Do we owe each other our emotional labor?

By Aliya Hamid Rao

In academia our intellectual pursuits are also inherently emotional. It is thus unsurprising that in a recent blog post (here) another graduate student makes a case for acknowledging that academic work is infused with emotional labor, and for creating a space for “crying in academia.” She urges us to move away from scripts of professionalism so that we can stop pretending that emotional labor is not intrinsic to almost all that we do as aspiring academics.

I find this framing is problematic. One function of “professionalism” in academia is to create emotionally neutral spaces. Being emotionally neutral is a myth, of course. These artificial spaces require emotional labor in manipulating our own emotional displays to minimize the expression of our emotions. But they also bring the freedom of not being compelled to perform emotional labor for someone else. The author uses examples of her own crying in her department and how it was at times “handled” well by administrative staff, while at other times it caused discomfort. She condemns the idea of having to reign in her emotions so that “the person you’re crying in front of doesn’t have to figure out how to make space for your feelings.” Yet, the demand to figure “out how to make space for your feelings” is intrinsically a demand for emotional labor from others. Continue reading “Do we owe each other our emotional labor?”