Over the past few years, the term ‘emotional labor’ has become more and more common. It refers to a wide range of activities, both personal and professional, that often go unnoticed and almost always go unpaid, but are critical to maintaining the foundation and structure of professional and social environments and relationships. A range of things fall into the bucket of emotional labor- from smiling at strangers to checking-in on and emotionally supporting loved ones to managing domestic space (and on and on).
Perhaps we’ve come to a point that this single term is inadequate to describe all of the interactive work that falls into it, but two things that remain true of things identified as emotional labor are that they generally go unrecognized and that they are unequally done much less by men and much more by others (including women and non-binary or non-gendered people). As this work has historically gone uncompensated and largely unseen, the enforcement of gendered norms about work have served as a major barrier to those other than men participating in the labor force and having their contributions to society taken seriously. At the same time, without the expectation of having to do this type of work, men have long been pushing some personal responsibilities on others and therefore limiting their own emotional, social, and personal growth. Recently, we have seen this manifest in fragile relationships later on in life and contributed to the social isolation of men, among a range of other adverse and inequitable consequences.
There have been a several attempts at raising awareness around the unequal split of gendered labor, but even those have fallen short. Some nations have passed laws to mandate paternity leave, but social and professional stigma means such benefits are horribly under-utilized. Different forms of media, even advertisements, have attempted to call out traditional gender norms and normalize a more equitable split of gendered work. However, even as we are becoming more aware of female empowerment in movies, there are far fewer movies and TV shows that portray men taking a greater share of emotional, domestic, clerical, or educational labor. We’ve also recently seen an increase in discussion and educational groups, from college campuses to living rooms, for men to begin to grapple with issues of toxic masculinity. We can hope that these groups meaningfully deconstruct gendered labor and set participants on a path towards actively correcting the imbalance.
I hope to find a more interactive, vulnerable, and personal way of elevating this issue (particularly among groups of male-identifying participants). In the ecosystem diagram below, I begin to pull apart the different stakeholders who are involved in upholding our current perceptions of gendered work (who will hopefully also be potential agents of change).