liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
[personal profile] liv
I really like seeing everybody's responses to the emotional labour thread. And I've been having a few good conversations about it IRL too. I like the fact that some people have found it a revelation, some have found it confirms or gives a name to stuff they already knew, and some people have found it unsurprising or irrelevant to their lives. Having found the initial article, well written but not terribly novel, I've been reading responses and thinking it over, and now I think perhaps I do have some opinions on the topic after all.

I haven't systematically looked at the crowd-sourced checklist, but I've been thinking a bit about broad categories of who does emotional labour in my romantic relationships past and current, at work, and in other aspects of my life. I've also started toying with the idea that maybe the reason that I don't really identify with the category of "women" is perhaps connected to having little interest in many kinds of emotional labour. It's not a physical dysphoria thing at all, my body which reads as unambiguously female does pretty much feel like me (though sometimes I forget I'm not a skinny androgynous child any more). And I don't think of myself as sexist, I don't think that women "should" be home-makers and caring and empathic and so on, but I do live in a culture where that's a deeply embedded assumption.

The original MeFi thread is pretty good at treating emotional labour as a series of tasks which require learned skill; some of the broader commentary slips a bit into fixed trait thinking, people are either good at or bad at emotional labour. And I'm tempted that way myself, I could say I'm bad at emotional labour just like I'm bad at singing, there's nothing I can do about it. But it's a lot more true to say that I haven't put a lot of effort into learning how to do emotional labour, and it's rarely a high mental priority as I go about my day. I suspect that as with a lot of things, I generally do more, and more effective, emotional labour than a typical man in our society, and less emotional labour than would typically be expected of a woman. I probably feel a whole lot more guilty about falling short than most men would, because I'm aware of emotional labour and I intellectually believe it's as important to society as the more masculine-coded activities of producing stuff.

Let's be more specific. I'm reasonably competent at the aspect of emotional labour which dominated the original article: I'm a good listener, and I enjoy hearing about what my friends are going through and how they're thinking about it. I also positively enjoy and seek out situations where the emotional labour of building connections with other people is explicitly what I'm doing. I love the bits of my job where I have one-to-one discussions with students, and I'm consciously putting effort into gaining trust by projecting an aura of caring about them and being on their side. Indeed I'm considering moving to a job or adjusting my current role to do more of that kind of thing. Plus the pastoral stuff I do with the Jewish community involves a lot of this, listening sympathetically to people's problems.

The stuff I don't pay enough attention to and have never really learned to do well involves two kinds of medium-term planning to facilitate my own or other people's lives. One I would roughly categorize as housekeeping: fighting entropy, stock-keeping, making sure there is food and equipment available to accomplish the actual physical work of keeping living spaces clean and people fed. I don't really like doing the physical work either, but almost nobody does; it's the planning ahead which is being counted as emotional labour in the MeFi thread, and honestly if someone else makes a rota or tells me what task they want done I'll just do it and it's not a big deal to me, the physical effort is the smallest part of it, for me as for many other able-bodied people.

The second is what some of the MeFi folk are calling "kin-keeping": keeping in touch and being thoughtful about letting people know I care about them. I'm at best haphazard at initiating contact, whether that's emails or phone-calls or arranging to meet up or whatever. At worst I just don't do it, there's a bunch of people I basically like but only manage to stay in touch with because they're present on social media and I passively follow them. I tend not to bother remembering people's birthdays and significant dates, and even when automated systems remind me I often don't make the effort to send greetings or otherwise communicate that I care. As a lover I don't give a lot of spontaneous presents, I don't buy flowers or otherwise anticipate small gestures that might make my partner feel loved and therefore happy. I don't call my parents nearly often enough.

I could easily make the excuse that I'm too busy finding a cure for cancer. Although that's not completely untrue, I also know perfectly well that other people have day jobs and volunteer commitments that are more important and more stressful and time-consuming than mine, yet are able to make housekeeping and kin-keeping more of a priority than I do. I wonder if there's a subconscious level where I reject being seen as a woman because then I'm failing at life if I don't do these things well, whereas if I opt out of gender I can also opt out of some of this stuff. (If I were actually male I might get praise for even the minimal amounts I do, but, well, I'm kinda not!)

