I used to work in Domestic Violence, but I didn’t Realize this Applies to all of Us.

Recently I discovered what emotional labor is, and that I had been unconsciously doing it all of my life. I did notice that fundraising is emotional labor, as well as much of nonprofit work. Which is most often done by women. And poorly paid-as men tend to undervalue emotional labor since they have the option not to engage in it. But this hurts men more than they know.

And then I realized that people around me weren’t doing emotional labor, and I got mad. I want equal emotional work with people in my life. But now I had a vocabulary to talk about it. But I still didn’t know WHY women tend to do more emotional labor than men.

Then I read Rebecca Solnit‘s important book, “The Mother of All Questions.” She goes into why emotional labor exists, by looking at the structure of socialized male and female roles in the western world. Key to emotional labor is the silence around it. First she talks about personal silence, but then she expands it into societal silence. If you read this book, you might start to see the shape of the whole reason you’ve felt unable to actually say what you need or what you feel or what you want your whole life. I hope you read this book. It’s incredible. It exploded my concepts of what we swim in when we are in relationship with other people.

Solnit quotes domestic violence expert Evan Stark, from his book, “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life,” and writes, “Physically abusive men interweave (domestic violence) with 3 equally important tactics, intimidation, isolation, and control. The primary harm abusive men inflict is political, not physical, and reflects the deprivation of rights and resources that are critical to personhood and citizenship.”

He adds, “The women in my practice have repeatedly made clear that what is done to them is less important than what their partners have prevented them from doing for themselves by appropriating their resources; undermining their social support, subverting their rights to privacy, self respect and autonomy. and depriving them of substantial equality. Coercive control is a liberty crime rather than a crime of assault.” (emphasis mine)

In addition to working full time for two years in the domestic violence movement, I personally have witnessed this with women in my family, how their partner held them back, how they didn’t go out and do things they wanted to do, hang out with their friends, make new friends, go dancing, go back to school, or participate equally in contributing to the household or raising the children. The domestic violence that occurred was terrible, but looking at the whole picture is important. It’s about power and control.

Patricia Arquette writes, “Part of domestic abuse is often economic suppression; the male might take your paycheck every week. The number one reason women say they returned to their abuser is financial insecurity. Often they have kids with them. “

But so often, the personal is a microcosm of the macrocosm. Solnit writes, “Coercive control happens at a societal level as it does at home. Women are instructed,by the way victims are treated and by the widespread tolerance of an epidemic of violence, that their value is low, that speaking up may result in more punishment, that silence may be a better survival strategy.”

She writes, “Shame is a great silencer.
Silence is a burden that belongs or belonged to most of us, though some are more loaded with it than others, and some have become experts in how to shove it aside, drop it, disown it.

So is politeness.
What we call politeness often means training that other people’s comfort matters more. You should not disturb it, and you are in the wrong to do so, whatever is happening.

Individuals and societies serve power and the powerful by refusing to speak and bear witness. “

So if you wonder why CBS or your local paper are staying silent, and aren’t giving airtime to the many lies and laws that #45 is breaking, patriarchy is the reason why.

Solnit writes, “There are specific ways in which specific people are silenced, but there is also a culture that withers away the space in which women speak and makes it clear men’s voices count for more than women’s.”

I have noticed this in my own family, as when men would talk, there would be absolute silence and everyone looking towards the speaker. When women would talk, people would have side conversations, look around, fidget, and do something else.

Solnit continues, “There are expert witnesses to the phenomenon, like Ben Barres, formerly Barbara Barres, a biologist at Stanford university. His work used to be questioned a lot more when he was identifying as female. In his experience but also in gender-blinding studies, he says, that these studies reveal that in many selection processes, the bar is unconsciously raised so high for women and minority candidates that few emerge as winners.”

I often wonder if I would get more opportunities (for clients, for articles, for speaking engagements, for lucrative contracts) if I were a man. And it’s books like this that make me think, YEP.

Solnit writes, “All women who silence, hide, disguise or dismiss aspect of themselves and their self-expression in pursuing male pleasure, approval, comfort, reinforcement. It’s how a woman in the workplace or the classroom or on the street has learned to navigate around male expectations, knowing if she is too confident, commanding, or self-contained she may be punished.”

In the film “How to Be Single” with Rebel Wilson and Dakota Johnson, a supposed party chick-flick fluff film actually addresses this aspect of living under the patriarchy. When Rebel is dropped for the fifth time by her friend Dakota to hang out with a man she’s dating, she calls her friend “Dicknotized” instead of hypnotized. Hypnotized by his dick, as if that’s the most important thing in her life, as she dismisses aspects of herself in a relationship with a man, dropping her girlfriends and everything she normally likes to do, to hang out with him.

Solnit continues, “To be Black and a woman is to do double duty in this business of serving others. … In 1978 Jamaican-born Michelle Cliff published “Notes on Speechlessness” which dealt with both avoidance and exploration of difficult truths. Both withdrawal and humor are types of speechlessness. The obscuring and trivialization of what is real is also speechlessness.” She concludes that she will seek to eliminate what has eliminated her: “This means nothing more or less than seeking my own language. This may be what women will do.”

Silence and shame are contagious, so are courage and speech.

rebecca solnit quote

“There is something unsaid and yet to be said, always someone struggling to find the words and the will to tell her story. Every day each of us invents the world and the self who meets the world, opens up or closes down space for others within that. Silence is forever being broken…” -Rebecca Solnit.

She writes that silence is forever being broken and reformed, but I would say let us break our silence every day, as we awake and renew ourselves. Let us be aware that we do this work, over and over again, so we can encourage other women to speak, to be their true, raw, angry, ambitious, sad, furious selves, to take action, to get mad, to call out what is happening at our organizations, to call out what is happening in our world, and to stand against oppression.

If you want to know what more you can do, as a fundraiser, and you’d like to read more about #FundraisingisFemale, please check out Vanessa Chases’ blog.

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