Are you the emotional labourer in your life?

I may have been something of a feminist when I got married, but it didn’t take long for us to

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? 

  1. That’s me, I don’t know that the other half has taken n the other jobs though, since retirement!

  2. We were married in 1956 and we were different in that we never had set jobs just shared whatever had to be done except for emotional jobs then that was upto me

  3. Funny label….. But yes that’s me. Retired? Yes I retired 8 years ago from my nursing job. But nothing else changed. All the other jobs around the house, I still do. So really retirement Is just a word!

  4. Never thought of it that way. Yes it does fall on me and I’m not doing it very well at the moment, which means that not much happens.

  5. That is an interesting article which deals with something that blokes don’t often think about or indeed know about. I think this is because women willingly take on this role and enjoy doing it. In all my life I have never heard a woman complain about the fact nor have I ever heard such simple and kindly gestures referred to as “emotional labours.” I know that my wife loves her role as the “emotional labourer” Having said that; I am sure that, like me, there are many blokes who take part in and enjoy such things as gift buying, wrapping, buying cards etc and all the rest of the normal family activities. I reckon blokes have things to do and women have things to do. We do them as a matter of course and that’s that. No problem.

  6. That sounds just like me! We have been married for 33 years and share all household chores, even cooking. However all the “extra” stuff comes to me. I am going away for 4 weeks to visit our daughter in the UK for Christmas so have pre-done all the cards, presents, shopping lists, Christmas Day menu and monthly budget and have a big list to leave behind so the place doesn’t fall apart while I’m not here, hehe

  7. My husband will often “suggest” I should phone someone to keep in touch as he knows I hate cold calling, but I am now prompting him with “It’s ….’s birthday, how about YOU send an email or call them.” He enjoys the interaction. He also initiates the annual Christmas card rush because I will leave it for other more current chores. We plan the gift list then share out the work? I didn’t realise how liberated I actually am!

  8. That’s me too! Don’t mind doing that stuff, it has always been left to me. Xmas wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for me around here!!😉😉 . Family bithdays would slip by unnoticed. ….. I have always taken the responsibility for this stuff….its just one of my jobs 😊😊😊😉😉

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