What is emotional labor?
It’s making the effort to keep a relationship going. That means calling, texting, emailing, writing a letter, organizing a get together, throwing a party, driving to see someone, cooking and cleaning for someone, helping someone when they’re sick, and generally taking care of someone. It can also mean having conversations about the relationship, or other people’s relationships, and doing the work of processing what people are going through with them. It can take a psychic and emotional toll.
Have you ever taken care of a sick loved one? Or have you ever taken care of a baby? Have you made the effort to be a friend over and over when it wasn’t reciprocated? If so, you’ve definitely done emotional labor. But emotional labor is so much more than this.
Check out this thread for real women’s stories of doing emotional labor over and over again.
Rebecca Solnit writing “The Mother of All Questions” says,
“My mother fills in the home’s silence with chatter to try to keep people connected, to be open in a house full of kind but shut-down men, decent men who were at worst uncomfortable with emotional expression and felt that connection was not their work.”
One of the clearest themes here is women making the effort to keep relationships going while people in their environment do not make this effort. These people are usually men and boys. In my experience, this has been fairly accurate.
So for example in your family, if you have a younger brother who doesn’t call, email, text or keep in touch or make effort to make plans with you, this is because he’s accustomed to women doing the emotional labor for him. You might only hear from him when he wants something, like a ride.
If you’re dating right now, and you’re wondering why the person who matched with you doesn’t make the effort to call, email, text or otherwise get in touch with you, it’s because they haven’t had to do emotional labor (or they’re not interested, that’s also a possibility). And maybe you’re tired of making the effort. So many young women I know share that dating is just exhausting, and it’s because of the emotional labor. They have to make the plans. The other person is waiting for THEM to reach out and make plans. If they don’t do it, it doesn’t happen.
What if you’re a mom or a wife, and your husband expects you to organize trips, watch the kids, make the food, go shopping, and keep the house clean, keep in touch not just with your relatives, but with HIS relatives, and all he has to do is go to work? That’s emotional labor right there, that shouldn’t all fall on you.
Are you recognizing yourself here?
Are you recognizing people that you know?
Hey, we’re not whining. We’re trying to share what’s really going on. And guess what? NOT doing the emotional labor hurts men. In big ways.
According to the thread, not doing emotional labor means men will die earlier, as if their spouse dies before them, they have not learned how to feed themselves, make plans with other people, make and sustain friendships or family relationships. If the man has diabetes, it can really be hazardous for him if he’s never learned to cook his own diabetic food.
I just learned that my 85-year-old grandfather refuses to learn how to use the dishwasher and the washer and dryer in his house. He just… assumes that my grandmother will take care of it. He is privileged, and comes from a time when he could get away with this sort of behavior.
He used to tell me proudly, “I don’t know how to type, and I will never need to learn!”
Now he asks me to look things up online for him. Not knowing how to use computers has really hurt him. And what if my grandmother dies before him? Is he just not going to have clean clothes anymore?
In my opinion, yes, a lot of fundraising is being paid to do emotional labor.
Major Gifts: Executive directors, Development Directors, and Major Gift Officers are keeping in touch with and visiting donors on a regular basis. They are keeping track of the relationship, and nurturing it, systematically.
Stewardship: Development Officers and other development staff are writing and sending thank you notes and having senior leaders sign them.
Organizing Events: Events staff are organizing parties and making sure to invite people to them. At the galas and parties they make an effort to chat with everyone and make sure they’re having a good time.
Staying in touch: Development people are writing newsletters with juicy tidbits and stories to help donors connect to our causes. They’re also writing letters to donors to continue to ask for help and support.
It blows my mind that we have figured out a way to get paid for our emotional labor, and again it is devalued and underpaid. No wonder there are so many women in fundraising.
Advocacy staff who work to build community, knock on doors, talk with elected officials and help people care about what we’re doing are doing emotional labor.
We have hospice staff taking care of people, and helping people transition to the next stage.
Volunteer managers who are recruiting and building relationships with volunteers are doing emotional labor, again!
We have program staff like social workers who are connecting people with resources, counselors offering counseling services, (more emotional labor).
And we support their work through these fundraising tasks (emotional labor one more time).
I’m not saying men are incapable of emotional labor. Tons of men can do it, and they get it. Nor am I saying that women MUST do emotional labor. I’m definitely not saying that emotional labor is always best performed by women.
I remember in a previous fundraising job, just trying to get my work done, and being called “Cold” by a young male staff member. Another older male staff member wanted to have me teach him, over and over again, how to attach documents to emails. That was not my job. It was labor I was not willing to do, to be smiling and cheery and helpful with tasks that were not mine.
What I’m asking is-
Can we step back, and look at emotional labor clearly?
Are we getting underpaid and devalued for doing this work of keeping relationships going?
Do we REALLY need to stay at the office until 9 pm to answer just one more email?
Are we REALLY going to get fired if a donor or even a board member doesn’t like us?
Can we get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and disagree with our bosses, and push back on the massive amount of work we’re expected to do?
Even though we’ve been socialized to be conflict avoidant, can we… teach ourselves to confront?
Is it possible for us to bring up what emotional labor is, at work, and at home, and tell people they need to step up?
Then can we have better boundaries at work, and step back from doing emotional labor there?
And then, could we have better boundaries at home, and gently teach other people what emotional labor is, and how to do it, so we don’t get saddled with ALL OF IT?
What do you think?
Tune in next week for the reason WHY women are asked to do emotional labor.