Sunday, August 14, 2016

One Eight Eight: Smile-Mask

When I was young, I read a lot of Marxist theory. I was good at it for a while, and I knew all the arcane definitions and analytical techniques that Marxism had developed on its own or absorbed from critical theory. I knew the terms of art--- interpellation, ideology, alienation, comprador capitalism. I'm having problems these days with something more personal: the idea of "emotional labour".

 I do understand that there's a difference between "emotion work" and "emotional labour". One is, I think, more about presentation of the self at work, and other is more domestic. I don't know the dividing lines. What I do know is that the underlying concept--- when it's applied to domestic, personal concerns ---leaves me even more depressed and exhausted than the labour-market application.

My understanding--- based on reading any number of the more political sex blogs ---is that "emotional labour" is used to mean male demands on women for emotional support in a relationship. It's a male demand, of course. The male half of the relationship demands that the female half provide emotional support and help him through emotional downswings. This is regarded as evil, since it's a male demand. I suppose I'd always thought one of the desirable things about a romantic relationship was that you had someone there who would offer you emotional support, who wanted to raise your spirits and help steer you through depressing moments. Oh, of course you did the same for them. That goes without saying--- loyalty and support in return, always. Always. But the hope-- for both parties ---would always be that in a romantic relationship you'd have someone who would see it as worthwhile, or as part of the relationship itself, to be there for you, to say the small romantic things you need, to offer solace and congratulations and care.

Reading the blogs about the evils of "emotional labour" in a relationship, all I can think is that there's no longer any room for such things. Once again, it's better--- best ---to remain silent. Never ask a lover for anything, not support, not solace, not kind words. Never ask, never expect. Never hope. The new rules call for silence and distance. No one--- and especially the male half of the relationship ---should ever display any emotional needs or ask for any emotional support. Never ask for anything that could be spun as a demand. Never offer anything that could be spun as condescending or smothering. Simply enough, never ask for anything.

There was a time when I believed that lying back in a lover's arms would be safe, that I'd feel safe and supported and loved. A relationship could be a haven in a heartless world--- a phrase Marx supposedly used about the bourgeois family. Haven in a heartless world---- a kind of blanket fort against the outside, a place where someone believes in you and supports you, where someone sees it as part of their role to make you feel better, to make you feel desired and loved. For the record, and to stave off ranters, I'll be clear: you do all that for your partner, too. Ride or die--- you give that to them just as they give it to you. Those days are over. The new rules make it impossible to look at a romantic relationship as a haven, or to think you might get--- or seek ---any support.

There are things I'd hope for in a Young Companion, and things I'd like to tell a lover I'd need. There are things I'd like to ask for.  I can't, of course. I can't even begin to say anything. I can't even hint. All you can do in these latter days is stay silent. Never ask, never hope, never expect.

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