What is Invisible Labor?
I’m late to the party. Writers, scientists, anthropologists, and the like have been discussing “invisible labor” for at least a couple of years, but somehow – maybe because I’ve been busy with invisible labor of my own – I missed it.
If you’re like me and new to this subject, invisible labor is a term coined to represent the unseen work that many women do to keep their households running.
Sure, there’s the household chores that can be noticed easily, such as cooking dinner, unloading the dishwasher, or putting the laundry away. After completing a task like that, you can cross your arms across your chest, breathe a sigh of relief, and wait for your partner to notice your effort and thank you for your amazingness (don’t hold your breath). But what about the unseen work, and the mental load that comes along with it, that most women grapple with day in and day out?
Exactly what are we talking about? Here are some examples:
Making doctor’s appointments
Buying gifts for classmates/friends/teachers
Preparations for class parties (gift bags, snacks, etc.)
Keeping track of availability of household items (are we out of ketchup? Will we need more detergent soon?)
Picking up after small things left behind (to everyone else the house magically stays clean)
Managing important payments (childcare, household items)
Remembering can’t miss deadlines (did I turn in the lunch menu? When do I have to register for soccer?)
Arranging play dates and extracurricular activities
I could keep going, but these are just some of the things that most moms are juggling mentally while also maintaining a full-time job (whether they are stay at home moms or in the more traditional workforce). This mental load is almost completely taken on by women, and as studies have found, it can be exhausting and discouraging.
So, here’s a question that probably every man wants to ask: Why don’t you just ask for help?
That question, my friends, is part of the problem.
If you are in a household that you would like to think evenly distributes household duties between the man and the woman, the premise that the woman should be delegating duties to the man goes against that goal.
Asking the woman to be the “manager” of the household and not only complete her share of the tasks, but also keep track of and assign the other share of the tasks to the man is not lessening her burden, it’s increasing it. The ideal situation here is for the man and the woman to take equal responsibility for what needs to be done and handle the tasks independently.
As many of the writers on this topic have pointed out, we’re not falling into these rolls by accident. Society has prepped us to do exactly this. And as we raise kids in households where we assume the roles we’ve been told that we should, our kids will go on to model the same behavior when they’re running households of their own.
I don’t have a solution here. I don’t have a pretty bow to wrap up this blog and give hope to all overburdened moms out there. Just keep doing your best, and if you’ve found a way to unburden yourself with the invisible labor that plagues a lot of us, let me know.
There are a lot of people that have written about this topic much more eloquently than me. Here are some links: