The Potato Metaphor for Emotional Labor
October 17, 2017 6:59 AM   Subscribe

In some relationships, the person needing support shows up in the kitchen with potatoes at the ready. They are saying, “Here. These are my potatoes. Cleaned and ready for your pan.” In other relationships and situations, the person seeking support makes it harder to find their potatoes... The potato metaphor is useful because it highlights how the person being supported has an active role in how laborious the emotional labor involved really is... Lopsided potato-handling can be damaging to ease, equity, and harmony in relationships.
posted by nebulawindphone (42 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
oh great, so now i'm distressed and hungry. haha just kidding, I enjoyed this. It always helps me to think if i'm using multiple concepts for the same thing, and don't have to wear out the same jargon over and over.
posted by eustatic at 7:05 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


YES a potato metaphor, I wish every lesson involved a potato metaphor
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:16 AM on October 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


....Somehow I think that for people who truly need support, lecturing them about how they have to ask for help in exactly the right way is not really going to be beneficial.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on October 17, 2017 [27 favorites]


Yes, my life is a potato metaphor.
posted by infini at 7:22 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't want to talk about potatoes anymore than I want to talk about spoons. These metaphors are useful, but it's sometimes and no, it's often much more useful to say things plainly.

This is helpful, however, in creating a frame for you to think about what demands are being made of you, and what you might do to help people help you. Simplifying frames can be helpful to clarify. But I don't want to talk about potatoes, I want to talk about the emotional work I'm being asked to do.

A good post, no doubt, just dreading people telling me about their potatoes.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:22 AM on October 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


This dynamic is not always gendered, but I often see this lopsidedness happening in partnerships where one person has been socialized as male and one has been socialized as female. The one socialized as male may have the implicit expectation that their partner dig their potatoes for them. This unfairly burdens their socialized-as-female partner.

I also feel SO UNEASY about the language of "socialized as male/socialized as female" in emotional labour discussions. Gendered socialization works really differently on folks who are going to grow up to be cis than on folks who are going to grow up to be trans.

As a transmasc person in a relationship with a trans woman, I find that the way people talk about how emotional labour is learned and enforced really don't map on to my experiences at all. Trans women's "male socialization" is so often used as a weapon against trans women by TERFs, so that language really puts me on edge.

It's cool if this is only talking about cis people-- someone male who has always been socialized as male, someone female who has already been socialized as female-- but the faux-inclusivity of "people socialized as x" kinda throws trans folks, especially trans women, under the bus.

This might seem like a nitpick, but it's disheartening to see this language crop up so often in these discussions.
posted by ITheCosmos at 7:50 AM on October 17, 2017 [40 favorites]


I am chief potato chef in the grumpy household. We must be doing well!
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:54 AM on October 17, 2017


Hey, ITheCosmos, I have definitely been guilty of that in the past, and I really appreciate your comment. I'm often talking about the way that people have to interact with expectations from other people based on how they're perceived, and it's really hard to disentangle that from the way that people are socialized and grow up based on the gender categories they themselves feel most comfortable in.

It's particularly an issue when trying to use language or incorporate perspectives from nonbinary people I know, many of whom pass as female or are read as female and experience the same kinds of misogynistic demands that actual women do. How do we talk about that in a more accurate way?

IDK; I'm often frustrated by the way that gendered discussions of emotional labor or any other types of unequal expectations on men and women tend to presume a cis, gender-conforming dyadic interaction. Obviously, that's not always what the people in the conversation are thinking or experiencing, so how do you tease apart what's going on in communities where people's relationships with gender are more complicated than that?
posted by sciatrix at 7:58 AM on October 17, 2017 [10 favorites]


....Somehow I think that for people who truly need support, lecturing them about how they have to ask for help in exactly the right way is not really going to be beneficial.

I didn't read it as a lecture about asking for help in exactly the right way so much as asking people who need support to take some responsibility for dealing with their feelings. My partner has a hard time with this, for instance. He has trouble naming his feelings and often shuts down rather than saying, "I'm feeling X." As a result, I can tell when he's having feelings about something and maybe needs to talk about it, but it can require a whole process of cajoling: are you having feelings? do you want to talk about it? are you feeling worried about money because of the roof leak we discovered the other day? are you feeling anxious about work? are you feeling overwhelmed by housework? are you feeling stressed by the support you've been giving our in-a-tough-phase teenager?

