Out of the Blue, episode #2: On emotional labor, with Jess Zimmerman September 15, 2015 11:43 AM   Subscribe

On July 13th, the writer Jess Zimmerman posted “Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor on The Toast, an essay about how and why emotional work is often undervalued and treated as "women's work". Or, more to the point, not even work: just something women are inherently supposed to do. It's a good piece, and what it spawned was even more interesting: a huge, revelatory MetaFilter thread in which site members, women in particular, talked about all the ways this asymmetry and devaluation of emotional labor has affected their lives and their relationships.


The resulting thread was immense, with surprising momentum: while many discussion threads tail off after a day or two, this one kept going for the entire month it was open (MetaFilter threads close after 30 days) and collected upward of 2100 comments by the end, from hundreds of different people. New folks signed up by the dozens to join in; members shared personal revelations, talked about the new vocabulary the discussion was giving them, posted both hopeful and heartbreaking updates about how these ideas were impacting their relationships with spouses, romantic partners, and friends.

There were spinoff discussions, especially on Ask MetaFilter where several site members asked about emotional labor in various contexts. And there were even 170 or so comments about a proposed women-only retreat called Crone Island, for which ocherdraco made a travel poster.

In this episode, I talk with Jess Zimmerman about her expectations and experiences writing the original piece, the reaction it got on MetaFilter, the collective disservice these gender expectations do both women and men, and some of the ideas that came out of that intense, personal collection of stories in the discussion thread.

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posted by cortex to Out of the Blue at 11:43 AM (48 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

I actually bookmarked that thread and read through it every so often to make sure I'm doing my work. Definitely one of those Only-On-Mefi amazing threads.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


That was a tight, radio-quality interview!
posted by ignignokt at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


And that poster is fantastic. Flag it!
posted by ignignokt at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm so excited to finally put this out. It took longer to come out than it was meant to, for boring "my life was busy" reasons, but it was a huge pleasure talking to Jess Zimmerman about this; the hardest part of putting it all together was cutting it down to length after we had a nice long conversation. Thanks again, Jess.

And, seriously, thanks to everyone who participated in that great big thread. It's going to remain I think one of the landmark moments in my mind where MetaFilter shows off the best of what it's capable of, and I learned so dang much from what people shared, very much in particular all the women who talked about their experiences.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2015 [28 favorites]


So Great!

This made my day
posted by French Fry at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


*checks to make sure its still cortex*

Leadership showing its rewards.


Why yes, this is the kind of place where your schmoopy gets a snark because we aren't sure how we feel about this new you, but we're liking it. urgh vote quidnunc kid
posted by infini at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Psst, infini, the mod known as "cortex" has actually been quidnunc kid for months. I'm not at liberty to say more.
posted by languagehat at 12:49 PM on September 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


vote #1!
posted by nadawi at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Boop - bedoobee - doo - bee - dee-beeeeee!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:13 PM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Great job, cortex and Jess Zimmerman! Sharing this one with non-MeFite friends.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:20 PM on September 15, 2015


I am totally printing out that poster and hanging it in my office. It will be a bit awkward if anyone asks about it, but the chances of that happening are pretty much nil. Plus, it is clearly the best thing ever.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:46 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Very much look forward to listening, really like this new direction with the podcasts!
posted by The Gooch at 3:10 PM on September 15, 2015


Nice!
posted by jaguar at 3:32 PM on September 15, 2015


I really enjoyed this episode!
posted by ocherdraco at 4:23 PM on September 15, 2015


One thing struck me - Jess said she felt is was sad that none of us got paid, but one of the take-aways I had from all of the discussions about emotional labor is that often we don't want to be paid in money - rather we want to be paid in kind, and by that metric I think the thread paid people back in spades. There was an astonishing amount of effort put in to listen to and value what people said, there was a ton of comfort given, and I think overall it stands out as one of the most nurturing threads I've seen on MetaFilter bar none.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:48 PM on September 15, 2015 [35 favorites]


"and collected upward of 2100 comments by the end"

I always wondered how many metatalk threads or just metafilter threads in general go past 2000 comments. I've seen some extremely active Metatalk threads roll on like a freight train of posts but the brakes always seemed to kick in at around 1800 comments. So, I guess my question is, in the history of Metafilter, how many posts went past 2000 comments?
posted by I-baLL at 6:57 PM on September 15, 2015


That poster is fantastic. I am looking forward to listening to the interview.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:52 PM on September 15, 2015


pastebin of a word cloud I made of the comments. You'll need to paste the text into your browser address bar to see them, because that's how I roll. (Inefficiently.)

pastebin of a word cloud I made of the commenters; same deal as above.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:16 PM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


in the history of Metafilter, how many posts went past 2000 comments?

