We often talk about women’s unpaid labour — the work women do in the home, in terms of child rearing, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, and so on and so forth, that not only is uncompensated, but is, too often, unappreciated. Not only do many women today go to work outside the home, for a paycheque, but then they have to come home and take on an extra shift that their male partners simply aren’t expected to do. But what about women’s emotional labour?
“Emotional labour” might strike you as a strange term. We don’t necessarily want to think about emotions as “work,” or being thoughtful and considerate as “labour.” But what the concept speaks to is something real, that many women struggle with — particularly women in heterosexual relationships.
In a 2017 article for Harper’s Bazaar, Gemma Hartley wrote about the way in which women are socialized to pick up so much extra labour in terms of holding relationships together, planning trips, remembering events and birthdays, scheduling social and extracurricular activities, planning meals, etc. — generally thinking ahead, and taking care of life. And when we try to bring this up with our partners, we are accused of being nags, or of complaining. “I want a partner with equal initiative,” Gemma wrote.
Gemma is a journalist and the author of Fed Up: Emotional Labour, Women, and the Way Forward. I spoke with her over Skype about the mental and emotional load women take on, why we do it, and how we can address it.