Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward

From Gemma Hartley, the journalist who ignited a national conversation on emotional labor, comes Fed Up, a bold dive into the unpaid, invisible work women have shouldered for too long—and an impassioned vision for creating a better future for us all.Day in, day out, women anticipate and manage the needs of others. In relationships, we initiate the hard conversations. At ho...

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Title:Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward
Author:Gemma Hartley
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Edition Language:English

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward Reviews

  • Maggie

    This is a thought-provoking book on the unseen emotional labor of women, how society has shaped both men and women's acceptance of this role, and what we can do about it. While well-researched it's also not a slog, and I read it in big gulps.

  • joni edelman

    Necessary. I’d like to see this be required feminist reading. Gemma tackles The hard stuff here with insight and intellect. Next step: CHANGE.

  • Jessica

    It's hard to overstate how valuable I found this book. It's as if Hartley has taken everything I've struggled to articulate about what goes on in my head on a daily basis and laid it all out, not just explaining what it feels like to carry the mental and emotional load in a marriage, but also figuring out how we got here and what we can do about it. It's an odd but welcome feeling to have the patterns of your own marital conversations spelled out in detail on the page, but knowing that this is a

    It's hard to overstate how valuable I found this book. It's as if Hartley has taken everything I've struggled to articulate about what goes on in my head on a daily basis and laid it all out, not just explaining what it feels like to carry the mental and emotional load in a marriage, but also figuring out how we got here and what we can do about it. It's an odd but welcome feeling to have the patterns of your own marital conversations spelled out in detail on the page, but knowing that this is a common pattern in partnerships across America (and many other countries as well) means that it's no longer enough to say, "Things are the way they are because I'm more naturally organized and he deals with anxiety." That can't be the case when millions of women in heterosexual partnerships have developed the same exact patterns, and that means it's not immutable.

    The path forward that Hartley prescribes is a both/and solution. It's expecting more while letting go of perfectionism. It requires men to step up — a tall order when many men refused to even read Hartley's original article, asking their partners to summarize it for them. Hartley is not naive or optimistic enough to say that women can solve this ourselves if we just did things differently, added another layer to our mental load. But she also admits that the way forward is not just "men need to do better." It requires an honest look by both men and women at their assumptions, ingrained beliefs, stereotypes, and personal standards.

    Hartley spends more than a token amount of time on the extra layers of emotional labor that exist for women of color, returning to this idea several times during the book and quoting a number of different women about their experiences. She also, more briefly, covers how this idea of emotional labor intersects with disability and gender identity, how those in marginalized groups are expected to educate and have endless patience with those who won't do the work of educating themselves. There is an extended discussion of how emotional labor comes into play at work, particularly in the service sector, and how a woman in the public eye must balance the projection of confidence with the expectation that she make everyone feel comfortable and happy. And there's a powerful chapter about how the expectation that women perform emotional labor perpetuates rape culture. These may seem like digressions from the central conversation about emotional labor at home, but I think they are important for explaining why we need to find a new path for our children's generation where emotional labor is valuable but not gendered.

    Hartley does, to some extent, conflate emotional labor with the mental workload (one of the criticisms of her original article) but she also pretty clearly shows how the two are inextricably linked. As she says, we keep track of the household management not for its own sake but because our family members are happier and more comfortable when they have clean clothes and good food, when they can lay their hands quickly on anything they need, when they have a web of strong relationships maintained through responding to social invitations and sending holiday cards. And maintaining the smooth running of the household also means getting others to do their part in a way that isn't perceived as "nagging" or "picking a fight," which falls squarely in the realm of emotional labor. The term is used as a shortcut, for sure, and stretched beyond its original meaning, but Hartley does the work upfront to explain how she's using the term and why.

    This book will, inevitably, be read primarily by women. That is clearly the audience Hartley is writing for, not because she doesn't think we need men's help to forge a new way forward (she does) but because she knows that women for whom her original article resonated couldn't even get their partners to read the article, let alone an entire book. That means that the men out there who believe they are #notallmen, who consider themselves feminist allies, need to take the initiative to pick up this book and be able to read it not in a defensive posture but as a way to understand what the average woman in a different-gender partnership is going through. And then they need to recommend it to their male friends.

