I’ve been reading Fed up: Emotional Labor, Women, and The Way Forward with some friends lately, and even though I’ve thought a lot about emotional labor, I’m still finding a lot to think about. First, what Hartley terms “emotional labor” I think of more as “mental load”–that is, the cost of being the keeper of the lists. Part of the mental load is emotional labor, but it seems more expansive to me than just emotional stuff. Some of the work I do because it defaults to me as a woman has little to do with emotion work, except in the sense that everyone is happier when things run smoothly. I haven’t finished the book yet and so I’m hoping Hartley has some better answers for me, but I’ve been really interested in her interviews with people who have chosen to “drop balls” on purpose–that is, they decide not to do everything and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe my house is dirty but my book is done (I can dream!), and I can live with that. Maybe the dogs eat the cheap, less healthy kibble because that’s what my husband picked up at the grocery (they like the cheap stuff better anyway). Maybe we go out for dinner even when we feel like we can’t afford it because you can’t place a monetary value on sanity. I’m still trying to figure out which balls might be okay to drop because, true to form, I’d like to drop them thoughtfully … but the idea certainly has some appeal!
Another part of the book that I think is worth mentioning: Hartley addresses relationship dynamics in same-sex couples, and she also profiles a stay-at-home-husband who says emotional labor/mental load is not a gender issue. I’m really glad she takes these issues up. I maintain that this IS a gender issue because women are predominantly expected to do this labor and because men are rewarded/praised for it when they do it, even if they are the stay-at-home partner … but the more important point is to get this kind of labor recognized and valued.