WOMEN AS EMOTION MANAGERS
Middle-class American women, tradition suggests, feel emotion more than men do. The definitions of “emotional” and “cogitation” in the Random House Dictionary of the English Language reflect a deeply rooted cultural idea. Yet women are also thought to command “feminine wiles,” to have the capacity to premeditate a sigh, an outburst of tears, or a flight ofjoy. In general, they are thought to manage expression and feeling not only better but more often than men do. How much the conscious feelings of women and men may differ is an issue I leave aside here* However, the evidence seems clear that women do more emotion managing than men. And because the well-managed feeling has an outside resem-
* Nancy Chodorow, a neo-Freudian theorist, suggests that women are, in fact, more likely to have access to their emotions. With Freud, she argues that in early childhood boys but not girls must relinquish their primary identification with the mother. To achieve this difficult task, the boy (but not the girl) must repress feelings associated with the mother in the difficult effort to establish himself as “not like mother,” as a boy. The consequence is a repression of feeling generally. The girl, on the other hand, because she enters a social and sexual category the same as that of her mother, does not have to relinquish identification with her or sacrifice her access to feelings through repression. If this interpretation is valid (and I find it plau – blance to spontaneous feeling, it is possible to confuse the condition of being more “easily affected by emotion” with the action of willfully managing emotion when the occasion calls for it.
Especially in the American middle class, women tend to manage feeling more because in general they depend on men for money, and one of the various ways of repaying their debt is to do extra emotion work—especially emotion work that affirms, enhances, and celebrates the well-being and status of others. When the emotional skills that children learn and practice at home move into the marketplace, the emotional labor of women becomes more prominent because men in general have not been trained to make their emotions a resource and are therefore less likely to develop their capacity for managing feeling.
There is also a difference in the kind of emotion work that men and women tend to do. Many studies have told us that women adapt more to the needs of others and cooperate more than men do.1 These studies often imply the existence of gender-specific characteristics that are inevitable if not innate.2 But do these characteristics simply exist passively in women? Or are they signs of a social work that women do— the work of affirming, enhancing, and celebrating the wellbeing and status of others? I believe that much of the time, the adaptive, cooperative woman is actively working at showing deference. This deference requires her to make an outward display of what Leslie Fiedler has called the “seriously” good girl in her and to support this effort by evoking feelings that make the “nice” display seem natural.  Women who want to put their own feelings less at the service of others must still confront the idea that if they do so, they will be considered less “feminine.”
What it takes to be more “adaptive” is suggested in a study of college students by William Kephart (1967). Students were asked: “If a boy or girl had all the other qualities you desire, would you marry this person if you were not in love with him/her?” In response, 64 percent of the men but only 24 percent of the women said No. Most of the women answered that they “did not know.” As one put it: “I don’t know, if he were that good, maybe I could bring myself around to loving him.” In my own study (1975), women more often than men described themselves as “trying to make myself love,” “talking myself into not caring,” or “trying to convince myself.” A content analysis of 260 protocols showed that more women than men (33 percent versus 18 percent) spontaneously used the language of emotion work to describe their emotions. The image of women as “more emotional,” more subject to uncontrolled feelings, has also been challenged by a study of 250 students at UCLA, in which only 20 percent of the men but 45 percent of the women said that they deliberately show emotion to get their way. f As one woman put it: “I pout, frown, and say something to make the other person feel bad, such as ‘You don’t love me, you don’t care what happens to me.’ I’m not the type to come right out with what I want; I’ll usually hint around. It’s all hope and a lot of beating around the bush.”3
The emotional arts that women have cultivated are analogous to the art of feigning that Lionel Trilling has noted among those whose wishes outdistance their opportunities for class advancement. As for many others of lower status, it has been in the woman’s interest to be the better actor As the psychologists would say, the techniques of deep acting have unusually high “secondary gains.” Yet these skills have long been mislabeled “natural,” a part of woman’s “being” rather than something of her own making.
Sensitivity to nonverbal communication and to the micropolitical significance of feeling gives women something like an ethnic language, which men can speak too, but on the whole less well. It is a language women share offstage in their talk “about feelings.” This talk is not, as it is for men offstage, the score-keeping of conquistadors. It is the talk of the artful prey, the language of tips on how to make him want her, how to psyche him out, how to put him on or turn him off. Within the traditional female subculture, subordination at close quarters is understood, especially in adolescence, as a “fact of life.” Women accommodate, then, but not passively. They actively adapt feeling to a need or a purpose at hand, and they do it so that it seems to express a passive state of agreement, the chance occurrence of coinciding needs. Being becomes a way of doing. Acting is the needed art, and emotion work is the tool.
