Info

The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged emotional labour

 

Check out my interview with Avril Ewing!

48382637_207011886780603_7858036112806117376_n

We chat about:

  • What brought Avril to Port Hope
  • Avril’s favourite things about Northumberland County
  • The various work Avril does both professionally and as a volunteer
  • The seasonal offers she has going on as an officiant
  • Working in the funeral industry
  • How to grieve effectively
  • What to say (and what not to say) to someone who is grieving
  • Owning a business and being a woman in business
  • Emotional labourand more!

    Featured Tunes:

    The Funeral Party by The Cure
    I do I do I do I do I do by ABBA
    Lovers in Dangerous Times by Barenaked Ladies
    Hasn’t Hit Me Yet by Blue Rodeo

Advertisements

1327571_1

CW: rape, sexual violence, gender-based violence, restorative justice, hollywood, violence against women, masculinity, emotional labour, men’s mental health, #MeToo campaign, gender

 

 

Nearly a decade ago, I read a book called “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio and it kind of changed my life. It’s a book that’s far from perfect, but it was perfect for me to read at the time. I had been sexually assaulted and slut-shamed a few months prior, and was coping by self-harming, writing songs I’d never show anyone, and listening to a ton of Bikini Kill in my bedroom.  Although I was always told I was an emotional being, not a logical one by most people when I was growing up, I know now, looking back, that I’ve always been a very logical and analytic person. I wanted to understand what had happened to me, and I desperately wanted to be well. “Cunt” was just what I needed to begin to feel knowledgable about the dynamics behind why gender-based violence happens and empowered regarding what comes next.

So I did a lot more reading, went to university for Women’s Studies, focused my work on sexual violence prevention, and produced 6 plays about the stories of sexual violence survivors (directed 2 of them). Then I moved to a rural community where I situated myself firmly on the ground of anti-rape advocacy. This whole time, I was in and out of therapy, I was writing, I was learning to form positive relationships, and I was working hard on my own (continuous) healing process. For the better part of ten years, my life has largely revolved around gender-based violence. Why it happens, what to do about it, how to live through it. It’s complicated and layered and non-linear.

During my first week of university, in 2009, when I really started to dedicate myself to this subject, I remember introducing myself to people who asked what my major was only to have them scoff at me and tell me we don’t need to study gender and that I’d never go anywhere with that degree. During my final semester, in 2013, I remember trying to write a major research paper about the representation of non-binary gender and having a difficult time finding academic resources on the subject- to the point where I used blog posts and tweets as sources for my academic paper.

Four years later, that paper is now so outdated that you couldn’t pay me enough to let you read it. But at that time, it was pretty cutting edge and I was really proud of it. That much changed in only four years.

Over the time since I first read “Cunt”, there has been a MASSIVE shift regarding the topics of gender and, more specifically, gender-based violence. Especially recently, with the viral social media #MeToo movement and the trend in Hollywood where serial abusers are being called on their behaviour by the women they have assaulted, discussion around gender and gender-based violence is becoming mainstream. And I get it: it’s a lot to ask someone to radically reconsider who they are and the way they exist in the world, which is what happens when you ask people to critically reflect on the ways gender rolls are constructed.  But at the end of the day, I would like to believe that most people don’t want nearly every woman in their life to have experienced gender-based violence in some form, as evidenced by the massive success of the #MeToo movement. And I want to believe that anyone is capable of doing better.

I also want to take just a moment, before I continue, to be extremely clear that I am referring to women in this essay because women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. And even more disproportionately affected by gender-based violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.

I’ve recently had some friends who know how obsessed I am with gender-based violence ask me to comment on the discourse rising in mainstream culture. And my over-all comment is that it’s amazing and important that light is being shed on gender-based violence in mainstream culture. With that being said, that discourse is overwhelmingly immature (which is to be expected!) and I urge people to listen to the survivors who have been speaking out about these topics and symptoms for longer than it’s been cool (even, arguably, safer) to do so.

Regarding discussion in mainstream culture on the topic of gender-based violence, there a few specific subjects I’d like to share my thoughts on. Here they are in a slightly more digestable format:

Yes, people who have been doing the work around these topics should have their voices magnified over the opinions of people who are just starting to think about this. And no, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging you’re just starting to learn about a subject and listening to the people who have put in extensive time and energy around it.

Hopefully, by this point in the essay you already get my perspective here. But I’ll give you a metaphor to help communicate my point.

