Think of all the times you were told to put your emotions aside to get something done at work or at home. You were probably told to “put on a smile” while you deal with a rude co-worker or customer; or when you’re told to act civil towards someone who said something sexist to you.
If you think this is normal, it’s not. It’s called emotional labor and women tend to be burdened with it even during this global pandemic.
The term was coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book “The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling.” She described emotional labor as “a situation where the way a person manages his or her emotions is regulated by a work-related entity in order to shape the state of mind of another individual, such as a customer.” It also shouldn’t be confused with being asked to give emotional support to a friend or partner who doesn’t value your time or effort. (Though we understand how it can be interchangeable.)
When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, women were either working in the front lines or at home. As frontliners, they are service workers and medical professionals who are away from their families most of the time. We can’t speak for their experiences, but we’ve seen stories of how female nurses are told not to cry and to be stoic while treating patients; there’s a video of a nurse breaking down after seeing so many deaths in the hospital; and mothers who can’t hug their children because they might infect them.
At home, working mothers still do the chores and take care of the kids. Meanwhile, their husbands are busy with their own jobs. This further shows the inequality of gender roles in the household as women are expected to put aside their exhaustion to shoulder the brunt of the house work.
In a Ms. op-ed, Andrea Flynn talked about working four jobs and making sure she’s emotionally and mentally healthy to take care of her family while in quarantine. She also tackled how structural sexism and emotional labor can coincide since men usually make more money (hello, gender wage gap), so they are expected to be out of the house most of the time and will probably be seen as “heroes” once the pandemic is over.
“This imbalance that’s playing out in our homes—and the extraordinary toll that a crisis like COVID is taking on all working parents—significantly impacts how we show up at work and how we perform relative to those who have fewer or no childcare responsibilities.”
“How can we not feel rage when we think about how the imbalances of COVID are unfolding against a relentless backdrop of stark gender inequities and injustices?” wrote Flynn.
The pandemic may have put the world to a halt, but it didn’t take away the struggles that women face. Some women don’t make as much as their male counterparts, others have to work if they want to get paid. There are also women who are let go while they’re on maternity leave. And yet, we’re expected to hold it together? Come on.
This Labor Day, let us remember the women who are working hard for their families and their own livelihoods, especially during this difficult time. They are not robots, they are human beings who can be pushed to the limit.
If employers or the government still expect them to do their jobs while doing household duties, then they should at least ensure them that they will be treated and paid better.