It's exhausting for me, and I can resent it. I don't think it's asking too much to have a partner who can say, "I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the things that need doing this weekend."

Our oldest child came to us in their late teens after growing up in an abusive home. One of the things they do is, when they need to ask for help with something, also ask for reassurance that it's OK to ask for help. We understand where this comes from, given the way they were treated in their first family, but are also trying to get them to understand that needing a lot of reassurance that it's OK to ask for something they need, whether that's a ride to an appointment or a chance to talk about something going on for them, is additional emotional labor that can be draining for us. I mean, we do give this reassurance in general and have spent a lot of time in the several years since they came to live with us doing our best to make sure they understand that helping each other is what family members do. But in the moment, when we're dealing with the other kids and the demands of the household and our busy schedule, we'd like to be able to just say, "You need a ride on Tuesday? Let me check the calendar," and get on with things rather than have to again help them deal with feeling anxious about asking, if that makes sense. We'd like that job to shift more to them: they've heard us talk about asking for help and family interdependence and all that many, many times, so we'd like if if, when they need to ask for something and are feeling anxious about it, they could talk themselves through it: "I'm feeling anxious about asking mom and dad for this, but they always say it's OK to ask, and that they'll say Yes if they can. And if they can't say Yes, that it's not because they don't want to help but because there's a real reason they can't." And so on.

Anyway, my point is that this little essay made sense to me in that I have experience with people who need emotional support but are maybe not doing their share of the work around that, or who aren't making the progress I'd like to see in learning to do it. The potato metaphor seemed a little strained to me and I'm not sure how necessary it was--I think the topic could have been explained without the metaphor, which might have been clearer.
posted by Orlop at 8:00 AM on October 17, 2017 [15 favorites]


For sure, sciatrix! I'm also a nonbinary AFAB person who's often read as female, so it's definitely something I think about a lot. Like you mention, it's suuuuper hard to talk about gendered socialization in a way that does justice to trans folks' lived genders, and it's something I'd love to read/hear/discuss more about.
posted by ITheCosmos at 8:01 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


This seems to explain how asking for emotional labour (which here apparently means listening to people's problems) can be relatively OK if you do some prep work. It makes that esoteric point clearer by appealing to an extended metaphor about the common experience of taking potatoes to be cooked by a friend, or perhaps not actually taking them but wanting some potatoes cooked anyway.

What?
posted by Segundus at 8:05 AM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


So - not entirely sure here - has the term "emotional labor" really shifted and broadened? I originally interpreted it as work that requires somebody to express specific emotions. Think a customer-facing job.

But in the past few years as the term has gotten popularized and applied to a lot of relationship stuff, it seems to have taken on another definition: of work to pay attention to somebody else's emotions - like in this potato essay, providing support to a friend who needs you. I saw a tweet pointing out that emotional labor is not just unpaid, feminized work - but that's one of the definitions the term seems to have gotten connected to.

The conflation is a little frustrating, because I think that the emotional labor of, say, working in a customer service job where you have to pretend to be cheery all the time is really different than, say, helping a friend through a tough time or handling more household logistics because a husband just can't.

what say yas?
posted by entropone at 8:35 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Is this actually helpful? I mean, I get the metaphor, but is it really such a lot of work to say "if you need my emotional support, you need to tell me what's bothering you (or what sort of help you're hoping for me to give you)"? Can you really reach someone who plops themselves down on your couch and sighs and gives you that look, expecting you to somehow, nebulously, help, by asking them to read about cooked potatoes?

I mean, I think it's a reasonable reframing, but I don't see how it's useful.

Then again, it gives me an excuse to link to one of my favorite Edward Monkton pieces... You are a beautiful human being.
posted by Mchelly at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


So - not entirely sure here - has the term "emotional labor" really shifted and broadened? I originally interpreted it as work that requires somebody to express specific emotions. Think a customer-facing job.

In the Metafilter vernacular, the term has been expanded over various threads to encapsulate home-based work (cleaning the dishes, taking out the trash, etc) along with the management tasks associated with making sure that the work gets done in the context of a marriage or other domestic partnership.

