Wednesday, 20 January 2016

On emotional labour

My awesome wife who's awesome wrote an amazing tweetstorm earlier tonight about the unpaid emotional labour women are socialised to do, and it’s made me pensive about a few things.

First up: I am absolutely guilty of a lot of these things. I hope less so recently than I used to be, but I have enough self-awareness to admit that yes, I have said and done these things. (She promises me it wasn’t directed at me, but that doesn’t mean I’m innocent—and I think I know her well enough to know she’d never subtweet the Hell out of me like that—but I think even that is part of the truckload of unpaid emotional labour that she, as a woman, has been brought up to do) And to be quite honest, if you’re a guy… you’ve done these things too. If you look at me and think to yourself, “well, I don’t think I’m like this,” you almost certainly are like that. Only if you can specifically identify things you do that are not like that… you’re like that.

Because, honestly, guys are socialised to do exactly that. And you even see a lot of it in what jobs in tech are coded as being “inherently” oriented toward men or women. QA and project management, which are both roles that require diligence, attention to minute detail, and an aptitude for predicting someone’s needs before they are aware of it, are coded as and performed by women much more than most other roles in the tech industry. Of tech roles within a tech company, they’re the only positions that I’ve consistently observed having anything close to gender-wise parity.

So why do I think that guys are socialised not to do this work? Because, let’s be honest, it is work. I had an opportunity to fill in for my team’s project manager (who, it’s important to point out, is a woman) late last year, and holy mother of God that job is hard. Like, Nintendo-hard. And at least she’s getting paid for it, but I guarantee she’s been doing this her whole life, because that’s what society’s taught her to do. And I haven’t. Instead, I’ve grown up around a lot of media that’s suggested that one set of gifts (chocolate, teddy bears, and diamonds) will satisfy any woman I may be involved with (here’s a hint: that’s a load of crap), and an escalating and never-ending series of ostensible jokes along the lines of “bitches be cray” when her birthday, or anniversary is forgotten.

And why the hell shouldn’t they be? Seriously, think about it for a minute. The person who you’ve decided to open up to and be most vulnerable with comes home on your birthday, or on the anniversary of the day you got married, and they have no idea what’s happened today, however long ago. They can’t bring it to mind at all.

Wouldn’t you be upset? I would be. I have been.

Long story short, just like math and art, the everyday things that women “just seem to do better than men” are things that they’ve practised, constantly, since they were very young. (Men have, conversely, been raised to ignore those things.) Anything you do every day of your life, for about as long as you can remember… yeah, you’re going to be pretty damn good at. Doesn’t make it easy, just habit. (Professional athletes are a great example of this) If you really want to show some kind of appreciation for the women in your life, and all the things they do for you… do them yourself.

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