I have this friend. We’ve known each other for a long time, and I enjoy spending time with him. When we meet for coffee, I listen to him explain the ins and outs of his passion–for the sake of anonymity, let’s say it’s flying kites–for hours. We watch YouTube videos of famous kite-flyers. I listen to his future kite-flying plans. When, finally, he asks, “And how are you?” I might mention a lead on my job hunt or a band I saw recently. Without fail, his eyes glaze over in 15 seconds or less. My life just isn’t that interesting to him, because at that moment I’m not listening to him talk about kites.
Jess Zimmerman is sick of my kite-flying friend. At The Toast, she explains what I (and countless other people, women especially) experience has a name: emotional labor. I’m providing free therapy, career advice and soundboarding for this kite aficionado. “Emily,” you might say, “That’s called being a good friend.” Yes! Yes, it is. But if my listening ear isn’t reciprocated, that’s not friendship. I’m being taken advantage of. My time is being wasted.
Emotional labor has followed the same path. We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as “an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character.”
Zimmerman goes in-depth in her essay, exploring privilege, entitlement, hashtags and the legacy of “women’s work.”