I drive a car pretty much every day. I own one, I know a little bit about how it works, I live in a world where there are lots of cars around. But I am far from a car expert. I haven’t really spent that much time thinking about how cars work, or the history of cars. I don’t know statistics about cars off the top of my head, and I haven’t spent years tinkering around under/inside a car, examining parts and trying to figure out what makes them work best (or at all). So when I take my car in the mechanic for maintenance and they tell me that I desperately need a part replaced or my car is gonna be seriously messed up, I’m not gonna go “well, I haven’t noticed anything wrong with my car, my car gets me to and from work every day and it’s fine”. If I have time, I might educate myself on the part of the car that’s apparently damaged, I might call a friend who has spent a lot of time and work learning about cars, I might consult a few other mechanics, but I’m not going to consider my limited knowledge on the subject equal to theirs. I’m going to listen and try to learn more.

To be clear, it’s not a matter of anyone being “better” than anyone else or attaching value judgements to knowledge that people do or don’t have, or recreating power dynamics. It’s about knowing when to share your perspective and when to sit down and listen.

I also want to be clear that the time and space I’m referring to need not include formal education, however, participating in formal education does take a lot of time and space. It’s not a reason either way to invalidate the type(s) of work a person has put in.
Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence by centring the conversation around men as victims.

There are many cases where men experience rape and sexual assault. All sexual assault survivors deserve support and space and communities, and I do not, for a moment mean to diminish the importance of men’s mental health. I’d like to be clear that it’s not men who are the problem here. There isn’t even a one-stop answer regarding what the problem is. But a major part of it is the way that masculinity has been defined and then systemically privileged . A key component of the definition of masculinity is being more logical than emotional and being emotionally strong. This doesn’t leave much space for men to cope with their every-day feelings, mental illness, or trauma. As a result, there are many men who struggle because of this definition, as well as women and femmes who are, by negative definition, left to bare the brunt of the emotional labour.

Constructions of gender are not innate, they are something we can actively work to redefine- if you’re willing to do the work.

Although all gender-based violence statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, over 80% of sexual assault victims are women and something like 99% of rapes (against people of all genders) are perpetrated by men. When you derail conversations about gender-based violence to redirect the conversation to focus on men who are sexual assault survivors, you’re taking up a disproportionate amount of space.

Instead, I would encourage people to actively dismantle gender roles and to make appropriate space for men who have been victims of sexual assault to talk about it and heal. This isn’t going to happen through derailing women’s social media posts about gender-based violence.

Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence to make disproportionate and inappropriate space for conversations about false allegations.

If you think being a man is scary right now because you’re worried about false allegations, maybe you should consider how scary it has been to be a woman or femme throughout history. Only between 2-4% of rape allegations are falsely made.
A study a few years ago found that 1/3 college men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it. According to a far larger study done by the UN, most men actually don’t believe that they are raping women.

What this shows is that a lot of the “false allegations” are made when a man didn’t understand that what he was doing wasn’t consensual. Again, this is related to the construction of masculinity- and not just that- the construction of femininity as the negative definer of masculinity. This is why learning about consent is REALLY important.

Exclusion isn’t restorative justice and it will usually result in more problems than it prevents.

There are cases where people are part of a community and they harm people in that community over and over again. There’s a clear pattern, and then when confronted with being called in (not out), they repeatedly get defensive, aggressive, and refuse to listen and (un)learn. In that case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone not to be part of a space/venue/show/event/whatever. There are also situations where a survivor may not feel safe being around someone who has harmed them, and that’s valid and well worth working to navigate, based on the specifics of the situation.

There’s this thing that often happens now in popular culture (and in communities) where someone is exposed for something problematic they’ve done and then everyone either jumps on the “I’m so edgy” bandwagon (spoiler: condoning people hurting other people isn’t edgy, it’s just shitty) or boycotts their existence. The person accused of perpetrating harm immediately gets banned from community spaces, blacklisted from work opportunities, and abandoned by a good portion of their support system.

I get why this happens. It’s a reaction that many feel is justified, and I believe in providing space for that. But I also don’t think it’s particularly useful in a larger context. When we position people as inherently a perpetrator or inherently a victim, we do justice to no one. Reducing anyone to such a simple definition simply doesn’t allow for the root issues to be addressed or for working towards a place of healing, learning, or reconciliation.

That being said, restorative justice and accountability are complicated and fuelled concepts that don’t have any definite definition. I recommending reading up about it and talking about it a lot. It’s really complex.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m so tired. I’m excited for these conversations to be on the table in mainstream Canadian culture, not just in women’s studies classrooms or rape crisis centres or teenage girls’ bedroom floors. But there is a lot of work to do, and there will be growing pains. Please. Do the work, listen to survivors, and do better. Because we are all capable of doing better.

