in my workplace, they are. That’s one thing I’m grateful for about my workplace—that when I brought up the difficulty of managing one’s emotions about the work, the team, and client behavior, the manager I was talking to understood what I was talking about, acknowledged that it is work that is sometimes difficult but worth doing, and candidly discussed with me strategies for dealing with that, and there have been multiple follow-up conversations over the years about this topic. I wish everyone had that.


I have tried dating men and have had male roommates, and the only man in either category who pulled his weight was a bi dude who was a single dad and had grown up with five older sisters and their single mom.

There was at least one other person in the thread so far who mentioned something like this as well. What I want to note is that unfortunately, sometimes this doesn’t work out in terms of life experience informing guys’ approach to domestic and emotional labor, because they believe that their experience as the son of a single mother means they are automatically understanding and feminist and giving, even when they are actually repeating many of the patriarchal sins of their fathers. In my experience, that’s almost a harder situation to address, because sure, they may not be like all men in terms of their life experience, but they are very much like all men in terms of their coping mechanisms. And the conversations that ensue when you try to get these guys to understand those blind spots can really be difficult.


I'm sometimes taken aback by the agency with which he takes on things I used to handle singlehandedly. (Last weekend: Wait, you picked out a new coffee maker without consulting me?)

See, that would just make me upset. It’s one thing to take initiative, and another thing to single-handedly decide to make major purchasing decisions without one’s partner. Heh. For me, I would be unhappy without that additional layer of emotional labor to consult me on that, especially since I'm the primary earner.


Separately, re: the “just get a divorce if it’s so annoying” comment, well, I actually think my eyes being opened to this in the first emotional labor thread in 2015 is one of the roots of my ongoing discontent with my marriage and the notion of marriage in general. So inasmuch as that prescription isn’t super useful, Crone Island does retain its temptation. As a thirtysomething genderqueer woman, all of the difficulties we have with regard to unequal division of emotional labor very much play into my trains of thought regarding the possibility of children and what that life would look like as well. It’s scary. And emotional labor threads, for me, just bring home that there is so much I want to teach the next generation that I'm afraid would not get imparted to children raised by myself and my husband, due to the ongoing emotional labor issues I've mentioned in some detail in previous threads. So for me, these threads are especially fraught, but essential for reminding me of what's important to me.


I don't know how these guys live with themselves when their wives are so stressed and unhappy about this stuff.

Because we don’t want to fight all the time, so we compartmentalize and maintain and pick and choose what to actually fight about or even express minor unhappiness or discontentment about (because that will inevitably lead to a fight). See the quote I led with, from the article. It sucks.


Anyway, thanks, everyone, for not sucking and for having yet another great, candid discussion of these issues. I’ll try to keep up from here!
posted by limeonaire at 8:15 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


Some good news perhaps? In my childhood, my dad did at least 50% of the household work of his own volition. And despite my parents' best efforts, the initiative to do chores or other things typically described as "emotional labor" didn't take with me (a female). I don't know if the two are related but I do know that it's really nice to live alone now and not ever have to worry about different levels of urgency between me and another person, relating to chores or social requirements. I'd feel badly if someone moved in with me and started feeling the need to clean up after me, especially if a romantic relationship was involved. Would I be able to change to be more attentive to chore needs in that situation without ending up feeling resentful? I'm not sure.
posted by mantecol at 8:35 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


This is why I am not married and not interested in a serious relationship. I just can't take on more emotional labour. I have to manage the emotions of almost all the men in my life, and it is absolutely exhausting. My father, my colleagues, my landlord, even fucking taxi drivers all expect me to soothe them and compliment them and tread carefully around their fragile feelings. And I better do it, or I get an explosion of rage, or a lecture about my "tone," or a threat to my job or to my safety.

Ditto, except that's all at my job. I don't know how anyone comes home to a needy family after that.

Note that in the article, when she asked her husband for something specific that would help her, as a gift, he instead refused to give her what she asked for and did something that created more (albeit different) labor from her. So, as a woman, how am I supposed to ask for things? What do I have to do to be actually heard?

You're not going to be heard, because with all his heart and soul he did not want to hear what she had to say.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:35 PM on September 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


By the way, I just wanted to mention that I don't meant to be othering or pejorative when I use terms like "they" and "guys" and "dudes" and "these guys" when discussing men's behavior above. It was probably a bit lazy on my part not to do more to try to normalize my language in that comment when posting for a general audience of all genders.
posted by limeonaire at 8:48 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


And she still ended up still doing the ENTIRE job except the ONE thing he did: physically retrieving Connor.

Exactly. Tasks have scope and moving parts, sometimes small and few, other times complex and nuanced. Doing one piece of the entire puzzle, while refusing to acknowledge the existence or necessity or pressing nature of the rest, doesn't mean that one has Done The Job, just that one has done the bare minimum and, by inaction, compelled others to do the rest. That's not fair. That's a passive refusal to fully share responsibility. After-school cookies for Connor. No cookies for texting bus guy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:56 PM on September 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


I started reading the comment thread and had to stop. Why? Because I'm the one who doesn't see the mess, has to be asked to tidy up, etc. etc.

Also, I'm the woman in the opposite-sex relationship.

It's not always the men who are the problem. Really.
posted by rednikki at 9:15 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sorry for the long posts. I think the topic is important, and the passion is evident in the comments, and the deleted comments testify to how far we still have to go on this issue.

Spoiler: TL;DR strike is not a silver-bullet, but men shouldn’t be too big to fail.

Long version.

Unfair distribution of resources, enables the beneficiary to perpetuate and expand the imbalance: see labor, see international relations, see racism, see… well, the world.

There are men who can not function and don’t realize it because someone has always bailed them out: their mothers, the people they cheated off of in class, the teammates and assistants in the office, their friend the boss, girlfriends and wives and sisters and so on. Many are blind to their privileged and their incompetence. Many of them are in the halls of power in most American institutions and we wonder how they don’t collapse, but its because they are unfairly propped up by a (heavily female) army of conscientous people who know the costs of what happens when things don’t get done. These incompetent man-babies some are not even ungraitful, they are oblivious. Some are not blind, but just have a sense of entitlement. I have seen a couple of these men get cut-off (usually a divorce, but sometimes they start their own business) One realized only by absence just how much they were getting unfairly. The others just misprojected rage, protected their egos and descended into alcohol abuse.

I have seen part of what happens, from my own perspective, some examples of what happens if there is a strike and attempts to renegotiate this labor at work with ordering chemicals and maintaining equipment and following the law and its requirements, and in various living arrangements and relationships with household chores. Even people who recognize the necessity of the labor, can figure out who wants it done the most, or who will break first. And that person is (goes back to) being sacrificed by the inherent laziness of others. Gains can be made, though often temporary. Unless the person being sacrificed has some real power, someone -somewoman- will put out the fire because it has to be put out.

I have seen situations with roomates and tenants and friends where this labor stops, or was never occurring. I know what it looks like and smells like when someone runs out of clean clothing, and just starts rewearing or stops changing. I’ve seen guys who only use paper plates and plastic utensils and eat take out. Whose possessions are strewn all over the furniture and floor, and I've walked on their stuff. I think we know the stereotypes about bachelor pads, and frat-houses and what a home looks like when the wife dies, or leaves. I’ve seen people live like that for years. Some didn’t like it, but didn’t care enough to change. One got the hint and became self-responsible somewhat. And some lived like slobs and were happy. Some of these things are very important in our lives, in our culture, in how we are judged by others and by ourselves. Some of these, if left undone cause distress and harm and disease, many of us can’t enjoy life, or even relax if this labor goes undone. This labor, left undone can constitute child-abuse.

Sure, you can try to monteize the task if you’ve got surplus money, but what about everyone else?. Some of these things are things that rich people routinely outsource, and middle class people can sometimes outsource some of it. Just finding out how much it costs can be eye opening to the task of valuing what is going unpaid. You can in a relationship or workplace try to negotiate, use what leverage you have and try to spell out tasks and how to do them (including the emotional support tasks). All the working group bargaining strategize are useful sometimes: divide the task equally, alternate the task equally, assign the task to one and counterbalance it by assigning an ‘equal’ task (i.e. what would each person want to be the toss up if each task was put in a hat and you didn’t know which one you’d get – see how to cut a cake) but we know in our workplaces and in our homes getting compliance even with agreements in writing is ellusive.

How I have personally dealt with this, on the few occasions where I am the one performing the unpaid labor, was to stop, and sometimes to leave. I had the privileged of doing this. Society didn’t punish me for this, and I had the resources and opportunities to do this. I am very privileged in this (and other) ways.

Also, only for me personally, to pick one unimportant example. I think making a bed is a pointless waste of time foisted upon me by a patriarchal puritanical society obsessed with order and control – I have in negotiations in my personal life, and by my one-sided choices in my personal life, rejected so much of this labor, not just the bed as a trivial example – not that someone else should do it for me, but that it shouldn’t be done. . If something is on fire, I call the fire department or put it out, when I lived in a heated or cooled home, I used to close the door. I keep myself clothed and fed and washed. If I had children, that would be non-optional too, and I would keep them regularly attending school and periodically attending a doctor. But I gotta tell ya, I live very happily without 99% of the things that my mother or my previous girlfriends, or the magazines, or the neighbors or the ad executives thought had to be done, or had to be done a certain way. That doesn’t mean this emotional labor shouldn’t be important to others, and that it shouldn’t be renegotiated. But it does mean that there are limits to how much power a strike has, if the party not doing the labor can tolerate (or prefers) some of this labor not to happen. This is a negotiation where your partner may view things as optional that are not optional for you. I do not tolerate moldy food in the fridge, I throw it out. I have encouraged roomates to mind their own left-overs, but at the end of the day, I throw it out. It sucks. You don’t have to divorce, (though you could) but that gives them a lot of power in the negotiation that you have to counterbalance with something that they think is essential. One thing I took away from the “Maybe you should just be single” article was a resounding affirmation of: the dating world is bullshit and unfair to women. To compete against women willing to do all this unpaid labor for men, is to lose. I don’t see unionization as viable, I see technology leading to atomized personal lives populated by simulacrum of humans marketed to indulge and exacerbate our objectification and enslavement of all social relations. Ugh.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 9:41 PM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


So, you don't do this work because you care about your family and you care whether they have the best cell phone plan you can provide them? At work you would be doing this task for pay. At home, you're taking it on instead of pushing it off on somebody else or just letting it go undone, because it's a way of taking care of the people you love.

