Every summer, the pop charts decide what the anthem du jour is for that year. Last year the top honour, according to Billboard's Top 100 Chart, was OMI's hit song "Cheerleader". I would argue that it was The Weeknd's "I can't feel my face", but what do I know? I admit Cheerleader is a catchy tune. I have found myself bopping to it's Jamaican reggae beat and digging those sweet trumpet riffs, but something about the song lyrics has always made me feel somewhat ick and I would often end up changing the radio station anytime it came on.
It wasn't until this week when I was on my couch trying to fit in a 15-minute power nap while my kids did their homework, that I realized why I disliked that song. And it was thanks to another musical artist also singing about cheerleaders. In my half-asleep, dazed state of mind, I heard St. Vincent's Cheerleader chorus playing, and maybe because of my semi-conscious state of mind at the time, the words of her song penetrated deeper than they had the hundreds of other times I had listened to it.
This week the words that I needed to describe what I was feeling about all this cheerleader stuff were revealed to me via a couple of different sources, including this gem from Jess Zimmerman at The Toast.
Apparently all of this "cheerleading" is something called EMOTIONAL LABOUR.
Yes, yes, I know. I am late to this party, but can you blame me? I'VE BEEN FREAKING EXHAUSTED because of all the damn cheerleading/emotional labouring I've been doing for most of my life!
And my good god Ladies, do we ever do a lot of it.
Anne Theriault sent out a series of tweets last week outlining just a few of the ways that emotional labour works in relationships and it was such a revelation to me and, should be required reading for all men and women! (Click the image to read all of them.)
Then it really hit me how much emotional labour is wrapped up in motherhood and the things that we are expected to do or that we take on because the thought is again that "women are just better at these things". Except the truth is - we are not. We've just been conditioned for hundreds of years to accept that the unpaid work that women do, (housework, child rearing, sex work-yes, even in marriages), and the emotional labour that comes with it, are simply our "natural, female" attributes. And don't you know? All of this unpaid work, it's not real "work" and all of these things are actually fulfilling activities. HA! Good one patriarchy.
The problem is, WE'VE BELIEVED IT ALL THIS TIME and we continue to believe it.
It's why I feel guilty for having a housekeeper come in every couple of weeks. Because, really, shouldn't I be the one keeping a nice, clean home for my family and feeling pride in my "work"? That's what a good wife and mother does right? It's why I had an undiagnosed post-partum depression after my first child, but didn't say anything to anyone, because I had to be strong and take care of a preemie baby, build a new house, do it all on literally zero hours of sleep, and we already had so much on our plates, that "don't worry about me, I can handle it." became my mantra. And so it goes and we do this thing. We take on the role of the Strong Ones, the Multitaskers, the Keepers of all the Key Information, and we accept these roles, because if we don't, we are convinced that no one else is going to do them and never-you-mind, we'll just do it because, after all, us women-folk are just "better at all this STUFF!"
I am not saying that men don't do any emotional labour as parents, but I would bet that if you took ten couples, separated them and asked the men and women some basic questions about who does what and who knows what about their family and life, you would get two very different sets of answers. I am talking about things like, what size of shoes the kids wear, who has a birthday party to attend this weekend, what summer camps are available and when you have to register for them, where the babysitter phone numbers are, when the kids are due for their next doctor check ups/vaccine boosters/dentist appointments, what the meal plan is for next week, when the library books are due, who is being mean to them at school, or how to log on to the school website to check their report cards, just to name a few things that fall primarily in the "things that only Mom seems to know", and subsequently takes care of, bucket. Mothers are just expected to KNOW these things, to carry these seemingly endless tidbits of information in our heads at all times, and be the ones to take care of everyone's general emotional well-being along the way - often at the expense of our own.
Women are EXPECTED to carry around the emotional baggage of everyone around them, knowing full well that this will inevitably start to weigh them down. And when that happens, when we stumble, there is a tendency to feel an inordinate amount of shame that we are letting everyone down and not being the good mother or the good woman (or friend, coworker, wife, partner, etc...), when in reality, we just need someone to take some of that emotional load from us and share the work - yes, even (especially) all that unpaid work.
And people wonder why mothers are so fucking exhausted all the time. IT'S BECAUSE ALL THIS DAMN CHEERLEADING IS HARD WORK and ain't nobody paying cheerleaders anywhere in this world nearly enough for all that they do or are expected to do to support the emotional well-being of the folks around them, especially the men-folk. Women are the emotional "handlers" of the world and we have been well-trained in the art of not letting our own emotions cloud or overpower those of our "operatives". We've been conditioned to think that we aren't supposed to ADD TO or SHARE our own emotions in our relationships, we are there to offer our partners a safe place to offload their own and then make them feel validated and better about themselves.
This is exactly what the OMI Cheerleader song is saying and why it has always bugged me.
"When I need motivation
My one solution is my queen
'Cause she stays strong
She is always in my corner
Right there when I want her"
Sorry dude, JUST NOPE!
Like St. Vincent says, I don't want to be a Cheerleader NO MORE!
When you need motivation, get it from within yourself. Do some of your own emotional heavy lifting, 'cause I am done with being the beast of burden for men's feelings, I am done keeping my own needs and feelings small and "manageable", and I am done being the keeper of all the damn lists and details of life!
Who is with me?