Emotional labor is how we manage our feelings and expressions within the contexts of personal and professional relationships. And it's mostly expected of women. The first definition of emotional labor was provided by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild who, growing up as the child of diplomats, would often observe the boundaries people would delineate between their own experiences and the outer world they were inhabiting.
Later on, the definition expanded itself after scholars of gender and women's rights activist began noticing how the burdensome onus of making others feel good is often placed on the shoulders of women and femmes. With the complexities of race and class added, emotional labor becomes even more exhausting. Women of color and female immigrants, Hochschild explained in an interview with the Journal of Consumer Culture, have to navigate different levels of their identity — race, migration, class — at once while carrying out emotional labor in their workplaces.
There are many ways in which emotional labor is implicitly demanded of women and femmes in our society. From the intimacy of personal relationships to the realm of professional dynamics, women are the group of people expected to carry out most of the emotional labor.
Here are some of the ways emotional labor is expected of women and femmes.
1. Automatic Expectations of Maternalism
It is often expected of us to be automatically ready to take care of children and the elderly. While there is nothing wrong with providing care for either group, the expectation is relegated starkly to women because of perceptions on maternalism.
2. Our Language Must Be Feminine — Always
Women are judged more harshly for not being sentimental in their language. A man's assertiveness in the professional world is viewed as "passion." A woman's assertiveness is judged as "aggression."
3. Being People's Unofficial Therapist
Whether it is in a personal setting or the workplace, women are often expected to be the sounding board for people's problems. Ironically enough, when the very same need to vent is expected of other people, women are seen as harpies.
4. Parenthood Is Expected of Us
If women do not take to parenthood immediately, it is assumed that there is something inherently wrong with them. Such a massive expectation is not made of men.
5. People Seek Explanations For Our Sexual Decisions
Whether we decide to have sex or not have sex, there is an implicit demand for an explanation for such a decision. Furthermore, either decision is almost instantly labeled as "slutty" or "prudish," depending on what we choose.
6. We're The Workplace's Unofficial HR
Co-workers often expect us to mediate conflicts and find ways to improve company culture. In case it isn't obvious, these are tasks meant for the Human Resources department.
7. Our Imperfections Are Magnified
Impostor syndrome is very real for women in the academic field. Our imperfections are magnified and chastised much more harshly than our male peers who get away with a lot.
8. We're De Facto Hostesses
In terms of entertaining guests, it is often expected of women to carry out the labor of not only providing perfectly-cooked edibles but also playing the role of the ever amicable hostess whose patience and grace is unending.
9. We're Expected To Be Constantly Kind And Forgiving
Whether we are being harassed or disrespected, we are expected to turn the other cheek, so to speak. While there is nothing wrong with being kind, there is something inherently wrong in demanding a frequently harangued human being to be ever peaceful.
Even more frustratingly enough, we are expected to facilitate bonding between us and opponents. Men are not penalized for responding with aggression. In fact, they are valorized.
10. We're Told "Boys Will Be Boys"
Women are expected to grit their teeth and tolerate the constant disrespect, objectification, and general unpleasant behavior from men because "boys will be boys." Funnily, there is no equivalent like "girls will be girls" because girlhood is an often exercise in testing the limits of our patience.
11. Unwanted Pregnancy? Good Luck
Many of us are expected to make appointments with the doctor, go down the rabbit hole of birth control methods, and potentially suffer physical pain so that an unwanted pregnancy doesn't occur. Moreover, we are expected to remain silent about the mental health repercussions of birth control, something men would never want inflicted upon themselves probably because men do not want to suffer the side-effects of birth control.
12. Our Safety is Only Our Concern
Ideally, a society would be vigilant about every single constituent's well-being but when we go out, we are expected to remain hypervigilant about our own safety by keeping an eye on our drinks; letting our friends know about where we are; providing timestamps and landmarks so they know we're here in case something happens; wearing something that is not too provocative but also not too tame (lest it be called boring because we have to make sure our date is pleased with our appearance but doesn't assume that it is OK to come on to us because our thighs are shown); looking over both shoulders every few steps after the sun is down; and positioning keys between our fingers while walking home in case we are attacked.
A man's guide to going back home safely? Walk.
13. We're Castigated For Highlighting Abuse
When we do choose to speak out about the constant sexism, racism — general misery of being marginalized — we are "too sensitive."
14. Our Physical Appearance Must Comfort Others
We are told to smile and make adjustments to our appearance and behavior in order to make ourselves more appealing to others. We are asked to take less space, make less noise, and keep our facial expressions as sweet as possible. Men, on the other hand, can do what they please and won't be microscopically analyzed for their physical appearance.
15. We Must Facilitate Conversation
Whether it is on a date or a conversation at work, women are expected to facilitate conversation with others. Men are not penalized for monosyllabic contributions to exchange with others. In fact, silence for men is often characterized as dignified and manly. Silence from women is negatively characterized as icy, rude, and brusque.
These are only 15 of the numerous ways in which emotional labor is expected of women. What is worse is how so much of our energy is spent on these demands and how, at the end of the day and without any monetary compensation for making the world go round, we don't have any energy left for ourselves. If you are someone who is not typically asked to do emotional labor, you can help by ameliorating the burden and taking tasks upon to help others out.
The nature of emotional labor is that it is not always explicitly visible, like physical labor. It is more mental and psychological than it is bodily. It takes a toll on a human being's mental health.
Ultimately, it drains the energy needed for fighting against the very same patriarchal system that perpetuates these demands.