(As well as emotional tasks that constitute investment in a relationship/friendship.)
posted by theorique at 8:50 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm a trans woman, with the weird socialization that trans children get. I agree that talking about socialization in the way the article does can be problematic, especially when talking about folks whose experience of their identified gender hasn't come until later in life. In my view, no matter when you come out, you experience trans socialization which has its own set of perils and pitfalls.

...With that said, though, I do like the metaphor of potatoes because so much of learning to take of my own mental health as an adult has been learning to find and clean my potatoes, if you will. As a child and younger adult, I didn't learn to recognize emotions or how to convey them to others effectively--learning to do that has made it easier to obtain support and has greatly improved my quality of life.

However, sometimes people in need of support haven't yet developed those skills. The middle of a crisis, though, is not probably the best time to tell someone to clean their potatoes.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


As someone who can have difficulty with social cues, I think the potatoes metaphor was somewhat helpful, as it gives a reason for some of the awkward arguments Purr and I sometimes slide into. It will start off as "something is wrong", and I have to spend all my energy towards the emotional labor of finding the potatoes, instead of helping to cook and serve them, and then we sort of end up in this weird truce, where maybe Purr has been heard, but maybe not? Do I need to help solve the problems, or does Purr need to vent? I've seen examples of active listening, emotional reflecting, and conflict resolution but when I try it, it doesn't seem to help, and then we end up arguing about the process. Maybe it's because the potatoes are missing!
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


In the Metafilter vernacular, the term has been expanded over various threads to encapsulate home-based work (cleaning the dishes, taking out the trash, etc) along with the management tasks associated with making sure that the work gets done in the context of a marriage or other domestic partnership.

I don't agree - when referring to household tasks, it's THINKING about and ANTICIPATING the tasks to be done - often when a partner takes those tasks getting done for granted or doesn't do any work to prepare/think/execute those tasks. The tasks themselves are not "emotional labor."
posted by agregoli at 9:14 AM on October 17, 2017 [37 favorites]


Reading this resonated for me, if only because it echoes something I have experienced so often with cis men— this dynamic where they clearly want to talk about something emotional, but they don’t know how to start. Instead of saying “I am having trouble with this issue, could we talk?” there is this pattern where they (cis male individuals in my own life) will say some outrageous thing, then they wait for a female interlocutor to begin the well-worn process of “what’s going on?” and then a long exploration of tangential issues until you get to the core problem— the potato, as it were, that they actually want baked.

The conversation-stopper that precedes such an interaction is often thrown out as a grenade in an otherwise normal conversation, and it presents as a crisis so that saying “I’m not up for this right now” doesn’t feel possible. There is one person in particular who usually refuses to talk about these issues when I bring them up, but who will inject them into lots of otherwise innocuous conversations.

(It is also very exciting when you follow up with them the next day, to see if things are any better, and they pretend not to know what you’re talking about.)

It’s so exhausting, and it feels so compulsory.

I don’t know that this framing is something I would use with these particular people to let them know why this approach is a problem, and is hurtful, and is enormously emotionally taxing to me. But it helps me reframe my own frustration a bit.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:22 AM on October 17, 2017 [13 favorites]


In the Metafilter vernacular, the term has been expanded over various threads to encapsulate home-based work (cleaning the dishes, taking out the trash, etc) along with the management tasks associated with making sure that the work gets done in the context of a marriage or other domestic partnership.

Yup. And that stuff fits under the umbrella of emotional labour because the most common context for the discussion is an unequal relationship where one partner resents being asked to help out with household tasks or being instructed in how to perform a task that they aren't performing to a reasonable standard. The other partner then needs to manage not only the household tasks themselves but also their partner's resentments.

TFA does seem to be discussing emotional labour in a somewhat more literal sense where a partner (or family member or even a roommate) shows up obviously needing something but being unable or unwilling to ask for what they need.

This is a particular problem with cis, hetero men, since they aren't used to managing their own emotions. The stereotypical example would be a guy who has a rough day at work, so he comes home visibly grumpy, and now his girlfriend or wife has to figure out if he's grumpy at her because she asked him to help with the dishes last night or if he's just grumpy because he got some bad news or or or, with all of the various possibilities requiring different responses on her part if she wants to actually resolve the issue instead of just making things worse. In that example, the male partner is the one who needs mashed potatoes but hasn't cleaned them or brought them in from the car or whatever.

(And on a meta note, this is why I really don't think metaphors are useful in general as teaching tools. You spend more time explaining the fucking metaphor than discussing the topic you wanted to discuss.

Where metaphors actually are useful is in providing a clear, shorthand language that can be used in the moment in a self-reflexive manner. "I don't have enough spoons" is a statement that makes a complex point clearly in few words. "Clean your potatoes" or "your potatoes are dirty" is just throwing oil on a fire.)
posted by tobascodagama at 9:22 AM on October 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


Once I get past the picture in the linked article being, when viewed upside down, the kind of entry you find in the "rude vegetable" category of a rural England village show, I will read the article.
posted by Wordshore at 9:27 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I know, I know. I'm a lot of work. Thanks.
posted by French Fry at 9:43 AM on October 17, 2017 [18 favorites]


I feel like this metaphor could have been beans instead of potatoes...
posted by elsietheeel at 9:58 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


So - not entirely sure here - has the term "emotional labor" really shifted and broadened? I originally interpreted it as work that requires somebody to express specific emotions. Think a customer-facing job.

It morphed to include the not-called-labor work that the wife is expected to do in "traditional" households - making sure everyone is "happy" or close to it, prioritizing the emotional whims of the husband over everyone else, and everyone else's over hers, and doing all the management and executive tasks necessary to make sure nobody else feels bored, lonely, guilty, or sad.

Household management isn't emotional labor; household management done for the purpose of making the person with a full-time job oblivious to the fact that management is going on, and that it takes real effort, is emotional labor. Childcare isn't emotional labor; childcare that's done so that one parent believes children are naturally happy, clean, and quiet is emotional labor.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:59 AM on October 17, 2017 [10 favorites]


You want fries with that?

But seriously, I think the author could have extended the metaphor to include the emotional labor of determining how to cook the potatoes. It's akin to discerning whether the desired response to someone presenting a problem is to brainstorm solutions or simply listen while s/he vents. Part of the emotional labor provider's burden is thinking through how best to serve... even when someone is presenting "potatoes" that are relatively ready to cook. And the cost of realizing that what's needed is elaborate potatoes au gratin vs just wrapping them in tin foil and tossing them in the oven is real.
posted by carmicha at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


In other relationships and situations, the person seeking support makes it harder to find their potatoes. They might come into the kitchen looking hungry. The kitchen-owner might be asked to expend a lot of energy finding out where that person’s potatoes are located. Are the potatoes in another kitchen, and do they know how to get there? Are they in the backyard in the dirt? Is the kitchen-owner requested to go dig up the potatoes? Knowing they exist, but having to work to uncover them can be a lot of work.
I mean I know what's she's trying to say, and I guess it's helpful to have metaphors for talking to people about emotional labour in everyday terms. But my god this is a laboured metaphor. I mean if you're talking to someone: "You know the way sometimes you have to ask your friend where their potatoes are?" "Uh...no?" "Ok then." But I suppose talking about the concept is better than not talking about it.
posted by billiebee at 10:30 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's cool if this is only talking about cis people-- someone male who has always been socialized as male, someone female who has already been socialized as female-- but the faux-inclusivity of "people socialized as x" kinda throws trans folks, especially trans women, under the bus.

Agree, and sorry for not flagging that in the post.

I will say that in my own experience as a trans woman it's more complicated than that. Like, I would never call myself "male-socialized" in the TERFy "permanently and inherently toxic" sense of the word, and I'd never apply the label to someone else without their consent. But I totally think I was "socialized as male" in the sense the author here is talking about: I wasn't taught to clean my damn potatoes — and then when I asked for kinds of support that other girls around me got, I was told I didn't deserve them because my potatoes were filthy.