That's a pretty big stretch. You could make that argument about pretty much anything, including going to work. The "emotional" part would be the motivation in that case and not the actual work, which involves other skills that have nothing to do with managing people's emotions. And I do that work because I'm better prepared for it. We often end up having some pretty elaborate setups with things like that that because I kind of like the problem solving aspect of getting the best solutions for our specific situations. We generally split up tasks according to interests and abilities when we reasonably can. It's just a regular division of domestic labor, and managing each others' feelings about it isn't a huge part of it.

But more importantly, that came in the middle of me explaining why I don't want people calling everything I do at home "emotional labor," because I find it inaccurate and dismissive of all the other types of work involved, and you're going to argue that no, you're going to frame it that way anyway?
posted by ernielundquist at 9:53 PM on September 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


Good news! It's also awesome (albeit in a different way) to travel with a female friend. Highly recommended.

Oooh yes, I don't want to knock this option either. I went to Colorado for two weeks. First week was with my ex, then he left, then second week a very awesome female friend joined me. Guess which week was more fun?
posted by schroedinger at 10:21 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sure, you can try to monteize the task if you’ve got surplus money, but what about everyone else?. Some of these things are things that rich people routinely outsource, and middle class people can sometimes outsource some of it.

This gets further icky for me right here. So many times a male partner has said to me "well just hire someone then" (never mind the question of "and who will be paying out the cash money to this helper person because you can't be arsed to wash your own socks because you're so very busy surfing the 'net?"); these mundane tasks then get further delegated not just to another person but ime a brown person, and for less than minimum wage, and then my head just explodes from the unchecked privilege. It's one thing for me to say "I'm too fricking busy for these chores" but it's downright shameful for me to hire a stranger to scrub my toilet for five bucks. Which brings us full circle, as I end up doing the emotional labor of insisting that we will not exploit another person, while I also end up caving and doing the actual labor too.
posted by vignettist at 12:12 AM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


I end up doing the emotional labor of insisting that we will not exploit another person, while I also end up caving and doing the actual labor too.

TIL: paying a person money to do your laundry and housecleaning is exploiting them.

I'm sure you can find outfits that cut corners and pay people badly, but is there something intrinsically wrong about delegating domestic labor for pay? In my experience, when my family has done this, they have been paid a fair wage, and performed a good job, with a good attitude.

Some people do experience a feeling of guilt or other negative emotion when hiring help to do these kind of domestic tasks. Often, a psychological pressure arises: "I should be doing this" or "I'm being lazy". These thoughts and feelings are worth inquiring into.
posted by theorique at 2:47 AM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]


Your experience isn't universal. Eherenreich's Nickel and Dimed goes into this wrt to paid housecleaning from the employee's experience. This is going to derail here so I'll stfu.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:56 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's about the entire constellation of awareness that's involved in knowing what housework needs to be done, when, with what constraints, and all the other things involved

My ex-wife grew up in a very, very neat and tidy household, and honestly it took me about
2-3 years to get to the point where I finally had the sort of gestalt sense of where-all-the-things-are and what needs doing when and how and all that stuff. Many years down the line, largely due to conversations like this and previous EL threads, it is starting to dawn on me how much *work* it must have been to feel like she had to train me up to Basic Human House Skills standard, and worse, that there was no way for her to opt out of either doing more of the work, or trying to teach me how to both do the work and take on the mental work, or at least not a way that wouldn't result in more work, or more mess, or more judgement from society, or some annoying combination of all three.

It's a horrible double bind, and one I'm trying my damnedest to not inflict on anyone else. I'm also trying to remember that just because I now *have* my Basic Human House Operator certificate, doesn't mean there aren't all sorts of blind spots I have in what's expected of me, and what's expected of my partner, both by ourselves and by society, and I do think having frameworks like this to bring things up in makes them easier to discuss.

I'd like to believe as time goes on there'll be more equality around this stuff as kids of all gender are socialized - I'm seeing it in my friends' kids so I'm hopeful.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:57 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


That's not what the comment said. The partner in this situation is busy not being a partner and goofing off while the commenter does all the work, or does all the work of outsourcing the work.

To be precise, the comment I was responding to said: "I end up doing the emotional labor of insisting that we will not exploit another person". I questioned the premise that paying a person to do your household tasks is necessarily "exploiting" him or her. The aforementioned emotional labor is unnecessary because it's based on a false assumption.

Of course, the problem of the male pushing the entire responsibility for this effort on to his female partner remains to be addressed. And the demands for emotional labor therein also remain.
posted by theorique at 5:17 AM on September 29, 2017


he would take it as me saying, “Look at everything I’m doing that you’re not. You’re a bad person for ignoring me and not pulling your weight.”"

So one of the best things that's ever happened to me was the emotional labor thread, and since then one of the things I've stopped doing is giving even the smallest flying fuck if my husband feels criticized. I do not give two shits if I hurt his feelings by telling him that he's not doing enough, by getting angry, by calling him out.

Honestly, it has taken a toll on our marriage, but before I stopped caring it took a toll on ME while he carried on, blissfully unaware of the world outside his head. And one of my takeaways from the emotional labor thread was that I had better start caring about ME, because sure as fuck no one else is going to do it.

It has been a really hard year, and I have thought about divorce many, many times, but I am here to report that being a Huge Fucking Bitch has actually worked, and now my husband is far more aware of what's going on around him than before. He puts the measuring spoons back in the correct drawer instead of wherever he felt like putting them when he found them in his hands, and it has been ages since I've stormed into the bedroom, pulled the covers off of the bed and said, "I need the measuring spoons, you hid them, get the fuck up and go find them."
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:19 AM on September 29, 2017 [65 favorites]


lollymccatburglar, I think you're on to something! Similarly, one of the most effective ways the labour movement protests and improves their working conditions is to refuse to work, to strike!
posted by thedamnbees at 6:03 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


The problem with going on strike is then you're stuck with all the stuff not getting done and you're cheesed off about it and the other person is still fucking oblivious.

I (a woman) continue to work on this with my wife (also a woman) - we both agree I do way more of labor around the house and in the relationship, emotional and otherwise. It's tough, even without a lot of the gender dynamics. (I never, in my entire life, expected that I would be in a relationship where I'm the organized one or the neat one.)
posted by rmd1023 at 6:23 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Minor derail about outsourcing some of this stuff... I try to be aware of ways I'm directly contributing to exploitation of people. I'm fortunate enough that I (and now my wife and I) can afford to throw money at some problems - as a friend put it, "sometimes the tool I use is my checkbook." The way I end up handling outsourcing has often been finding an unemployed or underemployed friend and paying them for doing work. I've previously used an independent cleaning service (so, not the more exploitive chains), and currently I've got a person in my extended social service who does, well, pretty much anything. Cleaning, organizing, yard work, pet care, whatever. She comes by every couple of weeks and mops our floors and vacuums and does yard work and it helps boost the baseline level of clean in our house. It helps assuage my "OH GOD I SHOULD BE DOING THIS" to realize that I am helping the local economy in a very direct and real way and supporting small independent businesses.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:33 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't know how these guys live with themselves when their wives are so stressed and unhappy about this stuff.

Because they don't bother to notice the moods of a woman. Which is why SO MANY of them are completely blindsided when she files for divorce because from the man's perspective their married life was great.
posted by winna at 6:34 AM on September 29, 2017 [52 favorites]


I (a woman) continue to work on this with my wife (also a woman) - we both agree I do way more of labor around the house and in the relationship, emotional and otherwise. It's tough, even without a lot of the gender dynamics.

Cis-male married to cis-female, two daughters 10 and 13. This topic is a critical issue. I'm getting the wife on board and we're trying to figure out how to get the girls onboard. It's a people issue, but with the way things are, certainly the lazy-husband model is prevalent. Or maybe not?
posted by mikelieman at 6:46 AM on September 29, 2017


For clarification, me, the cis-male husband due to lifelong coping strategies for ADD plus anxiety issues, I am the one who walks into a room and scans it for things out-of-place habitually.
posted by mikelieman at 6:48 AM on September 29, 2017


I don't know how these guys live with themselves when their wives are so stressed and unhappy about this stuff.

Because they don't bother to notice the moods of a woman. Which is why SO MANY of them are completely blindsided when she files for divorce because from the man's perspective their married life was great.


I was joking to my mom (who has been married to my dad for nearly 40 years and is in a state of seething rage day in day out over all this) that if my husband and I got divorced I'd have to tell people "It's because when he emptied the dishwasher he stacked glasses inside bowls and then left the extra bowls that wouldn't fit on the counter", which I really think this is why the term "irreconcilable differences" exists.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:59 AM on September 29, 2017 [30 favorites]


Yes, fellow men, emotional labor is not doing the thing, it's noticing that the thing needs to be done and then doing it

Yeah and I'm going to call a huge honking historically massive load of bullshit on the idea that men have different expectations that just aren't being explained to them well enough because HELLO HISTORY

But here let me be more explicit. Which gender has historically taken charge of:
- ruling entire goddamned fucking countries
- managing entire goddamned fucking companies
- etc.

Let me know the difference between management and, uh, management. If you're able to hold down a job, which hey! requires noticing things that need done and doing them! much less manage teams, much much less rise to positions where networking ALSO KNOWN AS EMOTIONAL LABOR is a requirement, then you're able to recognize dirty dishes and smash two neurons together to derive a solution.

