White feminists don't factor in other women when it comes to emotional labour: Mochama
White feminists would prefer to talk about their feelings. I’d prefer that we talked about how much doing that costs women like me, writes Vicky Mochama.
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A recent essay in Harper’s Bazaar called Women Aren’t Nags - We’re Just Fed Up has restarted the conversation around emotional labour.
In it, Gemma Hartley shares her frustration around a Mother’s Day gift request for a deep cleaning service for the family bathroom. After calling one place at the last minute, her husband decides to do it himself, leaving Hartley to watch the kids. She writes, “I don't want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.”
The entire episode, including the ensuing conversation in which she criticizes her husband and then has to do damage control is, according to her, emotional labour.
It is not.
Hartley correctly identifies that there is a problem, but misdiagnoses what it is. There is an inequity in her household’s labour. But it isn’t solely of the emotional variety. It is also one that has haunted modern heterosexual relationships: there is an unequal division in house work, be it vacuuming or driving the kids to soccer. According to a 2017 survey from Statistics Canada, women do 50 per cent more household work than men; men spend 2.4 hours a day on household work while women do 3.6 hours.
Women should account for unpaid work, but the key is to account for it accurately and that means having a fulsome look at all forms of labour and how it affects different oppressed groups. Labour, especially for women, cannot be separated from wage labour, race and poverty.
Discussion of emotional labour, like so many other feminist issues, has become a means for White women to skirt the ways that those factors affect the lives of other women.
For example, Hartley doesn’t talk about the physical labour of those who would be sent to clean her house, when it is possible that they would be racialized women.
In women’s relationships with men, we are forced to take on the burden of men’s lives in so many ways. In racialized people’s relationships with White people, we take on the weight of other people’s comfort. And in racialized women’s relationships with, well, everyone, we tread carefully around everyone's needs at the expense of our own.
At every point where anger is reserved, more joy is expressed than is felt, approval given when denial is preferred and work is done by one when it should be shared by two, there is more than an emotional cost. The toll is also economic and financial. The ramifications are felt by non-White women who are over represented in the ranks of the under- and unemployed whose families are more likely to live in poverty.
White feminists would prefer to talk about their feelings. I’d prefer that we talked about how much doing that costs women like me.