Last month I wrote about the invisible workload that women carry and how I personally try to counteract it, which prompted a slew of messages from friends sharing their stories and perspectives. One of these friends, a great friend of mine from high school and new mom of a perfect baby boy, sent me a recommendation to check out a book she was reading: Jancee Dunn’s How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids. While I can confidently say that I have never hated my husband, my baby is only 18 months– there is still plenty of time for resentment to fester. In the spirit of research, I dove right in, and I’m glad that I did.
My simplest description of emotional labor is to call it “invisible work”: The work that goes into managing households and relationships to make them run smoothly. It was first introduced and has been studied for many years as a workplace issue in sociology as the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. Of course the idea of managing feelings and expressions and fulfilling emotional requirements applies to the “jobs” we do at home as well, and the “invisible work” I described of managing households and relationships applies to the workplace. These two definitions complement and intertwine with one another and bleed into almost all aspects of life for many women. I can, of course, speak to emotional labor best from my personal worldview, which is that of a white, middle-class, heterosexual wife, mother, and business owner. Women of color, trans women, female immigrants, lesbian women, bisexual women, and impoverished women must navigate the complexities of marginalization (often several layers of it at once) along with their emotional labor. I cannot begin to understand the level of exhaustion that must bring.