How Might We Re-Envision Gendered Labor?

Problem Statement:

How might we help men recognize and share emotional (and other forms of gendered) labor?


10 Divergent Ideas:

  • Present men with a list of gendered tasks and have them think of the last time someone did that for them, as well as the last time they did that.
  • Challenge men to do a “feminine” task for 3 another male identifying person in their life and see how they react.
  • Keep a labor journal for labor that you do and labor that is done for you.
  • End group meetings 5 minutes early for men with the intention that they are responsible for cleaning up meeting spaces.
  • Pair men up with another man to keep each other accountable. This way they have someone to talk through tricky situations, and are not relying on the women and non-binary people in their lives.
  • Verbally acknowledge every time someone does gendered work for a week, and thank them for it.
  • Use role playing and dance for men to physically manifest their feelings on masculinity and femininity.
  • Compare a list of gendered tasks to who did them in their household growing up. (Did women and men do equal numbers of tasks? Did they take on tasks that took roughly the same level of time or energy? Or was there a skew?)
  • Watch a movie and pause it every time gendered labor is done for a male character.
  • Explicitly claim ownership over managing all household duties for a week and see what additional considerations come with managing such work.

Observing the movement and presence in Lobby 10

In my project to learn more about the way movement can be used to enable vulnerability and convey embodied knowledge, I knew it would be important to better understand how students move and carry themselves through a public space (and how that differs based on gender identity). To do so, I conducted a fly-on-the-wall observations for approximately 30 minutes (from 10:10-10:42pm) in the lobby of Building 10 last week.

Heading into the observation, I had a few questions:  how do male and female-presenting people carry themselves— are there differences? How do they move through space? How much space do they tend to take up? How do they physically notice and react to things?

I was first aware of the time and space that I was conducting the observation. Lobby 10 is not a space that invites people to linger or convene. While it is far more open than the infinite corridor around it, it is often passed through without second thought by students. It is enough of a landmark that it could serve as a meeting point, but late at night, it is primarily a place that students tended to pass through on their way to Barker Library or to the Student Center before the restaurants and convenience store closed.

As I sat on a bench near one of the ends of Lobby 10, I observed two trends stuck out to me. One was where people looked as they walked through the space.  Most people looked at their phone. But for those who weren’t, I noticed a slight divergence between men and women. Men were much more likely to make eye contact with me than women. Once our eyes met, the male pedestrians tended to have one of two reactions- to quickly look away (before potentially looking back) or to hold eye contact in a way that generally seemed menacing or confrontational. While these two trends repeated themselves again and again, one man looked above me, so as to keep me in his peripheral vision without directly looking at me. On the other hand, only one woman made eye contact with me; others did not look in my direction. They generally kept their focus to the path ahead of them.

Another phenomenon that I observed was the way people would physically lean towards or away from others when they were walking in a group. When a two or three people were walking together (and there were never more than groups of three during my period of observation), women were more likely than men to physically turn their bodies to slightly face the person they were speaking to. Pairs of men would often walk parallel to one another, looking straight ahead even as they held a conversation. On the other hand, women seemed to lean in or tilt their shoulders to connect with the person they were speaking to. There were a few men who did this with other men, but this was much less common. This seems like a sign of attentiveness and vulnerability.

Identifying Actors to Elevate Gendered Work

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).