 

Okay, I don’t really know what the revolution will look like. To me, it’s already happening. It looks like: community gardens/ community meetings/ learning to take care of ourselves (whatever that means)/ community dinners/ debriefs/ sober spaces/ systemic institutions that are honestly willing to accept feedback/ spaces that aren’t sober/ art groups/engaging in discussion about what caring for one another looks like. The reason those things feel revolutionary to me is the focus on simultaneously taking care of myself and also actively caring for the people (and other non-human beings) in my life. 
Standpoint theory is a postmodern feminist assertion that day to day experience is what shapes a person’s knowledge of the world, which informs the way they experience the world and shapes their identity. Scholars such as Sandra Harding, Nancy Heartsick, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith have written about it, and a lot of modern-day feminism is approached according to it. You and I went to a theatre to see a play and I sat front and centre and you sat on the back, stage right. After the play, we sit down for coffee and discuss. You saw things that I didn’t see and I noticed things you didn’t notice because we had different perspectives of the performance. Similarly, if you are a straight, masculine person of colour, you are going to experience things differently than I, a queer, femme, white person. Intersectionality is the concept that identity is comprised of multiple standpoints, all of which work together to inform the experiences and identity of a person. Identity informs experience because the world we live in is one comprised of thousands of years worth of historically informed power dynamics which are embedded in defining concepts that construct social and legal systems. Comprehending identity according to standpoint theory and intersectionality can be difficult, because once you think about yourself in relation to these concepts, you’re faced with the realty that you’re privileged in some ways, and likely being systemically oppressed (oppression = systemic power + prejudice) in some ways as well. This is a complex reality to be faced with. But when you start to explore it, beautiful things happen.
Finding your “authentic self” is, simply, a never ending process. It’s a process full of checking in with yourself about what qualities and subject positions make up your identity, and how you perform your identity in relation to the social world. To me, finding for my authentic self means analyzing my subject positions, and it also means being honest about my capacity to actively care for both myself and others. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Being honest with myself about my capacity. This requires me to make myself vulnerable enough to be authentic with myself. It’s been a far from linear journey towards recognizing my capacity in this sense. I am a person who gives until I am depleted. This may sound like a positive quality, and in some ways, it is. But in other ways, it’s rooted in selfishness. I get off on caring or other people. Call it mommy issues, call it a saviour complex, either way, caring for others makes me feel good. But this can be problematic in that not only does it deplete myself, but it leads me to inserting myself into peoples’ lives because I identify them as needing to be cared for. 
This is where the concept of capacity comes in. When I get that urge to care, I ask myself: What is my capacity to engage in the situation? Sometimes, the answer is that I am feeling relatively emotionally well, relatively physically well, and I have the time to allow to providing care for someone. Sometimes, I am struggling with pain or mental health shit that lessens my capacity. Sometimes, I don’t have time. Sometimes, I weigh the amount of emotional labour the other person has contributed outward when they had the capacity and the balance is off for me. 
The next question I ask myself is: why do I feel that someone may benefit from my emotional labour? Sometimes, the answer is that I have skills or knowledge that may be useful. Sometimes, it’s that the person has explicitly asked for support, advice, counselling, or another form of active caring. Sometimes, the answer is that I feel compelled to do something that I think may make someone else’s life easier or happier, whether they agree or not. 
As always, consent is key when caring, and it’s a much more complicated concept than someone asking for emotional labour or not. Ideally, we would live in a society where consent is always given verbally and explicitly. “I need support/advice/help/validation, is it within your capacity too engage in this kind of emotional labour”. I actually have groups of friends where we do this and people will actually reflect and acknowledge whether or not they have the capacity to engage, and in what way. I feel that moving towards this kind of mutual, consensual exchange of emotional labour is absolutely revolutionary. Of course, there are situations where people (ie. me) assume predetermined consent, or where people are physically and emotionally unable to take care of themselves in a way that puts themselves or others in danger. This is where this concept gets really complicated, and I can’t even begin to think of answers. But this is where discussions come into play. The almighty exchange of knowledge based in lived experience.
So, now you’re thinking about authenticity, capacity, and emotional labour, but what next? I think that with this process, there eventually comes a sense of assertiveness. I understand my Self, my capacity, my needs, and I am comfortable asking for them and receiving them. There also comes a time and place where you find a sense of “okayness”. I am okay with my Self and what is happening in this moment because I am in it, and it will pass one way or another in a way that will contribute to my process and my experience of the world. Sometimes this is simple, other times, it may challenge the very essence of your sense of Self, and it feels like you’re back where you began. This concept of “okayness” is often referring to as “radical acceptance”.
How are these concepts revolutionary? By actively caring for both your Self and the people around you, it alters the workings of our social world. First on a personal level, and then an interpersonal one. It shifts focus from productivity, to an ethic of care, which is arguably far more complicated, but also more sustainable. This shift toward an ethic of care then expands:
Self -> interpersonal ->  social systems -> physical environment.
When we learn to prioritize an ethic of care in accordance to the capacity of each of our authentic selves, that is absolutely revolutionary.