Why Women Are Tired: The Price of Unpaid Emotional Labor by C. Hutchison
(Link): Why Women Are Tired: The Price of Unpaid Emotional Labor by C. Hutchison
My comments about this subject, before copying some excerpts from the link above:
Another form of Male Entitlement: expecting the women around you to cheer you up, listen empathetically as you tell them about your problems. (Though other women can also be guilty of this at times, as I wrote of (Link): here).
In a (Link): much older post I wrote, where I linked to and excerpted an article from elsewhere, some guy in the article admitted that when he went to a local bar after a day at work, he enjoyed the female bartender more than the male ones, because any time he tried to talk about his problems (and receive empathy for his problems) from the males, the male bartenders would tell him to shut up and get over it.
However, when the lady bartender was on duty, she would listen to him and offer sympathy, he said. He relied on and appreciated her willingness to listen and respond with empathy.
My ex-fiance talked non-stop (as I wrote of (Link): here). He always wanted me to listen to him talk about his life, he never cared about mine, and he never asked about my views on anything. My ex expected me to stroke his ego and cheer him up in his ups and downs in life – but he was unwilling to do this for me.
My ex college friend made my mother’s death (Link): all about himself when I sent him notice of my mother’s passing. He talked about himself in his reply to me, instead of just doing what he should have and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”. This ex friend making everything about himself was a pattern for him.
Even before my mother died, my ex college friend would e-mail me and talk about himself – he would ask me a question or two about me, but when I would write back commenting on HIS life – as well as responding to his questions about my life – he would never comment on my replies ABOUT ME.
I got the feeling he was asking about me only out of a sense of politeness. I don’t think he really cared about me or what I was up to or what I was thinking.
While some women can be very self absorbed and can be emotional vampires (I’ve been friends with a few and am related to one), I think at least most women are aware that they’re doing this to another woman (and women tend to be aware of how it can be draining to be someone’s emotional support), but men seem to have a blind spot in this area.
In the following article, a therapist talks about a patient she has named Jen, and explains how after Jen’s divorce went through, Jen’s ex husband would periodically e-mail her and chat with her as though they were still married.
The guy was wanting to share with her the way he did when they were a married couple, which bothered Jen. It was unfair to her. The ex was wanting the sort of support and interest from her he had received when they were still married, even though she told him at least two or three times she no longer wanted to hear from him.
Many Christians often teach that getting married makes a person less selfish, which is absolute hogwash. Being married did not make Jen’s husband less selfish. He ran off and left her, and then proceeded to use her emotionally after the divorce. That is the opposite of selfishness.
In my relationship with my ex fiance, I was hurt, frustrated, angered, and annoyed at how my ex came to me all the time for validation and emotional support, and wanted me to cheer him on, but he was unwilling to do any of that for me!
On top of that, I grew up in a Christian family that believed in something called Gender Complementarianism (traditional gender roles – and a lot of churches still teach this, and it comes up in (Link): secular, conservative contexts too, sadly), where I was taught that God designed women to be a ‘help meet’ to men, which meant, according to complementarian biblical interpretation, that women are only “after thoughts” created by God, only here to assist men and make life easier for men.
As I discussed in a series of older posts, this sort of thinking and advice is unfair as well as harmful to women – women have needs, too, and if a husband doesn’t meet those needs, the wife will eventually grow hurt, tired, and resentful and divorce the husband (please see (Link): this post and especially (Link): this post for more on those subjects).
Here are excerpts from the article, with a few of the parts that really caught my eye placed in bold faced font – notice how the ex husband keeps contacting his ex wife to get her emotional support and involvement in his on-going life, even though she has asked him a billion times to stop doing that – he feels entitled to her support and attention:
(Link): Why Women Are Tired: The Price of Unpaid Emotional Labor by C. Hutchison
….I’d been working with Jen for some years. Our time together started right after her move to San Francisco from the East Coast, and I listened on the sidelines as she began a new career in HR, slowly made some local friends, began trying to get pregnant, and, suddenly, about a year ago, was blindsided by her husband’s announcement that he was done with their 10-year marriage.
[Jen got so depressed after the divorce and because of it, she contemplated suicide. She had a difficult time getting out of bed etc etc]
…For the next several months she clung to friends, her work, and her Saturday morning Zumba class. The basics saved her, moment to moment. When she despaired, when her apartment was too quiet and empty, she walked two miles to buy a cup of tea, and returned home.
… And, slowly, as she dedicated herself to her self, she began to come out of it. She grabbed the chance to apply for a new and better position at work and, through intense competition, she got it. Perhaps most importantly, she told her ex-husband that she wanted no communication, after getting a series of light-hearted newsy emails from him detailing the adventures he was on and “hoping she was well.”
“I told him I would not respond to anything other than divorce-related legal or financial issues,” she told me.
There were many turning points in Jen’s recovery, but that seemed to be the biggest one. “My life is my own,” she told me the next week, her face holding a lightness I had never seen before, even pre-divorce. “I don’t have to deal with his bullsh*t anymore. I don’t have to wonder what he’s feeling and what he’s avoiding feeling, I don’t have to be the one who supports him in his career, cheering him on and listening to his woes, acting as his most trusted confidant. I can do all that for myself now. I’m free!”
Jen’s marriage, I suspect, had contained what so many heterosexual marriages do: a pattern of unequal emotional labor that neither party is fully aware of. Tellingly, while Jen felt sad at her divorce, she also felt unburdened and free.
Her ex-husband, possibly, had not realized that he had been receiving ongoing emotional support in the form of Jen’s mirroring, curiosity, acknowledgement, validation and empathy.
Maybe his emails were sent out of a desire to continue getting what he’d always gotten.
And here Jen was now, in my office, confused and sad again because she’d just received another message from Christopher. This time, he wanted to tell her that he’d realized over the last year how poorly he treated her. That he was sorry. That he hoped she was well.
She read me the email. It struck me as not manic or fake like his previous ones, but gentler and more self-aware. They were the words she longed to hear last year. So why did she, and I, feel confused?
“Would you rather have not heard from him, that he’d kept his apology to himself?” I asked.
She looked startled. “You know, yeah! I don’t want to hear from him, ever, and I’ve told him that TWICE. Is he still looking for a response from me? Does he want me to forgive him so HE can feel better? Ugh! I am so beyond done with this shit.”
….But some patterns between men and women are hard to ignore, especially when they play out in your office (and in your own life) day after day.
And I do hear it, literally every day, both on the therapy couch and in coffee shops and parks where I sit with my own friends on weekends.
“I’m trying not to be that girl who wonders why he’s not texting back, but WHY IS HE NOT TEXTING BACK?”
“He’s a good partner, we share housework and childcare, but it’s still me who’s doing the scheduling and planning. And if I tell him I’m tired of it he just says, ‘Well then don’t do it, we’ll figure it out.’ But we won’t figure it out unless someone figures it out! So I end up figuring it out again.”
“He’s about to get a promotion. He’s worked really hard for it. I’m so proud.” (I believe this woman, and I have a nagging wondering whether “he” would be as invested, as proud, as aware of every step of the process and bragging to his own therapist, if she was the one getting promoted.)
A few months ago, I was introduced to the concept of “Emotional Labor,” from sex workers who were tweeting about the topic. These women talked about how they get compensated for their sexual labor, but a huge part of their job is emotional work (listening, validating, pretending to feel something for the sake of the other), which is assumed by the male clients to be given for free.
Emotional Labor has been studied in the field of sociology for a while, and somewhat recently has been incorporated into feminist discourse.
Feminists have begun asking the question Rose Hackman posed in her article on the topic in The Guardian: “What if, much like childcare and housekeeping, the sum of this ongoing emotional management [that women do] is yet another form of unpaid labor?”
When I work in therapy with heterosexual couples, the disparity of training each gender receives in emotional management is stark.
Often, the woman is aware of her male partner’s needs and feelings at the expense of her own, whereas the male partner struggles to identify and understand both his own and his partner’s emotions.
He has been taught that it is either dangerous, not manly, or not his job to feel and respond to feelings, including his own. It’s tragic.
As a female therapist, I often have an urge to join the female partner and save the man from the struggle and embarrassment of this work. We name his feelings for him, begin extrapolating on them, and once again, the man becomes an emotional project of women.
It has taken me some time to catch my own impulse to collude with wives and girlfriends when I sit with heterosexual couples, to step back and let men find their own words for their own experiences.
With individual male therapy clients, I hear echos of the emotional labor the women in their lives may be putting in when the men speak of the “random explosions” that “seem come from nowhere.” I agree with them that it would be helpful if their partners could tell them their feelings and frustrations incrementally, rather than letting them build and explode.
Many women are taught to not “nag,” which is usually code for “don’t ask for what you need,” and so they do bottle up and explode.
But then, I wonder if the women in these men’s lives ARE communicating. If the men are just untrained at the emotional work of listening and responding, and the explosions are not a matter of build-up, but of not being heard the first forty times. What, after all, did Jen’s ex-husband hear when she said, “Do not contact me” the first, and second, time?
As the obvious disparity in emotional intelligence has come into societal focus, gender essentialism has re-entered our lexicon, medieval Calvinist theology wearing a lab coat, and speaking in words like “Naturally,” “Biologically,” and, my very least favorite, “According to neuroscience.”
You’ll hear this in many forms:
Women are NATURALLY BETTER at empathy.
The male brain is WIRED FOR SEX and the female brain is WIRED FOR CONNECTION.
Men are BIOLOGICALLY DRIVEN to procreate with many women rather than establish bonds with one monogamous partner.*
And, frustratingly, these begging-the-question conclusions bring comfort to many. Women feel a temporary relief that they don’t have to stop themselves from the things they are so practiced at, and men never have to admit to the constant emotional failures they inflict on the women around them.
Honestly, I don’t know how to work with this, as a therapist or as a human. It’s so lopsided. It seems like women, on average, have a PhD in emotional labor and men are trying to pass third grade. And as the unspoken rules of patriarchy have it, men are not ever to feel inferior at anything. So we’re all in a bind.
…Men, often not having language for their emotional experiences, shirk away from hard talks, and in some spaces, they mock women for wanting to have them.
(Link): When You’re in Imbalanced, Unfair Relationships – You’re the Free Therapist, The Supportive, Sounding Board Who Listens to Other People’s Non-Stop Complaining, But They Don’t Listen to You – re: The Toilet Function of Friendship
(Link): The Selfish, Lazy Husband Who Kept Blowing Off His Stressed Wife to Go on World War 2 Reenactments – Male Entitlement in Relationships: Why Women Divorce Men – and Churches and Culture Support This Male Entitlement