It is a nice sunny Wednesday! A break from the rain that is so common here in mid-November! I work in an hour, and that surely gives me time to share a little anecdote and idea that I am sure will be taken as a friendly observation into society of today, and not as a sign of what an ignorant, pig-headed idiot I am, even though that part is probably true too.
So I am sure everyone has a story like this. We don't need to gender it now, although I am a straight male, and my partner was a woman. It was a few Decembers ago, and we were in a candy store, in Mexico, preparing for Christmas, a few days away. It was packed with people buying last minute supplies for the upcoming holiday. Mexican towns tend to have denser populations than US towns, so take a Walgreens a few days before Christmas, and then multiply that by a culture where personal space is smaller. We had been shopping for sundries for a while, and I was getting a little tired. Okay, a lot tired. I am also dealing with being in a different country, while she is in her hometown. And then, her eyes alight on a Christmas piñata, and she asks which one I should get. These are typical Christmas piñatas, shaped like stars. In various colors. And therein lies the rub. Because which color is best? We run down the choices, and I reply "uh...blue", which leads to a question of which blue: dark blue or light blue? What will people like more for Christmas dinner? To be honest, I don't remember how long the discussion of which would be preferable lasted, just that it was too long. We had already spent some time in a crowded store, deciding which box of chocolates was appropriate to what relative. I was in a new country. Finally we picked one and left. And, of course, come Christmas time, under a pile of presents and food, the piñata ended up in the corner untouched and unnoticed.
So, to not be coy about it, emotional labor is often associated with women more than men. And it is often associated with the idea that women have to be perfect and please everyone and that anything being out of place or undone will lead to social opprobrium. And there is a good reason for this. This belief didn't come out of nowhere.
But I am also going to point out that a lot of this emotional labor, all of this consternation and stress that leads to resentment for providing for other people--- is self-inflicted. And that as a man, a lot of the emotional labor that women do for me is not something I requested, and that in fact, I actively dislike. And to call it "emotional" labor is a misnomer, because a lot of it doesn't relate to emotions, to relating to people on an interpersonal level. A lot of it is social, how people are presented in large groups, and how people appear on the outside. There is nothing particularly "emotional" about picking a token gift for a co-worker or distant relative. There is nothing particularly "emotional" about cooking or decorating for a party. A lot of what could be called "emotional labor" is managing social expectations. Or perceived social expectations. And it is often based on projecting thoughts and feelings on to others, anticipating needs that don't even exist, and imagining a disastrous situation where someone is enraged by something like mismatched silverware.
Here is the other thing: the burden of childcare and eldercare is indeed disproportionate on women. There are lots of aspects of "emotional labor" that are real and pressing concerns, where women are expected to care for young children and elderly parents. There are women who are expected, socially, and required, economically, to take care of disabled children, aging parents, and to work full time. And to be emotionally available while they do so. That is a real concern. I am not trying to dismiss that.
But in many cases, the "emotional labor" in question is a matter of either keeping up appearances or intruding into the affairs of other adults. So my question about "emotional labor" is: who is expecting it or demanding it, and what would be the actual repercussions if it didn't happen?
Wednesday afternoon has become Wednesday night, and I hope these thoughts are well-received, and you all should appreciate the time and effort I needed into correcting your mistaken ways of thinking.