A Quick Primer on Emotional Labor

Hippo Reads Staff

“Emotional labor” is a fascinating concept—something that is simultaneously intangible (emotions!) and incredibly draining for those who find themselves stuck with the job. While the subject is mostly discussed in reference to women and housework, it affects everyone, whether they’re burdened by it or blissfully unaware of the concept (if it’s the latter, there’s probably a woman in their life who’s shouldering more than her fair share). Much has been written, and written well, about emotional labor, and yet it’s not always part of conversations about feminism and housework and service work and all the shades of gray in between. Here’s a quick primer on some of the best writing on the subject.

“Wages Against Housework,” by Silvia Federici, 1975. 
In one of the original and most powerful documents about emotional labor, Federici argued that housework was “the most pervasive manipulation, the most subtle and mystified violence that capitalism has ever perpetrated against any section of the working class.” The publication was linked to the 1970s’ International Wages for Housework Campaign.

“‘Where’s My Cut?’: On Unpaid Emotional Labor,” by Jess Zimmerman, 2015. This primer on emotional labor, published on The Toast, brought the concept back to the forefront of the conversation. “Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work,” writes Zimmerman. “Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts.”

“Labor of Love: The Enforced Happiness of Pret A Manger” by Timothy Noah, 2013. A look into what happens when corporations demand emotional labor from their employees.

“Love’s Labor Earned,” by J.C. Pan, 2017. Why the “pay women for emotional labor” argument still misses the point.

The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, updated in 2012. A fascinating look into the toll that emotional labor takes on its workers. 

Featured image courtesy of Library of Congress.