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9 Mothers On The Pains And Joys Of Emotional Labor

It may be difficult to quantify, but it’s definitely hard work

Emotional labor is a tricky beast, mostly because it’s difficult to quantify and because it doesn’t always look like traditional work. For mothers, it can range from remembering an entire family’s doctor’s appointments to making sure you’re getting along with the PTA parents to smiling as you make your toddler’s breakfast on four hours of sleep. It’s an intangible thing that, nonetheless, sucks up tangible time and energy. Actually buying the diapers is not emotional labor so much as remembering that the diapers must be bought—but the latter is still a form of work.

Much of what has been written about emotional labor concerns wives and women in the service industry. In 1975, feminist Silvia Federici published a slim tract called “Wages Against Housework” in which she wrote that “the unwaged condition of housework has been the most powerful weapon in reinforcing the common assumption that housework is not work, thus preventing women from struggling against it.” Though Federici’s work also touched on the invisible emotional labor of keeping a home and a husband, the phrase itself was coined later in 1983 by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in The Managed Heart. Federici would argue that the service workers studied in the book were not so different, workwise, than the housewives she sought to free.

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