Just as the emotional pathways for each line of action differ, so do the emotional consequences. Many working mothers who held egalitarian gender ideals but had husbands who refused to share housework felt they had the right to feel resentful and felt so. Not looking to their husbands for a solution to the double day, many traditional women did not feel they had the right to resent nonhelping husbands and so didn’t resent them. Under the strain, however, they seemed more often to get sick, feel frustrated at life in general, or take a sacrificial stance. If career loomed large in their identity, women who felt forced to severely curtail their careers often had to manage
loss of self-esteem and depression. Women who felt homemaking was important and who cut comers at home often felt a loss of self-esteem and guilt. In general, the combination of an actor’s gender ideology and the actual result of the interplay of each partner’s gender strategy seemed to determine how he or she felt.
One woman, Nancy Holt, had staged a “sharing showdown" (a strategy of active change) with her husband. The issue of how to divide the housework and childcare was thick with symbolic meanings to both and had escalated into the storm center of their marriage. For Nancy, her husband’s refusal to share work at home recalled her own father: “Coming home, putting his feet up, and hollering at my mom to serve him. My biggest fear is of being treated like a servant. I’ve had bad dreams about it.” For her husband, Evan, Nancy’s insistence felt like a form of domination. He also suspected that Nancy’s ardent desire to get him more involved in work at home was motivated by her own desire to do less of it. His alcoholic mother had rarely cared for her children; now he felt he had a wife who was getting out of caring for him too. The Holts fought bitterly over who should assume how much responsibility for their domestic lives and finally reached an impasse. Nancy wouldn’t give up wanting Evan to do half the housework, and Evan wouldn’t do half. Nancy realized she had to choose between living up to her gender ideals or staying married. Not only did they have small children and a network of concerned, Catholic, middle-class, family-oriented relatives, but, aside from this great thorn in their sides, they loved each other. So to save the marriage, Nancy backed off, adjusting to doing 90 percent of the work at home herself but resenting it.
Her “solution” presented Nancy with a problem—how to manage her resentment. As a feminist working the double day, she felt angry. But as a woman who wanted to stay married to a chauvinist, she had to find a way to manage her anger. She couldn’t change her husband’s viewpoint, and she couldn’t banish her deep belief that a man should share. What she engaged in instead was a private program of anger management. She avoided resentment by dropping from view a series of connections between his refusal to share the load at home and all that this symbolized to her—her lack of worth in his eyes, his lack of consideration and even love for her. She held
on to sharing as a general principle that should operate in the world at large but tucked it away as not relevant in her case.
She also encapsulated her anger by dividing the issue of housework from the emotion-loaded idea of equality. She “rezoned’’ this anger-inducing territory so that only if Evan did not walk the dogs would she feel indignant. Focusing more narrowly on the minor issue of the dogs, Nancy would not need to feel upset about the double day in general. Compartmentalizing her anger this way, she could still be a feminist—still believe that sharing goes
with equality and equality goes with love—but this chain of associations now hinged more specifically and safely on just how lovingly Evan groomed, fed, and walked the dogs.
Another plank in Nancy’s emotion-management program, one she shared with Evan, was to suppress any comparison between her hours of leisure and his. Like other women who didn’t feel angry at combining full-time work with the lion’s share of the housework, Nancy narrowed her comparison group to other working mothers, and avoided comparing herself with Evan and other working fathers. She talked about herself as more organized, energetic, and successful than they. Nancy and Evan also agreed on a different baseline comparison between Evan and other men. If Nancy compared Evan to her ideal of a liberated husband or to men she actually knew who did more work at home, then she grew angry that Evan did not do more. But if she confined her comparisons to Evan’s fat her or her own father, or to Evan’s choice of men to compare himself with, then she didn’t get angry, because Evan did as much or more around the house than they did.
Nancy and Evan attributed their unequal contributions to the home to their different characters. As Evan phrased it, there seemed to be no problem of a leisure gap between them, only the continual, fascinating interaction of two personalities. “I have a lazy personality,” he explained. “And I’m not well organized. I need to do things in my own time. That’s the sort of person I am.” Nancy, on the other hand, described herself as “compulsive” and “well organized.” Now, six months after their blowup, when discussing why Evan didn’t share the housework, Nancy said fatalistically—as she had not previously—“I was socialized to do the housework. Evan wasn’t.” Seeing Evan’s nonparticipation engraved in childhood, beyond change, lent their resolution of the matter a certain inevitability and further buried the frightening anger each felt toward the other.
All this did not mean that Nancy ceased to care about equality between the sexes. On the contrary, she cut out magazine articles about how males advanced faster in social welfare (her field) than females. She complained about the wage gap between men and women and the deplorable state of daycare. She pushed her feminism onto a difference stage. Discrimination that was safely “out there” made her indignant, but not the not-sharing at home. She bent her beliefs around her dilemma.
Not all of these anger-avoiding ways of framing reality were Nancy’s doing. Together, she and Evan developed an anger-avoidant myth. Some time after their blowup, I asked Nancy’ to go down a long list of household chores: packing lunches, emptying garbage. . . She interrupted me to explain with a broad wave of her hand, “I do the upstairs. Evan does the downstairs.” “What is upstairs?” I asked. Matter-of-factly, Nancy explained that upstairs there is the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, two bedrooms, and two baths—basically the entire house. Downstairs is the garage,
a place of storage and hobbies, Evans hobbies. There was no trace of humor in her upstairs-downstairs view of sharing. Later I heard the same upstairs-downstairs formula from Evan. They seemed to have agieed on it. In this upstairs-downstairs account, the garage was elevated to the full moral and practical equivalent of the rest of the house. Evan was to look after the dog, the car, and the downstairs.