These discussions remind me of the place I quit when my then-manager evaluated my management skills with "you're too maternal" as a criticism. I looked at him and asked why it was negative to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, handling the logistics around the emotional wellbeing, healthcare, housing, education, clothing, feeding, etc. of human beings and managing the budget and scheduling, all alongside a 40-hour-a-week job, and watched while he squirmed. "You do realize that I do less than most mothers, right," I added. "THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT!" he pouted. I waited for his explanation, which was not forthcoming.
posted by fraula at 7:38 AM on September 29, 2017 [29 favorites]


I think I said something like this in the large emotional labor thread, but the best way I've found to describe the mounting anger and resentment is this:

You're dancing with someone you love and they step on your toes. OK, it's a mistake, let's move on. They step on your toes again. "Hey, you're stepping on my toes," you say. "Please don't do that." They say "I didn't do it on purpose, and you didn't tell me not to." OK, fine, move on. They step on your toes again. "Hey..." you say. "Well fine, we just won't dance then if you're going to jump down my throat for every mistake." You still want to dance so you swallow your hurt and calm them down, perhaps even apologizing yourself. They step on your toes again, and you lose your fucking shit because COME ON HOW IS IT SO HARD TO FIGURE OUT WHERE YOUR FEET ARE IN RELATION TO MY FEET? Your dance partner is still baffled that you're mad at something they're not doing intentionally.

It doesn't matter that they didn't intend to step on your toes. It's not even about the toes anymore, although they still hurt. What matters is they don't care that it hurts. They make it about them, and you're sucked into the vortex of focusing on them instead of them acknowledging how you feel. That's the emotional labor part.
posted by AFABulous at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2017 [56 favorites]


I don't know how these guys live with themselves when their wives are so stressed and unhappy about this stuff.

Seriously. I think it's a big part of where "women are so emotional" comes from. After trying to put an end to a behavior over and over for days or months or years, you finally snap and it's "oh, are you on your period?"
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:49 AM on September 29, 2017 [25 favorites]


Which is why SO MANY of them are completely blindsided when she files for divorce because from the man's perspective their married life was great.

This seems like the heart of all of it, to me: Emotional labor is basically just being actively engaged in the relationship instead of existing passively in it and abdicating any responsibility over the results. A lot of the people who've created my problem with being way, way too engaged aren't coming at this from just laziness; both my parents and several of my former partners have had significant mental health issues that contributed. But if you're just as disengaged with your relationship as someone with severe and poorly-managed depression or bipolar disorder if you have no mental health problems--that's a pretty disturbing level of checking out.
posted by Sequence at 8:23 AM on September 29, 2017 [6 favorites]


Let me know the difference between management and, uh, management. If you're able to hold down a job, which hey! requires noticing things that need done and doing them!


I do kind of wonder, though, if the source of so much imposter syndrome in women (because it's usually women) is because we are actually more likely recognize the importance of these things without being told, which (at least in my experience) gets us stellar reviews and leaves us going, "Wait, what? I'm nothing special. Why are you praising me? Oh god, I don't even belong here. I'm really not that great at this."

I routinely get work kudos for doing things that need to be done without being told and I'm like... isn't that just... my job? Doesn't everyone do this?
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:24 AM on September 29, 2017 [9 favorites]


I routinely get work kudos for doing things that need to be done without being told and I'm like... isn't that just... my job? Doesn't everyone do this?

Chris Rock, "I take care of my kids" ( nsfw )
posted by mikelieman at 8:31 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm sure this was stated in the last thread and also in this one, but I found myself doing emotional labour at work. My co-worker has asked me several times about contracts -- I think he just wants me to print them out for him but I'm not doing that nonsense.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:30 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


Metafilter Emotional Labor threads are the best and should be mandatory reading for people of all ages until that's no longer necessary.

Man to man, for guys like me reading along at home and maybe allowing yourself to think "well sheesh, I don't play trash jenga. I clean bathrooms. I can't believe other men are so awful but heck, I'm doing ok!" The women in these threads are basically saints and keep mentioning cat vomit and trash because those are such egregious in your face examples that they are praying even we can get those concepts through our thick heads as a way of cracking the door open. Ask yourself if you know how big your daughter's feet are, how big her shoes are, and when the last time you considered buying new shoes was. Ask yourself what you're having for dinner 3 nights from now, if you have the ingredients, and how long it will take to prep and cook that meal. When is your mother in law's birthday, and is there any chance you'll remember to buy a card and mail it three days in advance? You go to eat chips and drink beer, notice you're out, buy more - what food in your house is magically replenished by grocery fairies when you aren't looking (bonus, even if you buy those groceries while grabbing chips and beer, did you make the list, or was it handed to you)?
posted by jermsplan at 9:51 AM on September 29, 2017 [29 favorites]


Honest question - how many of you metafilter men read the last emotional labor thread, or read of EL somewhere else on the internet, and then took the initiative to do more research/make a schedule/keep a journal/start a sit-down conversation with your partner/mother/sister/etc/whatever it takes to equal the burden of work that the women in your life are doing? If not, why? What are you waiting for?
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:07 AM on September 29, 2017 [15 favorites]


Are you really asking for Mefite men to present their credentials, or is that rhetorical? If you think none of us did similar things, you're wrong.
posted by gilrain at 10:16 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


I just worry a litany of us (well, I hope it would be a litany) posting about it will come across as cookie-begging. I haven't done enough and am not proud of what I have done, but yeah, some of us took action in response to the threads.
posted by gilrain at 10:20 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


TIL: paying a person money to do your laundry and housecleaning is exploiting them.

I'm sure you can find outfits that cut corners and pay people badly, but is there something intrinsically wrong about delegating domestic labor for pay? In my experience, when my family has done this, they have been paid a fair wage, and performed a good job, with a good attitude.


As someone who has worked as a self-employed, independent housecleaner - I ran a solo housecleaning and home organizing business for five years - I can say that there are a lot of factors to consider when evaluating the question of whether or not it's exploitative to outsource your domestic labor. (This isn't a derail, I promise - I'm making a point about emotional labor.)

I'm a non-fiction writer with a background in academia. I love to write. I would prefer to spend my days writing the books that are in me to write, but I am unable to make a living that way. After a divorce ruined me financially because my ex left me for someone else and took off with my share of the money from the sale of our house, I started a solo housecleaning business out of sheer desperation, as the Great Recession dragged on and employers continued to ignore my job applications.

I actually enjoy housecleaning sometimes, especially when I'm able to do it under my own auspices. I even enjoy doing it for other people sometimes, especially if they're in situations where they are unable to do it for themselves due to injury, illness, etc. But I did not enjoy the fact that I was forced into the business by financial desperation that was no fault of my own. I did not enjoy feeling pressured to do the emotional labor of performing on-the-job satisfaction so my clients wouldn't feel they were exploiting me, when the deeper truth was that I'd much rather be writing and I was cleaning houses mostly in the hopes of being able to buy myself time to write one day. I was grateful for the trust I had built with my large social network, because that's how I found my first client; at the same time I was in a position where I essentially had to monetize my social network and beg for work to survive, and that was humbling. Not fun, to put it mildly.

I carried on that business for five years. There were many days I hated it. It took a toll on my aging body; I always knew I'd have to find some other way to make a living when I got too old or ill to clean houses. And I don't drive, so I had to haul all my cleaning supplies in a wheeled backpack on public transit to reach my clients' homes. That was not easy at all, even in a city with good public transportation (I live in Portland, OR).

But on the other hand, I was able to work independently. I didn't have the stress of driving to clients' homes; I could read and listen to music during my commute. I didn’t have to fill out online job application forms that vanished into the ether never to be seen. I didn't have to take a humiliating drug test or jump through any other bureaucratic hoops. So right from the outset, the business was based in relationships of genuine trust.

I didn't need to advertise to find new clients, because my satisfied clients recommended me to their friends and colleagues after being impressed with my work, and they sought me out. My clients respected and appreciated me, and I respected them. Sure beats groveling for a stressful minimum wage receptionist job in middle age. And because I was independent, I was able to set my own rates, instead of just accepting what a franchise would pay me to work for them. I ran the business on my own terms. I chose my own schedule and my days off. I took breaks whenever I felt like it.

Housecleaning is honest, unpretentious work. It brightens people’s moods. Sure beats spending 8+ hours a day under fluorescent lights in an office cubicle, enduring office politics and selling people more crap they don’t need. I didn’t have to bother with the expense or upkeep of a professional wardrobe. I didn’t have to share airspace with people wearing perfumes that make me ill.

And the work is low-stress. When I was an advanced accounting and taxation student, I was so stressed out that I was grinding my teeth at night, and frequently woke up with an aching jaw. Even the most stressful day I’ve had as a housecleaner produced maybe a tenth of the stress I’ve experienced in office jobs, if that.

Housecleaning is compatible with my ecologically-centered Pagan monastic values, such as minimizing fossil fuel use as much as possible, avoiding work that contributes to ecological destruction as much as possible, and serving my community. I used only non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning supplies, too – mostly baking soda and distilled white vinegar.

On good days, I even found that manual labor could become meditative, and great writing ideas would come to me while I worked. On the other hand, I often came home too exhausted to write, and I hated the feeling of having book manuscripts and articles pressing on my awareness urgently but being unable to work on them most of the time.

But - and here's the point I want to make - working as a professional housecleaner was, in many ways, a good job for a monastically inclined hermit feminist like me because it greatly reduced the emotional labor in my life. Most often I would spend my workdays cleaning empty homes, and I didn't have to deal with people at all. Yes, I still had to do some EL with my clients of course, but I was getting paid for it.

I'm an educated, articulate white woman with a middle-class background, though, so privilege surely affects my experience even though my income is still below the federal poverty level. And I am still a conscientious objector to "earning a living." I've been a supporter of unconditional basic income since the 1990s. I think I could bring more value to my community as a full time writer than I could as a full time house cleaner.

Draw your own conclusions.
posted by velvet winter at 10:58 AM on September 29, 2017 [23 favorites]


Part of the problem, I think, may be that men tend to be socialized to accept higher levels of, er ... squalor. Yah, squalor. For example, I live alone, and I'm playing a bit of trash-Jenga right now. I'm sure I'll take out the trash soon. Tonight? Maybe. Tomorrow? Eh, you know, there's still a bit of space in the bag...

Whenever my sister visits my apartment, she's appalled that I tolerate things like this. Or that there are dirty dishes in my sink. "But I still have clean dishes! There's no need to wash those yet..." And, nonetheless, my sister starts washing dishes. Which is sweet, and kind-hearted, but also reflects a fundamentally different set of expectations about what makes a comfortable and livable home.

