Hello, friend! This is a document intended for someone to gauge whether or not they are contributing in a proper way to the emotional labor of their life. This applies to things you do by yourself, with friends acquaintances, with your partner, with your children, and at work. There are a few sections of organization, to emphasize related aspects of emotional labor.
Some of these questions may not seem like they relate to emotional labor. For example, keeping your home clean is not emotional labor. Nonetheless, if you don't do it, you can create emotional labor for the other people in your life, especially your partner--they may worry about how you will be seen by their friends, and how they may be judged for allowing you to live in a dirty house. Therefore, you ought to keep your house clean to spare your partner the burden of that emotional labor.
This list was initially sparked by a Metafilter discussion on Jess Zimmerman's article for The Toast, “Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor. Commenters on an Ask Metafilter thread helped to refine and vastly expand this checklist. Many thanks to all those contributors, and thanks in advance to anyone who helps with this list!
If you are a man who has unusual difficulty with emotional labor due to experiencing oppressions like economic instability, disability or mental illness, see the Intersections section for some ways to apply this checklist to understanding the gendered nature of emotional work.
Take Care of Yourself
Health and Wellness
- Do I actively try to keep myself physically healthy?
- If I have a physical health issue, do I make my own doctor's appointments, unprompted?
- Do I schedule my own regular visits to the dentist, unprompted?
- Do I eat well, unprompted?
- Do I exercise regularly, unprompted?
- Do I practice good personal hygiene?
- Do I regularly wash my clothes myself?
- Do I actively maintain my mental health and do my own emotional work?
- Do I maintain a broad, reliable emotional support system?
- Do I openly discuss my feelings?
- If I am experiencing persistent, particularly tough emotional/mental issues, do I seek professional help?
- If I know I'm bad at any of the above or below, do I take steps to hedge against it (e.g. calendar reminders)?
- Do I do emotional work without expecting a cookie for it?
- Do I keep my promises without repeated reminders?
- Am I aware of where my body is in space and how that is likely to affect those around me? Examples:
- Squeezing past people
- Walking in a direction where I will intersect and force someone to step aside, walking or riding three or four abreast so that no one can get past
- Taking up more than my share of space (lavaballing, open newspapers, using both armrests).
Do I keep my home clean?
- What are my standards for home cleanliness?
- Am I proud of my home's level of cleanliness?
- Am I getting everything? Including the baseboards and the dust on tops of the window frames?
- Do I regularly wash and change my bedding?
- Do I regularly wash my towels?
- Do I complete cleaning fully? E.g. when taking out the trash, being sure to put a new bag in.
Do I keep my home warm and welcoming?
- Do I minimize clutter in my house?
- Do I perform all necessary maintenance?
- Changing lightbulbs
- Fixing broken things
- Contacting my building manager if those aren't my responsibility
- Does my bathroom accommodate reasonable needs?
- Enough toilet paper, toilet-accessible
- A trash can in the bathroom with a lid on it
- Hand towels
- Maybe menstrual supplies?
- Can I reasonably have more people than just me in my house?
- Enough plates and utensils for more than one person
- Clean towels and bedding for overnight guests
Do I take care of my own administrative life (paperwork, bills) without needing to be repeatedly reminded?
Dealing With People In General
Am I a good conversationalist?
- When people are telling me about things that matter to them:
- Do I listen?
- Do I show engagement through appropriate questions and body language?
- Do I give them room to talk, as opposed to constantly shifting the conversation to my experiences?
- When I am talking about things that matter to me:
- Do I read their body language to see if they are deathly bored?
- Do I give enough information and adapt what I'm saying so that they can follow it?
- Conversely, do I make sure to not talk down to someone?
- When people are telling me about things that matter to them:
Do I demonstrate care towards other people?
- If feeding people, am I aware of dietary restrictions? Do I provide ingredient lists and scrupulously avoid cross-contamination? Do I observe good kitchen hygiene practices such as frequently washing my hands or wearing disposable gloves?
- Am I aware of peoples' attitudes towards alcohol, and do I make attempts to provide them with other tasty beverages?
- Am I constantly on the lookout for new important things to remember about people's needs and habits? Examples:
- They had a baby
- They are late sleepers
- They are bad at responding to email, but good at texting
- Do I actively work to maintain relationships through calls and visits?
- Do I remember birthdays, and call or send a card?
- Do I thank people for their time and effort, vocally and with thank you notes?