I spent a lot of my life thinking of myself as A Total Fucking Mess, as Too Far Gone For Help, as Just Too Gross And Toxic For Anyone To Love Or Support. I saw other women coming to each other with neatly packaged emotional needs and getting those needs taken care of. I saw myself going to other women with a leaky wheelbarrow full of feelings just slopping around, and saw those other women recoiling in disgust and telling me to go away and work on my shit. And it was real easy to slip into, like, "Ugh, right, I know, my potatoes are horrible and unwashed and I can't possibly expect anyone to help me cook them. I'll just have to do everything myself, and if I don't get very far then it's my own fault for having potatoes that are so horrific and vile."

So this idea that the difference between us was a matter of learnable skills is... really exciting to me. Like, "Oh, my feelings are all mushed together in a leaky wheelbarrow, not because they're inherently messier than anyone else's or because I'm innately broken, but just because my caretakers never taught me to package and label them! I get treated differently from most other girls, not because I'm more disgusting and less worthy of care than them, but because I was deprived of lessons that most of them got!"

I dunno. Probably this author is cis and probably she should stay in her lane and not try to comment on how trans people experience this stuff, and for all I know the "socialized as" language is just a faux-progressive verbal tic. But... yeah, no, I actually think in this particular case what she's describing about gendered socialization matches my own experience, if only by accident.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:23 AM on October 17, 2017 [26 favorites]


I guess the question is how serious she is about framing this as a difference in learnable skill.

If she really means "cis men and trans women often didn't get taught this stuff as kids, so a cool thing to do is to learn it as adults," then that's true — just like it's true that cis men and trans women are less likely to have been taught to braid hair or bake cupcakes, but can get a lot of mileage out of learning those skills as adults.

If she intends it as a euphemistic way of saying "cis men and trans women are Gross and Problematic," then ugh, right, no, fuck that — but TBH I'd be just as annoyed if her takeaway was "cis and trans men are Gross and Problematic," because that doesn't actually get anyone anywhere, you know?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:28 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


Can we talk about the emotional potatoes invested and expended in understanding this very not ready for cooking, metaphor?
posted by signal at 12:34 PM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


[A few comments deleted; if you want to talk about acronyms there's a Metatalk thread about them, better to have that conversation over there.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:39 PM on October 17, 2017


I'm a trans woman, with the weird socialization that trans children get. I agree that talking about socialization in the way the article does can be problematic, especially when talking about folks whose experience of their identified gender hasn't come until later in life. In my view, no matter when you come out, you experience trans socialization which has its own set of perils and pitfalls.

I have never heard this expressed in this way before, so thank you. I am appreciating the comments on the "socialized as" language because I noticed it, too, but didn't have anything intelligent to say about it. This comment and nebulawindphone's helped with my thinking.

Thinking more about this issue of needing to help someone who is struggling to identify and name their feelings: it's very common for people who weren't raised in emotionally healthy environments to simply not know what they're feeling. I remember, almost 17 years ago now, feeling crappy at the end of my final semester of grad school because a difficult pregnancy had seriously affected my ability to participate in seminars and to write papers at my usual level of excellence. As a result, I was unable to show a professor I liked and admired, and whose interests were closely related to mine, my best self, and rather than impressing him, barely scraped through. A good friend of mine came to talk with me about it, and at some point in our conversation I realized that the feeling I was having had a name: disappointment. I was disappointed. I'd grown up with an untreated anxiety disorder, and had only gotten effective treatment for it beginning a few years earlier, in my late 20s. Learning to identify all these feelings that had previously been subsumed by anxiety was a long process, as was learning that some unpleasant feelings are appropriate and healthy. Not long before I figured out what disappointment was, a friend had seen me looking upset and asked about it, and I'd said, "Something upsetting happened and I'm feeling upset, so I think that means I'm doing fine."

Just recently my oldest kid came to me and announced that they were "having a mental breakdown." I said I doubted that, and we talked for awhile. By the end of our conversation, they'd figured out that they were feeling jealous and left-behind because the two people they're involved with both began new academic programs this fall. Our kid dropped out of college after a mental health crisis not long before they came to live with us, and they've been dealing with their complex PTSD and also with some newly-diagnosed physical conditions, and going back to school isn't an option for them right now.