The MeFi Wiki has the numbers. The Emotional Labor thread hasn't been added to the Hall of Fame YET, but it'll land around #23 for the Blue and nowhere near the record of OVER 8000 by the 2012 Election thread and the 2013 nonsensical "Alphabet Thread" on MeTa (that I contributed heavily to, which will always be my shame). Still I cannot remember any thread with a higher quantity of MEANINGFUL comments.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:30 PM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


It beats any of the mega threads on the grey as well, were we've tended to spill our guts. Truly, its not about the numbers, insert quality not quantity cliche here.
posted by infini at 1:05 AM on September 16, 2015


I-baLL: ""and collected upward of 2100 comments by the end"

I always wondered how many metatalk threads or just metafilter threads in general go past 2000 comments. I've seen some extremely active Metatalk threads roll on like a freight train of posts but the brakes always seemed to kick in at around 1800 comments. So, I guess my question is, in the history of Metafilter, how many posts went past 2000 comments?
"

Metafilter: 32
Metatalk: 8
posted by double block and bleed at 3:22 AM on September 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


the hardest part of putting it all together was cutting it down to length after we had a nice long conversation.

Maybe you could put out a bonus super-sized episode with the longer conversation -- a mega podcast episode for a mega comment thread.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:43 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


What a nice surprise, looking forward to listening to this soon.
posted by Kwine at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2015


Cool! That was one of the most gratifying and worthwhile conversations I've ever had on the Blue.
posted by Kitteh at 7:24 AM on September 16, 2015


in the history of Metafilter, how many posts went past 2000 comments?

The MeFi Wiki has the numbers. The Emotional Labor thread hasn't been added to the Hall of Fame YET, but it'll land around #23 for the Blue and nowhere near the record of OVER 8000 by the 2012 Election thread and the 2013 nonsensical "Alphabet Thread" on MeTa (that I contributed heavily to, which will always be my shame). Still I cannot remember any thread with a higher quantity of MEANINGFUL comments.


I wonder which is the longest MeFi thread by word count. A lot of the record holders for longest threads are probably a lot of one-liner snarky drive-by comments, and almost all of the Emotional Labor comments were pretty long by comparison.
posted by JDHarper at 8:09 AM on September 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


> I wonder which is the longest MeFi thread by word count.

I second this wonder now that it's been wondered.
posted by languagehat at 8:30 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Should be calculable pretty easily if someone wants to give it a shot; the commentlength_* files on the Infodump give basic length data for each comment in the db, so summing that up for all comments ided to a given thread for each of the e.g. 20 longest threads will give you a good ballpark. Would indeed be interesting to see how average comment length plays into that.

Note that the commentlength calc is very literal; it includes white space and html, so it's not a literal "how many words were displayed in this comment" sort of deal. Also no way to account for quoted content. That said, those things are probably kind of a wash when averaged out into a large-scale deal like this.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:58 AM on September 16, 2015


You could also scrape the top X longest threads and then get some cleaner numbers using the raw, cleaned text.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2015


I honestly think Jalliah's rubbery cheese stories from the thread would make a dynamite one-act play.
posted by maxsparber at 10:25 AM on September 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are many potential plays in that thread, and I'll bet they'd be more interesting than 90% of what's on Broadway.
posted by languagehat at 11:28 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Remember the 4th date I went on, with that thread in hand? We had a 5th date. And now, having noted teh imbalance evident, yet all other things being worth while, I'm holding back to see if he notices who's been doing the "work". Yes, folks, we have a make or break moment, for the first time in my decades of relationshopping. I'm proud of myself. I'm standing on two feet, with little or no panic if he never calls (though he knows its "his turn") and while I can't pinpoint it all to that thread, as I'm still inarticulate, I don't hesitate to say thank you to all of you, to the mods, to number one, to the OP of the FPP and to Jess Zimmerman.

oh god, the schmoopy... *glares at cortex*
posted by infini at 11:47 AM on September 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


Jess said she felt it was sad that none of us got paid, but one of the take-aways I had from all of the discussions about emotional labor is that often we don't want to be paid in money - rather we want to be paid in kind, and by that metric I think the thread paid people back in spades.

I agree, Deoridhe - that thread was deeply fulfilling and rewarding and nurturing and illuminating in ways that money can't even touch, and I'm grateful for everyone's contributions. I expect I'll be re-reading that thread for many years to come. Still, as a writer whose income has been well below the poverty line for many years now, and who frequently receives requests for unpaid work, I appreciated the way the podcast closed with that comment by Jess. It made me smile and nod, because part of me agrees. Women did a lot of emotional heavy lifting in that thread. I'd love to live in a world where that was recognised and valued as labour that contributes to the site's value and we DID receive money for it, in addition to the less tangible rewards.
posted by velvet winter at 12:47 PM on September 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Great podcast - I'm really amazed at the production value on these - they're like PROFESSIONAL and everything.

