Every day, students at UC Berkeley adjust their emotions in response to societal norms and pressures. We show deference to our professors when we politely request a regrade on a midterm, smiling and making small talk as we ask. We show deference to our administrative faculty when we quietly submit approval requests for study abroad courses. We even show deference to graduate students when we ask clarification questions in our discussion sections. While this deference is often just basic respect for authority, students and young people tend to regulate our emotions more frequently than other groups. Why is this?
Arlie Russell Hochschild, a professor emerita of sociology at UC Berkeley, perfectly explains this extra effort to confront perceived anxiousness and stress. In her 1983 book, “The Managed Heart,” Hochschild coined the term “emotional labor,” which she defines as the “work of managing one’s own emotions that was required by certain professions.” To put it simply, emotional labor could be anything from smiling in a stressful situation to laughing off a mean comment from a group member.
As more women have entered previously male-dominated professions, emotional labor has resurged in popularity to identify the modulation of behavior that many women may relate to. One of Hochschild’s key examples involves air stewardesses, who must cater to passengers’ needs while listening attentively and constantly looking happy. Often times, women are implicitly required to engage in emotional labor all while maintaining a harmonious professional environment. Hochschild’s defining of emotional labor presents a way for women to discuss the inequities of the workplace and stresses the importance of challenging the ingrained status quo.
Emotional labor is not solely restricted to the professional realm. At school, we constantly experience emotional labor. Maybe your teacher just cold-called you to answer a question you know nothing about in a 300-person lecture. Your response, likely ridden with fear and anxiousness, requires a certain amount of emotional labor to hold it all together. Or, maybe you feel burdened by all of your computer science projects and are on the brink of tears during office hours. In this case, you rely on emotional labor to keep your emotions under control so that you can get the answers you need.
Not only is emotional labor a prerequisite for several female professions, but it is also a necessity for all UC Berkeley classes, organizations and functions. Although we may use emotional labor to navigate our daily lives, students also need to learn to manage it. Mitigating emotional labor is a means to alleviate stress and manage burnout.
As students, how can we pinpoint and resolve the areas of high emotional labor in our lives? Consider situations in which you don’t feel comfortable being yourself. Covering up your true self requires copious amounts of emotional labor. Being genuine to yourself and actively seeking support groups with peers you can trust relieves this form of stress. For example, if you have a fear of larger crowds, avoid leading football chants for the Rally Committee. Instead, seek smaller social gatherings where you can have more intimate, one-on-one conversations. When you compromise your values or personality traits, you end up using emotional labor, which leaves you burdened with stress. By joining a major, class or student organization that aligns with your true self, you can lessen the negative toll of emotional labor.
Thanks to Hochschild, we can put a name to the stress associated with faking a smile — something most of us do every day. By recognizing scenarios of emotional labor and their effects, we are able to overcome the burnout associated with UC Berkeley and the working life beyond. Without the burdens of emotional labor, we too can emulate Hochschild’s revolutionary work.
Hochschild is one of many distinguished female UC Berkeley professors whose research deserves praise this International Women’s Day. Learning about emotional labor helps not just students, but people everywhere become more in tune with their expressions and feelings. Hochschild has formulated ideas that shape our lives. This International Women’s Day, recognize the ways emotional labor permeates your day-to-day life, and take a moment to honor the various findings that women in academia have discovered.