This kind of work is important, and I am grateful to my friend who helped me do it, and I was glad to do it with my kid. Because when you do this kind of work, you're building a skill. The frustration, for me, comes when someone is wanting me to provide emotional support but over time, nothing is changing. Things like a friend whose relationship with her parents and siblings is very distressing to her, so she wants to talk about it, but over years has been unwilling or unable to make changes in the way she relates to them or how often she talks to them and sees them.
posted by Orlop at 2:50 PM on October 17, 2017 [10 favorites]



It's cool if this is only talking about cis people-- someone male who has always been socialized as male, someone female who has already been socialized as female


no, but it isn't accurate there either. people like the author who talk in this way inspire objections because their understanding is wrong, not because it is simply too restricted. the more relevant socialization for this argument isn't socializing a child as one gender or another; it is socialization into an understanding of a fundamental relationship between two genders, and indoctrination into the belief that these two genders are interrelated and interdependent, by necessity if not by God's design. not every kid gets cast in this terrible play, but there's a great division between those who are and those who aren't. & there are cis and trans boys and girls in both groups. it is a fundamental division that should be as visible as the other two.

like I have always believed that the reason I am the way I am is maybe two-fifths being a girl and being known and seen to be a girl my whole childhood, and three-fifths growing up in a house without any adult men in it. that's the gender socialization that I got away without, even though nobody would say I wasn't socialized "as a girl." was I taught to be a woman in some sense? yes. do I therefore have a lot of the troublesome instincts that lead women to make agitated and elliptical remarks about potatoes rather than get straight to the yelling portion of the evening? sure do. but I was not taught by example that women defer to and center their life around and emotionally regulate a man. that is why even the most sincerely conservative single mother can't teach the bad lessons she wants to teach: because all the lecturing in the world can't replace hands-on lab work.

there is an extraordinary difference between being taught to be a good girl on Crone Island and being taught to be a good girl in relation to boys, watching your mother model it for you with your father, having a father right there to practice deference on. I don't really care for either, but the latter is what leads to all this potato garbage.

because when you're socialized "as female" by a woman who is the sole authority in your life, you don't learn all this boring excruciation about how the focus of your life has to be the simmering pot of a man's emotions, always waiting and watching for it to start boiling so you can adjust the temperature or lift the lid just enough for the steam to vent without getting burned. or: you learn that other people do this, and you may be told to do it yourself, but it's just empty words and theory, it doesn't take. it really is about being taught a relation, an orientation in the literal sense, as much as it is about identity. or so I think. because I have the identity, I have the feminized conditioning, but I don't have the relational reflexes.

to take the piece's incredibly bad metaphor on board for just a second, I don't know where all these potato people got the weird idea that you should take a bunch of raw potatoes to someone else's house and make big sad eyes while they cook them for you. if anybody ever brought me a basket of potatoes, no matter how well-scrubbed and peeled they were, I would only stare and stare and stare. because I was taught to be a girl in a pretty traditional way, but not properly taught to be a woman in relation to men. for which I can only thank god. successful female socialization leads to self-reliance, which means cooking your own fuckin potatoes.

people can say what they will about an excess of stoicism leading to whatever women's troubles it does lead to, but being taught to be a woman in the old-school manner means being taught to cope on your own. being taught to deal with men as a woman, that's another thing and lesson entirely. eliding it into gender identity is not as useful as people think.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:49 PM on October 17, 2017 [16 favorites]


nebulawindphone's comment caught my attention, particularly this:

I wasn't taught to clean my damn potatoes — and then when I asked for kinds of support that other girls around me got, I was told I didn't deserve them because my potatoes were filthy.

Here's a hug for the girl who had to hear that message. I'm sorry. In my own way, I've spent much of natural life with my nose pressed up against the glass of the nuances of culture/conditioning/society and whatnot. Its no fun.

Now, I have some thoughts on this based on my own experience this year in cross cultural relationship and the lessons of emotional labour.

First, I wouldn't put this in a gendered perspective. It might even be a generational one. I'm speaking from the context of Finland, where the stereotype of the Finnish male has long been a silent, remote, inarticulate, alcoholic who dies early due to the pressure to perform at the level demanded by the cultural trait of "sisu".

It was only in the 1990s that Finnish society began recognizing the mental and emotional challenges that their own culture was inadvertently creating and promoting and its weaknesses in not having either the language to discuss emotions in the first place, nor viable and feasible tools and techniques that could be taught to adolescents on how to manage the whole messiness of puberty, identity, society, and growing up. Boys carried the biggest burden. There are enough citations out there on this.

