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The incredible cost of emotional labor

Jun. 6, 2017
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By now, we are all well aware (or, at the very least, the information is out there and you either believe it or you're blatantly sexist) that the standard "housewife duties" are no joke. In fact, Salary.com estimated it would cost $113,586 a year to pay someone to perform all of the most common duties performed by a housewife, and this was back in 2013. If you need some perspective, a physician's base salary is about $153,000 for 56 hours of work per week. A stay-at-home mom typically works around the clock, from sunrise to long after the kids are put to bed.  

But far more goes into that role than just pick ups and drop offs and grocery hauls (all of which would certainly cost good money to hire someone else to do). The concept of emotional labor -- taxing and under-acknowledged acts of gendered performance -- is often left out of the equation. This is not a new concept; it was first introduced by Arlie Hochschild, who formally coined the concept in her 1983 book The Managed Heart.

Women are told from an early age that we are the more intuitive and empathetic ones (in a cis-het relationship). We are the ones who are required to remember birthdays. We are the ones required to remember playdates and prescriptions and even our husband's company picnic (did "we" agree to bring potato salad to that?). We schedule doctor appointments. We are expected to pick out presents and keep the fridge stocked. Whether we work full-time or not, we are the ones expected to be, in a sense, 24/7 assistants to everyone in the house.  And to top it all off, we are expected to be patient and accommodating while getting all of these things done. 

Isn't is convenient that this societal structure--  which is commonly and clearly portrayed on television and in the media even to this day-- has determined feelings-based work is simply an internal need of which women are just inherently the best at fulfilling? We're just born ready to remember all this shit, because men are somehow inherently incapable of remember things?

I forget things all the time and need to write my schedule out in a physical planner along with a to-do list. I need also to have my schedule typed out in a Google Calendar, with alerts set up 30 minutes to an hour before events happen. In fact, I set reminders for everything. In no way, shape, or form was I just born able to tackle everything I tackle on a daily basis -- and I'm not even a mother or wife. I am a nanny. I am paid to do the things I do. I am payed (and well) for the very things we dismiss as just normal every day duties both stay-at-home and working women complete. These duties are the very ones commonly denigrated by society. 

Now, research suggests that ongoing emotional labor is not only exhausting and rarely acknowledged as a legitimate strain, it has also become a requirement for other types of workers in order to survive. Think of the last time you went out to eat at a restaurant where servers work for tips. In the US, a server's federal tipped minimum wage can be as low as $2.13 an hour. Servers are expected to put in some serious emotional output while on the job. I can tell you from personal experience that serving with a smile is extremely difficult at times. For these tip-based jobs, the employer is expecting emotional output from their employees but is unwilling to pay for it. The duty falls on the customer, who then determines how much of a tip the server "deserves." On a bad day, that could mean the server gets very little or nothing. This is not just a financial concern. According to a study by ROC United, which represents restaurant workers, women living off tips are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment on the job compared to women in states with higher base wages. Why? I have no fucking clue, but maybe it's because society has just assumed we deserve and/or can handle the harassment. 

But you don't have to be a mother or tips-based worker in order to feel the weight of emotional labor. In your typical cis-het relationship, women need to remember everything from what both schedules contain for the week to where every day things are around the house. 

"Where is my jacket? Did it get washed?" 

"Where do we keep the extra toilet paper?"

 "Did you cum?" 

While this all may sound trivial, it suggests a detachment that women do not have the luxury of having. 

We do not get to say "fuck it" to all of these tasks, and those who do are perceived as selfish, lazy, and bad partners. And aside from not wanting to be labeled those super fun descriptors, we also just don't want our lives to be in constant chaos because our male counterpart can't remember to pick up the dry cleaning or mail his mother's birthday card on time. And to keep our men happy (and from cheating on or leaving us!) we also are tasked with making sure their egos are stroked in the bedroom. **Spoiler alert: those moans aren't always real, and we often sacrifice our own orgasms so men can feel more... manly.**

We do all of these things on a regular basis, and while we don't necessarily seek constant validation, we do have to sit back and watch men be validated when they do the same things we do. 

Woman remembers colleague's birthday: She is nice. 

Man remember's colleague's birthday: He is SO thoughtful! Really different from other guys. Such a good man, and I hear he's amazing in bed!

We are your 24/7 assistants, human calendars, therapists, and personal cheerleaders, whether we have full-time jobs as well or not. 

The real question is: If we have been groomed since our early years to be this way, is it possible we are just innately are better at it? Or perhaps we can just stop doing all of these things and demand our partners split these duties evenly or at least properly acknowledge that the constant labor of placating the men in our lives while navigating patriarchal expectations is exhausting work.  

Or maybe we can just give it all up, stop caring, stop pretending the sex is mind-blowing when it isn't, and stop spending so much energy worrying about things men are entirely capable of remembering and doing themselves? 

Now, I'm going to go make sure (again) that my partner has remembered it's his mother's birthday next week and to pick up a card (which I'll probably also remind him to mail) while waiting for angry messages from men claiming I'm an angry feminist who is complaining about something "totally normal" for women and only women to do.