    That's not to say women shouldn't read this, because they definitely should. There is a value in seeing your lived experiences reflected back on the page and in being given context and language to explain what's going on in your head. And Hartley certainly has advice for women as well. I think if this book were not seen as a "women's" book but rightly recognized as one touching on issues affecting all of us, then we might have a chance to forge the new generation of equitable relationships that Hartley envisions.

  • Cristine Mermaid

    I was excited to read this book because the blog post that had led to this book being written resonated so strongly with me. I read it in a day and was not disappointed. It's not a long book but there is so much in here that matters that I'm going to take it chapter by chapter after my overview.

    Overall, it's about women doing the vast majority of the "emotional labor" "Invisible work" "mental labor", for the purposes of this book, we will call it 'emotional labor' . This review will be a bit mo

    I was excited to read this book because the blog post that had led to this book being written resonated so strongly with me. I read it in a day and was not disappointed. It's not a long book but there is so much in here that matters that I'm going to take it chapter by chapter after my overview.

    Overall, it's about women doing the vast majority of the "emotional labor" "Invisible work" "mental labor", for the purposes of this book, we will call it 'emotional labor' . This review will be a bit more personal because it was impossible for me to read it without the filter of my own personal experiences. And I'm certainly not blaming a person or particular people or saying that men are 'bad' or anything like that. It's not about demonizing anyone but more about changing a culture that has put all of this on women. I also understand that some will say that it simply isn't true because it's not how it is in their house...that may be true or maybe it's perception, but this isn't about the exceptions. This is society in general. And if it weren't so widespread and common, her blog post wouldn't have blown up like it did.

    This has been a source of resentment and frustration in my life since before I could give it a name. This is a book that I could have written except for a couple of major ways my life differs from the author. (and that I differ from the author)

    Chapter one : How did we get here

    This chapter is about how women are socialized while growing up to do the emotional labor. They are raised by a society that tells us that we are to cater to men emotionally and that it's our job to care for others. The author talks about how she saw the females in her family doing this so she internalized it as normal.

    This is a major differing point between the author and me. I did not grow up in a family where I saw the things she refers to because I was in a single parent household where the single parent was way too busy to do a lot of these tasks she refers to (organizing social calendar, reaching out to relatives and friends on birthdays, doing holiday cards, etc etc etc) The author does seem to assume that everyone grew up like she did which I found odd. (but then again, we are talking about 'general' rather than 'exceptions')

    Chapter 2: The Mother Load- This is when a lot of women find the imbalance becoming severe. It is still a society where parenting is seen as the mother's job and fathers are the helpers. The outdated stereotype of the bumbling father who can't be trusted to watch his own child/children is still played out on memes and sitcoms (which I refuse to watch) and in various other outlets. This is ridiculous, not only does it give men an 'out' for sharing full responsibility for their children, it is also incredibly insulting to them.

    Chapter 3: Who Cares- I've actual got this part down. I honestly do not care if people think I'm 'dropping the ball'. because I'm not tilling my organic garden for greens that I feed my children in morning smoothies. This whole thing where women (and men) are so concerned about how they appear to others as parents is not an issue I deal with. The author writes about how part of the problem is that she expects her husband to do things 'her' way and I side with the husband on that. Let it freaking go. I have been on the other end of that. Expectations need to be realistic. You can't have a perfect showcase of a house when you are raising children, not without other things falling through the cracks and devoting your entire life to cleaning. I don't do things like holiday cards and reminding anyone to call someone on their birthday , perhaps because I didn't see these things being done, it never occurred to me to do them. The idea that they would even be MY job if I'm in a relationship with an adult is nonsensical to me.

    Chapter 4: It's Ok to Want More-This chapter really resonated with me because I get so very sick of hearing about how dads are doing more than they used to so they need to be praised for it constantly (want a trophy too?) and that we just need to be grateful that they participate at all. Bullsh!t. You can be grateful while at the same time insisting that someone else do their part, fully do their part. It's not doing us a 'favor' to pull your own weight.

