This Labor Day, Let’s Also Recognize Emotional Labor
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day celebrates “when labor activists lobbied for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the America”.
Great, let’s celebrate paid workers. Let us also celebrate the unpaid and unappreciated domestic and emotional labor performed primarily by women that also contributes to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.
While women may not have a designated union to fight for their recognition, celebrating Labor Day without including our skills aims to perpetuate the outdated notion that paid work is somehow more valuable than work. unpaid 24/7 involved in running a household and family – a role that makes paid work possible.
Emotional labor is a relatively new term, but the skill set it refers to is not.
Originally coined decades ago in reference to the need to manage emotions in the workplace, the phrase has conveniently left out the same work done every day at home simply because it doesn’t matter. was not paid. In recent years, this has led to the expansion of the term by feminists to apply to both paid and unpaid work.
In this context, the term emotional labor refers not only to the performance of domestic work, but also to the unseen initiation and delegation of that work, and to the emotional skills needed to effectively manage a household, a family , a partnership and oneself.
For example, it’s not just about doing the dishes after dinner. It’s seeing the dirty dishes, doing them without being asked, noticing that the dish soap is running low on the way, adding it to the on-going grocery list, and then cleaning a favorite mug at the hand because you realize the dishwasher cycle won’t be done in time and it’s necessary for a smooth bedtime routine for a grumpy toddler.
Then, after bedtime, it’s all about sending your in-laws a cute goodnight picture of said child so they can feel loved and included, email the teaching your child about the upcoming parent-teacher conference, baking a pie for the school bake sale, and ultimately dealing with your own emotions when these things present unexpected complications — all while your partner devoted is too tired from work and makes up for his personal time by reading a book or watching the game.
For millions of women, this is the norm – an endless list of things to do for other people with little help and most unrecognized and unappreciated work.
This is what is expected of women. It is not intended for men. No one thanks a woman for taking her kids to the park. Everyone thanks a man.
Even today, polls consistently show that heterosexual women continue to do the bulk of the unpaid domestic and emotional labor in shared households – even when contributing full-time to the household through the paid labor economy.
Polls also show that the type of domestic work done by heterosexual men remains in line with traditional gender roles, such as occasional gardening or car maintenance. These trends have only been aggravated by the pandemic. So much for equality.
The common refrain from women goes something like this: “He says he’s trying to help, and if I need more help, just ask him.” But that’s the thing, I’m sick of asking. I’m tired of managing everything myself. It is also his home and his family.
And therein lies the emotional work; delegation, management, uniqueness of the house and family happiness. In this example, the man is not an equal partner, he is an assistant, and there is a reason why in business the management role is worth more.
There is little evidence to suggest that emotional labor skills are intrinsically gendered, and much more evidence to suggest that societal influence and gendered expectations have largely prevented men from fulfilling the strong domestic and family roles that they may not even recognize would offer them greater fulfillment.
Few women seek to completely let go of emotional labor, we just want a better balance. After all, it is more rewarding to own and deepen our lives and relationships, an experience that men largely miss.
And here’s the catch. While paid workers are often told to take their day off on Labor Day, for the millions of women who still contribute the bulk of domestic work, this so-called day off is anything but that.
Instead, it’s more often an even more unpaid and mostly unrecognized day’s work as family members stay home, requiring even more family and emotional management.
After all, family invitations, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, childcare, vacation planning and so on to prepare for a three-day weekend don’t just happen. When is it our turn to go on vacation?
So this Labor Day, let’s not only celebrate those who get paid for their hard work, but also those who have played in silence for centuries without a vacation.
And for straight men inclined to do better, try striking up a conversation with the women in your life about how you recognize their efforts and want to learn and grow in emotional labor. I can almost assure you that well done, they will be delighted.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer, and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She is an avid climber and was a 2020 candidate for US Senate from Colorado.
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