12.04.18 // We're Fed Up; Being the Only Ones Expected to Care
It’s not as if Monday’s are exclusively the days for being annoyed, but it does seem fitting that the start of my week started off with being absolutely Fed Up.
I went to a talk hosted by the Rotman School of Management featuring author Gemma Hartley, she talked about her book Fed Up, Emotional Labour, Women and the Way Forward. Now, I was always aware that women held gendered roles in the household and in society, but I didn’t realize how embedded those roles were that women were being portrayed as nagging for even bringing them up. We’re being seen as bitchy for complaining about the way society treats us.
What am I talking about? Emotional Labour. There are a lot of definitions of emotional labor but the best description of it I’ve found comes from Alicia Grandey, an industrial-organization psychologist at Penn State who describes it as,
“It’s kind of like when you get a gift and you don’t really like it, and you have to still smile and act nice because otherwise your Aunt Bernadette would be offended. But you have to do that all day long. Not only that, but it’s explicitly part of your job. It’s tied to your wages and outcomes, and if you don’t do it, there are consequences—like you could lose your job, or you could get in trouble. And it’s with strangers, for the most part.”
In Hartley’s book, and in the conversation I went to, she talks about how women are programmed to care a lot, to take care of things around the household, from the dishes to the social calendars, to take care of the kids, to clean the house etc. She gave the example of how when her husbands takes all the kids to the grocery store he is applauded as brave, heroic almost. In contrast when she goes to the grocery store with her kids, she’s scolded if one of them starts having a tantrum. Women are expected to fulfill this role, with men, they are applauded for it. But as Elizabeth Ranzetti points out in her article, All in a day’s work: What we talk about when we talk about emotional labour, this issue goes beyond seemingly minuscule household tasks; we seem to devalue professions that require high emotional labour, like child care, elderly care, flight attendants, nurses, or care workers in general. Ranzetti points out that men are taught from an early age that those careers aren’t ones to strive for because they don’t bring status or wealth men “should have”.
One of my favourite parts of the talk was the point Gemma made about our devaluation of this labour, especially those of us with privilege, that happens we give this work off to poor, women of colour. By paying low wages for this work we are supporting the system that inherently devalues this work as less important.
Why do we outsource the work? Because people have the privilege to be able to do so, but that only encourages inequality and continues to devalue that important work.
Some argue that this is a dispute of domestic labour, but regardless of what you call it there is a problem here - women aren’t only taught to care more, but we are expected to and are blamed if we don’t line up with our implicit gender roles. And because we’re not in the 1950’s anymore our gendered roles have taken a new form in the office; women are expected to be more compliant, we are less likely to speak up because we want to make sure everyone is comfortable, we don’t want to be the office bitch.
So why do we care? Why don’t we just, for lack of a better term, not give a fuck and walk away from caring? Because it’s in not just our nature to care, but it’s human nature that we want people to care about us in the same manner. The issue is that we live in a society where it is expected that women are the caring, patient ones, and men can be driven, ruthless, and all around “rougher” because that’s just the way boys are. We live in a system where this question posed by Renzetti is completely valid, “A system that says caring is, basically, worthless and therefore unworthy of male ambition and attention?”
For the hundreds of years the patriarchy has dictated our society men are the ones who were supposed to take care of the external affairs, the way they present themselves outside the household, whereas women were expected to take care of both. But people, it’s 2018, men aren’t the only ones with careers, and women shouldn’t be the sole inheritors of being the people who take care of personal/familial matters, of everyone’s comfort at work, of being used to putting herself second.
Worrying about the emotional state of people, on a reasonable degree? That’s called being a human.
A lot of the examples that were brought up during the talk had to do with men not caring about the dishes getting piled up in the sink, or doing the laundry, or caring about their kids soccer schedule. Again, author Haley Swenson points out this could simply be domestic labour issues, not emotional labour, but regardless of what you call it and regardless of how small these issues may sound, they are micro issues that all contribute to the macro problem that is gendered roles and gendered living.
Why are these jobs expected to be women’s jobs?
Take this; I was housemates with six other guys in my final semester at Queen’s. I was warned before that they would be so messy, that I should be ready to clean all the time (why is that my job to clean their stuff?), and that it would generally be unbearable. It was a dream; I’m a huge mess, something I guess I tricked people into thinking I wasn’t, and they were the tidy ones. Always did their dishes, always did their laundry, always respected my space. Listening to the talk today I realized this wasn’t just because they are great guys, it’s because they are great humans. They are the type of guys that have gotten over the toxic masculine culture that tells them they should only care about external presentation/being a breadwinner and leave the domestic duties to the curb. They did both. Like good, not guys, but good people.
The talk opened my eyes about the way that we have inherited gendered roles, and the way those roles hold us back. We barely scratched the surface about the ways that these gendered roles are compounded when you add in race and class into them, an extremely important conversation that needs to be addressed.
Overall, one thing is clear - there is a lot more to talk about, and it is key we keep talking about the things society expects us to do if we want to level up the playing field and move forward.