The interview was amazingly good as well - cortex hitting those natural questions that you want to ask the author, Jess Zimmerman.

oneswellfoop: I tried adding the "Crone Island" to the MetaFilter Wiki recently, I contacted someone to look over my work as I wasn't sure what I was doing was The Way It Is Done, but they declined looking over it. If you want to feel free to edit/change around, I put Crone Island under "In Jokes" (as it is quite jokey but with a political edge) and made it have its own separate page.

I meant to add a thing about "Emotional Labor" but I wasn't really sure where, of if it was already there. (ran out of steam.)

Great podcast and also nice coda from cortex. Big ups to sciatrix and all those who shared on that thread. Sooo looking forward to the next OOTB - any hints?
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:50 PM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Or anyone else who has some spare time and wants to edit/update the Mefi Wiki - I just added it myself because it seemed important to document it.) Did I mention I'm excited about the next OOTB? :D
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:52 PM on September 16, 2015


If any one is interested, here is how the words 'crone' and 'island' came into the thread. I'm writing this here to recognise my friend Anna, and pb.

Anna is a dear friend, a retired bard for the forests and the Franklin River, a woman of great heart a dozen years older than me. It was she who taught me to value the 'crone' as a powerful expression of womanhood. Unlucky in love and activist poor, we have been talking for decades about various housing options for ourselves when aged but still active. Confirming that we didn't want to waste our precious last years on men, performing for them what is now known as uncompensated emotional labour, we restricted our imaginary membership to 'crones'. It was that thinking that led into this comment of mine last year.

Then UEL Thread came along and I was absorbed. Riffing off E. Whitehall and recognising the freakin' social impact of the thread even at that point, I blurted out a trope-ish (the actual adjective is 'tropical') paragraph and pressed post. And immediately thought "But where are the women who didn't subscribe to UEL? What are they doing?" And I pictured it: they were crones, dancing, in the moonlight, in celebration.

So, thanks to pb's glorious technical contrivance, I was able to amend my post and throw those two words into the creative hivemind. And as I watched them take flight I thought, they would most likely not exist if it weren't for my misuse of the edit button.
posted by Thella at 5:38 PM on September 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Crone island and crone town might not be feasible, but I’m certain that enough women could get together and create a very nice cronemunity.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:14 PM on September 16, 2015


"There's nobody smarter than hundreds of women."

YES.
posted by divined by radio at 3:24 PM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm tempted to put that Crone Island poster on a T-shirt.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:14 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I felt genuinely lost and upset when that thread closed. It felt like something momentous and wonderful was ending, and though it might branch off, it probably wouldn't remain as potent.

I know you can't just route around technical limitations like clicking your fingers but oh lord, if I had one fingerclick to give on Metafilter, it would have gone to that thread.
posted by pseudonymph at 6:19 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Captain Awkward gives the podcast a shout-out.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:50 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Solid podcast, thank you.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2015


Well, one of us got paid. I've been pretty quiet on the Green lately, because after having a complete fall apart the weekend I posted my first comment on that thread, I got busy putting out the word to my network that I was in the market for a new job. Today, I got a new job with a great group (same company, different group), with the title I've been trying to get for over 2 years, and a significant raise. I was told today that I am being paid well in part because of my ability to emotionally smooth over bad situations, and because I have a huge network of people that I keep in contact with, both inside and outside the company.

That thread was literally life changing for me, and I don't mean in the job sense (though it's a nice perk!). I mean in the "my entire framework for dealing with the world changed" sense. And it's given me a renewed hope in the potential of the Internet.... that we haven't just devolved to 4chan and random incorrect political gifs on Facebook. Much love to you all.
posted by RogueTech at 7:39 PM on September 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Has anyone used gwint's script to make the emotional labor thread into a fancy PDF? Can someone point me to it or send it to me?
posted by Wretch729 at 7:44 PM on September 23, 2015


Wretch729, not sure if you are asking for the script or pdf, but hades has compiled a pdf of the emotional labor thread with the Crone Island poster by ocherdraco on the cover.
posted by Thella at 11:00 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thank you Thella, that's what I wanted.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:16 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Quick question to a mod if they can answer it.

From my non-statistical glances, prior to the UEL thread, there were on average around 160-180 posts in the category Human Relations on the sidebar of Ask. Since the UEL thread, that number has hovered around 120 posts. Has there been a general downturn in Human Relations questions since the UEL thread or have I been imagining it?
posted by Thella at 3:09 PM on September 26, 2015


Looks like Human Relations questions are down a bit over the last month or so, yeah. The percentage of Human Relations questions hovers between 8-12% of total questions asked. We're on the low side of that percentage right now but it's not extraordinarily low.
posted by pb (staff) at 9:40 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dear Ask,

If I stop the EL and its been 4 weekends since I've received any communication on any medium, is there a take away I need the hive mind to help me figure out?

Empoweringly yours,

'fini
posted by infini at 10:07 AM on September 27, 2015


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