- If pressed, could I think up birthday/holiday presents for the people I need to give gifts to on those occasions?
- Do I check in about the current status and heading of the friendship regularly?
- Am I spending approximately the same amount of energy looking after the other person's emotional needs as I'm asking them to spend on mine?
- Do I lend support in difficult times? Examples:
- Sending soup to the bereaved
- Listening to someone vent
- Do I make an effort to keep up with changes to other people’s names, pronouns, relationships, jobs, etc., and apologize sincerely when I forget or get something wrong?
- If I’m ill, do I take care to keep from infecting others, especially those with compromised immune systems?
Do I communicate well with my partner?
- Do I check in with my partner to see if they had a rough day?
- Do I fulfill all the applicable "Dealing With People In General" requirements?
- Am I vocally grateful when my partner uses their time or effort to my benefit?
- Am I open and clear about my wants, and not forcing my partner to guess/drag it out of me?
- Do I make it easy for my partner to communicate with me quickly if necessary?
- Do I check in about the current status and heading of the relationship regularly?
- Am I open to constructive criticism and receiving input from my partner?
- If my partner lodges a complaint about my actions, do I take the criticism well and make sure my own emotional things that are not germane to the situation stay out of the situation and are raised and dealt with at appropriate times?
- Do I take responsibility for my mistakes and not try to make excuses?
- Do I believe my partner when they tell me their lived experience?
- Am I answering my partner's bids?
- Do we have a joint understanding as to how big events/situations should go (weddings, birthday parties, Halloween and Trick or Treat outings, family vacations/deaths in the family, bad diagnoses, getting a new puppy)?
Do I do my best to make my partner's life better?
- If my partner is having a rough day, do I step up to make their life easier in other ways (cooking, cleaning, etc.)?
- Do I know what nice things my partner would like, and do I do them without being asked? Examples:
- Do they like flowers? Do I know what kinds?
- Would they enjoy a night out, or a foot rub, or feeling free to lay on the sofa and watch Netflix and eat pizza?
- Do I support my partner's decisions, big and small?
- Do I respect and validate my partner's emotions?
- Do I consistently choose my partner's welfare over that of others?
- Do I actively try to make my presence feel safe for my partner?
- Do I put aside my own discomfort or squeamishness to help my partner in emotional or physical distress?
- Do I remember and understand how my partner's moods work, and how I can best support them emotionally?
- Do I remember the things and types of things my partner prefers? Examples
- Clothing sizes
- Their personal style
- Brands of personal products (e.g. deodorant, shampoo, menstrual products)
- If my partner has a difficult relationship with someone, do I take care not to interfere unless they request assistance? And if I interfere, do I take care not to make it worse?
Do I take responsibility for my fair share of joint experiences?
- Do I contribute to the maintenance of the shared residence?
- Do I contribute constructively to planning of meals, events, trips, etc?
- Do I avoid treating my partner like a search engine and repository of all domestic knowledge? If I want to know where something is, do I make a reasonable effort to look for it before asking?
- Do I have a good knowledge of my partner's schedule, and keep them informed of mine?
- Do I keep my partner informed of the goings-on of friends and family, and listen when they inform me? Examples:
- Names of partners, pets, children
- Sore spots in peoples' lives (deaths, illnesses)
Do I think of my partner's internal state?
- Do I remember whether there are any long-term stressors at hand, not just day-to-day ones? Examples:
- Sick family member
- Stressful time at work
- Conflict with friends or family
- Do I think of how much work it takes to do the tasks I and society ask of them? Examples:
- Time involved in cooking: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning
- Body hair maintenance
- Do I pause to observe the context (my partner's body language or current activity, what's been happening today, etc.) before I involve my partner in something me-focused? (Whether that's a request or a touch or whatever.)
- Do I try not to unnecessarily interrupt my partner from an activity?
- Do I remember whether there are any long-term stressors at hand, not just day-to-day ones? Examples:
Do I actively resist inequity in my relationship?
- Am I conscious of the ways in which my partner will be judged for mutual responsibilities (cleanliness of the house when guests come over, behaviour and appearance of kids, standards of food served, etc) and do I acknowledge those and step up to deliver a good team execution?
- Do I actively give my partner backup against the patriarchy and other oppression, in public and private? Examples:
- Reminding people that my female partner is, e.g., not just a mom but is also a scientist doing interesting work
- Reinforcing their decisions to opt out of emotional or domestic labor
- Do we both have a reasonable balance of leisure time and work time?
