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Emotional Labour

Emotional labour is a term I’ve only recently heard about, and it tends to be a very female issue. It covers all the things we tend to ‘just do’ as women – from remembering birthdays, wrapping the present and writing the card, to organising playdates, looking after our parents, constructing the shopping list and making the costume for world book day! All of this unpaid labour falls usually disproportionally on women. The duties that are expected of us but go unnoticed. Free, invisible work women do to keep track of ALLLLL the little things in life that, taken together, amount to the big things in life.
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The term itself isn’t new – it was coined in 1983 by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her book ‘The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling’ and, as she conceived it, referred to the work of managing one’s own emotions that were required by certain professions. Such as flight attendants being expected to smile and be friendly even in stressful situations.
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It’s more recently been popularised by US journalist Gemma Hartley, who used the term in a different way in a 2017 Harper’s Bazaar article titled ‘Women aren’t nags – we’re just fed up’. In this, she linked emotional labour to housework and ‘life admin’. And in her book, Fed Up: Emotional Labour, Women, and the Way Forward – she distils it quite perfectly as ‘emotion management and life management combined’ and writes about a specific kind of frustration felt when this life admin – and all the research and thankless ‘nagging’ required to keep on top of it – builds up. Managing this ‘invisible work’ leaves you feeling tired, grumpy and, funnily enough, emotional!!
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In a 2016 study it was found that, when it comes to cooking, childcare and housework, women in the UK are responsible for 60% more unpaid work than men. This isn’t the odd bit of work: across Britain, recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that people do more than 1 TRILLION pounds worth of unpaid housework every year.
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Since I learnt of this term is hasn’t stopped ringing in my ears, it’s SO crazy! I can’t wait to explore this, work/life, guilt and burn out with Anna on today’s coffee morning at 12.30 pm. Tune in here! Can’t wait to see you there X


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