The “upstairs-downstairs” formulation seemed to me a family fiction, even a modest delusional system concealing an unequal division ol labor, Nancy’s indignation over that inequality, and their joint fear of Nancy’s anger. It seemed to me that her anger was still there—not in the sense that she acknowledged that she was angry, but in the sense that long after the crisis, her talk about the second shift evoked strong words and a raised voice. She had managed her anger by mentally partitioning anger-evoking ideas, by avoiding bad thoughts, by refocusing her attention and sustaining the upstairs-downstairs myth. But her anger seemed to persist and leak into other areas of their family anyway. Yet the myth of the upstairs-downstairs became the apparent burial ground of the very idea of the conflict and anger. It became a family coverup that concealed a great unresolved issue in their marriage. Writ large, it concealed the conflict between an egalitarian ideology and its feeling rules, on die one hand, and a traditional marriage, on the other.
Many women like Nancy Holt are caught between their new gender ideology and an old reality, her “new” rules and his “old” feelings. In the absence of basic changes in men, male culture, and the structure of work that keep up with the rapid changes in women, female emotion management smoothes over the contradictions. Personal emotion work picks up where social transformation leaves off. In this case, emotion work is the cost women pay for the absence of change in men and in their circumstances. Since Nancy’s resentment leaked out despite her emotion work, Evan paid an emotional price as well. Indeed, the most important cost of the absence ol change in response to social pressures on men like Evan may be the harmful ambivalence it introduces into their wives’ love for them. Among the working parents I studied, the more the husband shared the load at home, the happier the marriage.
In sum, the men and women in my study pursued gender strategics, created emotional pathways for them, and experienced the emotional consequences of them. The links between gender strategies, the emotional preparation lor them, and the emotional consequences of them are sketched in chart a.
j ust as wre can speak oi gender strategies, so we can speak of race and class strategies. Given an individual’s placement in the race or class hierarchy, we can ask which feeling rules will make sense to them and whicl i ways of managing emotion will seem necessary. Many of us think of race, class, and gender as stratification systems and as part of the social landscape “out there.”
chart 2 Gender Ideology, Strategy, and Emotions
When wives work fulltime, men should share work at home. Sacrifice no more natural to women than to men.
Men should want to share; no gratitude owed. Okay for women to enjoy status from work, identify with it. A man earns his own and his wife’s respect when he identifies himself with activities at home.
Strategies of active change or maintenance of equality.
Steel self for assertion, muster indignation.
Happier with marriage or, if husband resists sharing, management of disappointment and anger.
Even if women work fulltime, it is women’s job to care for the home. Women’s sacrificial stance a virtue.
Men have a right to expect gratitude for help. Only what a woman does at home matters; only what a man does at work matters.
Strategies of maintenance of inequality. Some strategies of passive change.
Suppress personal needs, work ambitions.
Indirect expression of discontent at strain. Numbness: “I don’t know what I feel.”
Partly they are out there. But we also inwardly orient ourselves to these structures. We check our available resources for the opportunities “for a person of my race” or “a person of my class.” In light of our intuitive grasp of our location in a stratification system, certain ideologies and feeling rules gain appeal and certain strategies of action unfold. How does a person deal with racial antagonism or discrimination—assimilate, retreat, or affiliate with a separate subculture? To what extent do we alter our strategy and coordinate our emotion work to suit each different context?
In their essay “The Hero, the Sambo, and the Operator,” Stephen Warner, David Wellman, and Lenore Weitzman point to certain “racial roles."2 The Sambo works through avoidance of conflict, ingratiation, and avoidance of the expression of anger. The Operator detaches from others. The Hero confronts inequities directly and openly expresses his feelings about them. If we conceive of these as active stances toward stratification, we can explore the emotions that go with them.*
One emotional preparation minorities often use for integrating with the majority group is to develop a protective sixth sense, a special sensitivity to others that highlights or filters out messages others send “to me as a black,
as a gay, as an elderly person, as a poor person.” This social paranoia, as we might call it, allows us to guard against feeling hurt or humiliated and to reframe personal insults as “X’s prejudice.” It is the psychological equivalent of a status shield.
Indeed, the higher our status, generally speaking, the more protected we are from insult and humiliation and the less emotionally armed we need to be against them. The less powerful our status shield, the more we must prepare ourselves internally. In this sense, gender, ethnic, and class strategies share certain emotional features. In each case, our social footing depends on our context. Some women in my study moved from the office, where they enjoyed a status shield, to their home, where they did not.4 A thirty-five – year-old working mother, who had been promoted from secretary to junior manager, said:
I sit here [in the office] and I… meet with lawyers, and I tell consultants what to do like a mogul. I get on the bus. 1 get off the bus and I’m home. I drop that personality completely. The personality I have at work is not the personality 1 have at home. It’s frustrating to have just finished a high-level meeting on an issue involving millions of dollars and two hours later have to say to my husband, “Will you turn off the light when you come out of the kitchen.” He thinks that’s myjob. It’s very difficult making the switch those first few hours.
I steam inside. The weekend—I’m fine.
But a Chicana garment worker and mother of four complained of the reverse problem. At home, she felt like a proud authority figure to her four children, but at her sewing machine in a long row of other workers, she felt like a humble worker. She wanted to avoid having her children see her at work because she would be “too ashamed.” These examples pose further questions: Who “goes up” and who “goes down” in status when they come home from work? How does this vary by race and class? Where, relatively speaking, does one feel proud, and where ashamed? What emotion work does it take to make the transition?
It is, in the end, through the pathways of feeling that we deal with—and hopefully change—the realities of stratification far outside ourselves.