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Podcast OOTB 2 Transcript

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A transcript for Out of the Blue, episode #2: On emotional labor, with Jess Zimmerman (September 15, 2015).

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Jess Zimmerman 0:10 To me put the thread into PDF, when it was probably still only 1200 comments long and I think it was 700 pages.

Cortex 0:20 Yeah, if you start looking at this in terms of classical novels that gets

welcome to Out of the blue, a podcast series where each episode focuses on one interesting story from the community website meta I'm Josh Mullard, also known as cortex, I run meta filter along with a small paid staff mostly moderators. This episode of Out of the blue is about emotional labor and about an extraordinary meta filter common thread that recently sprung up around that topic. On July 13, Jessica Zimmerman published an essay on the toast dotnet, titled where's my cut on unpaid emotional labor. In that piece, she writes about emotional labor, the work people do to support comfort, advise, and even just pay attention to other people as part of our daily social interactions. And she writes about how emotional labor is often undervalued compared to other kinds of labor, and about how women are disproportionately the ones expected to do that unpaid undervalued work in friendships and romantic relationships in all kinds of social settings. The question is basically, for something that's so important, why don't we treat it as valuable as work that takes effort to do and why do we treat it like something women in particular are supposed to just effortlessly provide as a matter of course. So Zimmerman published the essay, but that was just the beginning. A member of meta filter, read it, liked it, and posted it to the front page of the site. And what followed was a long, intense discussion, sometimes heartbreaking sometimes heartwarming, as meta filter users in particular women on the site opened up about their own experiences with this phenomenon, and the ways in which it had consciously or unconsciously affected their lives and relationships over the years. And when I say long discussion thread, I mean, long as in over 2000 comments spanning an entire month, with hundreds of individual commenters getting involved. Dozens of people signed up just to join the discussion. And as spawned several other posts on the site and questions on Ask meta filter, and there was a lot of discussion about it elsewhere on the internet in general. I called up Justin Roman to talk to her about her essay and her experience seeing it discussed in this huge metal filter thread. Hi, Jess. Yeah. Hi. It's Josh, thanks so much for talking to me. I'm so excited to talk to you about this. I guess one of my questions is, if you had known this was going to get as much of a response as it did, would you have approached the original article differently? Or are you pretty much happy with how you put together things that you meant to say at the time?

Jess Zimmerman 2:50 I mean, I sort of think like, there were there were things that got addressed in the thread that they hadn't even crossed my mind. So part of me thinks, you know, if I had known that it was going to spark this much discussion, I would have tried to shoehorn more stuff in there, I would have tried to address more things. And I would have tried to get more specific, but I don't think I was equipped to do that. Actually, I learned a ton from reading the thread. Like there were there were things that were brought up in the thread that that hadn't occurred to me that gave me new perspective on other things I was writing or other things that I like, there was another piece that I published the same week that I was actually like, if I read this thread first, that piece would have been different. I have found it really, really illuminating. So I don't I don't think that it was possible for me before the existence of this thread to have written an article that would have anticipated all of the all the things that people were talking about.

Cortex 3:39 Yeah, it was this long, detailed discussion, which was great. To some extent, you know, it's the sad thing to say about the internet. But 2000 comments that isn't 2000 angry, yelling comments is kind of notable in its own right. But was was it surprising to you to get that sort of reaction after maybe some of what you've seen elsewhere on the internet in response to things you've written?

Jess Zimmerman 3:58 I don't read comments. And I have like, a massive massive auto blocker on Twitter. So I have I have really like, insulated myself from most reactions to stuff that I write which, which is part of why this thread was so amazing, because I was riveted. You know, I had the I had the thread open in a tab for almost the entire month and it was going and I was just like, you know, reloading the new comments when it said 90 new comments or whatever, but I looked away for five minutes. And I almost never engaged with people's reactions to stuff that I write because most of it is on the wilds of the internet in the wilds of the Internet are disgusting.

Cortex 4:41 One recurring theme in the meta filter thread was the revelatory nature of finding a new vocabulary to put some of these experiences into words. And so being able to talk to people in your life, about stuff that really needs discussion, talking to your friends, talking to your family, talking to your partners,

Jess Zimmerman 4:57 and some people, you know, had talked about getting stuck voted on, you know, talking to people because they felt like they had the language now to say, here's the here's the sort of common thread between all of the things that are going wrong. I, you know, I hope I hope that that makes people happier. I don't know. Well, I

Cortex 5:14 think so that was the flip side that I think are one of the flip sides that I think was a positive thing about it is it felt like a lot of the discussion in the thread was people saying, Oh, I have a vocabulary. Now to talk about this with my partner, I have a way to frame this thing that we both sort of knew was maybe a problem or a frustration for us, maybe we have a good relationship, but there are things that cause us trouble. And now actually have a way to actually talk about that, that may help us actually work through that and make our relationship better. And that's, that's a great outcome. You know,