I'm quite confident that, if I were living with a girlfriend or wife, I'd drive her *nuts* - not because I'm unwilling to do the work of keeping up a home, but because I just don't see "there's a pile of dishes in the sink" as a problem. And there's nothing wrong with thinking that it *is* a problem - people have different preferences for how they live, and that's fine. But that disconnect would be harmful, because my hypothetical girlfriend would probably interpret "Mr. Excellent doesn't do the dishes" as "Mr. Excellent expects *me* to do the dishes" rather than "until we're out of plates and finger-food, Mr. Excellent just doesn't *care* about the dishes."
posted by Mr. Excellent at 11:24 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


That's fine, Mr. Excellent, but that is once again not at issue in this article. They agreed the box should not be on the floor - he just wouldn't deal with it. They agreed the bathroom needed to be cleaned regularly, but he wouldn't find a way for that to happen without causing her extra work. This article is not about expectations. It's about who is doing the work, and what happens when the person doing the work asks for a more equitable arrangement.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:36 AM on September 29, 2017 [17 favorites]


I hope Mr. Excellent plans on letting their future partners know they don't intend for them to live in an orderly house, or else they'll be doing it all themselves. Might save a lot of time!
posted by gilrain at 11:36 AM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


"If squalor is good enough for me, then squalor is good enough for my beloved," said no desirable partner ever.
posted by gilrain at 11:39 AM on September 29, 2017 [45 favorites]


The better way to think about this, Mr. Excellent, is "Who gets judged when someone comes over and sees the trash jenga?"

Single dudes get a lifetime "boys will be boys" pass on this. You will not really get judged. You might get mildly tsked, someone might mock you lovingly, but that's about the size of it.

When you live with a woman, you have to understand that the way we are socialized to "see" the squalor is not through some brain-implant, it's through operant conditioning and punishment. When Mr. and Mrs. Awesome come visit the home of Mr. and Mrs. Excellent and there is trash jenga in progress, Mr. and Mrs. Awesome do no judge Mr. Excellent uncharitably, but they do judge Mrs. Excellent. Women are trained to press the tidying up lever through the delivery of multiple shocks if the lever isn't pressed.

Get shocked enough times and you can get pretty neurotic about pressing that lever, because if you don't you know that sooner or later you're going to get the shock.

Men mostly go about life unaware that there is a lever or a shock.

So, you live alone, you do you, man. Just understand that you're outside the Skinner Box looking in.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:45 AM on September 29, 2017 [51 favorites]


It's that old adage, "when people show you who they are, believe them." If I go to a date's house and there are piles of laundry on the floor and dishes in the sink, he's eliminated from consideration because 1. he didn't respect me enough to do even basic cleaning and 2. those are acceptable conditions for him and unlikely to ever change.
posted by AFABulous at 11:47 AM on September 29, 2017 [23 favorites]


Part of the problem, I think, may be that men tend to be socialized to accept higher levels of, er ... squalor. Yah, squalor. For example, I live alone, and I'm playing a bit of trash-Jenga right now.

Yeah, but I'm a woman and I am a total and complete mess. I really am. But I'm also a person with a very high regard for what other people feel in these circumstances. So EVEN THOUGH I am a person who does not actually personally give a shit and, when living alone, reverts to total trash-Jenga territory? I don't actually live that way with other people. I'm still "kind of messy" when living with other people, but at a completely different level. And I get highly upset by what my partner thinks of my housekeeping even if I'm not actually doing very well with it. The mess becomes a giant point of stress in my life, a point where I feel like I am failing my parents/roommates/partner even when I am not capable of keeping up with it.

A messy person who cares what other people think and feel about the situation does not have the same impact on a relationship as a messy person who doesn't care. It's not a matter of accepting the state of the household; it's a matter of accepting the state of the relationship. If you're genuinely bad at a thing your partner cares a lot about, but you care about them caring, then you will be upset by how upset they are. It still might not be sustainable for a messy person to live with a very tidy person--but there are actually lots of messy non-men. It's still somehow mostly the men who produce this case of "messy but expecting their partners to just deal with it without any effort to change on their part". I have never once surveyed the wreck of my space and thought that anybody who loved me would just have to do all the dishes if they wanted dishes.
posted by Sequence at 11:48 AM on September 29, 2017 [17 favorites]


Part of the problem, I think, may be that men tend to be socialized to accept higher levels of, er ... squalor.

Sounds more like men are conditioned to think only about themselves in a society that panders to them.

It's fine if you're personally okay with being a mess. But where's the empathy for other people? I share an apartment with four roommates, and the contrast between how clean I keep my room (read: not at all) and how clean I keep the common areas would shock you. The way I see it, my own messes aren't a problem... for me. But why would I impose that on my roommates? So to the extent that I don't give a shit about sweeping up all the hair in my room - I shed a lot! - I am absolutely scrupulous to the point of fanatical about cleaning my hair from the bathroom. etc. My messes are mine to deal with, not my roommates'. By the same token, I don't want to deal with my roommates' messes either.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 11:49 AM on September 29, 2017 [33 favorites]


why are you all so ok with living in filth, jesus
posted by fluttering hellfire at 11:54 AM on September 29, 2017 [20 favorites]


Yeah, but I'm a woman and I am a total and complete mess. I really am. But I'm also a person with a very high regard for what other people feel in these circumstances. So EVEN THOUGH I am a person who does not actually personally give a shit and, when living alone, reverts to total trash-Jenga territory?

I'm definitely on the messier side. But I recognize that many people like a house tidier than mine. When I've shared apartments as an adult (let's skip lightly over some immature teenage experiences, shall we), I've always striven to be conscious of others' reasonable expectations in that area and to try to live up to them. At one point, moving into a new place while working very long hours, I proposed that I would pay a cleaning lady to come in just to carry my rotation of the heavier chores, as I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up otherwise. (P.S. The woman worked for herself, and, IIRC, I paid her $75 for about two hours of work, on top of buying the cleaning supplies, so even allowing for her expenses, I'm pretty sure she did better than minimum wage.) This is just manners with people you like--not even family members whom you profess to love. This is not beyond any adult man's capacity to take on board and address, even if he, personally, cares less about tidiness than the woman in his life does. (And that's setting aside why he's been permitted to not care much about tidiness, and few women are.)
posted by praemunire at 12:01 PM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]


Aaaaaand leaving the dishes and pots dirty increases the chance of cockroach and ant infestations (do you live with a shared wall? In a rented house? then it's not just your personal taste in squalor). Messy garbage outside increases rat and possum populations, and that's your whole block. Leaving dirty clothes lying about, and never deep-cleaning, spreads bedbugs.

The whole US and UK are staggering under postponed infrastructure maintenance that's making problems and costs worse. As above, so below!
posted by clew at 12:18 PM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]


Whenever my sister visits my apartment, she's appalled that I tolerate things like this. Or that there are dirty dishes in my sink. "But I still have clean dishes! There's no need to wash those yet..." And, nonetheless, my sister starts washing dishes. Which is sweet, and kind-hearted, but also reflects a fundamentally different set of expectations about what makes a comfortable and livable home.

At what point should you catch a clue and just do the dishes before your sister comes over? Is she a valued guest, is her company is important to you? How would she know?

I will occasionally be in lazy mode and have oatmeal for dinner because that's good enough for me. When I know my sister is coming over I don't serve her oatmeal. So she's not appalled by my bachelor habits, I cook a real dinner and we can have a good time together. When I'm hosting, her comfort is more important than mine. If I did try to serve her oatmeal for dinner, she'd start bringing carryout because she's sweet and kind-hearted but I'd feel like a selfish jerk to let that happen.

In the scale of things, oatmeal for dinner or dishes in the sink isn't a big problem. But not caring about your sister's feelings, inviting her over when your living conditions are such that she feels compelled to do adult chores for you, not valuing her time or happiness when you are together is a big problem.
posted by peeedro at 12:29 PM on September 29, 2017 [34 favorites]


So, back to the big question at the end of the article, about how not to pass along the inequality to your kids. I don't have kids so I don't have any best practices to share. But, I wonder if a good first step for a lot of couples would be to carve out separate areas of expertise. When you look at your life together and one partner says "I am tired of handling all of this", I think it is overwhelming to think of how to reset the balance. (Not just because that requires labor, but because it requires resetting a bunch of different divisions. Trying to both share the mental load for everything vs hand off some areas to the partner who has been contributing less.)

Part of the reason I think I have a fairly good balance with my husband is because some chores are divided right down the middle (we each clean the bathroom every other week, same with laundry) and others are just not mine at all. I never buy paper towels. I just don't track if we have them and ignore them entirely. I almost never vacuum. That's just his problem and he takes care of it. I do buy toilet paper, pay rent, clean the cat's litterbox, and an unfortunately large number of other things.

That reduces my mental load a lot - I can completely ignore laundry when it isn't my turn, and the tasks that are never mine require no mental overhead for me. I don't know our vacuuming schedule at all but I am sure it happens.

Does that ring true to anyone else? Would it help our theoretical kids to learn to be egalitarian?
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2017


and one partner says "I am tired of handling all of this"

POP QUIZ. If your partner says the above to you, how do you react?

A. I can handle it.
B. I can handle it (but I will do such a shitty job on purpose that you'll take the task back)
B. But you're better at it than me. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't understaaaaand it . It's too haaaaard.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 12:53 PM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


> Part of the problem, I think, may be that men tend to be socialized to accept higher levels of, er ... squalor.

Men tend to be socialized that someone else will be responsible for the squalor.
posted by rtha at 12:53 PM on September 29, 2017 [45 favorites]


One benefit of having a kid later in life/later in the marriage (did not spawn until we'd already been married 12 years) is that we mostly worked through all the EL spluttering rage long before he was born.

I'm hoping that our kid will just watch this state of affairs and understand that both adults in the household are fully functioning grownass human beings who understand both their individual responsibilities and their place as a member of a cooperative. And that it's everyone's responsibility to handle their agreed-upon own shit by themselves without a manager, without whining, and without halfassing.

(Now if only I could get out of being the household CIO. Computers is where this whole scheme breaks down, alas.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:56 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Men tend to be socialized that someone else will be responsible for the squalor.

