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Emotional Labor [Jan. 27th, 2016|06:22 am]
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Email to my sister after a phone conversation about Emotional Labor:

I do have a "Ha!" moment reading this, when it's alleged that it's just men who don't know what emotional labor is. For Mom's generation, it was just what being a woman was about. Christine's been reading David Foster Wallace and shared his This is water essay with me (See
http://faculty.winthrop.edu/martinme/Thisiswater.htm; there's a nice book form.)

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

Emotional labor is the water of a woman's life in patriarchal culture. Now that we can name it, we can see ourselves swimming in it.

Very nth wave feminism. I think about the advice i got from the women with tenure in the physics department at Penn and smile. What is the quotation? The tide of justice is inevitable? Hmm, the internet is not helping me this morning.


There is one thing in the discussion that i wonder about, and that is house cleaning. It comes up in the sharing of chores and in the resentment expressed in the emotional labor discussions. However, part of a clean house is that has been how a woman has been judged for ages. My last twenty years or so i've wrestled with finding the line of where cleanliness is a true desire and where it is a social imposition. I suspect many women have been as acculturated by their mothers as we were for a cleanliness standard derived from ancestors who were servants in great homes (Mom's grandparents), the military (Granddad), or folks who had their own servants (Dad's grandparents). When is cleanliness a sort of conspicuous consumption (Downton Abbey and i have the means to keep this giant house clean) and when it a health and comfort thing (asthma, dust: hmmm)? It's hard to go against the conditioning: it's rebellion against something that has represented a valuation for ages. But is it all this cleanliness a luxury? How much is an engine of consumption (witness soap operas)? Women in the US are sold over and over cleaner and more sparkly and more lemony: how much polish is necessary to protect an investment, how much is pride?

I don't know that i've found the line.


[User Picture]From: tx_cronopio
2016-01-27 03:17 pm (UTC)
It's a hard line to find. I tend to never be satisfied with my own efforts, but on the other hand, I spend as much time on cleaning as I can bear, and I'm just not going to spend any more.

So...another perk of living alone!
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[User Picture]From: annie_r
2016-01-27 05:42 pm (UTC)
I am not great at making housekeeping a priority, but I live with a lot of dust and pet hair, and I would rather have that part (at least) be much cleaner. If I didn't live alone, I'd probably be having frequent discussions about it. Or rather, if I didn't live alone, I wouldn't be able to live as I do, with so much of my own clutter as well as another person's. I don't think it's a luxury, but it seems like it might be from the point of view of someone with small children or little time otherwise to make cleaning a higher priority. Who wants to spend their little free time cleaning? (as I see how much dust is building up under the tv.)

One past relationship was shocking to me in the sense that the other person was very motivated to organize projects, meal planning, etc. with no prompting from me. It wasn't so much emotional labor as executive function labor, which is, when home-oriented, part of the woman's emotional labor burden for many. (unfortunately the emotional part of the relationship was lacking; someone who would make shopping lists and be an adult about life was not enough, but it was oddly refreshing at the time.)
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[User Picture]From: amaebi
2016-01-28 12:07 am (UTC)
When it comes to unpaid household work, prominently including cleaning:

You are of course right about the standards of True Housekeeperly Womanhood and Consumption of Cleaning Products rising continuously: there's been scholarly work on the hours women put in, which are surely in no small part required of us, not falling with the introduction of labour-saving technologies.

You are of course right about women being judged, so that unpaid cleaning labour is demanded of women in a way it's not demanded of men.

But I also find myself constantly infuriated by
(a) my male spouse stealing my labour by "not seeing" and "not thinking" and "not remembering", which he has been well and thoroughly trained in, and
(b) people finding me quite unreasonable to feel this theft or care about it. Somehow, it's never supposed to "really" about my time, attention, and energies-- presumably because those don't count.

Edited at 2016-01-28 12:08 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: randomdreams
2016-01-28 04:11 am (UTC)
I am very dubious about the claim that justice is inevitable, unless there is a metric ton of work done on the behalf of justice.
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