Gender and Emotion Work in Relationships

*Trigger Warning*

My ex-boyfriend and I went through many complications throughout the course of our relationship but it was hard for me, on many occasions, to end things. I felt that I was obligated to stick around. I cared for him. Shouldn’t I have tried harder?

In a sociology class last semester, we talked about the third-shift. After women started securing their places in the work force, there was doubt and shame in leaving their families and household responsibilities behind. Societal pressures made it so that women had far more emotional work to deal with as well. Arlie Hochschild does an even better job at explaining gender emotion work in his piece, “The Presentation of Emotion.”

“Due to their subordinate position, women have a particular relationship to emotion work… Emotion can become a good that is exchanged in significant relationships. Women are more likely to be asked to manage their negative emotions, such as anger and aggression. Another consequence, one of particularly importance to Hochschild, is that women are more often employed commercially for emotion work. Women are more often the nurses who support rather than the doctors that diagnose; they are more often the elementary school teachers that nurture rather than the professors who research.”

My ex was severely depressed which was hard for me to handle – far more complicated than what I thought I was getting into. I remember a time two weeks before our break up when he stated, “you want to break up with me don’t you? You’re just scared I’ll hurt myself again.” Again. You read that right. And he was correct about me. He had cut himself a few months earlier. It was a Thursday night and he confessed to cheating on me. I left in anger, and to call my mother, and when I returned ten minutes later I found him on my bed with a knife in his hand and blood on his arm. He victimized himself. I had to take care of him. The cops were called and we spent the night in the hospital talking to psychotherapist teams. I had to take care of him. But I was the one hurting.

My roommate Kelsey is writing her senior thesis on the effects of rape culture on a survivors decision to report the crime. In her paper, she discusses gender and emotion work. Kelsey found that the survivors took it upon themselves as a personal responsibility to protect the other people in their lives before themselves. One victim wouldn’t tell her parents for fear that her mother would have an emotional breakdown or that her father would have a violent reaction. She even was fearful of ruining her perpetrators future by coming forward.

In terms of relationships, Kelsey explained that emotion work would be prevalent. It’s across all scenarios, not just in a rape survivors narrative. She says, the fact that in patriarchal cultures woman bear the role of nurturer, it’s usually the case that they end up taking responsibility for others before themselves. Woman will nurture others above themselves.

In order to have healthier relationships we need to question the roles between men and women in all everyday situations. There needs to be an even distribution of emotional labor.

One thought on “Gender and Emotion Work in Relationships

  1. You are so open in your posts and I really appreciate that. This is something I’ve also had to deal with it was as if the moment something went wrong I had to be the one there to pick it up. As if I had to make the other person happy because their happiness was supposed to be mine right? It’s an incredible amount of pressure and pain to have to keep on top of all of that while suppressing your own emotions. Thank you for talking about this really important issue.


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