I think the way I used to be very adamant that I wasn't really interested in relationships is probably a related phenomenon. My first boyfriend is someone I like a lot as a friend, but who at 20 did no emotional labour whatsoever. None. I don't mean he didn't buy me chocolates and flowers and fuss over me; that was never what I wanted from a relationship. I mean he didn't do any planning to make sure that he paid bills or met deadlines, or any tidying or cleaning or meal planning. He didn't make sure there was food in the house we could eat over shabbat, while he also insisted that we couldn't cook, heat up leftovers, spend money on food, or carry food across the public domain. Everything about keeping us alive and healthy and out of destitution, let alone both of us meeting academic requirements, became my responsibility, and I certainly didn't get any acknowledgement that this was work, I mostly got resented for nagging. I did what in retrospect was a massive amount of emotional reassurance and carefully phrasing all my requests for practical contributions or changes in behaviour so that there wasn't any possible hint of criticism, but never received any consideration or tact in return, because it was important to be "honest". In fact I am quite thick-skinned and didn't really get insecure about criticism, but it was a surprisingly asymmetric relationship.

I have to say, it wasn't sexism, not exactly. My ex didn't think it was women's job to plan for and do all this boring practical stuff, he just didn't think about these aspects of life at all. And in fact when we did break up his life pretty much just went pear-shaped, he didn't pick up the slack when there wasn't a devoted girlfriend to organize these things for him. He dated another friend for a while, someone who's much more experienced and skilled than I am at emotional labour, and not having the vocabulary for it we used to describe our mutual ex as turning girlfriends into his mother. But the fact is that mothers shouldn't have to do absolutely all the emotional labour of keeping their families alive and well, and neither should girlfriends or wives for their partners.

The thing is that for a long time I thought that's what being in a relationship entailed. I thought that was the price of entry if you wanted the benefits of a sexual and romantic relationship. Those benefits are definitely real; there may have been a huge imbalance of emotional labour in my first relationship but it was overall a really happy relationship that brought many good things into my life. But still, for much of my 20s I felt like the trade-off wasn't worth it. I didn't really think of it as a sexist thing, I didn't formulate the idea that men went into het relationships expecting to benefit from their female partners' emotional labour, whereas women expected to take on an extra burden for their male partners.

I dated a woman for a while, someone who's very empathic and at least more domesticated than I am and generally pretty effective at at least some aspects of emotional labour, and I learned a lot from her. But I was also very intensely in love, I didn't really think this was something that could be repeated, that kind of magical good fortune wasn't something that I could deliberately seek out. I also dated a man who actively avoided emotional labour; he didn't expect me to do it, but he minimized it in his life. He coped with the practical aspects of housekeeping by having a really strict routine, and generally avoided conversations with emotional content. I felt pretty relaxed in that relationship, I didn't feel like I was carrying a precious yet very fragile burden, but equally I wasn't getting a lot of emotional input myself. I told people that I was getting the benefits of a relationship without the costs, but in some ways I wasn't getting the benefits either, we had lots of really good conversations, but our emotional connection was fairly limited.

So I was pleasantly surprised in my 30s to meet people who explicitly talk about emotional labour and are willing to work with me as partners. Not necessarily people like my ex-girlfriend who have an amazing amount of talent and energy for this sort of thing, but people who see it as a chore just as much as I do, but also see it as something that needs to be done. I find it extremely relaxing when partners actually initiate discussions about what needs doing around the house and how to make the process more efficient and what standards we both feel comfortable with; it really matters to notice that the work is in the deciding and planning more than in the physical doing. I like talking about kin-keeping and maintaining social connections, and organizing fun things like parties and holidays, and again, being aware of the work involved. I like being in relationships with people who notice that listening to them venting and providing emotional support, and helping to address insecurities and so on, are actual work and thank me for it, as well as being willing to reciprocate.

It turns out that when I feel I can rely on a partner for this stuff, I am much much more willing to indulge in romantic things, whether doing them or receiving them. You know, traditional stuff like giving spontaneous small presents or writing love poetry or yes, bothering to remember and make a fuss about birthdays and anniversaries. I'm gradually starting to uncoil and accept a gift of a bouquet of flowers, because I no longer feel like I'm entering into a bargain where I get flowers a few times a year as payment for unlimited and otherwise unrecognized emotional labour. If being cutesie and indulging in the culturally expected forms of romance doesn't mean taking on all the emotional labour, it's just a nice thing to do for someone or to receive; those things can be separated. Perhaps likewise, if admitting I'm female also doesn't mean I have to do all the emotional labour, maybe I'm more comfortable seeing myself as female than I previously realized.