- Are both of us disrupted at the same rate?
- Do we both get time to maintain our own health and hygiene?
- If the relationship is imbalanced for a while (e.g. someone's in full-time school or has to work overtime) and the other partner picks up the slack, is that compensated when the imbalance ends?
- Do I know who has to do each thing to make an event/situation run like the image in my head? Who is responsible for flowers, cards, costumes, casseroles, child-proofing, and are any of those responsible people me?
- If I don't understand why my partner is doing things I think are boring or pointless, am I making a full faith effort to understand those things?
- If my partner is neuroatypical and/or has other mental health challenges, do I hold her to a higher standard of managing her condition and emotional state than you would a man?
Is there enthusiastic consent, every time, for the ways I interact with my partner's body?
Am I nice to my partner's family, if that's a thing they want?
Do I handle attending social events with my partner well?
- If I don't want to go, do I politely decline?
- If I have to go anyway (e.g. work or family event), can I behave graciously at the event and not make my partner do extra labor to deal with my attitude when they need to be focusing on the event?
In monogamous relationships: is the work of protecting our relationship from infidelity shared equally? Do I set boundaries/speak about my partner/represent my relationship positively?
- Am I aware of my children's emotional needs?
- Do I notice when my child is in an unusually good or bad mood? Do I try and find out why in a supportive way that is age-appropriate and respects their privacy?
- Do I know which adults my child is close to and do I facilitate contact with those adults?
- Do I make sure that all my children receive fair amounts of attention and affection from me?
- Do I support my child's social life?
- Do I know if they are happy with their social status, and who their friends are?
- Do I help them with social problem-solving when they aren't happy?
- Do I seek out social contact for them, when age-appropriate and when they desire it?
- Am I aware of my children's wardrobes and am I an equal partner in maintaining them?
- Do I know what size clothing they currently wear?
- Do I check at the start of each season that they have:
- fitting clothes for the likely weather?
- appropriate clothes of varying levels of formality?
- Am I caring for my children's health?
- Do I know who their health providers are and how to contact them?
- Do I schedule and attend their health appointments?
- Can I give a succinct and up to date summary of their medical history?
- Do I know what medications they take, and the schedule and dosage?
- Do I know their allergies and dietary requirements?
- Do I maintain or co-maintain my children's schedule?
- Do I know their school or care hours?
- Do I know their schedule of extracurricular activities?
- Am I aware of how my children travel to school, care and extracurricular activities? Do I share equally in the scheduling and transporting?
- Am I aware of the dates when vacations, strikes or other special cases will vary my children's care schedule?
- Do I seek alternative care to cover vacations, strikes and other special cases?
- Do I help my children choose and balance extracurricular activities?
- If my child has paid caregivers, do I perform emotional labor to support them?
- Do I know what grade of school my child is in?
- Do I know what my children's own educational ambitions and goals are?
- Do I track roughly what skills they are working on and do I know what they are currently struggling with educationally?
- Do I receive and read newsletters or communications from teachers and carers?
- Do I notice and reach out to teachers and carers when they aren't meeting my child's needs?
- When my children are babies, do I help adjust for their impact on our household?
- If someone else in my household or family is pregnant, do I learn about what pregnancy, labor and delivery and postpartum periods are like? Do I anticipate their likely needs during these times?
- Do I learn about the care needs of babies before the baby joins the household?
- Do I know how much physical labor and time the nursing parent is spending on the baby?
- Am I aware of how the postpartum parent's physical and emotional recovery is going?
- Am I spending time with the baby and bonding with them?
- Do I know how much sleep the baby is getting? Do I adjust the baby's or household's routine to help them sleep more?
- Do I know how much sleep all the other household members are getting? Do I notice when it's disproportionate? Do I make the schedule to keep it fair?
- Am I aware of how other children in the household are dealing with a new child? Am I helping them deal with it?
- Am I aware of typical developmental milestones for babies? Am I aware of how the baby's development is progressing?
- Do I model discussions of topics like the patriarchy, misogyny, systematic oppression, and emotional labor for them?
- Do I let the children see us as partners who communicate and negotiate in order to benefit our mutual emotional, mental, and physical health?
- When my children see misogyny, racism, and other forms of oppression in the world and in pop culture, do I speak up about its toxic effects?