    Chapter 5: What We do and Why we do It- this chapter is about how relentless mental labor is, how it occupies an incredible amount of energy and time that no one in the household sees unless something doesn't get done. This is something I've tried to explain but defensiveness is always the response which isn't helpful and simply silences. When you have everything from thinking about what's out in the fridge, who needs new shoes, how is your child going to get to that activity when you are at work , the slipping of grades, paying the lunch bill (this list could literally be a thesis so I will stop here), it's exhausting. I had this wild idea that when I became a sahm, that I would finally have time to write (I know, cue laughter here) but what I didn't realize was how emotionally and mentally exhausted I would be from a day of doing relentless continuous physical and mental and emotional labor. I had nothing left in me to be creative.

    Chapter 6-Whose Work is Anyway-This is about the fact that this is considered the women's job. Why? And how is it fair? There is an idea that women naturally like to do it (yes, some do but even they need appreciation and recognition for it generally)and that women are naturally better at it (some but not enough to consider it a majority) . This results in women being judged/criticized/blamed when something falls through the cracks and men being treated like they've done their wife a favor for doing a household chore/errand. Are women really better at it or have they been socially conditioned to believe it's their job? A lot of people will say "but men take care of the car/household repairs/lawn in a traditional marriage" and maybe they do but those things don't even come close to making up the difference. The idea that those things are 'men's work' and literally everything else is "women's work' is an unfair division. This idea that men are 'helping' when they do what they should be doing may seem like mere semantics but it isn't because it still places the burden on the women and gives him points for doing a 'favor'.

    Chapter 7- A Warm Smile and Cold Reality-basically about how women are expected to always be pleasant and accommodating and are criticized harshly when they aren't.

    Chapter 8-Too Emotional to Lead?-about the ridiculous assumption that women can't lead because they are emotional. Many other countries have had women Presidents and Prime Ministers and women have been leading for eons (think Cleopatra) so this doesn't even have a basis in reality

    Chapter 9-What Quiet Costs-talks about the resentment that builds up because of the unfair division of labor

    Chapter 10-Finishing the Fight-references Betty Freidan's problem with no name and how we haven't finished that fight because now we are expected to do it all. Why should we have to do it all? When we have partners?

    Chapter 12-Nature vs Nurture-addresses the assumption that women are better at it because they are women when in fact society forms us to be a certain way. And of course some women are more naturally suited to the role but so are some men. The interesting thing is that men generally have a period of living alone before marrying and manage to do things like notice what needs to be done around the house but once they marry, that switch goes off (in many). Subconsciously, they no longer see it as their job yet of course they are capable of noticing what needs to be done and doing it. Men are intelligent aware human beings. I give them more credit than that.

    The last few chapters are about what to do about it. They are about actually making lists of everything that needs to be done to make partners aware of it all because usually they don't know what it takes to keep a household running. It is about becoming situational aware. There is this idea that if one parent takes one child to their physical and the other takes the other child, then 'well I did my part 50/50' but no, who had to remember the kids needed physicals and then go through the mental gymnastics and logistics of finding times that worked and scheduling them and being on hold, etc. It doesn't sound like much but when you multiply it by exponential issues, it is.

    It also discusses how many women criticize how a man loads the dishwasher, etc...and I agree that anyone who does that, needs to stop. If you want a partner to do their share, then you can't cut them down constantly.

    Last chapter is about finding balance. Things will never be 50/50 because of different phases and stages but one partner shouldn't be killing themselves while another one has time to pursue hobbies and hang out on the couch. It's about making your partner aware of everything that has to be done and giving them ownership of those tasks. (having to constantly delegate is still work)

    This was long but overall, I recommend this book to all women who are struggling with these issues. It's about damn time we talked about it.

    (and no, even if one partner is a sahp, I don't think it should still ALL fall on them, that leaves one partner working 24/7 and the other getting to pursue what they want for hours a day outside of work (even if they do the traditionally male things like lawn, car, repairs). Being a sahp is work. And in the vast percentage of marriages, both partners have outside jobs.

