On Emotional Labor as Women’s Work

We carry heavy burdens that, often, do not belong to us. We seek answers for other people’s questions. Find solutions to other people’s problems. Forage for salves to heal wounds not our own. Pray for miracles to reach other homes. Cook to warm foreign souls. Speak life into other vessels. Give our pennies to outstretched hands. Bow our heads in thanksgiving for someone else’s blessing. Lift the names of others in adoration. Chase helium-powered dreams, jumping for the strings, only to hand them to someone else. Then stare at our own shadows, wondering why nothing else is there.

We are spent. We have been spent. We spent ourselves.

We carried, sought, found, foraged, prayed, cooked, spoke, gave, bowed, lifted and chased. We moved so swiftly that our own wind extinguished our fire — the energy we thought was indefatigable. And here we find ourselves, writhing on the cold floors of our mother’s bathrooms, curling into balls, empty of everything but the air we need to cry out for redemption. Saving. Mercy. Grace. Help. To be carried.

Who will fight for us? Who will save us? Who will say our names to the higher powers that all but forsake us in our hour of need? Who will boil the leaves of bushes we do not know by name, but by sight, and hold the cup of their bitter waters to our lips that we may drink with both thirst for wellness and disdain for the taste of our misfortune?

Who will stand in the gap, filling the space we leave pregnant with emptiness while our physical feminine beings are out of service? Who will render the service we no longer can because we have walked too many miles, sang too many hymns, ladled too many bowls of soup, listened to too many tales, doled too many apologies, swept too many tiled floors clean, built too many pedestals, tightened too many ties, patted too many shoulders, smiled at too many inappropriate comments, swallowed too many fitting retorts, caught too many fragile, falling egos, wailed over too many bodies, and covered too many secrets with the dirt from beneath our fingernails — the only compensation for this endless work — like palls over caskets?

Who will fill the spaces we leave when we finally learn that we are enough? That we have done enough. That the world we’ve been fighting for isn’t enough to hold us. That gravity is no match for our spirits that tire of being anchored, and will cut themselves free of this landscape, taking us with them to do what we were born to do. To soar.

Who?

Who will stay here, tell stories of our magic, binding patches of our histories and works into quilts of mythology, wrapped around the babes who hope to one day wield wands of “women’s work” to greater compensation than we have ever imagined? Who will intercede for them, that they will not repeat patterned pasts, but will stand in the power of all that runs through them by virtue of their blood being the same as ours? How will they know that the work of their feet, their hands, their tongue is worth more than thank you, more than love, more than endless praise, and that true appreciation in the capitalist world comes in the form of paper they can take to the bank?

What must we do today to protect their dignity, secure them financially, elevate them socially, empower them politically, strengthen them mentally, and lighten them emotionally that the labor they undertake not only benefits their communities — and them by proxy — but is in balance with their direct compensation?

For faith without works is dead, and work without pay must die. If not before us, then with us. But how?

We are responsible for the continuation of emotional and unpaid labor, started long before us; hence, we are responsible for bringing about its demise. If our feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit, our labor will be paid or it will be left undone.

We will not be left undone.

We will not be left.

We will not.

With our spirits, we will rise, and the rest will learn to fend for themselves. Our responsibility is us, and those like us who we usher into this world, changed by our refusal to let it be as we met it. This has been our duty, it is our power, and it will be our victory.