Exploitation of Emotional Labor Is Real for Women and Femmes of Color
First appeared in Affinity Magazine (http://affinitymagazine.us/?p=54848) — 24. February 2017
In society, there is more than one type of labor that meets the eye. One is visible labor, which people earn monetary compensation for. Under this kind of labor, women and femmes, especially women and femmes of color, earn a lot less than their white or white male counterparts. With that, then there’s the elusive type of labor that slips both the eye and mind, and people often take it equally for granted: emotional labor.
Emotional labor can be best defined as managing feelings in order to fulfill a task, often draining emotional energy, and in so many situations, it’s women and femmes of color who are again at the butt of this system. Asking femmes to participate in artistic or innovative ventures that require a lot of effort is theft of emotional labor. Reducing femmes to stereotypes in order to make the rest of a cis white, or cis white male, space more comfortable for its privileged members is taxing and theft of emotional labor. A femme having to constantly pander to her/their privileged peers in order to to be taken seriously is theft of emotional labor. Women constantly being expected to be the mature partner in heteronormative relationships? Femmes of color being repeatedly subjected to public displays of racism, sexism, and other forms of institutionalized harassment? Femmes of color having to explain, and re-explain, their intersectional issues in white-dominated feminist issues? You guessed it. It’s all absolutely taxing — and it’s all theft of emotional labor.
All of this pressure for femmes of color makes life even more stressful and difficult. A creative, with multiple marginalized intersecting identities, not only has lower chances of their work gaining as much publication and profit as their white counterparts based on statistics, but expecting this artist to be okay with their work being published somewhere else without any credit erases them from this work and gives them an even lower opportunity for success.
Similarly, there is the common trope of an “organized” girlfriend paired with a “juvenile, laid-back” boyfriend that is spread through media. The idea that women must be willing to handle any sort of abuse or infidelity, either because this behavior is in their boyfriend’s nature or because of the idea that it is the woman’s role to keep the household in order as a man “develops himself”, is a sort of strain that is placed disproportionately on the woman. Combined with maid-like or nanny-like stereotypes for femmes of color, expecting femmes to clean up after people in positions of power is not only exertion of emotional labor, but also physical labor.
Women and femmes are not tools to provide solely for the advancement of privileged people. The least people could do is stop pretending that femmes are invincible. They get exhausted. They suffer. Woman activists work continuously to fix institutionalized issues that create disparities in wealth, opportunity, and safety for all disenfranchised people, but blind societal expectations that seem to place all of the weight of daily situations on them for comfort are only another strain on oppressed people with real and negative effects. Femmes deserve compensation. They deserve rest — they’re people.