There is a line in Walk the Line that I've never forgotten:
Johnny: These things just work themselves out, June.
June: No, they don't. Other people work them out for you, and you think they worked themselves out.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2017 [73 favorites]


why are you all so ok with living in filth, jesus

I mean, it is in fact routinely a part of a constellation of mental and physical health issues for a lot of people of both genders. And upbringing stuff, not just gender-based socialization but lots of other things can contribute. Even people with no particular mental health problems may just have been raised in messy households, or had upbringings that weren't particularly stable, or whatever. Like, there's a load of potential reasons for it, but a lot of them are totally disconnected from how you relate to your partner and other people.

But living like that doesn't stop you from caring about other people and at least attempting to meet them halfway. And if you fail to meet your partner halfway on the stuff they care about, at least then you're, like, not surprised when things fall apart, because you never expected them to do your half of things.
posted by Sequence at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2017 [9 favorites]


So this morning I told my 8 year old that we were playing a "noticing game". The object was: to go around the living room and kitchen (open plan) and notice 5 things that needed to be done. Bonus points for doing the thing (he's a sucker for bonus points), but the goal was just to notice. He mostly found things that needed to be put away, which is great. Then, when we still needed a couple more, I hinted, "what about in the sink?" He looked in and saw a plate. "That's not mine!" he said. I told him that's not the point of the game, that we weren't looking for messes we made, just for things that needed doing. So he put the dish in the dishwasher for the bonus points.

All in all, it was a good start. Next time I might prompt him to see if he can notice bigger-picture stuff, like the dog needed to be walked and the fish fed, or that we were almost out of milk. And I think once we do it a few more times I'll add "Notice something that needs doing and do it" onto Chore Monster for a small amount of points that he can do an unlimited amount of every day. Gamifying FTW?

Fingers crossed, but so far he is on board...
posted by Mchelly at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2017 [73 favorites]


"The better way to think about this, Mr. Excellent, is "Who gets judged when someone comes over and sees the trash jenga?""

I think this is key. It's not (just) that people have different level of tolerance for mess, it's that women are the ones judged on it, not men. And women internalize that judgement. Even when we are not expecting company, the house needs to be kept at a certain level of order. And it's the woman of the house who cares most about it, because if someone did drop in, the woman would be the one judged, not the man. I spent a lot of time as a very-proactively-helpful-but-still-somewhat-resentful-at-the-expected-level-of-cleanliness-#notallmen man, before I got this.
posted by jetsetsc at 1:12 PM on September 29, 2017 [10 favorites]


3) Something is on the floor that should not be on the floor

Great glorious Hera why can they not see The Things On The Goddamned Floor?! Coins, pencils, cat barf, twist-ties, DEAD ROACHES THE SIZE OF VOLKSWAGENS (old house, the South). Whyyyyyyyyyyy.
posted by SinAesthetic at 1:19 PM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


why are you all so ok with living in filth, jesus

I present as a cis woman. My house is a fucking wreck right now* - objectively, not like "oh heehee it's a mess" but like if our apartment manager liked us less she might threaten eviction if she walked in. My partner and I are going through a pretty bad depression cycle spawned by extended unemployment and because of the state of healthcare in the country I am trying to heal an infected tooth through salt water rinses and whiskey, making it so it is pretty painful to put my head below my shoulders for any amount of time. I don't excuse the mess or think it's an ok way to live, but maybe if people could consider in their frustrations with not being heard that mental health really does affect some of this and you might be painting with a broader brush than intended.


*We actually removed mumblemumble bags of trash and dishes are going bc we're at the point of depression where we know we need to put our hands on something to not sink further.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:24 PM on September 29, 2017 [11 favorites]


why are you all so ok with living in filth, jesus

You're a slob. I just got tired.

posted by Mchelly at 1:24 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


When you live with a woman, you have to understand that the way we are socialized to "see" the squalor is not through some brain-implant, it's through operant conditioning and punishment. When Mr. and Mrs. Awesome come visit the home of Mr. and Mrs. Excellent and there is trash jenga in progress, Mr. and Mrs. Awesome do no judge Mr. Excellent uncharitably, but they do judge Mrs. Excellent. Women are trained to press the tidying up lever through the delivery of multiple shocks if the lever isn't pressed.

Get shocked enough times and you can get pretty neurotic about pressing that lever, because if you don't you know that sooner or later you're going to get the shock.

Men mostly go about life unaware that there is a lever or a shock.

So, you live alone, you do you, man. Just understand that you're outside the Skinner Box looking in.


THIS IS SO IMPORTANT

"Why is doesn't that mouse just change its point of view? Why can't it just let things go? Why does it keep jumping in that way, and then I smell singed fur? Why does the mouse insist that the lever must be pushed, when I see no such reason? Why are all mice in this facility so irrational about the lever? Why can't they see that logically the lever is unnecessary? Mice must be inherently irrational. Mice won't stop nagging about the importance of the lever. Mice can't ever let things go. Mice always complain to their friends about the lever, even though I helped press the lever at least once the in the past month!"

It is a very curious thing, after a lifetime of negative stimuli, to be told by people outside of the realm of that stimuli that the shocks don't exist, or surely they aren't that serious, really. If you could just conceive of a world without them, everything would be fine.

(Reminder that the lever is not just cleanliness, either. I'm pretty messy, tbh. But put me in a room with a male authority figure making passive aggressive comments and unsubtly demanding emotional soothing of a particular oh-dear-me type, and you had better believe I will break into a cold sweat from the anticipation of the shock that must be coming if I don't get to the soothing as quickly as possible. I've been in training for the exercise from a very young age. Some of you would be stunned to know how many men are aware of this fact, and use it to their advantage as often as possible.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2017 [40 favorites]


But put me in a room with a male authority figure making passive aggressive comments and unsubtly demanding emotional soothing of a particular oh-dear-me type, and you had better believe I will break into a cold sweat from the anticipation of the shock that must be coming if I don't get to the soothing as quickly as possible.

Arrrrrgh this forever. There are so many ways in which I mold myself to be more pleasing to male authority figures, because if I don't, there's the goddamn shock again.

(This was reason # 523 why I would not have any male medical folk around me when I was giving birth, actually--I didn't want to have to worry about men while I was a bit distracted.)
posted by XtinaS at 1:36 PM on September 29, 2017 [11 favorites]


And oh yeah, totally, as my spouse and I were working out or distribution of duties and the EL around them I had to explain why his "this is fine, if they don't like it they can not come over" was not a thing I could do without vast judgement, up to and including the women of my family discussing what a bad wife I am when I am not there and then making digging comments when I am around.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm not caught up yet (there's a lot here, after all), but I wanted to comment on the question of ADHD applied to this situation. As the wife of a man with ADHD, I am constantly wrestling with the emotional labor of analyzing what behavior is executive functioning versus a sexist upbringing leading to obliviousness. I am SO appreciative to those who have chimed in on this theme because you have validated my sense that yes, my expectations for division of labor are reasonable, yes it is a double injury if I dare to complain about it, and yes I have even been doing the emotional labor of making his excuses for him. It is exhausting work, and I'm angry, and some of that anger is actually justified.

At least the dog pee gets caught on the pad now instead of sitting on the floor for hours, while he complains that it stinks but doesn't bother to LOOK for the source of the stink OR fix it.

The article pointing to gender role socialization - yes! May I raise my child in a way that he becomes part of the solution. May my partner find ways to model being part of the solution without me having to perform the emotional labor of kowtowing to his ego, being so cheerful about every step, and swallowing my anger that it only took 154447 conversations or requests to see the thing get picked up and carried by him. Thanks for this conversation.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm a woman with ADHD. My bucket of coping strategies is deep, and frequently-visited, because I have always felt like I don't really have much choice. Either I bootstrap and organizer and reminder and calendar and white-knuckle my way to a simulacrum of executive function or I am an unwoman. Husband is very much like me in many respects except that he never really was forced to develop this quiver of strategies because he didn't feel like his entire worth as a human depended on it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:04 PM on September 29, 2017 [18 favorites]


What neither the article nor any of the comments I read (and I read most of them) question is how much emotional labor is involuntary and how much is voluntary/cultural. Housework, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc. are involuntary across industrialized cultures. Planning meals tailored to each kid's preferences, buying multiple Christmas presents per kid, or planning multiple activities per kid and then driving them to those activities, are voluntary/cultural, especially in the ridiculously child-centric Anglo-American culture. In other countries, kids don't get a say in what's for dinner, they eat what everyone else is eating or they starve, they get a single Christmas present, and their lives are not nearly as structured and micromanaged as in the US. Heck, fifty years ago, the culture wasn't so kid-centric even in the US.

Maybe people should see how much EL can be eliminated entirely before trying to divide it equally between the sexes.
posted by FetaMilter at 2:05 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


What neither the article nor any of the comments I read (and I read most of them) question is how much emotional labor is involuntary and how much is voluntary/cultural.

If you read most of the comments then I'm not sure how you missed the multiple comments setting out in detail how "cultural" is not the same as "voluntary."

Exactly how many times must a man swagger in here and declare, "But have you tried just not maintaining your family's connections to extended family?"
posted by praemunire at 2:15 PM on September 29, 2017 [51 favorites]


"But have you tried just disappointing your child?"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:20 PM on September 29, 2017 [57 favorites]


"In other countries, kids don't get a say in what's for dinner, they eat what everyone else is eating or they starve, they get a single Christmas present, and their lives are not nearly as structured and micromanaged as in the US."

In many countries, they don't even celebrate Christmas! Have we considered just not celebrating Christmas?!

"Maybe people women should see how much EL can be eliminated entirely before trying to divide it equally between the sexes."