I think this is also part of why I changed my mind about getting married. When I said I didn't want to get married I didn't really mean that I didn't want to make a lifelong commitment to a romantic partner. I meant, in part, that I didn't want to be a wife, I didn't want to offer to spend the rest of my life providing emotional support to my hypothetical spouse, without any recognition. The MeFi moderators have done a great job of keeping the conversation out of what feminists call "Not My Nigel" type of discourse; it's not that my husband is an amazing wonderful feminist because he *gasp* does his fair share around the house. But the point is that if you treat emotional labour as labour rather than as magic, or as what people (women) naturally do as an expression of "love", it's possible to work as a team to get that labour done. Including discussing how stuff gets divided up; I know a lot of basically egalitarian couples struggle because they share the actual practical work but aren't consciously aware of the deciding and planning effort that goes into making that sharing work.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-04 05:27 pm (UTC)
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
I'm gradually starting to uncoil and accept a gift of a bouquet of flowers, because I no longer feel like I'm entering into a bargain where I get flowers a few times a year as payment for unlimited and otherwise unrecognized emotional labour.

I think you have just managed to encapsulate a lot about why I've been extremely unhappy about being given flowers in the past, to the point where I started flat-out pre-emptively telling partners not to get them for me. So thank you for that.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-04 06:12 pm (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
Could you link to the original thread? I haven't run across it

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-04 07:31 pm (UTC)
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)
From: [personal profile] elf
MeFi thread:
If you hit something that frustrates or bores you, just scroll down a page or two. The thread covers a *lot* of topics.

Original article: (Which I agree: is interesting, maybe even eye-opening, but not amazing the way some articles that bounce around feminist spaces are.)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-06 10:00 am (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
Thanks! It all sounds like WifeWork to me - which I gather is really good l, though I haven't read it.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-04 11:06 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
Huh. You're making me think/realise...

like, I'm housework captain in our house (because vagina, I suspect). That means I do all the planning and remembering and researching options and obtaining supplies, and about 50% of the execution as well. We've acknowledged that by arranging that he pays about 75% of the rent, so I'm basically getting a salary for being housework captain--but you're making me realise, housework captain isn't just a physical chore, it's very much an emotional one, and the financial bit only reflects the physical chore aspect.


And now I think about it--now we've moved, there is no rent, and we share the expenses half-and-half, so actually this arrangement needs revisiting.

Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 05:09 am (UTC)
metaphortunate: (Default)
From: [personal profile] metaphortunate
YAY AWARENESS. And getting credit for one's work!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 02:17 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
And, my gosh, then I showed him this thread, and we sat down and had a real conversation about it. w00t

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-06 10:28 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
It came about when we were discussing splitting the rent equally; I felt rather strongly that if I was going to be paying half the rent I was damn well not going to be doing more than half of the housework. He thought that he did about half, so we kept diaries for a week or so, during the course of which it became abundantly clear that I do far, far more houseworky things than he does.

So I said look, this is how it is when you're really trying to do half; you just don't. You can increase your contribution to housework by about 300%, or we can make it so that you contribute more financially to make up for it.

He decided on option 2 and I started calling myself housework captain for my own self-respect. Got that idea from my mum who can't bear the idea of being Idle And Retired so she describes her daily grind as Estate Management. Now we have a tenant and real estate I'm starting to call myself Estate Manager as well since it's usually me that deals with the tenant and most of the real estate issues.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-09 02:26 am (UTC)
switterbeet: (floating island)
From: [personal profile] switterbeet
I have been considering a similar arrangement when/if I move in with my SO, so it is really interesting to see someone else already doing it! And I may need to steal the "captain" name... :P

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-04 11:55 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
Thread also contains a whole lot of phrases for explaining to people what קנה לך חבר means.

Speaking of...

Date: 2015-08-05 03:49 am (UTC)
403: Listen to the song of the paper cranes... (Default)
From: [personal profile] 403
Huh, I'm not familiar with that turn of phrase. (I have very rudimentary Hebrew; working on it.) Would you mind telling me what it means as an idiom?

Re: Speaking of...

Date: 2015-08-05 01:37 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
Happy to! It's a line from Pirkei Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers, 1:6. The full phrase is
יהושע בן פרחיה אומר, עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר, והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות
Yehoshua ben Perahia used to say, Make for yourself a rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge all people favourably.