- Do I volunteer to do my share of organizing birthday treats/potlucks/whatever social events my workplace may have?
- If part of the work of my workplace involves listening to/soothing angry customers or clients and making them happy, do I do my appropriate share of that work?
- Have I taken the steps to learn how to add toner or paper to the copier, or unjam it, or make coffee in the breakroom coffeepot? And do I then notice and do those things when they need to be done?
- Am I difficult as hell to work with and expect everyone to work around it? Cf. "Dealing with people in general".
- Do I pitch in to deal with difficult people, to avoid that burden landing on the same people time after time?
- Do I take turns doing the boring, tedious, unpleasant but necessary tasks that make work go smoothly - like taking and circulating minutes, making copies, and setting up meetings?
- Do I respect my colleagues’ time by keeping my scheduled commitments, scheduling my leave for a time that’s convenient for everyone, letting people know well in advance if I’ll be out, and making sure someone covers for me when I’m not around?
- Do I explicitly ask people to take on tasks I’d rather not do, or explicitly assign/delegate tasks to my subordinates, rather than assuming someone will figure out what needs doing and pick up the slack?
- Do I communicate clearly and consistently? Do I follow oral conversations with a summary in writing, in a way that’s easy for other people to access when they need to? Do I make sure others know what they can and can’t expect from me?
- Do I take care to keep from making my subordinates anxious about job stability, e.g., by sending emails that say “Fill me in on the Johnson deal” rather than “See me when you have a moment”?
- Do I treat receptionists, janitors, doormen, package and mail carriers, and other low-wage workers with respect?
- Do I work to coordinate peoples' schedules so that we can have a nice picnic/party/board game night/etc.?
- When planning an event, am I conscious of possible interpersonal conflicts?
- When planning an event, do I take into account different peoples' preferences for food, beverages, music, etc., so that no one feels excluded?
- Do I actually have everything prepared in advance for an event I'm hosting, or at least clearly and fairly delegated?
- If there is an imbalance of emotional or physical labor occurring, am I willing to risk social awkwardness to improve the lot of those negatively affected?
- If someone tells me a secret, do I keep their confidence? Do I generally refrain from tale-telling and gossip, and encourage people to talk directly rather than offering to be a go-between?
- If someone is being harassed or hassled, do I check in with them and support them in the way that they indicate would be most useful to them? Do I support victims even when the person mistreating them is a friend of mine?
- If I’m privileged in a way that other friends of mine are not, do I use my privilege to support and amplify their voices as well as personally advocating for their rights and well-being? Examples:
- As a man, do I vocally support feminism?
- As a white person, do I vocally oppose racism?
- Do I shut down people who tell bigoted jokes or use slurs? Do I actively work to remove slurs from my own speech?
- Do I remember my friends’ pronouns and names, use them correctly, and correct anyone who uses the wrong name or pronoun for a friend of mine?
- If someone in my social circle identifies a specific “missing stair” person or a systemic problem, do I back them up?
- Do I work to create a social atmosphere where women feel safe and comfortable? Do I oust men from my social circle if they mistreat women?
- Do I educate myself on the history and current situation of minorities in my community, rather than asking my friends to teach me something I could Google?
- Do I check in regularly with friends who don’t share my privilege to make sure I’m helping to make our shared social circles safe and comfortable for them?
- If friends of mine create a safe space for a particular minority, and I’m not a part of that minority, do I respect that space and not try to force my way into it or shut it down?
If you are a man who is a member of an oppressed group, you may have read this list and thought "some of the things on this list are hard or impossible for me to do" due to your class background, economic instability, disability, mental illness, neuroatypicality and many other possible oppressions. However, here are some thought experiments to explore if you are a man and you have this reaction:
- Do I need to perform similar amounts of emotional labor to a woman who shares my class background, economic instability or other oppressions?
- Do I feel the same requirement as a woman who shares my oppressions to perform not only all this, but additional emotional labor in order to reduce the impact of my oppressions on other people?
- Do I feel a need to perform not only all this, but additional emotional labor in order to still see my self and be seen as a man despite my oppressions?
- When I am unable to perform some of the emotional labor needed in my life:
- Am I punished for not doing the labor nearly as much as a woman who shares my oppressions?
- Am I taught to punish myself for not doing the labor nearly as much as a woman who shares my oppressions?
- Do people give women who share my oppressions the same assistance that I get with emotional labor?