Made your subtext text for you. Yay more goddamn work.
posted by XtinaS at 2:24 PM on September 29, 2017 [29 favorites]


Even though it looks like we're at a point where any disagreement with the article is going to be met with a pile-on, saying that something is "cultural" does not mean it can't also be examined or questioned. After all, the very article itself is arguing that men's tendency to expect someone else to do the EL is an aspect of our culture that can and must change. (I read the article and agreed with it, and I read the original Metafilter megathread and took it super seriously and think it about often-- please don't pile on me....)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 2:55 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Let me explain why things like lazily approaching certain tasks or obligations has an overlap with "emotional labor" (even though I think the author uses the term sloppily):

This isn't a couple story; this is a sibling story. I once said that when I get married, I will offer to give my brother a plane ticket to my wedding, and that's it, and tell my parents to absolutely not pick him up at the airport or drive him to the wedding. He has to do it all himself, because he has a few problems: he habitually misses flights. He will delay everyone when we have to take a car trip together. The entire world has to stop so we can do things for him, and it drains away time and attention from other things, including people we would rather be spending time with rather than catering to him. And I am absolutely not letting him pull that shit when I get married.

When people have to divert their attention to deal with household management, that's attention and energy they're taking away from other things, other people, and themselves. The world should not halt because you refuse to do a good job at anything.

I am a slob and even I know this. The important point is that the world does not revolve around your need to require constant supervision or to be constantly bailed out of situations you can't solve yourself.

Now, sure, a couple things-- the author clearly prioritizes cleanliness above and beyond her husband, and people at work are rewarded for reminding everyone of all the work they do and all the tasks they perform and are punished for not doing so, which explains both why men do this and why women don't feel rewarded for all the unseen/unspoken work they do.

But for everyone in a collaborative situation, if you make yourself a burden to others, you are exacting an emotional cost on them. So don't be that person.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 2:57 PM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]


How come someone saying "maybe just change every aspect of your life" like it's a new thought is a disagreement, but us going "shit is not nearly as simple as that, btw thanks for putting more work on the women" is a pile-on?
posted by XtinaS at 2:58 PM on September 29, 2017 [16 favorites]


Who do you think will soothe the children when they're living very different lives than the kids around them? Who will deal with the squabbles when one kid rightly or wrongly feels like the "everyone eats the same thing" favors one kid over the rest (this totally happens, I was the kid who was favored and my brother still brings it up and he's totally right)? Who will buy the one gift that will show care, understanding, and equality between the kids? Who is going to spend the extra time with college applications to try to help the kids get into school when everyone in their class have been participating in activities to use on their college applications since they were 5? Who is going to tell the kids that even if their big dream is basketball or dance or painting or whatever else, that they can't do it, and not for monetary reasons, but because one spouse didn't want to exert the effort to care for them in this way?

Mom. That's who is going to find new and different emotional labor based on this oh so easy plan.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2017 [33 favorites]


It seems like a pile-on because all three comments responding to Fetamilter are attacking an exaggerated and distorted strawman version of what they actually said. "Maybe just change every aspect of your life" does not read to me like a good-faith interpretation of FetaMilter's comment.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 3:07 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Maybe just change every aspect of your life" does not read to me like a good-faith interpretation of FetaMilter's comment.

Can't say I agree with you there. Ignoring the entire cultural context that you live in is a huge endeavor and going to have *massive* effects on your family, which is what everyone's pointing out.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2017 [21 favorites]


And really, it's the last line that's the kicker.

Maybe people should see how much EL can be eliminated entirely before trying to divide it equally between the sexes.

Maybe before men step up and figure out what being an equal partner entails, "people" should just work out how frivolous their lives are and stop bugging men - I mean, what is one starving kid among family? Maybe men can find equality with their partners and then they can decide if burdens can be shifted or reduced across the family. Really, this suggestion of FetaMilter's isn't much different than "maybe we don't need trashbags" or "just don't send family birthday cards" or "i don't care about a clean floor around the toilet." It's the same 'just suck it up and take what we give' that is all over this thread and the last thread and literally every other conversation had anywhere with men on this topic.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:16 PM on September 29, 2017 [28 favorites]


"Wife, I am feeling unsatisfied with the frequency and passion of our sex life. To me this is a very important part of marriage generally and my happiness specifically."

"Well husband, I thought we'd just use the model of Anglo-Americans from 50 years ago. We've had sex for procreation so now it will be 40 years or more of sex twice a year for 15 minutes with the lights off, my clothes on, and at least one baby sleeping in the bed. Don't make too much noise."
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


"Ignoring the entire cultural context that you live in" also seems a bit more than I read FetaMilter as recommending-- however, restless_nomad, I do have to admit they seem to say we should question our entire cultural context, which certainly is a huge endeavor.

INESTBHT, I also have to admit your point. That last line does kick the can down the road and say, let's not worry about men doing their fair share of this work until we all agree it's necessary.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


But for everyone in a collaborative situation, if you make yourself a burden to others, you are exacting an emotional cost on them. So don't be that person.

The truth is, even faced with that, some guys still won't do the EL and in the end will either stop participating in family events or stop getting invited. And eventually you'll hear about them maybe once a year or 10.
posted by FJT at 3:33 PM on September 29, 2017


. Right or wrong, he would never feel hurt if the same situation were reversed so he doesn’t think his wife SHOULD hurt

Another important point is that while different emotional temperaments and priorities can reflect a fundamental incompatibility, there will always be differences between two people regarding their emotional priorities, and any relationship has to involve both people catering to the emotional priorities of the other, even when they don't share them, if the relationship is going to last. Plus, it's a perfectly reasonable decision to decide that this is a cost that outweighs the benefit of a relationship
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 3:36 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


now it will be 40 years or more of sex twice a year for 15 minutes

"Think of the productivity gains, though. No wonder the 50s and 60s were so economically prolific."
posted by Coventry at 3:59 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


(I read the article and agreed with it, and I read the original Metafilter megathread and took it super seriously and think it about often-- please don't pile on me....)

So, two problems with this:

1) Nobody's gotten piled on here. Not in a way that warrants complaint, anyway: no one has had personal attacks leveled on them. Nobody's been called names, threatened, etc. FetaMilter's suggestion was rightly dismissed because it's incorrect, but nobody has called them a bad person. Nobody's calling you a bad person either.

If you feel piled on, it's more about what's going on in your head than what's going on here.

2) Women absolutely have a right to be *unreasonable*.

Part of the whole emotional labor / gendered expectations thing is that women are *always* supposed to be reasonable: never get too emotional, never say the wrong thing, never want selfish stuff and so on. They're supposed to be on guard at all times or they will suffer various forms of social, economic or even violent backlash.

Part of what we need to do - culturally - is suck it up a little and let them say what they want, even if we personally feel unhappy about it because we get to do that. I can find a place to vent if I need to right now, and it can include women and nobody's going to think I'm a bad person for doing so. Women deserve the same space to... frankly, be unreasonable if they're angry/upset/unhappy.

tl;dr: us men doing more means we have to learn how to stop reflexively defending ourselves just because we don't feel like we did something wrong personally.
posted by mordax at 4:21 PM on September 29, 2017 [17 favorites]


Mr. Excellent -

My spouse likes to do alpha strike style cleaning/chores too. Wait until there's no clean clothes left to do laundry, then take hours to do it. He is also responsible for grocery shopping. (I cook and generally track what we need because he won't or can't.) You know he is applying that same mentality to grocery shopping, waiting til the last possible minute to go to the store as if he wins some invisible contest to do that. That means our toddler is eating dried fruit and grated cheese for meals with him. Any idea what it does to your sleep to have a constipated toddler? The "squalor" mentality where you chuckle and someone cleans up your mess or does the administrative thinking on your behalf could possibly hurt your potential children. Is it still funny? Or because you don't have the social baggage of motherhood, does this not even land as a Thing for you?
posted by crunchy potato at 4:26 PM on September 29, 2017 [15 favorites]


Are we supposed to thank you for letting us be *unreasonable*?
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:26 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


"I'm a woman with ADHD. My bucket of coping strategies is deep, and frequently-visited, because I have always felt like I don't really have much choice. Either I bootstrap and organizer and reminder and calendar and white-knuckle my way to a simulacrum of executive function or I am an unwoman. Husband is very much like me in many respects except that he never really was forced to develop this quiver of strategies because he didn't feel like his entire worth as a human depended on it."

I learned that because I could NOT fix it the society of both men and women think I have no worth. I hope some day progress for women in this regards also includes uplifting women who really aren't good at these things even with buckets and buckets of coping strategies.

I remember that song about "your mess is mine" and I just cried and cried, I can at least imagine in my head, I can pretend someday someone would understand and still love me. I avoid dating sites since I know I am subhuman and unworthy. I like to think maybe I could find a messy guy whose ok with it someday, surely it's at least permissible for messy people to find each other...

I also think about how much trauma and crisis can leave people valuing other things when their bodies and minds are so broken they have to choose between valuable things.

For me I feel like My mother was broken by abuse at the hands of men, her trauma impacted my health and ability to function, I was further broken by abuse at the hands of men, and then often shamed by THE SAME MEN for not functioning. To be honest my dad was also broken by the abuse of men and his brain functioning was damaged by the ongoing violence and rape from the men in his family.

I'm tired of apologizing or pretending I agree with the society that labels those of us who struggle with this or who prioritize other things than conforming to their standards as subhuman people when all I'm trying to do is exist. I get it some people would rather people like me not exist (they phrase in different terms but essentially if my existance is not acceptable and I know I can't conform to what they want, what exactly is the alternative?) because disabilities cause problems to those around them, but I have to believe there is another way than to dehumanize people who have a myriad of reasons for dealing with this.

I think this thread has mostly done a good job of not throwing people with disabilities under the bus, while allowing some venting. I think because the persecution of women who struggle with this is so extreme, people are more than happy to point out "well I struggle but at least I'm better than THOSE people" to get themselves a break from viscous judgment about this.

Even people with the same diagnosis can vary greatly in functioning and it's good to remember just because you have a diagnosis and can still do y it doesn't mean everyone with that diagnosis can. But the burden of social shaming, avoiding dating, and active punitive action directed at women who "live is squalor" (for example taking their kids, social ostracism, etc etc) is way higher than what happens to men. I'd like to think feminism and social justice could both ask men who are perfectly capable to do more emotional AND househole labor, while also asking all of us to who are perfectly able to challenge ourselves to understand disabilities and that some people have different experiences of functioning even with the same disability label we have.
posted by xarnop at 5:21 PM on September 29, 2017 [11 favorites]


Hey there, mordax. I don't think anyone has piled on me in this thread, though I was afraid of it happening. I do think FetaMilter's particular comment got piled on a bit, and I guess I would define it differently from you-- I don't think it needs to include namecalling or personal attacks.