Jess Zimmerman 5:47 it's it's amazing how profound it can be to discover or you know, or rediscover, or have someone coined a term that describes something that you've always experienced and always noticed, but not had a way to articulate before. And I remember that that happened with mansplaining. Like, there was there was little while where everybody was, I mean, all men were so sick of the word mansplaining. They were like, how come you're all saying mansplaining all the time, it's like, because we've we've experienced this our entire lives, and we didn't know how to talk about it. Like we would call it that thing that men do. I actually a friend just texted me at like 11pm A week ago and said, Oh, my God, friend, zoning is where guys don't want to do emotional labor without getting paid in sex out of the blue. And that's, you know, that that was what was so amazing for me is the thread is full of people being like, I never thought about this in this context before. And I was like, I never thought about this in this context before. But I hope that they were also men reading it silently. And a lot of people were talking about asking their partners to read it and finding that the response to that kind of spoke volumes, you know, whether whether their partners were willing to sort of sit down and put in the reading time and the thinking time, or whether they sort of skimmed it and said, Well, this sounds like a lot of angry women. Yeah, and walked away from it. Because it's kind of like, well, we're just trying to help you guys. We're trying to, we're trying to help your time, explain the mysterious problems of women and relationships with women that that that you don't know how to explain or fix. And we're trying to, like, bring you into the sort of active part of caring for somebody, and we're trying to like, negate some of this sort of robot programming that little boys get where they're not supposed to be compassionate or caring. So I feel like I feel like a lot of the people who were having actually depressing revelations were the ones who were reading the thread and feeling like it, opened their eyes and then showing it to their partner and having their partner just kind of walk away from

Cortex 7:46 it. Yeah, presented with this opportunity to say, Oh, here's something maybe new to me about the way the world isn't something that helped me better understand how I am and how my relationship is. I think I'll go watch TV. Yes, it is. Yeah, it's frustrating. And some

Jess Zimmerman 8:02 people were reporting that their partners would say, like, can you not go through it and just like distill the highlights for me, and they were like, it's ready, you know? Exactly.

Cortex 8:20 One of my favorite little details that came up was the krona Island theme. Just sort of started I think Palomar just made an offhand comment saying, and I'll be Uncrowned Island. And then there's been another, like 170 comments running with that theme as this idea of this place that yes, okay, let us go to a place where we just dispense with all that bullshit. And if people don't want to make the effort to meet us halfway, we'll just retire to Krown island with our tacos and our margaritas.

Jess Zimmerman 8:47 Yeah, someone actually made a travel poster. Yes, really far down the throat, which is great. So my only priming credit on them is wonderful. And I like it's a wonderful fantasy. My only problem with current Island is that historically, my fantasy has been about dude Island. Like what happens when we send all the dudes to dude Island. And it's very, very telling that groups of women have one of these fantasies so often, like we talked about this so often, like, well, what if we all just what if we all just bought a disused convent in France and raised goats and like, just just just us just like a little commune of ladies? Or what if we sent all the guys to do an island or you know, like, they're essentially all just variations on the theme, which is like, like, what if we only had to take care of ourselves? We didn't have to worry about the guys, but I went to women's college so I have essentially been I'm matriculated from an island.

Cortex 9:45 So a question you could ask here is if emotional labor is something that's so conspicuously gendered, so disproportionately laid on women's shoulders and unrecognized or undervalued by a lot of men? Is the conclusion here just that dude suck our men problem, or is this something that's a problem for everybody a situation that does all of us a disservice?

Jess Zimmerman 10:06 It's not like it's not exactly that we, I mean, I guess a lot of us blame individual men for, for falling down on the job here, but, but it's also like it's a symptom of a larger problem, which is the fact that sort of the structures in place put this disproportionate burden on women. And, you know, on the flip side, you know, they remove the burden for men, but they also but they sort of replace it with a different burden, which is the sort of necessity of being disengaged from from emotional work. And so the problem is really, that the patriarchy sort of trains men into this emotional like torpor, you know, where they aren't, they don't they don't ever learn how to put in the energy or, or into sort of cowering the state, you know, where like, feelings are kind of scary and gross and wrong and not masculine. And so their their experience is really being impoverished by their, you know, sort of upbringing and patriarchal training and this idea that, like, they don't have to be sensitive, and they don't have to be considerate and they don't have to be pulling their weight. They don't have to be doing half the work. Yeah, I think people need people even like the the emotional equivalent of the sign that they put up in the office break room that says Your mother doesn't live here. Your therapist doesn't live here or something like that. Because yeah, just to remind people that that yeah, that there is some effort required of them, and that that if somebody else is doing both shares of that effort, it is it is exhausting, and straining.

Cortex 11:38 So I feel like my takeaway here isn't that emotional labor is inherently unreasonable to expect or that men never do emotional labor or the relationships are doomed to be unbalanced or unjust. It's just that emotional labor is labor, that it requires effort and energy, and that acknowledging that and making an effort to treat it equitably is important, that it's important for ourselves as individuals for our relationships for society as a whole, to reject the premise that emotional labor is women's work, and that it's furthermore some costless compulsory part of being a woman. And so this meta filter thread was for a lot of people. More than an interesting read. It was a difficult eye opening consciousness raising exploration of a profound and too often unacknowledged aspect of the relationships we have with one another as women and as men. And I found it immensely rewarding to hear from so many women on meta filter about the part this plays in their lives, and the new ways of talking about it that they've gained from participating in the discussion. I certainly learned a whole lot.

Jess Zimmerman 12:38 And there's nobody smarter than hundreds of women. Hundreds of women are just like, that's just the smartest group of people that you can you can have, I think and that's a so so yeah, I mean, this was so that was sort of my thoughts at the beginning was, Oh, why didn't I write a smarter piece like this has gone so beyond me? But But honestly, like I, I think that's great. Like, I think it's wonderful that and I think really the only downside to it is that none of them got paid.

Cortex 13:16 That's it for this episode of Out of the blue For show notes, discussion and links to Jesse government's essay in the resulting meta filter thread. You can visit slash out of the blue, or contact us on Twitter at MEF i o TV. Thanks so much for listening.