Periodically I will do posts that I call, “Media with Impact”. These posts will focus on articles, videos, or other types of media that influenced my activism and awareness of social justice in a powerful way. For this post, I wanted to focus on an incredible compilation of posts assembled by Olivia K. Lima and Timid Robot Zehta on MetaFilter: a thread on emotional labor.
CN: (for the featured thread) sexism, misogyny, sexual assault, disability, suicide.
Emotional labor covers a very broad scope of tasks and assessments, but the simplest definition I have found is that it is the process of recognizing and considering the needs of others, and providing for them. This covers emotional support but also things like setting up doctor appointments, cooking food according to another’s tastes or dietary needs, and buying a card for someone’s birthday.
Emotional labor is highly gendered in practice in that women are taught to recognize when it is needed from a very young age. Men are largely allowed to ignore the need for emotional labor or they are taught that they are bad at it and should let women handle that kind of work.
One day my boyfriend told me that he had realized there were a variety of tasks that he could not fit into his life, and that if he didn’t do them, they fell to me. He was right. This pattern was largely unacknowledged until this conversation but happened consistently. He said he had read this thread and an associated article, “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink,” and it had drastically altered his perception of the work he was and wasn’t doing. Before reading this compilation, I knew the words “emotional labor” but wasn’t really aware of the full extent of their meaning.
He sent me the thread and encouraged me to read it. I opened the thread and balked at the 45-page document. I had a busy day so I began reading with the intention of only skimming the first few pages. Five pages in, my jaw was on the floor. I read words that described feelings and frustrations I had experienced for most of my life but had never been able to explain.
I was glued to the document for the majority of the day, as I read stories that mirrored my life so closely and stories that made my blood boil. The stories explained why I was the one in a romantic relationship nagging my partner to do simple tasks, why I always had to ask them to do it rather than having them recognize for themselves that it needed to be done, and why such a small thing frustrated me so much. The stories elevated my life-long feelings of frustration, every time I picked up the slack for something that someone else took for granted. The thread gave me a thorough understanding of what emotional labor was and just how much of it I had been doing my whole life.
The two of us reading this thread lead to a long conversation between my boyfriend and I about the places we were currently doing emotional labor, where the imbalances were, and what steps we could take to remedy that to the extent that our resources allowed. It’s a conversation that I hope most people have in their relationships at some point.
The thread outlines so clearly the dozens of facets of everyday life that emotional labor effects, and how deeply traditional gender roles are tied up with it. It talks about the endless unappreciated and unacknowledged work that women do. It talks about the serious and sometimes life-threatening ways men are affected by not practicing emotional labor in their lives.
I believe that anyone who has been affected by the social conditioning of traditional gender roles (so, everybody) would benefit from reading this thread.
About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. She specializes in educational writing about civil rights, disability, chronic illness, abuse, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, and Splain You a Thing and in 2022, she released a self-published book of poetry, “Pet: the Journey from Abuse to Recovery“. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, and Twitter.