The verb they use for acquiring a friend is a very transactional verb, לקנות, so study sessions on this piece of Mishnah often ask why it is that the verb for building a relationship with a rabbi is a straightforward action verb, but the verb for building a relationship with a peer gives such a mercenary tinge to the proceedings.

I'm not saying that Oh The Rabbis Of The Mishnah Had Insights Into Emotional Energy That We Moderns Are Only Just Starting To Appreciate--that's a type of Jewish philosophy I don't subscribe to, as a general thing--just that this text is often studied and would be an interesting avenue by which to introduce emotional-energy concepts.

Re: Speaking of...

Date: 2015-08-06 04:05 pm (UTC)
403: Spiral of black and white stones, on a go board. (Spiral)
From: [personal profile] 403
Hmminteresting. And makes sense.

Before the phrase 'emotional labor' was anywhere near my radar, I'd observed that the early stages of friendship are themselves comparatively transactional. What you put in needs to be more carefully balanced with what you draw out, lest your new friend come to feel that there isn't enough between you to keep the virtuous cycle of friendship going. On the other hand, an established friendship is often strong enough for the participants to extend 'credit' to each other when one person hits a rough patch and needs to draw more emotional energy out than they can contribute in return. (In practice it's more complicated, of course, but I think the basic idea is sound.)

Re: Speaking of...

Date: 2015-08-06 10:29 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
Totally agree. And yet none of this is ever discussed vis-a-vis that Mishnah! (don't tell anyone but I think maybe most mishnah commentaries are produced by guys with limited social skills)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 01:40 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: John Watson regards the void looking puzzled with white puzzle piece floating above him (JW puzzled)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Oh thanks! You've identified one important part in my long-term relationship: that the planning of housekeeping can be more fun than the doing of it.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 09:05 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
A lot of the stuff that is discussed is stuff I have put in the "What, people DO THAT?" pile along with "dusting the ornaments" and "scrubbing the path outside the front door" and a lot more of it I have outsourced to technology (social media makes keeping-up-with-people easy, and tells me when birthdays are).

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-11 10:45 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Mmm, it is true that there are lots of pressures on people to do stuff, so saying "why bother" isn't really the answer (certainly not the whole answer), but somehow I've managed to construct a life where simply not bothering to do things like "wear makeup" or "remind partner when his mother's birthday is" or "remember to buy his shaving cream" doesn't cause everything to fall apart at the seams; which does sometimes cause me to wonder what it is that people are afraid will happen if they just *stop* doing these things (or at least stop doing an unfair share of them) since many people clearly hate doing them and yet continue on with the doing.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 10:59 am (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
This is really interesting - thanks for writing about it.
(I haven't read very much at all of the discussion thread so am responding to what you've written here.)

It rings lots of bells for me about why my current domestic partnership works well, and about why (some of the ways) my marriage didn't and why I came out of that relationship intending to have "a portfolio of lovers instead of a partner" (which I would now characterise as solo poly) and had something along those lines for some time.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 07:10 pm (UTC)
withagreatlove: (hands)
From: [personal profile] withagreatlove
Do have the link to the original piece?
This is so interesting. In my own head, I've always called it 'emotional work' but I suppose 'emotional labour' is a more effective term.

I guess that I'm rather good at emotional labour and it backfires in another way. Just because I 'happen' to be an empathic/domesticated type and I 'happen' to be female, people often conflate the two and set expectations of me. I struggle with that privately as well as professionally, always debating whether I should embrace my natural talents despite the associated gender essentialism or whether I should push back.

I've got lots of other thoughts but they are a bit too private for an unlocked post :)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-05 08:47 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
I have read this, but I dint think I have much to contribute because I didn't actually know how much emotional labor I'm putting on my partner and how much they're hiding from me so as not to make me worry or stress about things.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 03:50 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I've read pieces of the MeFi thread and had unnecessarily overly resentful and defensive feelings about it. I think it definitely describes some bad behaviors on my part, and particularly places where I let my social anxiety keep me from doing necessary emotional labor, and places where I take advantage of the assumed genderedness of some kinds of stuff to avoid emotional labor. (My sister and I can both cook moderately well and both drive well, but my sister is the one my mother turns to first when she needs help in the kitchen, and I'm the one she turns to first when she needs someone to drive her to the airport or a doctor's appointment or whatever. And I fall into that status quo that there are female roles in their house that I'm not expected to do without making much of an effort to fight them, there's no question about that.)