  • Jennifer

    "My husband does a lot. He helps me out with the housework, he takes care of our children if I will be out, he will do anything I ask him to. Personally, I think I'm pretty lucky." In response to praise such as this, author

    asks, “Does he do a lot compared to other men or does he do a lot compared to you?” Emotional labor is the invisible job handed down to women of every generation to make sure the days run smoothly, the household is efficiently managed, and everyone is happy and

    "My husband does a lot. He helps me out with the housework, he takes care of our children if I will be out, he will do anything I ask him to. Personally, I think I'm pretty lucky." In response to praise such as this, author

    asks, “Does he do a lot compared to other men or does he do a lot compared to you?” Emotional labor is the invisible job handed down to women of every generation to make sure the days run smoothly, the household is efficiently managed, and everyone is happy and not inconvenienced. It's the mental energy spent on managing and micromanaging, all without rocking the boat. Hartley suggests that if women want help with this extra load, the options generally are, “Do it alone, be a nag, or let it go”, and any help that may be offered is met with the expectation of resounding gratefulness. After all, they're doing us a favor. It's our job. Even when it's their house, too. Their children, too. Their life, too. Note: I am very fortunate in my partnership at home to have a spouse who shares home responsibilities. Thank you, honey, for being my beautiful rarity xoxo.

    In

    , Hartley gives personal examples from her household, but also discusses how emotional labor has followed women into the workplace which I can personally attest to. I've had work positions in which the phone for our team was placed on my desk. I was the woman, the subliminal secretary. Committee assignments for female employees were themed with in-office morale improvement and potluck/birthday celebrations versus males who were assigned to out-of-office opportunities where networking could occur...opportunity. I could go on. So could Hartley, and she does.

    “Women aren't fed up because we expect too much. We're fed up because we're told we shouldn't expect anything at all. We should just let it go as if it were so easy. As if our work were so easily disposable.” Hartley suggests that all the dots connect to the underlying theme of undervaluing the work of women. Hartley does a good job of pointing out the imbalance and how it hurts everyone. It's not only a heterosexual issue, but it

    a patriarchal issue, and when women accept this extra load without contradiction, when we continue to train the next generation to do the same, we naturally create a barrier for men and enable it to continue. With honesty, she documents the results of her personal attempts at finding balance at home and it's clear that finding a solution will require much trial and error but it's worth it because we're worth it. It starts with books like this that raise awareness and inspire dialogue. Insightful reading material.

  • Jennifer

    Worth listening to via audio. The narrator, Therese Plummer, did an amazing job and doesn't sound at all like she's reading nonfiction. They made a great choice.

    I liked that Hartley referenced another book I read this year called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu. I thought this was great because it shows the author wasn't writing this in a vacuum and builds upon other works on this topic.

    Overall, a good intro to the topic of emotional labor if this might be the first time you are really delving i

    Worth listening to via audio. The narrator, Therese Plummer, did an amazing job and doesn't sound at all like she's reading nonfiction. They made a great choice.

    I liked that Hartley referenced another book I read this year called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu. I thought this was great because it shows the author wasn't writing this in a vacuum and builds upon other works on this topic.

    Overall, a good intro to the topic of emotional labor if this might be the first time you are really delving in. Personally, I got a bit tired of the self-flagellation the author was doing in the "why do I feel this way? Can't I just get over it? My husband already does more than other men, so why am I still frustrated?" vein. She seemed to need to justify her feelings and explain to the reader that it's not awful for women to feel this way and you aren't a horrible person if you do. As a reader it got tiring after a while and I was like I get it and I'm on board. I understand and am not beating myself up over it. Move on into the meat of what to do about it.

    Given that I just read this, this article from The Atlantic interviewing the woman who coined the term on emotional labor about the scope creep of the definition is interesting.