Making Gendered Work Visible


In my work, I aspire to be…

  • Thoughtful and active: It is important to deconstruct an issue by making all of its parts visible, empathizing with a range of perspectives on it, and constructing a broader network of qualitative, quantitative, relational, and contextual information to fully understand it. But just thinking through an issue is insufficient–the work must inspire some form of positive action.
  • Intersectional, with a sharpened lens towards marginality: With any work that delves into social change, it is imperative to consider how different identities work together to create complex lived experiences. While putting things through an intersectional frame, however, I believe it is important to capture and value marginalized experiences, particularly to problematize narratives that fall within the majority experience.
  • Grounded in the Personal, but Embedded within Systems: We are most powerful when we speak from the experiences and information that we know best- and generally those are our own personal experiences. Within work that touches on the social aspect of life, it is inhibiting to try to remove ourselves from our thoughts and observations. It is therefore important to personally understand and see ourselves within the change we hope to make. At the same time, we must acknowledge the historical construction of greater social structures, such as racism, colorism, sexism, cis-heteronormativity, classism, ableism, ageism, regional/nationalism, among others. It is only when we place ourselves within broader structures that we are able to diagnose the deeper symptoms of systems that we hope to change.
  • Aspires to radical change, while beginning with workable solutions: As we conceive of solutions, it is helpful to shed the confines of current trajectory as an inevitability so that we can consider other, radical outcomes. From there, we can work backwards to understand how to negotiate between our current reality and our ideal reality. Within this process, it is important to base our immediate work within the current context and systems, not only to achieve short-term gains to facilitate greater long term buy-in, but also so that we are not forgetting the current generation in hopes of only helping future generations.
  • Compassionate: I personally believe in solutions that emphasize healing. I think that it is important to learn from mistakes through critical reflection, and that that is best facilitated in spaces that are based in accountability, but also based in trust, caring, and belief.


Among the topics that I identified earlier in the semester as issues to progress through social change was uplifting emotional (and other forms of gendered) labor. Currently emotional, domestic, clerical, and educational labor generally fall primarily to those who are not cis-gender men in society along the lines of gender, and more generally to oppressed people as opposed to those in the majority. For this assignment, I hope to affect the way male-identifying people think about gendered work, particularly as a model that can be replicated in the Healthy Masculinity Discussion Group that I coordinate within my department, particularly through a retreat away from campus and through social presencing theater.

Education. To begin with, it seems important to educate members of the group (and more generally, male-identifying people) on the different types of work that are being inordinately borne by non-males in society, and how much of that work is invisible because it is often unheralded and uncompensated. Within this component, it is important to read about these topics from feminist scholars (such as Arlie Hochschild, among others) to better understand the way in which this work is built into structural expectations. Along with having conversations of what these different kinds of gendered work entail, I hope to highlight different examples of how this work manifests, and encourage participants in this conversation to begin personal conversations and empathetically listen to those in their lives who have to bear a greater share of gendered (or otherwise marginalized) work.

Experience. One way to begin to understand what this work looks and feels like is to put male-identifying participants in the situation where they are forced to do this work, without support, and expected to complete tasks to a high degree. They could do this by being given specific tasks and expectations regarding the planning and logistics of the retreat, managing the social and emotional experience of preparing for the retreat, and using that as an initiation point of conversation for those around them. They would be given a loose task, expectations of how well the task should be done (without giving away steps of how to complete it), and a prompt to engage more deeply through conversation.

Theorize. Finally, once on the retreat, the final step would be to engage participants to consider how they imagine an equitable world would look like. This conversation can and should extend outside the bounds of gender, but they can draw on them. However, to get participants to fully drop their pretenses and engage with the visionary and structure-based perspective that we are bringing to this topic, I hope to lead a session on social presencing theater. In this type of exercise, participants are instructed to consider a prompt, such as “what work do you imagine doing in a gender just world that you are currently unused to seeing. However, rather than just having a conversation of the answer, they are asked to perform their vision. I imagine this exercise to be done in the form of a dance party, as it is not always common for male-identifying people to see dancing spaces as particularly safe to introspectively explore their bodies or their ideas, as opposed to spaces in which they are encouraged to perform traditional gender roles for one another and/or seek a mate. While they are dancing to act out their own response to the prompt, participants will be encouraged to look at others in the group, and make eye contact with others in the group to make the experience more personal, intimate, and constructive. Finally, after the dance party, the group will be asked to reflect on the dynamics they perceived, the ideas they saw portrayed and how they physically reacted to what others were doing, and finally, what action- and system-based takeaways they are leaving this activity with.