But one of the reasons I've been feeling defensive, I think, is that there are kinds of emotional labor described in that thread that I can certainly appreciate people wanting/needing done for them, but that I would be extremely resentful or annoyed if someone did for me, especially if they did them without asking but even if they did ask. And it feels to me like there's a request for gratitude for this emotional labor, even if it's unwanted- that's the implication of attempting to quantify the labor value of emotional labor.

All of the comments like "I'm the one who keeps track of birthdays." suppose that there's value to the other person in having those birthdays remembered, which there might be, but there doesn't need to be. The fact that a partner doesn't remember birthdays may mean that they don't care enough about that necessary part of the upkeep of relationships that they do value, or it may mean that they don't believe that remembering birthdays are part of the necessary upkeep of particular relationships. I think there can be something really toxic about assuming emotional labor obligations without being asked if you believe it's for the benefit of your partner and your partner doesn't find the benefit.

I think the kind of crystalline example of this is the Jewish Mother joke, like the one about the Jewish mother who didn't eat for days so that her mouth wouldn't be full when her son called. We could read this as a failure of the son to do the emotional labor of calling his mother, or we could read it as a mother performing emotional labor for her son that was unappreciated BECAUSE it was unwanted.

Most things on the thread weren't about things like this, most were about the stuff I talked about in the first paragraph of my post, but there definitely was stuff in that thread that felt to me like it was skirting those borderlines from unappreciated emotional labor to unwanted emotional labor.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 04:19 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
Unwanted emotional labour is definitely a difficult thing to manage, all right; person A regarding something as essential that person B thinks nobody in their right mind would do or want done for them, or person A trying to help person B by doing something that would be very helpful if someone did it for them, but actively does not help person B is really hard to negotiate.

To take an example from further upthread; I have a very strong active antipathy for cut flowers, received or given, in romantic contexts as they are overwhelmingly a memento mori to me. I basically can't bring myself to get flowers for people in contexts where they would really appreciate them, and working around that one is very hard.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-10 01:24 pm (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
Yes, I think I felt - reading through some of the thread - that there were two issues that were being a bit conflated:

1. Common or garden sexism where women are expected to do certain things because they're women - e.g. there was a post from someone saying that her husband came out of the bathroom as she was reading the thread and said "I'm out of shaving cream" (I seriously don't get where that kind of entitlement comes from!)

2. Incompatibility - i.e. wanting different things and resenting the other person for not wanting the same things that you do. Compromise is obviously the main answer here but also, I think, important is marrying someone who isn't too far apart from you on this sort of thing..

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-11 03:17 pm (UTC)
ambyr: a dark-winged man standing in a doorway over water; his reflection has white wings (watercolor by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law) (Default)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
I think part of the problem with things like remembering birthdays is that there are three people involved: the male partner, the female partner, and the person whose birthday is being remembered. And even if the male partner genuinely doesn't care about remembering his mother's birthday or expect his female partner to remember it for him, his mother may expect his female partner to do the remembering. I have seen more than a few advice column letters along the lines of, "I'm so upset at my daughter-in-law because I didn't get a mother's day card from my son!" It makes me blink every time, and as a cultural expectation I think it's toxic as hell, but it is definitely A Thing.

Mind, I don't think the solution here is, "clearly the male partner should do the emotional work of sending the card." If he doesn't care, he doesn't care. But I would hope he would do the emotional work of standing between his mom and his female partner and flat-out telling his mom that Cards Will Not Be Sent.

I tend to describe this form of emotional labor as "being social secretary." I have frequently had people (usually but not always men) who were friends with both me and a male partner contact me regarding whether my male partner would be attending an event, or whether my male partner could help them with an errand. It's not like my male partners expected me to be their social secretaries (...well, with one exception). They were baffled by this behavior. And yet request after request would come to me, no matter how many times I replied, "I don't know what his plans are, why don't you ask [partner]?" or "You know, it's not my car, you should probably just ask [partner] yourself." (Or, on one notable occasion, "I don't live with [partner], so I don't really feel qualified to answer whether it's okay for you to sleep at [partner's] house.")

Even if all you're doing is hitting the FWD button or typing, "I don't know," this sort of thing gets tiring. And of course it's not the male partners' fault, but it's still useful, I think, for them to be aware that this is happening. Then they can do their best to remind people that they would really truly prefer to be directly contacted--and also be careful not to slip into this sort of behavior themselves.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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