The widest wage gap

I want to get paid for my emotional labor.

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

Look at that nice stock photo couple. Here’s the conversation they’re probably having:

Jennifer: I like the side of your head.
Sean: Ha ha that tickles.
Jennifer: It’s strong and handsome and mysterious, just like you.
Sean: Ha ha that tickles.
Jennifer: How was work today?
Sean: Okay.
Jennifer: Was your boss nicer today? How do you feel?
Sean: Fine.
Jennifer: Are you excited to see your mom this weekend?
Sean: Sure.
Jennifer: Okay then, I’ll just go fuck myself.
Sean: What’s wrong, babe?
Jennifer: Nothing.
Sean: Okay.

While this example is trite, it’s indicative of a continuous pattern in a patriarchal culture like ours. Emotional labor is done primarily by women, and it is not taken seriously as labor.

Where the Emotional Labor Gap Comes From

Women are expected from birth not to tell people what we want. Men are expected from birth not to tell people how they feel.

Yes, gender and gendered labor are more complicated than this. All the same, this problem is still highly gendered. To put it simply:

Women are expected to receive others. Men are expected to give to others.

Women are expected to hold emotional space for others, which requires holding emotional space for ourselves. Men are expected to give to themselves and their loved ones, which requires knowing what they want and advocating for it.

Women are expected not to fight for themselves and their interests, while men are. Men are expected not to discuss their feelings and emotional needs, while women are.

What you are expected to do your whole life, you typically get better at doing. It’s like a muscle that strengthens.

What you are told not to do your whole life, you typically fail to get better at doing. It’s like a muscle that atrophies.

The feminist movement has pushed women into the traditional workplace. But it has entirely left out the work we have been expected to do our whole lives: emotional labor.

I don’t blame men for not being good emotional laborers. As I’ve written before:

Imagine never learning math. At all. Imagine being told your whole life that math was beneath you, wasn’t for you. It was silly, stupid, sissy. You weren’t allowed to be any of those things. Then imagine being in an algebra class with people who’d learned math all their lives. Oh, and also, you’ve been conditioned to not listen to The Kinds Of People Who Do Math.

You’d be completely flabbergasted too.

So what would you do? You’d realize that you had to learn math, and you’d pay for a math tutor.

If women have to learn to give to others, men have to learn how to receive others. If women are expected to do paid labor, then traditionally women’s labor should be paid too.

I am advocating for what I want. I am fighting for my interests.

I want to get paid for my emotional labor. I don’t want a psychology degree and a private practice. I want to earn money doing what I’m already good at, work I have been doing for years, work that has never been taken seriously and has been abused by people in my life for years, work my mother taught me and never got paid for either.

I’d prefer a total gift economy, but we don’t have one. So it’s time to pay for emotional labor.

Emotional Labor

You know, that thing we don’t get paid for.

Emotional labor is work. It is labor. It is time, energy and effort put into doing something. Because of a systemic problem of patriarchal culture, the kinds of work men were expected to do got paid for and paid higher. The kinds of work women were expected to do got viewed as “not work.”

Regardless of whether you “believe” or “don’t believe” in the wage gap between men and women in traditional workplaces, it is undeniable that women do more work for less pay. By and large, women take care of children and household work more than men do, with no extra pay. By and large, women do far more emotional labor than men do, with no extra pay.

Care-giving is one of the lowest paid professions in the country. A form of emotional care-giving can be well-paid if you decide to specifically do it as a psychotherapist, which requires expensive degrees and years of schooling. Psychotherapy intersects with, but is not the same as, emotional labor.

No one gets to be a professional emotional laborer. I want to be one.

If you have ever “let someone down easy,” you have done emotional labor. You have put in energy and effort to care for their feelings in your actions and words. That will be $10, please.

If you have ever explained to someone how you feel and why their actions hurt you, you have done emotional labor. That will be $15, please.

If you have ever asked someone how they’re feeling and listened, you have done emotional labor. Let’s go for a $20/hour minimum wage here. I’ll pro-rate. I listened for half an hour? $10. Two hours? $40.

Thank you very much.

If you have ever told someone you understand how they feel and explained to them why it resonates with you, that takes a bit more specific skill. Let’s charge $25/hour for that.

If you have ever offered good advice, let’s charge $30/hour for that.

If you have ever explained to someone why their feelings make perfect sense, and explained possible emotional triggers and causes, let’s charge $50/hour for that.

If you have held someone while they cried, listened while they complained, put your own feelings aside to care for theirs, explained your feelings fully and deeply from a place of openness and vulnerability…

If you have ever done the deep work of understanding your own feelings for yourself, and changed your actions accordingly…

This is work. It should be treated like work. It should be paid for.

Do you think that sounds ridiculous? Me too.

You know what I think sounds more ridiculous?

Paying a guy who had the money to buy a foreclosed house from a bank that repossessed it from a working-class black family during the 2008 financial crash hundreds of dollars per month for a single room, all while families just around the corner are living on the sidewalk in tents in fear of being cleared out by police.

Paying a multi-billion dollar business $10 for a bag of produce when they’re throwing out truckloads of produce every single day and rejecting even more for looking “imperfect,” all while people in my own neighborhood go hungry.

I think capitalism is ridiculous. But we don’t have a gift economy.

I still have to pay rent. I still have to eat. And I am damn good at emotional labor. I should get paid for it. I don’t want it as a side hustle. I want this as my full-time job. I love this work. I am excellent at it. I want to get paid.

Maybe we should have an emotional labor strike. Maybe, an emotional labor union. Maybe, an emotional labor credit union. Emotional labor classes. Emotional labor tutors.

If you want one — my email is anna.a.ronan@gmail.com. I’ll tutor you. Sliding scale. $25–60 per hour. You pay what you can afford. I’ll work with you, because capitalism is shitty.

Do you think it sounds insane? I don’t think it’s half as insane as most of the things I pay for. What I think is — if we all actually learned how to do emotional labor, the world wouldn’t be half as fucked up as it is. I think emotional labor should be required for everyone and taught in schools. It should be especially required for people in positions of hierarchical decision-making power, such as CEOs, shareholders, police and every walk of government.

And as long as we have to pay for things, we should have to pay for emotional labor.

Don’t think we should pay for emotional labor? Google “gift economy” and “the commons.” Get there, or Fuck You, Pay Me.

Level 5 Laser Lotus. Writing for a world where many worlds fit. www.annaronan.com | anna.a.ronan@gmail.com

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