An Authoritarian Passport

By Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Nathan Payne, Jay Dev, and Shaurya Agarwal

A passport, simply defined, is a method of providing identification for each person in a political, geographic or community subdivision using a number of factors — visual, biometric and coded. It is a tool used by governments (a person/group of people who set guidelines for behavior in a given community of people) to track and control the movements of people who live under its purview. These forms of identification provide a record of where a person has been and where they may or may not travel.


In many ways the structure and function of passports issued by many governments on Earth (the United States included) already are inherently authoritarian. They allow or disallow citizens to travel across political subdivisions; they are used at border checkpoints to collect travel data that is kept and analyzed by governments; and they are issued in a number of categories that in some cases allow special travel privileges to some categories of people. Therefore, extending the foundational authoritarian functions of existing paper-based passports into a substantially more pronounced authoritarian function was not a challenging feat.


We imagined a number of enhancements an authoritarian government would install in a passport should the technology become available and scalable. Currently, passports tend to be issued upon request to citizens, who would like to travel outside their home countries. Passports are also issued voluntarily by governments to certain employees carrying out critical government missions. They store information on its holder, which is monitored both by issuing and foreign governments. Sometimes, the interests of governments are served by monitoring the movements of individuals, who inhabit our planet.


We imagine an authoritarian regime would require “passports” to be implanted in each citizen at birth. It would use the latest in microchip technology and corresponding skin-worn tags to monitor and identify each carrier. The chips would collect biometric, GPS and audio data on each person — information held to exert social control. The models of skin markers would be issued by socioeconomic class and for loyalty to the class in power.


Social controls wielded by such passports would include access to stores, restaurants, supply depots, etc. based on information carried on each chip, including health data, financial account information and loyalty determinations. A government that monitors health and financial information could disallow access to food or products it deems should not be obtained by each passport carrier. Passports no longer will simply control and track movements at borders, instead they will become a ubiquitous form of identification that control access to everything — housing, shops, restaurants, offices, social services, networks, class-designated bathrooms and government facilities.


We envision an authoritarian passports as a tool for policing, carrying remotely accessible identifying information, which could be viewed without consent of each carrier. Likewise, permissions and privileges granted by the government to its citizens could be altered or deleted remotely at any time without consent or knowledge of the carrier and with no mechanism for appeal.


The time we spent both thinking about distilling the current functions of passports and imagining how they would/could be used by an authoritarian regime provided a number of epiphanies. Clearly, passports serve many authoritarian functions already — mostly mechanisms for collecting data on and controlling movements of citizens. Yet, it was easy to imagine how a government not encumbered by protections provided by the documents that formed our republic could quickly install a number of significantly more intrusive controls using existing technologies.

Aadhar // Phone Scams // Emotional Labor

I have written in this blog before about my background in policymaking and data analysis, and that is the lens that I bring to this course. Two things that I have not written about are two personal interests of mine- audio storytelling and deconstructing masculinity. From these three topics arise three issues to potentially be addressed through this course- one on state data and privacy, one that was compellingly covered last year by one of my favorite podcasts, and one that I’ve been thinking about in healthier masculinity discussion circles.

Aadhaar Cards in India

Almost a decade ago, India launched a program to bring its citizens out of the shadows. The Aadhaar program launched to provide citizens a unique ID number based on demographic and biometric data. Initially, the program was hailed as a solution to corruption and fraud in the country’s welfare system, but ID numbers have become necessary to enroll in a wide range of services- from passports and drivers licenses to bank accounts and cell phones.

The program has often been deemed a resounding success, bringing identification to 1.21 billion of India’s 1.3 billion people, but more recently, privacy advocates have raised questions about the security of this data. The country is currently at odds: a case has made its way to the Indian Supreme Court on the program’s constitutionality (with a verdict coming as soon as tomorrow), while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and multinational tech companies have leapt to its defense.

