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It’s official: we’ve been using this well-known phrase incorrectly

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Susan Devaney
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As it turns out, the woman who coined the term ‘emotional labour’ says we’re using it wrong. 

In 2018, we’re all familiar with the term ‘emotional labour’. So much so, it’s often associated with women and the work we carry out that simply goes unnoticed (especially when it comes to the unequal division of household chores).

The term may now regularly pop in Google searches and academic papers, but according to the sociologist, Arnie Hochschild, who coined it we’re using it incorrectly.

It was back in 1983 in Hochschild’s book, The Managed Heart that the term first appeared. Emotional labour, as she conceived it, referred to the work of managing our own emotions that was required by certain professions. Case in point: flight attendants, who are expected to smile and be friendly even in stressful situations. 

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However, the term is now associated with household chores and it has left Hochschild feeling “horrified”, as she recently revealed to The Atlantic.

“Emotional labour, as I introduced the term in The Managed Heart, is the work, for which you’re paid, which centrally involves trying to feel the right feeling for the job,” she explained. “This involves evoking and suppressing feelings. Some jobs require a lot of it, some a little of it.”

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She continued: “From the flight attendant whose job it is to be nicer than natural to the bill collector whose job it is to be, if necessary, harsher than natural, there are a variety of jobs that call for this. Teachers, nursing-home attendants, and child-care workers are examples.

“The point is that while you may also be doing physical labour and mental labour, you are crucially being hired and monitored for your capacity to manage and produce a feeling.”

Instead, Hochschild suggests we simply call household chores (such as remembering birthdays etc) what they are: pure or mental labour. She’s right, it is mental labour. She added: “If there’s some management of anxiety about forgetting something, that’s the emotional-labour part of it.

Noted. Let’s follow Hochschild advice.

Images: Unsplash 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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