Emotional Labor


When you hear that word, what do you think of? Delivering a baby? Physical work? Labor Day, maybe?


I came across this thread on Twitter talking about “emotional labor” and if I wasn’t holding my phone with both hands, I would have been clapping while reading each tweet. In a nutshell…well, here are some highlights of the thread (which is most of it, honestly) because some of it had a bit of an angrier tone than how I feel about it, but hey — I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to feel. I’ve also peppered my thoughts in between their very valid points. I think there’s more than a few of us who can relate to this.

It (emotional labor) goes unnoticed because it’s women’s work, and it’s expected of them without being expected of men. Men get trophies for performing emotional labor. Women are rude, lazy, bitches for not performing it. A man who plans play dates is a prize, a woman who doesn’t is a bad mom.


It’s emotional IQ. It’s consideration, thoughtfulness, mindfulness, helpfulness, tone, etc. It’s adding a smiley face to your emails so you don’t seem too harsh. It’s being the one who organizes secret Santa, who changes the coffee filter and wipes the breakroom countertop.

We all know these are small things that a lot of people take for granted because they’re usually done without making a big show of it — and done so often, no one notices the countertop was ever dirty and they think the coffee filter changes itself. It’s the reason why people hang those signs in office kitchens that say things like “your mother doesn’t work here” — but we all know those signs are hung in vain because there’s always one person who religiously cleans out everyone else’s moldy sandwiches from the fridge.

It’s knowing there’s a kid on the team with a peanut allergy. It’s being the default emergency contact for the school. It’s being the one to arrange child care for half days (and knowing when they are!). It’s feeling guilty when you forget your child’s friend’s mom’s name.

Ahh. I felt that last line. It’s the ol’ self-punishment garbage. Because, we’re supposed to be able to do and know it all, right?

It’s being a therapist for every man in proximity, supporting male friends, colleagues and family members in difficult times knowing full well that the same complaints voiced to them would be uncomfortable, overly emotional, and redirected to another female capable of advising.

I don’t think this is always true, but I do think men have this primal instinct to want to ‘fix’ things instead of just listen. So, if they aren’t being asked how to fix something, it’s subconsciously harder for them to figure out why you’re talking about it, then. You could preface it with “I just need you to listen, OK?” but that’s more emotional labor, isn’t it? *shrug* I guess that’s why we have girlfriends.

It’s lauding men who perform small bits of emotional work. Lionizing single dads. Praising the husband who buys tampons. It’s receiving a house cleaning service as a gift. It’s smiling when you’re sad to avoid making others uncomfortable. It’s being a happy assistant.

YES YES YES. ALL OF THIS. Thanks for doing your job. Also, can we stop thinking a woman is a total badass because she mowed her lawn and say/think things like, “Where’s her husband?!” Like, maybe 1) She doesn’t have one, duh, and 2) She likes mowing the lawn because she’s alone with her thoughts and likes being outside getting a little fresh air and sunshine. Re: The smiling thing…yeah. I can’t. My face tells everything I’m thinking, so I literally cannot fake a smile. I think my smile-when-I’m-sad-smile actually makes people even more uncomfortable, because it’s creepy, so I don’t do it.

Bottom line is, emotional labor is exhausting. It’s maybe even more exhausting than physical labor, because sometimes physical labor can give you a jolt of energy and emotional labor just DRAINS you. But, can we escape it? Nope.

I think just being aware of it — and being aware of the EL others take on, and seeing if we can unburden them a bit — can really make a huge difference for everyone.