At its core, this issue is one framed by James C. Scott as legibility to the state- as long as the state is able to know its citizens, it is able to organize and socially control them (for better or worse). While the issue of central identification may seem moot to citizens of countries that have long had such systems (e.g., Social Security Numbers in the United States), the introduction of such a system during an age of technology poses much deeper questions of ownership and use of data as fundamental as biometric and personal identity.

In full honesty, this issue- of how to understand and serve citizens without using that information to potentially infringe on their rights (or, worse, sell their rights to companies)- is of greatest interest to me. I’ve started thinking of how the four levers of social change can solve this issue, such as through greater legal restrictions on use, sale and privacy of data; a change in norms to make the population more aware of the power of this data and sensitive to giving it away; by building code that can more closely monitor use and secure personal data; or by giving each individual ownership of their own data and setting up a market for people to willingly sell or lease their data for a fair price. I would love to spend the semester thinking more about this issue.

Phone Scams

Your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number. You maybe pick up, in case that concert venue happened to find two extra tickets to the sold out show that you wanted to take your friend to. Instead you’re delivered a audio ransom notice about unpaid taxes or a compromised cloud account over the chaotic hum of telephone operators giving other schmucks the same spiel.

Phone scams. You know them. You hate them. They and their tech-savvy cousin, the scam email, have been around for so long that we should have figured this out by now, right? But somehow, despite improved spam email filters and official do-not-call lists, it seems like scam phone calls have been on the rise.

This seems first and foremost like an issue of international governance- as long as there’s a government too inept or hamstrung or paid-off to look the other way, we’ll continue to face phone scammers. The solution, however, can come from different sources: a legal international ban that’s agreed to and enforced across countries, perhaps paired with market sanctions against those nations that do not comply; the coded creation of a secure communication system that can only allow communication to be initiated by verified actors (like governments, utilities, creditors, etc.) paired with a norms campaign to ensure that people only trust that secure communication system.

Imbalanced Emotional Labor

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 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).

This gendered imbalance arises from the way we socialize infants and children, is reinforced by the expectations we hold adults to, and manifests in fragile relationships later on in life, among a range of other adverse and inequitable consequences to people of all genders. At one level, it is important to raise awareness of what counts as emotional labor and who is doing it (which can be done by changing norms through educative campaigns, media depictions, and modified expectations of this work), it is also important that emotional labor is seen as valuable and the shared responsibility of all people, regardless of gender (which can come about by a change in laws to encourage equal participation, such as through equal maternal and paternal leave; by a fair compensation of emotional and domestic work in markets). In addition, more ways to code and measure who is doing different kinds of emotional labor can help us evaluate the progress that we make in this sphere.

The Business of Measuring Non-Profit Impact

Prior to coming to MIT, I used to work with non-profits in the greater Washington, DC area to measure their outcomes and evaluate their impact. I was doing this as a research associate at a research organization, a non-profit itself. Entering into the project, I had no idea of the concepts of logic modeling, performance measurement, and theories of change. But I was in for a steep learning curve.

The project was funded by a large development organization that primarily worked internationally. However, in this case, the funder was interested in building the capacity of local non-profits to connect their efforts to data-driven outcomes, set up integrated data systems, and analyze and communicate their outcomes. Rather than flying in the dark, we were helping these non-profits better see their efforts and improve the work they did to serve their target populations. We were responsible for setting up a community of practice for data practitioners at non-profits in the region, as well as for providing one-on-one technical assistance to a few of them.

In my first few meetings advising non-profits on how to better understand their outcomes, I felt in over my head. I had read a few papers on the value of measurement and evaluation and had a beginner’s understanding of the general topics, but felt totally unready to give advice. I did my best to listen to the issues that the data staff at the non-profits we were assisting were running into. At first, I felt content being their therapist- helping them manage power dynamics and work through office conflicts. But quickly, I was asked to help them with issues like building integrated data systems, vetting survey procedures, and managing organizational culture change.

