Emotional Work: How Women Are Trained for the “Second Shift”

Emotional work, something many women know all too well but maybe have never had a specific term for. Many women, even in America, are expected, because of gender roles, to do a type of labor that the phrase “emotional work” has been coined for. This type of labor is also known under the terms “second shift” or “third shift.” Emotional work refers to a type of responsibility that is both found at home. Emotional work is a multifaceted issue, but one explanation of emotional work is “women are expected to do the majority of emotional care for their family, on top of their job and housework; the so-called ‘triple shift’” (Bryant).

There are two terms which sometimes are used interchangeably for this phenomenon and another similar phenomenon. The first, the correct term for this paper, is emotional work. This refers to the emotional care at home. The second term that is sometimes used for this phenomenon is very similar, emotional labor. Emotional labor however, refers to emotional regulation in the workplace (Hochschild). Arlie Hochschild coined both of these terms. The term emotional work was coined in 1979 (Hochschild). While emotional labor was coined in 1983 in her book The Managed Heart (Hackman). In the easiest explanation, emotional labor refers to when a person is getting paid for their regulation of emotions, in contrast, emotional work refers to emotional management that is not compensated and involves personal relationships. Women are most often the people who do the most emotional work and it is expected of them. It’s expected that when a couple has a child, the woman stays home and watches it. It’s naturally assumed that women are better caretakers, are more emotionally adept, and remember important things for relationships, such as birthdays, concerts, and information about individuals. In addition women are expected to do housework which also falls into emotional work.

This mentality of men being the breadwinners and women doing the housework most likely originated from how women were historically discouraged from working outside of the home. While there is still some discouragement, there are far more openings for women to be in the workplace. What then when both partners work full-time jobs? Often the women are still pushed to work a “second” or “third” shift when they return home. This isn’t to mean that these jobs aren’t important or that some women don’t dislike doing it. However there is an inequality in the work done at home, especially with things such as childcare. Because of this many researchers believe that women wouldn’t receive equal opportunity in the workplace until these inequalities are rectified (Yapp).

Emotional work in an average household can take various forms and be recognized by several factors. For example an easy way to spot emotional work is to see who takes care of the majority of household duties, especially if both partners work full-time. Which parent drives the kids to and from school the most? Which parent spends the most time talking to the children? Which partner inquires about the other’s health and well-being? Which partner keeps the household running? Which partner does the planning for holidays and vacations? Which partner alters their sexual desires for that of their partner’s? This person is most likely the one who does the emotional work. More often than not in heterosexual relationships this person is the woman.

Women in heterosexual relationships will often alter their own sexual desires for that of their partners to reduce marital conflict and enhance intimacy. Several studies about emotional work have been done on heterosexual relationships, the findings of which all pointed to women taking on more emotional work in these relationships in all aspects (Umberson, Thomeer, and Lodge). Although in heterosexual relationships the person doing the emotional work is most often a woman, this does change when the couple is of the same-sex. In lesbian couples, the couple is actually more likely to have an equal share of the emotional workload than that of a heterosexual couple (Umberson, Thomeer, and Lodge).

Emotional work has been pushed upon women under the premise that women are just naturally better at this sort of thing. However, while women might be better at these sort things in the majority of instances, that’s not necessarily true because of biological factors. In fact the reasons that this might be true is because of sociological factors. Women are often socialized to be emotionally aware and it is expected of them to be in charge of emotional care. In contrast men are often socialized to suppress their emotions. The mentality is that men should be the breadwinners while women take care of the house and children, and be emotionally adept.

Emotional work is an interesting concept that is intricately tied with movements such as feminism. This is because the expectancy of women to do emotional work is so prevalent. Often times emotional work is overlooked or denied. Sometimes it is said that this is just how women are based on biology. However, it is a result of socialization and is a concept that many women can relate to.

Works Cited

Bryant, Lee. “Feminism.” History Learning Site. N.p., 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Duncombe, Jean, and Dennis Marsden. “LOVE AND INTIMACY: THE GENDER DIVISION OF EMOTION AND ‘EMOTION WORK’: A Neglected Aspect of Sociological Discussion of Heterosexual Relationships.” Sociology, vol. 27, no. 2, 1993, pp. 221–241.

Hackman, Rose. “‘Women Are Just Better at This Stuff’: Is Emotional Labor Feminism’s Next Frontier?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 08 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. “Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure.”American Journal of Sociology, vol. 85, no. 3, 1979, pp. 551–575.

Umberson, Debra, Mieke Beth Thomeer, and Amy C. Lodge. “Intimacy and Emotion Work in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Relationships.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 77.2 (2015): 542– 556. PMC. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Yapp, Robin. “Working Women ‘Still Do Housework'” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, Web. 12 Dec. 2016.