Review and Summary: Emotional Labor

Emotional Labor Book Cover

Equality is a word we’re all familiar with, but let’s be honest, understanding the true extent of equality in our lives is a bit of a puzzle. We often hear about the fight for equality, thinking we’re close to the finish line, but the reality can be quite different. What’s more intriguing is how many of us, especially those who face discrimination, end up paying a hefty emotional price. It’s about the emotional toll and the invisible labor that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. It’s a complex and nuanced issue that touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from personal relationships to workplace dynamics.

In Emotional Labor, Rose Hackman talks about this issue and its deep-rooted connections with patriarchy, white supremacy, and class prejudice. The book reveals how these systems sustain a unique form of what the author calls extractive emotional capitalism. This concept is critical in understanding how emotional work is unevenly distributed, often undervalued, and disproportionately affects women and marginalized groups.

Hackman is successfully equip readers with compelling stories and information. These narratives serve as tools for reflection and understanding the value created through often unrecognized emotional work. The author’s goal is to reclaim the self-governance that women and other marginalized groups have long been denied, highlighting that this issue implicates everyone.

Emotional Labor doesn’t just stop at identifying problems; it proposes solutions. It calls for a new approach to valuing emotional labor that is both honest and transparent. Workplaces, according to the author, need to recognize the significant role emotional labor plays not only in productivity but also in the overall well-being of employees. The book argues for a system that accurately compensates and elevates emotional labor at all levels of hierarchy.

What makes it particularly compelling is its well-researched and eloquently articulated arguments. It sheds light on the heavy emotional load carried predominantly by women, including black women, women of color, trans women, nonbinary individuals, immigrants, and queer women. It underscores how our systems have failed to protect these groups adequately.

It is suitable to understand the dynamics of emotional labor and its broader societal implications. It’s a call to action, urging a collective shift in how we value and address the emotional contributions in our personal lives and workplaces.


What is emotional labor?

First coined this term: sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe the skill American workers were required to perform in the service sector as it was exploding and slowly replacing the manufacturing one.

  • Emotional labor is a form of work that does require time, effort, and skill
  • In our globalized, capitalistic world, work has remained equated with the production of goods and services for a fee in a public, traditionally seen as male sphere, mostly outside the home. In this market-driven economic system, work becomes real through compensation. In other words, if you’re not being paid, you’re not working.
  • The point with emotional labor is not that it inherently point to an injustice. When see, when valued or appreciated, or when part of an exchange, a mutuality, an ecosystem where love is power—then it needn’t be exploitative. Quite the contrary: doing emotional labor for people who are doing it for you is the goal, not the problem.

Women and Emotional Labor

  • Men and women are perfectly able to perform emotional labor, but the expectations placed on women are far greater than those placed on men, resulting in a notable penalty-vs-credit gulf.
  • The primordial training that, before anything else, women and girls should edit the expression of their emotions to accommodate and elevate the emotions of others.
  • Relies on the fundamental understanding that women should prioritize other people’s experiences before their own.
  • The expectation that we as women, and we alone, are the main bearer of this burden is no longer sustainable. Our emotional bank accounts are overdrawn, and yet our survival and advancement in this society continue to depend on us doing this invisible work. Such expectations point to an unsettling and enduring distribution of power we have become inured to.
  • Assumptions: women were just better at emotions.
  • Reflect ur persistent cultural stereotypes that maintain that women and men have impeccably opposing personality traits.
  • Tweaking and altering your authentic self to adhere to what is expected of you as a woman, either to please others or for fear of serious repercussion–in the form of social penalties like angry parents, economic penalties like job loss, or physical penalties like violence—is emotional labor.
  • Research in psychology and neuroscience:
    • Fixed gender traits have been exceedingly exaggerated
    • Our brains are very aware of gendered stereotypes–and the easiest, least stressful course of action for them is to go along with those stereotypes. Men’s and women’s brains are not the cause for the status quo then; they are the product of it.
  • While men are limited from childhood in the range of emotion they are expected to have the capacity of feeling, they are paradoxically given more space to be unfiltered in public. Women, treated like emotional thermostats whether they like it or not, not only must constantly manage their own feelings but they are also held reposnible for the feelings of others.

Men and Emotional Labor

  • Such statements that excuse behaviors and push men into thinking that if they are to be seen as men, as men’s men, they should be aggressive and insensitive to the point of becoming violators don’t just put women at risk, they fail men too. They dehumanize them, cast a dark shadow over their entire gender, and put them in harm’s way.
  • Patriarchy insinuates men are in power, not that all men are in power over others, and certainly not that all men stand to win.
  • Patriarchy cedes control to men by requiring domination. But this domination is paradoxically an ectraordinary destructive force–for the people around them as well as for the men themselves.
  • By isolating emotional labor to women, we invalidate men as caring, compassionate, gentle, nurturing, or any other attribute stereotyped as feminine.
  • As long as emotional labor remains seen as an essential part of being a women, it can be dangerous for me to even try to partake in it.

Gender Equality and Emotional Labor

  • We have made progress, but this society that is still plagued by male domintion, and in which it is no coincidence that women are expected to take on the lion’s shre of emotional labor.
  • We have fought for gender rights, made key advancements, but the unseen and unequal burden of emotional labor continues to hound us.
  • Women may have entered the formal workplace alongside men, but they are still expected to provide almost all of the either unpaid or underpaid support weork that enables economies to function in the first place. This includes child and elderly care, domestic and family work, and community work keeping relationships and societies alive and connected.
  • The world around us isn’t shaped by fixed attributes of the brain; our brain reacts to the cues it receives from the world around us. Thus, changing expectations and stereotypes in the outside world can have formidable impacts on individual brains.
  • Boys and girls were now equally talented at math.
    • This suggested that gender difference in math performance was not tied to natural ability or factors that were “innate” and “immutable” but rather to changeable sociocultural factors. Basically, once messaging changed, and high schools and their staff stopped passing on messages that girls were less goof at math than boys, girls stopped being less good at math than boys.
  • Challenging masculinity norms and getting men to define themselves on their own terms is even more threatening to the system than women gaining their rights and challenging norms around femininity in society. The system relies on the inherent myth of male aggression and dominance to maintain its legitimacy.

Solution to the Emotional Labor

  • Demand its execution from the top. Under the current system of experiential hierarchy, beneficiaries of privilege and power are able to endlessly demand emotional labor from those at the margins. Not only does reversing this demand for emotional labor create a path for accountability and redress, it also stops one of the causes for violence–which is the demand, sometimes deadly, of emotional labor itself.
  • Insisting that emotional labor, together with other private, unremunerated feminized forms of work, be rendered visible.
  • Marking the emotional labor provided and relied on as valuable, and sometimes even vital.

Author: Rose Hackman

Publication date: 28 March 2023

Number of pages: 272 pages


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