I'm a little uncomfortable responding to your second point because it feels sort of white-knightey, but I certainly agree that everyone is human, no one is perfect, and everyone deserves room to not always be reasonable. Your suggestion about how to engage with it here seems like something best suited for a Meta discussion.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:01 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


all three comments responding to Fetamilter are attacking an exaggerated and distorted strawman version of what they actually said

What I'm attacking here is the precise cognitive distortion that allows one to think "well, writing holiday cards to your family, that's a voluntary, cultural thing, I don't need to do that!" and then be shocked years later to realize that all the small "voluntary" things you didn't do have added up to mean that you no longer have the connections you need with your family so that when you're old your nephew will drive you to and from your doctor's appointments. It's not that I'm exaggerating a small thing into a huge thing; it's that there's this persistent refusal to believe that many small things over time can very well add up to huge things. Because then we'd have to value the small things, too.

But, frankly, if you think "why don't you just buy your child one Christmas present when all his friends and relatives are getting several" (an actual suggestion of Fetamilter's) is a small thing, a mere trivial ceasing of something "voluntary" and "cultural," a modest proposal, if you will, I can only assume that you have no family of your own and possibly have never even met any small children.
posted by praemunire at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2017 [14 favorites]


I agree with your point about holiday cards 100 percent, actually, and I didn't see anything in FetaMilter's comment suggesting they questioned the value of maintaining contact with extended family. They gave three specific examples of tasks they considered voluntary, none of which suggest that talking to family isn't actually important. I guess I do see how one could reasonably conclude that FetaMilter would put the work involved in sending out cards in the same bucket as having a long Christmas shopping list -- it's a similar task of emotional labor for sure. I had read those examples as being more about the idea that maybe people set themselves exhaustingly ambitious domestic-life goals partly in response to social pressure and that it might be worth examining. Anyway, I accept the points made by restless_nomad and INESTBHT above and I think FetaMilter's concluding statement sets an unreasonably high hurdle that derails the question of men doing their fair share.

Since you wonder what I think of FetaMilter's suggestion, I will admit that I happen to have really ambivalent feelings about Christmas gifts, both giving and receiving, and I will admit further that a lot of this is due to my own struggle to deal with the emotional labor involved in gift shopping and the guilt I feel over not being as thoughtful as I believe my family members deserve. And yes, I am single and have no kids of my own. I do have two young nephews, though, and I have alternated between mailing my sister big packages with multiple gifts, and sending nothing at all. The guilt I feel over not maintaining those relationships better is a whole other ball of emotional labor wax that nobody asked to hear about, except to say that I care about these emotional labor threads, follow them closely, and think about them a lot as I try to find the motivation, willpower, courage, whatever it might be called, to do and be better for and with the people in my life. Mostly I have participated by reading and thinking and lurking, which I will return to now.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 7:59 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


Planning meals tailored to each kid's preferences, buying multiple Christmas presents per kid, or planning multiple activities per kid and then driving them to those activities, are voluntary/cultural, especially in the ridiculously child-centric Anglo-American culture. In other countries, kids don't get a say in what's for dinner, they eat what everyone else is eating or they starve, they get a single Christmas present, and their lives are not nearly as structured and micromanaged as in the US. Heck, fifty years ago, the culture wasn't so kid-centric even in the US.

Maybe people should see how much EL can be eliminated entirely before trying to divide it equally between the sexes.


My parents came from one culture/country and raised me in a different one. Their adopted cultural context demanded forms of EL they either weren't aware of or simply didn't have the time or energy to perform. My experience is a test case for what happens when people eliminate "voluntary" "cultural" emotional labor:

My mom never socialized with my classmates' moms. The price of admission to that circle was too high for someone who was already working full-time and doing at least 80% of the housework and childcare. But her failure to secure admission to that circle had a negative impact on things like her access to afterschool care, participation in school activities, and relationship building with my teachers, most of whom were on friendly personal terms with the other parents. And this freezing out rippled down to me, in a succession of lousy babysitters and no relief from bullying, which was enabled and sometimes even encouraged by teachers and parents who felt snubbed by the absence of my mom's EL. Why should they care what happens to that kid, the one whose mom is too good to make playdates with the rest of us, who doesn't smile or engage in the local small talk?

Child Services was never going to remand me to foster care because my mom didn't make nice with the other moms, sure, but my emotional and social development suffered, my mom suffered, and we still both carry assorted shitty feelings about my school years. I'm not accusing her of any wrongdoing, and most people would fairly argue that refusing to apologize for being the only working mom in my class is hardly comparable to refusing to feed or clothe young Fish. But this refusal of a totally arbitrary cultural demand had emotional and practical consequences for both of us.

So what are your criteria for necessity? How do you determine what EL can be eliminated? And how do you create buy-in for those criteria so that a person and/or their children don't get frozen out of the cultural context that is the only one available for them to participate in?
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 8:25 PM on September 29, 2017 [22 favorites]


Also, while getting ready for Christmas is stressful, it's one of the few times I feel like my EL is being rewarded in spades (by my kids' joy). I'd much rather skip, like, filling out emergency contact cards for the five billionth time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 PM on September 29, 2017 [9 favorites]


because it feels sort of white-knightey,
“White Knight” (also known as “Internet White Knight”) is a pejorative term used to describe men who defend women on the Internet with the assumption that they are looking for a romantic reward in return.

White Knight:
1) A man who stands up for a womens right to be an absolute equal, but then steps up like a white knight to rescue her any time that equality becomes a burden.
2) A man who Promotes gender equality but practices special privilege for women.
*rolls my eyes until they fall clean out of my head, across the floor, down the hall, out the door, and lost forever*
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 8:42 PM on September 29, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's also interesting that FetaMilter's suggestions for reducing pesky voluntary emotional labor didn't include a single thing they might lose. Emotional/feminized labor that benefits children (statistically into adulthood resulting in better jobs and more general satisfaction)? Sure, who needs that! But something that directly benefits them didn't leap to their mind.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 8:45 PM on September 29, 2017 [15 favorites]


What neither the article nor any of the comments I read (and I read most of them) question is how much emotional labor is involuntary and how much is voluntary/cultural.

You may have heard of a previous metafilter thread on emotional labor. It covers "maybe it's not even necessary" exhaustively.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:59 PM on September 29, 2017 [14 favorites]


Right or wrong, he would never feel hurt if the same situation were reversed

yes, that is a thing you can say in the land of pretend, when you know full well the situation is not about to be reversed. not for you, not for your ilk, not now, maybe not ever. this is as meaningful as saying that when women rule the land and mighty-thewed giantesses stride hither and thither picking up cowering men and casting them aside as suits their whim, those men will not mind in the least because it will be terribly exciting for them. but. but! BUT!!! that doesn't mean women who are mistreated in the here-and-now shouldn't be encouraged to express their mysterious "hurt" even though men would certainly never, ever feel such a bizarro lady-emotion if the earth stopped in its tracks and started orbiting the reverse direction and everything was different. definitely he is sure of it. so men must just be infinitely compassionate and giving, to their charmingly agitated wives. sort of like Jesus Christ, in a way. you have to pretend to understand why they're upset, see.

anyhow the difference between regular labor and emotional labor is one I think might be well illustrated by the "trust fall," a thing anybody who has ever been to a corporate retreat or girl scout camp knows all about. the deal is that you relax your body and let it plummet towards a traumatic brain injury, because you have faith that some creeps will grab you before impact and save you from the natural consequence of your lack of action.

if you are a man, your whole life within the bounds of a hetero relationship is one long trust fall. don't feed your kids, she'll catch it. don't wake up when the alarm goes off, she'll wake you. don't return the doctor's office's phone call, she'll bug you until you do or do it herself. don't cleanse the filth from every surface, she'll do it or pay someone else to do it. just relax. let yourself go.

but if you are an emotional laborer, you are forced to think about what you are doing, and to be aware that if you relax, nobody will catch you. your skull will hit the corner of the coffee table because your partner is busy watching the television, and nobody will ever scrub your brains out of the carpet because who really notices little things like that?

a crude metaphor, but basically, rational fear of falling and the knowledge that nobody is waiting to catch you covers most of it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:02 PM on September 29, 2017 [85 favorites]


(I have never had a heterosexual relationship like that and the only person who behaves this way that I tolerate is my cat. but I observe, and I conclude. and I was sincere when I said before that just because I become enraged at the rhetorical erasure of physical and mental labor doesn't mean I don't know what emotional labor is, or know its value and difficulty. although I never do any, myself, to speak of, because I have no talent for it. but I notice it.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:22 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


queenofbithynia: That "trust fall" metaphor is 100% perfect and I am totally going to remember that for later. That describes what it feels like to me almost perfectly.
posted by XtinaS at 5:17 AM on September 30, 2017 [9 favorites]


[A couple deleted. FetaMilter, the condescension, sneering, and insulting remarks are not okay; you need to step away from this thread.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:24 AM on September 30, 2017 [11 favorites]


I've been thinking about a couple of things reading through this.

On Christmas cards and maintaining contact: I run an art postcard subscription service. It's very small and most of my subscribers are people I know. Every month I make, print, and slap a sticker and stamp on a postcard with art on both sides. I don't write on the cards. The only personalization is the sticker with the name and address. I am doing this for money. It has been quite striking how many people feel a greater emotional connection to me because they get these every month. Holiday cards and little items like this matter a great deal.

