I may have been something of a feminist when I got married, but it didn’t take long for us to slip into the roles considered typical of our genders: I did the washing; he mowed the lawn. I bathed the children; he changed the lightbulbs. I scrubbed the shower; he put the bins out.
Since he retired seven years earlier than me, the demarcation lines changed somewhat. Suddenly, he is the cook, cleaner, babysitter of grandchildren and walker of the dog.
But there is one job in the business of our marriage that is mine no matter how late I work, or how many other commitments I make: I am the emotional labourer.
I hadn’t heard this term until recently when I read this article in which the term is described as thus:
“Emotional labour means the time and energy spent on things considered by society to have no real value but which are in fact essential toward functional relationships and a functional society. Traditionally, a burden placed on or taken by women.”
These things are many and varied, and include writing Christmas card, arranging get-togethers, remembering birthdays, coordinating gifts and visits for sick friends.
I thought, “Aha! That’s me! I am an unpaid emotional labourer.”
Apparently this term has been around at least since the 80s but somehow I never heard it. Oh, that’s right, I was too busy hunting for his late mother’s exact shade of lipstick at David Jones.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame by husband for palming off all of these jobs onto me. Truth is I probably took them on myself because I too believed they were jobs to which I was better suited.
What I found really interesting is that emotional labour doesn’t stop at the home. Looking back on my working life, I can think of countless times I was expected to organise a gift for someone in the office, or pick up a cake for the boss’ birthday. This was most definitely not in my job description!
The writer of the article that illuminated me to this idea of emotional labour appears to be in her parenting years. She says she feel there is “an undervaluing of what women provide”.
I have to say that, while it irks me at Christmas time that I am solely responsible for presents, cards, wrapping and making sure they get to the recipient, I probably wouldn’t change it. My husband may have proved himself as a domestic servant but, when it comes to emotional labour, I don’t know if he’s up for the job.
Are you the emotional labourer in your home? Do you mind? What unacknowledged tasks do you do that keep the wheels of humanity turning?