The emotion work of enhancing the status and well-being of others is a form of what Ivan Illich has called “shadow labor,” an unseen effort, which, like housework, does not quite count as labor but is nevertheless crucial to getting other things done. As with doing housework well, the trick is to erase any evidence of effort, to offer only the clean house and the welcoming smile.
We have a simple word for the product of this shadow labor: “nice.” Niceness is a necessary and important lubricant to any civil exchange, and men make themselves nice, too. It keeps the social wheels turning. As one flight attendant said, “I’ll make comments like ‘Nice jacket you have on’—that sort of thing, something to make them feel good. Or I’ll laugh at their jokes. It makes them feel relaxed and amusing.” Beyond the smaller niceties are the larger ones of doing a favor, offering a service. Finally, there is the moral or spiritual sense of being seriously nice, in which we embrace the needs of another person as more important than our own.
Each way of being “nice” adds a dimension to deference. Deference is more than the offering of cold respect, the formal bow of submission, the distant smile of politeness; it can also have a warm face and offer gestures small and large that show support for the well-being and status of others.4
Almost everyone does the emotion work that produces what we might, broadly speaking, call deference. But women are expected to do more of it. A study by Wikler (1976) comparing male with female university professors found that students expected women professors to be warmer and more supportive than male professors; given these expectations, proportionally more women professors were perceived as cold. In another study, Broverman, Broverman, and Clarkson (1970) asked clinically trained psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers to match various characteristics with “normal adult men” and “normal adult women”; they more often associated “very tactful, very gentle, and very aware of feelings of others” with their ideas of the normal adult woman. In being adaptive, cooperative, and helpful, the woman is on a private stage behind the public stage, and as a consequence she is often seen as less good at arguing, telling jokes, and teaching than she is at expressing appreciation of these activities. She is the conversational cheerleader. She actively enhances other people — usually men, but also other women to whom she plays woman. The more she seems natural at it, the more her labor does not show as labor, the more successfully it is disguised as the absence of other, more prized qualities. As a woman she may be praised for out-enhancing the best enhancer, but as a person in comparison with comics, teachers, and argument-builders, she usually lives outside the climate of enhancement that men tend to inhabit. Men, of course, pay court to certain other men and women and thus also do the emotion work that keeps deference sincere. The difference between men and women is a difference in the psychological effects of having or not having power.5
Racism and sexism share this general pattern, but the two systems differ in the avenues available for the translation of economic inequality into private terms. The white manager and the black factory worker leave work and go home, one to a generally white neighborhood and family and the other to a generally black neighborhood and family. But in the case of women and men, the larger economic inequality is filtered into the intimate daily exchanges between wife and husband. Unlike other subordinates, women seek primary ties with a supplier. In marriage, the principle of reciprocity applies to wider arenas of each self: there is more to choose from in how we pay and are paid, and the paying between economically unequal parties goes on morning, noon, and night. The larger inequities find intimate expression.
Wherever it goes, the bargain of wages-for-other-things travels in disguise. Marriage both bridges and obscures the gap between the resources available to men and those available to women.6 Because men and women do try to love one another—to cooperate in making love, making babies, and making a life together—the very closeness of the bond they accept calls for some disguise of subordination. There will be talk in the “we” mode, joint bank accounts and joint decisions, and the idea among women that they are equal in the ways that “really count.” But underlying this pattern will be different potential futures outside the marriage and the effect of that on the patterning of life  The woman may thus become especially assertive about certain secondary decisions, or especially active in certain limited domains, in order to experience a sense of equality that is missing from the overall relationship.
Women who understand their ultimate disadvantage and feel that their position cannot change may jealously guard the covertness of their traditional emotional resources, in the understandable fear that if the secret were told, their immediate situation would get worse. For to confess that their social charms are the product of secret work might make them less valuable, just as the sexual revolution has made sexual contact less “valuable” by lowering its bargaining power without promoting the advance of women into better-paying jobs. In fact, of course, when we redefine “adaptability” and “cooperativeness” as a form of shadow labor, we are pointing to a hidden cost for which some recompense is due and suggesting that a general reordering of female-male relationships is desirable.
There is one further reason why women may offer more emotion work of this sort than men: more women at all class levels do unpaid labor of a highly interpersonal sort. They nurture, manage, and befriend children. More “adaptive” and “cooperative,” they address themselves better to the needs of those who are not yet able to adapt and cooperate much themselves. Then, according to Jourard (1968), because they are seen as members of the category from which mothers come, women in general are asked to look out for psychological needs more than men are. The world turns to women for mothering, and this fact silently attaches itself to many a job description.