With Hartley’s preferred phrase ['emotional labor'], women’s emotional suffering is front and center. Or at least that’s a charitable explanation. A less charitable one is that as the physical labor of childcare and cleaning is increasingly outsourced to wage workers, the hiring class of women needs a new handle to indicate their taxing responsibilities as overseers, a role commonly tacked on to the beginning and end of their own (paid) workday. Another title for Fed Up could have been A Manager’s Lament ... Or maybe that's unfair ... her general complaint is valid, and it’s one that’s been left unaddressed for decades ... Her mantra—that relentless micromanaging 'keeps everyone happy and comfortable'—becomes less convincing with every repetition. She, for one, is explicitly not happy ... Her prescription for 'the way forward' involves no policy recommendations—though she does suggest 'more diverse representation in government'—but rather a plethora of platitudes ... she’s only half-right, at best. We should not live, nor want to live, without loving and tending to others. But we also shouldn’t confuse class-coded and minute expressions of domestic prowess with manifestations of care. It turns out that an all-purpose phrase, just like an all-purpose cleaner, yields messy results.
If you’re a woman, Fed Up will likely infuriate. Your attention may float away to the ridiculous requests your loved ones have saddled you with in the past week, month or year. What career goals did they achieve and what leisure time did they enjoy as you played personal assistant? ... While the author recognizes that women actually engineer some of their own emotional laboor, she doesn’t go deep enough on this hell of our own devising ... Fed Up would have benefited from a more rigorous critique of how women do this to themselves and each other. The author might have devoted more than a handful of pages, for instance, to the social origins and everyday consequences of crippling female perfectionism.
Hartley’s prose soars when she shares stories from her own life ... Female readers will undoubtedly relate to the many first-person anecdotes of women obliviously or resentfully doing the draining work of emotional labor. But this is a book for men, too. To break the cycle, men need to step up to the plate. And then put it in the dishwasher.