The idea that women do more labor in the home than men is not a new one. Though words like emotional labor or women’s mental load are more recent, they’re not new, either. The books All The Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Unequal Partnership and Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward are not espousing avant-garde theories. They’re breaking down these more academic buzzwords into coherent, statistic-driven, relatable texts.
Last month I read Darcy Lockman’s All The Rage and Gemma Hartley’s Fed Up and I couldn’t stop talking about them. I had extensive conversations with my husband and girlfriends. I explained the concept of emotional labor to everyone I could. From my mother to grocery store bagger boys, no one was safe.
Now I’d like to talk about All The Rage and Fed Up with you.
All The Rage
All The Rage is not a critique of men. Lockman is not criticizing men or her husband, or the women she interviewed husbands. Whew. Now that that’s out of the way: All the Rage critiques society. And the failure of the third wave feminist movement to truly make the personal political. All The Rage posits that even when both parents work equal hours outside the home, the mother typically does more work in the home than the father.
The concept of Lockman’s book was germinated in her own marriage. She found she didn’t have it all, she was doing it all. Despite the volume of her work outside the home. Even though both she and her husband believed themselves to be progressive and “woke.” Then Darcy starting poking into other marriages, setting out to complete 100 in-depth interviews. However, Lockman stopped half-way as she found she was conducting the same interview over and over. It didn’t matter the interviewees’ age, race, occupation, socio-economic class, or educational background. All of their answers were the same. Every woman would acknowledge that they did the majority of labor in the home and follow-up with something like, “I know, I shouldn’t complain. Other women have it worse.”
Where are all these “other women?” Lockman couldn’t find a reliable point of comparison-just an abysmal situation all around. She illuminates this mess through personal stories and scientific data throughout the book. A particular mind-blowing chapter highlights examples of “successful male resistance” to avoiding a more balanced in-home workload. The final chapter details ways to accept or challenge the status quo of in-home labor.
Fed Up is about emotional labor: what it is, why it’s important, and how it is almost exclusively conducted by women. I didn’t fully realize what emotional labor was until reading Fed Up. Simply, it’s all the mental calculation performed by every woman I know. Emotional labor is juggling: knowing who in the family needs to wear what, when, and whether it’s clean. It’s procuring a gift, wrapping it, and attaching a label. Hell, it’s remembering that a gift is needed at all. Emotional labor is knowing what’s in the freezer that can be thrown together for a quick dinner at all times. It’s figuring out how to drop and/or rearrange everything when childcare is periled. Knowing which roll is the last roll of toilet paper? That’s emotional labor. Emotional labor is draining, invisible work. And it’s implicitly female work.
This book began as an article. An article that resonated with thousands, becoming “ultra-viral,” titled, “Women Aren’t Nags-We’re Just Fed Up.” In her article, Hartley uses innocuous objects and happenstances to illuminate differences (and inequalities) in ways that men and women carry out tasks, think of others, and display conscientiousness. And, Gemma argues, the men aren’t cutting it.
Fed Up is more impassioned than academic (as opposed to All The Rage) and I am here for it. Hartley dedicates a significant portion of her book to dismantling the lower your standards argument. The final section of Fed Up details ways to observe, delegate, value, opt-out of, and/or have hard conversations about emotional labor.
Surely There’s A Way This Could Be Our Fault
Maternal Gatekeeping And Intensive Mothering
Maternal gatekeeping refers to a mother’s protective and possessive attitude towards sharing parenting. It’s the notion that others (particularly fathers) don’t, and can’t, do it right. I’ve heard an edge of maternal gatekeeping irritation in my voice saying something like, “just let me do it.” Intensive mothering was coined in the late 1990s, and it’s a more intense form of helicopter parenting. Darcy Lockman writes,
“[intensive mothering] mandates: The best mothers always put their kids’ needs before their own, the best mothers are the main caregivers, the best mothers make kids the center of their universe.”
All The Rage (especially) and Fed Up dive deep into the cultural affirmations and implications of maternal gatekeeping and intensive mothering. The authors present compelling arguments about the way women are conditioned to find value in parenting/home upkeep. Psychologists argue that intensive mothering and maternal gatekeeping are coping skills; a response to the bone-crushing pressure placed on women involving mothering. Lockman and Hartley write about how to discuss and deal with these pressures. How to get out of our own way, so to speak.
“Aren’t We Just Better at that Kind of Stuff?”
Every single woman I told about these books, from close friends to random lovelies who made eye contact with me at the gas station that day, asked this question. Simply: no, we aren’t. When Lockman echoed a woman she interviewed, “Women are known to be better multitaskers,” to neuroscientist Lise Eliot, Eliot replied:
It’s bullshit. Our brains get good at whatever we’re faced with doing. Secretaries are good multitaskers. We’re letting men turn us into secretaries.
Both books decimate this theory. They skewer pop psychology headlines about gender studies (and gender studies in general). All The Rage and Fed Up present science about brain differences in the sexes that is much less sensational. Basically, there isn’t much of a difference. The brain is flexible. Practice makes perfect, damnit. Women aren’t better at multitasking, at being nurturing, at being empathetic…we just practice it more.
One of the “Lucky” Ones
I am fortunate to live in an extremely egalitarian marriage. Josh and I trade off on the more drudging tasks of parenting. We both go to appointments concerning our children. I do most of the day-to-day upkeep of the home-but that’s where I am most of the day. Josh cooks more than I do (and cleans the kitchen every morning). He dedicates weekend time to yard work and/or the chores I hate (like cleaning the tub). I am told this is rare. That I am very, very lucky.
Of course I am, Josh is wonderful. But aren’t I just an adult, raising children with another adult? That amazement is the common response to Josh’s co-parenting/home upkeep habits show how low the bar is set for fathers. If Josh told his friends and coworkers that I did the dishes every morning, no one would bat an eye.
It’s easier for me to carry the bulk of emotional labor in this supportive co-parenting environment. Which I totally do. I didn’t know all the emotional labor I was doing until reading Fed Up. Josh, with all his good intentions and intelligence, just hasn’t been socialized to do it. I commend him for his willingness to jump into the emotional labor trenches with me. Josh will process and plan with me all day, when I go to him with a problem. But that doesn’t happen naturally. As life gets busier, Josh has been more involved with the family calendar. This has been a relief I didn’t know I needed.
In most families, both parents work outside the home. I have no idea how Josh and I would handle sharing duties if we both worked outside the home. I’m not sure Lockman and Hartley do either.
All The Rage calls for more federal support, citing France as an example. Both books advocate for hard conversations and offer tips to traverse them. A variety of ways to deal with unequal home and emotional labor distribution are explored (finding value in, opting out, delegating, etc), but neither author offers hard-and-fast solutions.
If, between work and home life, you find yourself stretched waaay too thin, All The Rage and Fed Up may provide some relief. These books provide scientific evidence and personal testimonies to frustrations and feelings that can be hard to name. As Lockman writes, we “can’t see the water we’re swimming in.” What can’t be articulated, can’t be fixed.
What do you think about All The Rage and Fed Up? What’s your take on emotional labor? Let me know in the comments. Share this article, start a discussion.
Check out my last book review here.