GENDER, STATUS, AND FEELING
Emotional. 2. subject to or easily affected by emotion: She is an emotional woman, easily upset by any disturbance.
Cogitation. 1. meditation, contemplation: After hours of cogitation he came up with a new proposal.
2. the faculty of thinking: She was not a serious student and seemed to lack the power of cogitation.
—Random House Dictionary of the English Language
More emotion management goes on in the families and jobs of the upper classes than in those of the lower classes. That is, in the class system, social conditions conspire to make it more prevalent at the top. In the gender system, on the other hand, the reverse is true: social conditions make it more prevalent, and prevalent in different ways, for those at the bottom—women. In what sense is this so? And why?
Both men and women do emotion work, in private life and at work. In all kinds of ways, men as well as women get into the spirit of the party, try to escape the grip of hopeless love, try to pull themselves out of depression, try to allow grief. But in the whole realm of emotional experience, is emotion work as important for men as it is for women? And is it important in the same ways? I believe that the answer to
both questions is No. The reason, at bottom, is the fact that women in general have far less independent access to money, power, authority, or status in society. They are a subordinate social stratum, and this has four consequences.
First, lacking other resources, women make a resource out of feeling and offer it to men as a gift in return for the more material resources they lack. (For example, in 1980 only 6 percent of women but 50 percent of men earned over $15,000 a year.) Thus their capacity to manage feeling and to do “relational” work is for them a more important resource.
Second, emotion work is important in different ways for men and for women. This is because each gender tends to be called on to do different kinds of this work. On the whole, women tend to specialize in the flight attendant side of emotional labor, men in the bill collection side of it. This specialization of emotional labor in the marketplace rests on the different childhood training of the heart that is given to girls and to boys. (“What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice. What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails”) Moreover, each specialization presents men and women with different emotional tasks. Women are more likely to be presented with the task of mastering anger and aggression in the service of “being nice.” To men, the socially assigned task of aggressing against those that break rules of various sorts creates the private task of mastering fear and vulnerability.
Third, and less noticed, the general subordination of women leaves every individual woman with a weaker “status shield” against the displaced feelings of others. For example, female flight attendants found themselves easier targets for verbal abuse from passengers so that male attendants often found themselves called upon to handle unwarranted aggression against them.
The fourth consequence of the power difference between the sexes is that for each gender a different portion of the managed heart is enlisted for commercial use. Women more often react to subordination by making defensive use of sexual beauty, charm, and relational skills. For them, it is these capacities that become most vulnerable to commercial exploitation, and so it is these capacities that they are most likely to become estranged from. For male workers in “male” jobs, it is more often the capacity to wield anger and make threats that is delivered over to the company, and so it is this sort of capacity that they are more likely to feel estranged from.
After the great transmutation, then, men and women come to experience emotion work in different ways. In the previous chapter we focused on the social stratum in which emotion work is most prominent — the middle class. Here we shall focus on the gender for which it has the greatest importance—women.