Fourteen years ago, the women I worked with threw me a surprise wedding shower. I don’t like surprises. I was feeling sick, which is no fun in itself the month leading up to my wedding to J, and not only was it a surprise on top of sickness, but it was a party where a few loud women (whom I liked…I want to make that clear…I liked them…they just obviously didn’t know me and/or care about what *I* liked at all) gave me embarrassing gifts. Like…I worked for a construction company. Most of my coworkers were men, and the shower they threw me…during the work day…was in this glass walled conference room that was very easy to see into and lots of the men we worked with passed by during the party. They bought me shit like lingerie. That to me felt inappropriate enough receiving from my women coworkers…at work…when they didn’t know my sizes or tastes (nor apparently did they care), but also that I was opening them in full view of my boss, my boss’s boss, and a bunch of my male coworkers because of the glass walls. Talk about a social anxiety nightmare. But this post isn’t really about social anxiety (not mainly, anyway). Or about me being kind of a prude. It’s about how much emotional labor women do for men.
At this goofy, mostly unwanted wedding shower, one of my coworkers gave me this ‘Honey-Do’ whistle as a joke (but not really).
I can remember taking that gag gift from the box in bewilderment, already thinking how completely ridiculous and unfathomable bossing J around was, while listening to all the women around me laugh and make comments like, ‘Haha! You’ll need THAT! Screw a crockpot and bath towels! That’s the most useful gift you got, probably…’
But I’ve never needed it. (Obviously. I don’t like texting people twice if they don’t give me a reply. Like I’m gonna nag J. I’d have not married him if he were that kind of man. Seriously. My social anxiety tells me I’m a nuisance no one likes when I ask someone for something ONCE.) I didn’t throw it out, though. It’s hanging on our downstairs corkboard inside the garage, and it collects a lot of dust. J could maybe use if for *me.* He could change the sticker to say ‘Get Off Your Ass And Write Already Whistle.’ But he doesn’t need to do that, either. Because we’re not in a manager/employee or a parent/child or a teacher/student kind of relationship. We’re partners of equal power and *equal responsibility.*
I’ve read several articles on how although many men are now doing more of the physical labor of housework, women are still largely doing nearly all of the household management (mental and emotional labor). Which means women are making ‘Honey Do’ lists for the physical labor they aren’t personally doing. Yes…maybe he’ll make dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays and pick the kids up from soccer on Wednesday and fix the broken kitchen sink, but only after she tells him to. It’s up to her to put it on the list. It’s up to her to follow up with him to see if he’s done it. It’s up to her to explicitly tell him if something needs to change. And he will only do what’s required of him, unless she asks for more, specifically. Like…she didn’t ask him to cook dinner AND do the dishes. ‘Well, I would have helped if you told me…if you asked…if you…’ As if men can’t see the additional or consequential need or take it upon themselves to find out necessary information about the people in their lives and how their own family and household operates. One of these articles I read detailed a story of a woman whose EX husband still called her to shop for gifts for HIS mother and sister. After their divorce. Because she ‘knows what they like and what shops to buy from…’ It seems so many men are oblivious to the energy women expend on this emotional labor, and they feel somehow like it’s ‘our job.’ And yet, there’s still that overplayed joke about the nagging wife. ???? Men don’t want to do the emotional labor, but they also want to complain about women doing it. And it’s not just within marriages…
This quote from Martha Grover hit me pretty hard the first time I read it, because I realized J is really unique as a man in my life, and maybe unique as a man in general. I’ve done emotional labor for coworkers, for supervisors, for friends, for family members, including my brother and my father. They do feel entitled to it. To me telling them what needs to be done before they’ll do it, or sometimes, like the quote up there, to telling me to basically do it for them so they don’t have to. The overwhelming majority of men in my life…good men…kind men…still wanted me to assign them responsibilities like I was running a classroom…like I was their mother…or in many cases, even after saying, ‘Here is something it would help me out if you did,’ them saying, ‘But I don’t want to. So can’t you just do it yourself?’…instead of TAKING responsibilities based on their own observations of need assessment and goal setting and skill mastery.
I’m so happy and grateful I don’t have to do that with J. He’s never been a man that wants to be assigned tasks; he always has been the kind of man who TAKES responsibility. I don’t have to blow that Honey Do Whistle at him. I don’t have to nag him. I don’t have to make him a list. I guess this is a weird post to make about how J inspires the men I write in fiction, but it’s true. The fictional men I create do emotional labor. Willingly. They don’t exclusively lean on the women in their lives to do it for them. They don’t want the list; they make their own lists. I’m glad I don’t have to make lists for J, and that I’m only responsible for the items on my own.
I’m already past one item on my list: Write new words. Check.