Friday, December 15

Emotional Labour and what it means

Strangely enough, right after I dusted off this blog, I got an idea for another post I wanted to write (sort of) for a while now. And, strangely enough, it was a casual game with made me write it.

The game in question is the newest - if the file is right, it’s the 16th - instalment of the Delicious series. The series follows the adventures and the life of one Emily Napoli (now Emily O’Malley) and her family (from her parents over her sister to her husband and children by now). It’s also a relatively easy TM (time management) series, even though the last two instalments (“Miracle of Life” and “Moms vs. Dads,” the game in question) no longer have several difficulty settings. In “Miracle of Life,” Emily’s family grew by two new children, twins. As you can imagine, having three small kids - the twins and their older sister Paige who is still pre-school age - isn’t easy, especially when both parents normally are working. Because of that, Patrick, Emily’s husband, took time off his own flower store (which Emily’s father and her best friend keep going) and stayed at home, while Emily went on to promote her new line of healthy children’s foods and recipes (after becoming an internet sensation in “Miracle of Life”). He is a disaster at it. He does well enough with the kids as a such, he’s a caring father, but he’s no good at all the housework. And, like pretty much all men seen in the newest instalment, “Moms vs. Dads,” he has no clue what emotional housework is. And their wives finally got fed up with it and started a ‘father of the year’ competition for them to show them all the things which were part of the ‘parents’ package.

And that is where we come from the game to the actual topic of this post. Took me long enough, I know. What is that emotional work or emotional housework or emotional labour I’m referring to? Well, this cartoon and the article actually give you a good idea of it. The answer: it’s the mental process of actually managing the household. It’s the long line of thoughts and lists which go into making sure a household (especially if it’s including more than one or two people) is running as it should. This is why ‘you should have asked’ is simply showing the man saying it has no idea what his wife or girlfriend or other life-partner (that could include another man, if the household chores are split unevenly) does in the household and what needs to be done on a regular basis. There’s also an article here by a woman who explains why nagging is a necessity for many women. And why they would rather not have to do it any more than the men would rather not have to hear it.

The simple sentence ‘you should have asked’ can drive a woman in a relationship up the wall, because it proves, first and foremost, not that the man is ready to help (most guys these days, especially the younger ones, are ready to do that), but that he has no idea what managing a household means. Because if he knew, there wouldn’t be a need to ask him to do something. He’d see what needs to be done and he’d do it.
The cartoon I linked to above (the first link) has a nice explanation for what this mental labour or emotional labour etc. includes. You don’t just do one thing in the household. You do what is necessary as soon as you see it and have a moment for it. You don’t just load the laundry machine, that’s easy enough for most men (but some either are or very efficiently pretend to be too stupid even for that). You also have to keep in mind it’s running for a specific time and you need to clear it out and take care of the laundry afterwards (to hang it up or put it in the dryer, depending on how the household deals with laundry). You have to keep in mind to take down the laundry later on, too (or empty the dryer), and fold everything. Then you need to put it away. So, if a woman says ‘take care of the laundry,’ she refers to all of those steps.
When a woman walks through her home and sees something lying on the floor, she usually picks it up and puts it away. Men often simply ignore whatever is on the floor. She makes sure to put the children’s toys away (or tries her best to make the kids do so themselves). She makes sure the groceries are put away (because they may spoil otherwise). And emotional labour goes well past that. She keeps in mind when someone in the household has appointments with doctors, government agencies, or other important people. She knows the kids’ current sizes, their allergies, their food preferences, their friends, their teachers. She knows her husband’s sizes, allergies, etc. She knows when specific recurring bills are due. She knows when licences have to be renewed. She knows what needs to be put on next week’s shopping list. She has the dinners for the week planned out in her head. And that’s very far from being all.
What a woman wants when she wants her life-partner to share the housework is not just for him to take out the trash and remember to put the laundry into the machine. She wants her partner to take over part of the emotional work, too. To know the kids’ specifics and timetables, so he can pick them up from soccer training in time or get them a pair of new socks the right size or buy them the right snack (aka the one the child in question isn’t allergic to). She wants him to know that laundry isn’t done the moment he pushes the start button of the machine. She wants him to remember that trash is collected on Mondays and to put the trash can out on Sunday evening or early Monday morning every week without prompting. In short: she wants him to invest his mental abilities in the housework as well, to be a real partner and pull his full weight.

Managing a household is a full-time job of its own, as it were. That is why you pay a lot of money, if you have to hire someone for it. And in most relationships, the woman is doing the managing in addition to the actual work and to her paying job. Sharing the housework means taking an interest in the household and knowing what needs doing - and then doing it without being asked first.

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