In my work I realized two things- we were far enough removed that I couldn’t feel our impact on the city residents who were being served by these non-profits, and that a lot of the workshops and advising sessions I was conducting leaned towards one-size-fits-all approaches. This was especially try at the community of practice sessions, where we would encourage data practitioners to share their successes at work with one another, despite the fact that we were pulling together people who worked in sectors as broad as health care, homeless and housing services, education and job training, and legal services. This meant that they were measuring different populations with different cultures and vulnerabilities, across different dimensions, using different tools and under different reporting requirements. Due to the small staff sizes for most of the data departments, these constraints meant that most practitioners were battling uphill just to meet compliance goals. Our suggestions and trainings geared towards greater long-run capacity were out-of-reach to a number of the members of our community.

Ultimately, though, I found one solution that I was very well-positioned to handle: connecting practitioners to each other to collaborate on shared challenges and aspirations. I was responsible for intake before any organization was allowed to join our community of practice (to ensure they were far enough along in their thinking and institutional commitment to data collection to benefit from such a peer group), and I knew the struggles and some successes that they each had. I was tasked with regularly communicating with the community of practice, and I became familiar and trusted by most of the members. During the meetings, I would often get updates from them on their work, and would be able to suggest a group (within their sphere or outside of it) who would be better suited to talk through their problem than I was. In focusing on building this community of socially-minded data nerds, I hope that we were able to help them help each other.

Modeling the Future?

I had just graduated college and felt like I had hit the first-job jackpot: I was moving down to Washington, DC to work at a policy research organization. While the topic area, health policy, would take me away from my undergraduate interest of urban policy, I was promised an exciting position conducting policy simulation of a wide range of health insurance policies. Moreover, the Affordable Care Act was about to be implemented, the data on health policy was about to get much more interesting, and I was excited to expand my knowledge of statistics and coding.

My first year on the job was fantastic. I was able to make immediate impact on the microsimulation model by restructuring its underlying framework to better match that of the ACA, and began to see papers that I co-authored affecting meaningful change in policy decision-making. It was exciting to be able to conduct what-if analysis for a range of proposed national, state, and local policies, to be able to look into a crystal ball to see the next great solution to expand access to affordable health insurance. I felt excited to harness quantitative tools to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

Around that time, an external organization that had spun off from the president’s campaign analytics team came to our office to give a lunch presentation on their work. They had developed an extensive methodology to identify those who were most likely to be uninsured so that enrollment assistants could provide targeted support to those newly eligible for Medicaid and subsidized plans. Although these populations were the least likely to show up in traditional survey data sets, the organization had augmented that data with a range of individual-level proprietary data on what struck me as incredibly personal and sensitive things- like consumption patterns, voting registration, and financial wellbeing. However, they also seemed to be using these tools for good, so I tried not to think too hard about the creepiness of the detailed data they were using.

A couple years later, the Democrats had suffered a major defeat in the midterms, having lost a significant number of seats due to politically-motivated redistricting, also known as gerrymandering. When I heard about the proprietary data sets and geospatial tools used by Republicans to “pack” and “crack” liberal voters in critical swing states in such a way as to dilute the value of their vote, I felt sick to my stomach. It sounded very similar to the procedure used to identify uninsured citizens and, to some extent, the work I had done on the microsimulation model in my first job. By this time, I had moved back into research on urban policy, but this example of using GIS and data for disenfranchisement spurred something in me to more thoughtfully understand how data was being used to make policy decisions, especially when that analysis is done at the national-level.

I noticed that data could be used for bad. Data could be used for progressive governance, too. But, either way, as long as the rise of data threatened the extent to which policymakers looked to their electorate over data, I could see the democratic process begin to wither. This experience pushed me to ultimately come to MIT to understand how data-driven policymaking can be more inclusive a the communities it is meant to be representing.