  • Nikki

    Eh, it's okay. It's frustratingly heterosexual and focuses far more on the dynamics within a relationship between a man and a woman ( which makes sense given the scope I suppose...). However it does show an inadequate analysis of same sex couples and doesn't move beyond acknowledging that they/we also have difficulty dividing emotional labor- but supposedly find it easier than heterosexual couples due to the lack of gender roles. It fails to acknowledge that they/we often divide up the emotional

    Eh, it's okay. It's frustratingly heterosexual and focuses far more on the dynamics within a relationship between a man and a woman ( which makes sense given the scope I suppose...). However it does show an inadequate analysis of same sex couples and doesn't move beyond acknowledging that they/we also have difficulty dividing emotional labor- but supposedly find it easier than heterosexual couples due to the lack of gender roles. It fails to acknowledge that they/we often divide up the emotional labor while having far less resources.

    It's also fairly bad at branching out from the original context of emotional labor. Yes, she does acknowledge it, but it's somewhat poorly done since she's applying emotional labor to unpaid work- which is a novel sort of idea, but it's definitely not the same context of paid emotional labor under capitalism where the term was originally coined. She does seem to fully understand the impact of emotional labor in the context of paid work from having worked retail/childcare as well as referencing Arlie Russell Hochschild's work in detail. It could have been a separate concept rather than what this book became- it's just a bad analysis in terms of understanding heteronormativity and heterosexuality and that dynamic of emotional labor- something that as a straight woman she can't quite overcome in spite of the efforts in this book.

    The sections on people with multiple axises of oppression read a little clunky as well and could have been interwoven better, but the effort is nice. Frequently referenced Betty Friedan (which is nice and all, but we're beyond that and Friedan was a very homophobic woman.)

  • Alison Terpstra

    Man this book sucked. I was so ready as this is a very important topic within feminism but she quoted Sheryl Sandberg in the opening chapter and I rolled my eyes. Really? I just feel more research was needed into this - it was all very personal and poorly supported when there is great information about this topic out there! The conversations around REAL emotional labour are actually much more in depth than this book provided. She seems like a first year feminist theory student who got a book dea

    Man this book sucked. I was so ready as this is a very important topic within feminism but she quoted Sheryl Sandberg in the opening chapter and I rolled my eyes. Really? I just feel more research was needed into this - it was all very personal and poorly supported when there is great information about this topic out there! The conversations around REAL emotional labour are actually much more in depth than this book provided. She seems like a first year feminist theory student who got a book deal. Disappointed

  • Gwendolyn B.

    I tip my Portland Trailblazers cap to Hartley for opening a much needed cultural conversation about an unjust but invisible division of labor between the sexes. Combining research and interviews with courageously personal self-disclosures about her own marriage, she walks us through the many facets of "emotional labor," which she defines as "the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy."

    It is at this point, however, where she loses me . . . because she takes Arl

    I tip my Portland Trailblazers cap to Hartley for opening a much needed cultural conversation about an unjust but invisible division of labor between the sexes. Combining research and interviews with courageously personal self-disclosures about her own marriage, she walks us through the many facets of "emotional labor," which she defines as "the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy."

    It is at this point, however, where she loses me . . . because she takes Arlie Hochschild's brainchild and creates her own free-ranging definition. (Hochschild herself, by the way, sets the record straight in this interview:

    ) It therefore made me grimace to hear the term "emotional labor" echoed throughout this book at drinking-game frequency. I understand with razor sharp empathy the message that Hartley is trying to convey and relate on a most personal level to her struggles. But "emotional labor" in this book becomes a misnomer where a neologism is actually needed; the "problem that has no name," so succinctly identified by Betty Friedan, remains with out a name. (Sorry, Hartley. I have no suggestions).

    I also felt put off by some of the over-simplifications. Christians, for example, are painted as a monolith. Homeschoolers are, as well, leaving this free-wheeling, feminist, homeschooling Episcopalian of a reader wondering which peg shape I need to be to fit into one of Hartley's holes.

    Most difficult to bear, however, was the clear lack of editing and guidance. I'm all for an explosive conclusion, but this one flickered off gradually . . . and tediously. The final 3-4 chapters repeatedly feature phrases such as "as I noted earlier" and "as I said," signaling that a late night spent with the editor and some Chinese take-out would have done readers a great favor by condensing four final chapters into one. Better yet, Hartley could convey her point even more succinctly, perhaps as an article for Harper's Bazaar . . . .

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