by Dezi Hall
The idea of "emotional labor" is having a moment right now. It's popping up in think pieces on your Facebook feed, and in conversation on girls' night out. For those who aren't in touch with this feminist notion, what it basically says is that regardless of division of physical labor (think: folding laundry and cooking dinner) within a household, there is a whole other type of unseen labor that falls squarely on the woman's shoulders (in traditional heterosexual relationships).
Emotional labor is essentially that running list of things that need to be taken care of that plagues women's minds, causing them to toss and turn and jot down notes on their iPhones in the middle of the night, while their spouses sleep the peaceful dreamless sleep of men.
It's remembering vaccine schedules for the kids. It's knowing when to schedule everyone's haircuts. It's knowing when someone has been using the same toothbrush for too long and needs a new one. It's not just the cooking of the dinner, but the time it takes to meal plan, and make a grocery list.
It's knowing when the kids have birthday parties to go to, and remembering to get a present, and wrap it. It's keeping a running list of chores that need to be done, even if they get outsourced. It's asking your husband to get dog food, and having him happily reply, "Sure! What kind do we get?"
It's that your partner never has to think about where all the paper towels come from; they're just there every time his hands are wet. It's the idea that women should have all the ideas. That women are responsible for all the familial information and planning. They are the secret guardians to primal knowledge like what cereal which kid likes, what time soccer practice always ends, and when their husband's follow up appointment is for that weird mole.
Emotional labor is going viral because it's one of those things that has women saying "Yes! Of course! This! I didn't know there was a name for this abstract feeling of being utterly and completely responsible for everything."
Feminists fought (and continue to fight) for the right to work outside the home, but the dream of getting to "having it all" has turned into the nightmare of having to have it all. Here's all of this. You got this, right? Thanks. Women can work outside the home, but they still have to do everything that housewives had to do as well. They are essentially working two 40-hour (plus) jobs a week.
So we pay the price. We pay in our brain space. We pay in our exhaustion. We pay in our free time. We pay in the loss of our identities and our reputations. We pay by being transformed from people into mythically hated "nags," as though we love the title. As though we wouldn't do anything not to have to ask or even think about taking out the trash or restocking the toilet paper. We pay in our marriages, as men swim in the unending fountain of privilege, while still denying its existence even when their fingers prune.
We pay because men don't understand the concept of emotional labor to begin with. Because, though "mansplaining" is a rampant problem in the work force, at home it falls on women to do all the explaining. Because after every last drop of mental activity has been sacrificed to the greater good of science project deadlines, problem solving for "I don't care" dinners, and remembering what cereal the house needs, we simply don't have the energy to explain what needs explaining.
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