On the front of men not getting emotional labor and how to be sensitive: I'm an attorney and I work with veterans who are trying to get disability benefits. I was at a conference for people in this field a few years ago where two of the big-name men in our field gave a talk debating the merits of doing hearings. The one who was against doing hearings said that he used to do them, but stopped because he had too many clients get really upset at him - something like "Do you think you're a big man for making me talk about that?" and he had concluded that perhaps doing hearings was not worthwhile. The woman I was sitting next to and I turned to each other in horror: we work with the same client base, and I have often been able to get clients to talk about very personal things, but after the hearing they thank me for it and cry a little because they haven't been able to talk about it in the 40 years since the event and I have to hug a lot of them. The woman I was sitting with has the same experience as I do, and we agreed that this dude doing the presentation had absolutely no idea how to make his clients feel comfortable and he was bringing inappropriate personal baggage - the need for some kind of machismo - into the hearing room, where the focus needs to be on the client. So not knowing how to do emotional labor is making him worse at his job, and knowing how to do it is making me better at mine. Of course this isn't playing out in terms of a better salary for me, but at least my clients don't want to punch me out.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:48 AM on September 30, 2017 [22 favorites]


if you are a man, your whole life within the bounds of a hetero relationship is one long trust fall.

This is the best and most succinct explanation I have ever read and I'm going to use it with anyone who doesn't get it.
posted by AFABulous at 12:31 PM on September 30, 2017 [14 favorites]


a crude metaphor, but basically, rational fear of falling and the knowledge that nobody is waiting to catch you covers most of it.
posted by queenofbithynia


This is not a crude metaphor, this is a fantastic way to think about it, and something I have thought a lot but never been able to articulate. I think it's the most compelling reason for singlehood (and in my case, single-parenthood). There will be no one around to catch me, but at least I will never make the fatal mistake of thinking that there might be.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:29 PM on September 30, 2017 [12 favorites]


It was interesting to me how she noted that her son for thanked for keeping his room clean (after being asked) and her daughter just did it. I'm really curious if she's going to try to stop thanking her son or start thanking her daughter. I get that noticing and thanking people for tasks is more cognitive load/emotional labour, but I really like it in my household. My husband and I thank each other all the time for doing laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and thank our daughter when she helps out. I think we started doing it more consciously around the time she pitched fits over helping with anything around the house, "why do I have to do everything?" I feel like even just overhearing (and now often chiming in) thanks has her a little more aware of the work we do that she just wasn't noticing. It's also makes me happier about having done it and my spouse says same for him. So more work, but happier.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:28 PM on September 30, 2017 [9 favorites]


interestingly (or not) I never did do a trust fall any of the times I was ordered to, in various team bondage exercises starting when I was a child. "No," I would explain, and the organizer of whatever hell camp I was stationed at would say "but it is important to visually and dramatically demonstrate that you trust these people enough to turn your back on them and close your eyes and fall off a table at them, while crossing your hands over your chest, corpse-style, because you could die if this goes wrong, get it?" and I would reply "I do not trust these people and to tell a lie with the body is to corrode the spirit" and then I would not get my junior girl scout badge in gullibility, or whatever it may have been.

but I think there is a real connection between that kind of native suspiciousness and the inability-slash-unwillingness to recognize when I am expected to volunteer for gendered emotional tasks without needing to be asked. or it's less that I can't recognize the shape of the circumstance, even when I am personally involved in it, than that I can't bring myself to believe that a man is really trying to fall on me. like, if I allowed and encouraged this, he could die! I would be distracted at a critical moment, he cannot be such a fool. not exactly that I can't believe a man expects such things of me but that I refuse to believe it, even when it is clearly the case.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:35 PM on September 30, 2017 [11 favorites]


I read How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids last month and found it well put together and insightful. (OK, I really wanted to kick her husband's ass.) My kid is grown, so the insights were maybe too late for me, but I do recommend the book.
posted by puddledork at 7:25 PM on September 30, 2017


Thank you all so, so much for having this discussion! I devoured the previous emotional labor thread, and it finally gave me the ability to pinpoint why some things bugged me so much. Like arguing with my friend that yes, while I may like to cook it still isn't fair if someone expects me to cook all the time while they sit on the couch watching TV.

Also, while I can understand why people don't like the term, I feel that emotional labor fits very well for things such as housework and tracking social engagements. It takes so much energy to even just care about these things being done. For me personally planning out when to fit things in and what order to do them in is a little like a puzzle, it's fun to figure out and have things all play out as you planned. But if you continually expect me to do that while you go on and barely notice those thing? Oh no, oh no no no.
posted by Halimede at 12:24 AM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Trying to explain emotional labor to someone who WANTS to be oblivious is maddening.

I think my husband is finally getting a glimmer, though.

He brought me purple carnations yesterday. He saw them at the grocery store. Nice, right? So I thanked him, hugged and kissed him and told him they were lovely. But then he ruined the gesture.

About every half an hour, he would brightly chirp "I brought you flowers!". I thanked him again the first two times he did it, then got increasingly terse as he kept interrupting what I was doing (reinforcing beadwork on the 65 year-old wedding gown my soon to be daughter in-law is wearing on Saturday) to remind me that he brought me flowers.

"Yes. I KNOW. I SEE THEM." He proceeded to sulk and ask why I was upset that he brought me flowers.

"I'm not upset that you brought me flowers. I'm upset that you are actively making those flowers a CHORE for me by expecting acclaim and adulation twice an hour because you picked up flowers at the grocery store. I am BUSY, and you are acting like a bored TODDLER. Don't buy me flowers if you're going to burden me with demanding head pats! You didn't buy them to make me happy, you bought them to try to wring praise out of me."

The light took a few minutes to come on, but it did come on.
posted by MissySedai at 1:25 PM on October 2, 2017 [28 favorites]


I'm not upset that you brought me flowers. I'm upset that you are actively making those flowers a CHORE for me by expecting acclaim and adulation twice an hour because you picked up flowers at the grocery store.

This is one of the reasons I actually dislike receiving gifts-- because it creates a future burden for me to prove that I like and am using the gifts which I did not ask for.

But I can't stress enough how we are punished in the workplace and other situations if we do not announce all the ways in which we help and accomplish tasks. The same habit you want to cultivate in your husband-- intuitively understanding your needs, not repeatedly reminding you of it and needing to be acknowledged for it -- is the same thing that's gets women (and men) passed over for promotions and raises in favor of those better at self promotion. We live in a self-promotion society.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 7:22 AM on October 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


I read How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids last month and found it well put together and insightful.

Maybe this is just my childfree homopinion, but it seems like this should be the emergency backup sequel to some titles like How To Get Your Shit Together Before Having Kids, A Guide For Men, or Why You Will Likely Hate Your Husband After Having Kids And What To Do In Advance Of That or just How To Address Systemic Sexism In Your Relationship, Yes You,
Don't Even Pretend
.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:23 PM on October 3, 2017 [20 favorites]


I read How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids last month and found it well put together and insightful.

I agree with your review of the book and I enjoyed reading it but I kept wondering why there wasn't a companion book for husbands. Then I realized husbands would never read the damn thing so I went back to my campaign of showing everyone the first 20 minutes of the Jennifer Aniston movie The Breakup. The movie itself is pretty terrible but that first fight after the dinner party is just perfection.
posted by Burn.Don't.Freeze at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


I disagree that it's perfection. It might have been better if they'd resisted the urge to get the joke in, but looking back on that movie years later the only memorable thing about that fight is the way they hand Vaughn the laugh line by having Anniston say "I want you to want to do the dishes." Which he responds to, quite reasonably, by saying who the fuck wants to do the dishes? I guess it's sorta unfair to expect a comedy not to be a comedy but that really kicks the stool out from under her anger at him completely failing to be an equal partner and expecting her to micromanage tasks.
posted by phearlez at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


I didn't find that to be a laugh line at all. Maybe because I've had that conversation with a previous partner. I've literally said "I want you to want to do the dishes" to which he replied "why would I want to do the dishes?!" The difference was I then smashed the plate I was holding on the floor and yelled "EXACTLY" and stormed out.
posted by Burn.Don't.Freeze at 11:58 AM on October 4, 2017 [12 favorites]


Oh wow so much thread. On the one hand, sorry I missed participating earlier. On the other, I spent the weekend at GeekGirlCon and hanging out with a friend in Seattle, so I haven't spent the last several days imagining failed conversations about housework with my partner.

I keep wanting to argue with guys: It's not about who does the housework; that's not emotional labor. It's not about who manages the housework - while that's related, it's not specifically emotional labor.

No, the EL part of this twisted game is when a woman says "I'm not happy with how the housework gets done" and the guy says "I try to help! I'm busy! I have [X] problem that makes laundry hard for me! And I will happily do the dishes when you ask! Besides, you're good at those things. Aaagh, now you're making The Face. Look, I don't want to argue. Why does everything have to be an argument, and somehow it's always All My Fault? I am not the bad guy here, geeze, and besides, you keep stacking up the junk mail in that corner on the table and it gets in the way, so you're not perfect at housekeeping. Can't I be not-perfect at some of the housekeeping too? Aaaand there we are with The Face again. Howcome every time you want to talk, it's because I'm the bad guy? I'm not the bad guy. You're not being fair to me."

Putting up with THAT in order to have a conversation about "hey, I would like you to put the laundry you want washed in this particular basket," which should not even have to be a conversation, is emotional labor.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:38 PM on October 4, 2017 [16 favorites]


The Breakup. The movie itself is pretty terrible but that first fight after the dinner party is just perfection.

Wow. Yes. That is a painful highly emotional fight right there.

posted by rmd1023 at 3:53 PM on October 4, 2017


"I want you to want to do the dishes." Which he responds to, quite reasonably, by saying who the fuck wants to do the dishes?

Nobody wants to do the dishes. I want you to want the dishes to be done SO MUCH that you notice when they are not, realize that there is no Dishes Fairy who will wash them, and acknowledge that your personal leisure time is not more valuable than my personal leisure time, and therefore, if you are not doing anything pressing right now (like, you are not in the middle of cooking right now, not "the game starts in half an hour"), you might as well do them.

And not expect a cookie or a pat on the back and maybe not even a "thanks" for doing them, because this is your house and maintaining it is part of your job as a grown-up adult.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:55 PM on October 4, 2017 [11 favorites]


No, the EL part of this twisted game is when a woman says "I'm not happy with how the housework gets done" and the guy says ...

...are cishet men cloned? I swear I've had this exact conversation in almost these exact same words. How do they all know what to say?
posted by AFABulous at 7:02 PM on October 4, 2017 [11 favorites]


How do they all know what to say?

Their fathers taught them.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:43 AM on October 5, 2017 [11 favorites]


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