With a smile

Gendered expectations create “emotional labor” for women in service jobs

A waitress serves a customer at a restaurant in central London. (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

Gender inequality in the workplace manifests in a number of ways, one of which, a phenomenon that sociologists call “emotional labor,” is particularly difficult to pinpoint and address. In service jobs, workers are expected to provide a positive emotional experience for customers, meaning part of many workers’ jobs is actively managing their own emotional state — they don’t just provide service, for example, they provide service with a smile. But divergent cultural expectations of men and women mean that for many women doing their job properly means projecting traditionally feminine emotions, even while men doing the same job operate under different expectations.

Jennifer Pierce, a University of Minnesota sociologist, has found that these expectations manifest themselves in every facet of the legal field. Male attorneys, Pierce found, are expected to be aggressive and domineering, but female attorneys who behave in such a way are actively penalized. Female legal secretaries are expected to be deferential and caretaking towards (mostly male) attorneys, but male secretaries are not subjected to the same norms. While the cost of emotional labor may be less obvious than that of the gender pay gap, emotional labor remains no less real of a problem for women to deal with.

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

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