I discovered this only when i got close to someone from the baby boomer generation that i was able to recognize and point out to them that the reason they were unable to manage their emotional responses was primarily due their not having the language or the tools to recognize "feelings". Due the way the education system changed in the generations afterwards, their children had developed better skills and coping mechanisms for the same challenges that left them feeling "crippled" (to use their own word here) and all the negative feelings that nebulawindphone describes in their comment.

They told me that it was my emotional labour that helped them recognize this, and empowered them to rapidly progress on their own. That is, I didn't have to handhold them so much as provide them with the toolbox. Their own innate empathetic nature and introspection led them forward naturally after that. In return, 6 months later, they have been able to provide a similar kind of support for myself, and my own blind spots.

When I read articles like this, it makes me wonder how much good we are throwing away when we weight up our contribution and our generosity in terms of equal balance right away?

I'll show you how to wash and clean your potatoes, and you can mash or boil them as you please. But as someone else mentioned in a comment above - I won't keep washing your potatoes and boiling them if it looks like you're just chucking them at me cos they're too hot for you to handle. Its a gray area here, isn't it?

/ramble ramble pointlessly...
posted by infini at 2:55 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


there is an extraordinary difference between being taught to be a good girl on Crone Island and being taught to be a good girl in relation to boys, watching your mother model it for you with your father, having a father right there to practice deference on. I don't really care for either, but the latter is what leads to all this potato garbage.

This. Exactly!
posted by infini at 2:58 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


Fuck Bithnyia, you should be Queen of Crone Island.


(Yeah okay, I know Crone Island will be ruled by a democratically elected council, but it's the sentiment that counts.)
posted by elsietheeel at 4:22 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


being taught to be a woman in the old-school manner means being taught to cope on your own. being taught to deal with men as a woman, that's another thing and lesson entirely. eliding it into gender identity is not as useful as people think.

Which is, I think, where all that discussion about gender socialization comes from. Because we're talking about the skills people have been trained to have and the expectations that come alongside those skills, and not all of that is about how we were treated as children.
posted by sciatrix at 5:17 AM on October 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


So - not entirely sure here - has the term "emotional labor" really shifted and broadened? I originally interpreted it as work that requires somebody to express specific emotions.

It also includes work where you manage other people's emotions. That was the definition implicit in the first megathread about emotional labor. Whether that's a broadening or not, I don't know, but I think it's a useful definition, and they are interrelated. Managing someone else's emotions requires that you control your own.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 5:43 PM on October 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


This might be useful when trying to get help for someone you think has a narcissistic personality disorder. The advice for dealing with such a person is generally to sever contact, but what if that person has children? It's nearly impossible to get a narcissist to admit they need help, as not being able to admit to any kind of weakness is a core symptom.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:38 AM on October 19, 2017


I had hoped the metaphor was a reference to this: "You're worth at least 2 potatoes to him and that's pretty special imo"
posted by lazuli at 3:21 PM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


So - not entirely sure here - has the term "emotional labor" really shifted and broadened?

Yes - Please Stop Calling Everything That Frustrates You Emotional Labor
posted by P.o.B. at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


From the Slate article:

And the tendency of women to expect things to be done in particular ways is a problem that goes far beyond Hartley’s marriage. The anxiety women feel about it shouldn’t be confused as proof that their way of doing things is right and the men in their lives are incompetent or wrong. Sociologists have a word for the tendency of women to set the terms for how parenting or housework should take place and then policing that line in such a way that men are effectively shut out of doing it. It’s called maternal gatekeeping. It’s a problem that’s bad for fathers, kids, and the mothers who end up stressed and overworked because of it. If we chalk up every dispute over how and when something should be done to emotional labor, we might bulldoze our way past the possibility that our own expectations can be our worst enemy.

Very well said (written). In some cases, women can be their own worst enemies when it comes to defining and enforcing these expectations - and it's not good for them, their husbands, or their families.
posted by theorique at 11:12 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Slate's gonna Slate, I guess.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:50 AM on November 1, 2017


And Metafilter is gonna Metafilter...
posted by P.o.B. at 2:32 PM on November 2, 2017


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