Emotional labour in relationships is hard. We all grew up with the stereotype that in the initial stages of a relationship, the man handles all the tantrums of his female partner and apologises first after every argument. In fact, women are misrepresented as adamant and childish, the partner who throughs a tantrum for silly things.
How long does that stereotype last? Till the first date? The first kiss? Or the first argument? We certainly cannot reckon that as it might differ based on relationships. But what we can be sure of is the fact that the stereotype is a gift wrapper used to sell an entire can of worms. The man may apologise and handle the tantrums today, but relationships are dynamic.
Relationships are like a see-saw- tilted until equal efforts are applied. However, in our society, the see-saw is often tilted especially weighing the women down with the burden of chores physical and emotional especially when you are married. In other words, heterosexual relationships in our society are mostly unequal and unfair to women who are made to carry the burden of the emotional labour required to sustain the relationship. But why?
Emotional labour falls on women. In relationships, women are expected to manage the emotional friction by being the last one to express but the first one to forgive. In the bid to protect the relationship, women let go of their rights to be emotional, opinionated and argumentative. Women often are at the receiving end of emotional frustration. While women are portrayed as nagging, emotionally volatile and so on, the other side of the coin tells a different story.
You must have observed how in some relationships, it is ok for men to be hot-headed while the woman has to spend all her effort in calming the situation and not letting the problem affect the relationship. No matter how emotionally affected a woman is, she always feels as if it is her responsibility to not complicate the situation more.
In Indian families, girls internalise that it is their responsibility to make a relationship work. Domestic violence – physical or verbal – is normalised as the wear and tear of the marriage. Women are raised with the fear that if a relationship, especially marriage, ends then they will have to bear the brunt. Women will not only be blamed for the failed relationship since managing it is a patni dharma but also lose their reputation and social and financial security.
While men reel under toxic masculinity often this leads to bottling up of emotions which are then vented out in different ways. But when it comes to aggression, arguments, forgiveness or selflessness, men are carried away by the privilege that the same masculinity provides them with. I have rarely witnessed anyone questioning men for being too aggressive or unreasonably argumentative. When it comes to forgiveness and selflessness is the woman’s job to embody those virtues.
Dear society, why do you assume that women should bear the brunt? Why should women always repress their emotions? Is a relationship in which a woman cannot freely express what she feels is it worth it? Why can’t men learn to manage their egos? Isn’t it the basic humanity to understand when to react and when to calm down? Why does society assume that women can ‘fix’ men?
It is high time that society stops forcing women to sacrifice their emotional freedom in relationships. Repressing emotions is not only about the absence of reaction in a particular moment but also about a person’s mental state which is affected by constant repression. The silence makes women feel unfairly used. Women end up feeling lonely in a relationship that is supposed to give them companionship. But isn’t it too long that women have been doing that?
Dear women, do not let expectations dictate your actions. You are an individual. Be.
The views expressed are the author’s own.