Sweden’s policy can solve the emotional labour debate

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hree waves of feminism later, women are still fighting for equality in today’s society. “Unpaid emotional labour is being hailed as the next feminist frontier,” writes Leah McLaren for The Globe and Mail. She, herself, has been downtrodden with extra tasks that no one has specifically asked her to do, but must be completed nonetheless in order to maintain a functioning household.

What is emotional labour, you ask? It includes all the extra hours of buying birthday gifts, soothing fussy toddlers, preparing for social engagements and, overall, maintaining the emotional well-being of the entire family. These tasks are leaving many women feeling resentful and overburdened, arguing that because this work is unpaid and essentially unrecognized in capitalist society, it renders women as dependent on men, thus facilitating an unequal division of labour.

Although it isn’t always the case that women exclusively provide these foundations, they’re seen as inherently feminine, and are devalued as real work in our society, which ultimately suppresses these ‘labourers.’

Once regarded as working the double shift, women have been caught in this struggle for generations, as they are expected to work full-time — cooking, cleaning, and raising the children. Unequal distribution of housework was a hot topic in the ‘60s, spurring ideas to adopt a Marxist view: one solution, for instance, was to compare housework to paid jobs such as a nanny, gardener, chef, and domestic servant, and to provide similar compensation.

This idea did not catch on then and I don’t think it’s going to catch on even today. So what’s a feminist to do?   

Here’s a novel idea: why don’t we stop devaluing the feminine? This probably isn’t as easy as dropping a hot potato in our current society that has a predisposed paradigm that worships the masculine. However, if we start to respect feminine values, perhaps men would be less afraid of participating in them? How do we bring about this paradigm shift? I propose looking to Sweden, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, for inspiration and influence.

Sweden’s official website states that “gender equality implies not only equal distribution between men and women in all domains of society. It is also about the qualitative aspects, ensuring that the knowledge and experience of both men and women are used to promote progress in all aspects of society.”

Since we elected a sympathetic prime minister who’s progressive with regards to women’s rights and is not scared of the ‘F’ word, why can’t we make a tangible change in our constitutional government? We could emulate Sweden and seek guidance from their functioning policies that are actively and concretely encouraging equality amongst genders.

With a change in politics comes a change in acceptance and ideals. Social media has already helped pave the way for feminism and other pressing social matters to progress. Policy will solidify and support these ideals that the public sphere has begun to identify with.

If men and women are both given ample opportunity in terms of education, paternity leave, in the workplace, politically, and economically, I believe emotional labour will no longer be devalued and will no longer be primarily the woman’s role.