Book Review: Fed Up by Gemma Hartley

November 16, 2018

Edition: Yellow Kite Paperback
Release Date: November 13th, 2018
Pages: 272
Genre: Feminism/Feminist Theory
Source: Received as an ARC from Hachette Australia
Links: Goodreads | Buy the book

A ground-breaking exploration of feminism's most buzzy topic.

Gemma Hartley wrote an article in Harper's Bazaar in September 2017 called 'Women Aren't Nags - We're Just Fed Up', which instantly went viral. The piece, and this book, is about 'emotional labour', i.e. the unpaid, often unnoticed work, done by women, that goes into keeping everyone comfortable and happy.

FED UP tackles the hard-hitting issues surrounding emotional labour: the historical underpinnings and roots in feminism, the benefits and burdens of this kind of effort, and the specific contexts where emotional labour, otherwise known as the 'mental load', plays a major but undervalued role, including relationships, work, sex, parenting, politics and self-care.
Dubbed as the next feminist frontier, emotional labour couldn't be more relevant to these times we're living in. Fed Up is a must-read for those who want to harness the power of emotional labour and create a more connected, equal world.
Fed Up by Gemma Hartley is such an important addition to contemporary feminist literature. It is increasingly relevant, urgent, and a comfort to females everywhere who haven't had the words to articulate the exhausting nature of what has now been outed as 'emotional labour'. Hartley's in depth and clearly well-researched look at the way in which emotional labour has historically been undervalued and invisibilised yet seen as the core function of womanhood, is accessible yet extensive. While it examines emotional labour through the context of parenthood and marriage, it will even resonate with young girls who have only just started to feel the frustration that happens when you've been conditioned since birth to be the peacekeeper who mutes their own emotions in order to position someone else's feelings or aspirations above your own. 

In her book, Hartley makes emotional labour visible. This in itself is notable considering the mental load carried by women has long remained unequal because it has always been seemingly invisible to others. So much of the mental work of women is taken for granted and devalued in society. We cannot function as a collective without it, yet we do not give it the compensation, recognition, or value that we give to the 'paid' or 'physical' labour associated with masculinity.

When emotional labour is invisible to others, women come across as nags simply for demanding partnership from their partners rather than assistance from them. If this work is invisible then potential solutions for sharing the load and gaining recognition for such important work, becomes completely out of reach. Conversations about emotional labour become mentally exhaustive for the women trying to explain this to defensive partners who simply don't understand. This can prevent the conversation from being productive, yet in it's absence resentment builds. Gemma Hartley attempts to navigate this through critiquing the culture we live in rather than the men who work within it.

Disproportionate divisions of emotional labour are embedded in most heteronormative and patriarchal relationships that are based in rigid gender roles, whether romantic, platonic or familial. But as Hartley points out, emotional labour is not a strictly heteronormative issue on the home front. She credits Trish Bendix, writing "though same-sex or non-traditional couples rail against stereotypical gender roles, we often fall into them." She also makes a point to amplify the fact that emotional labour can be even more intense for women of colour who regularly deal with tone-policing from both men and women when they attempt to explain the realities of their own lived experiences. The conversation is often too painful and too predictable to be worth having.  

Gemma Hartley looks at whether or not women being skilled at emotional labour is a case of nature or nurture. She asks why it is that women are expected to be naturally altruistic yet that same expectation just doesn't exist for men. Throughout the course of the book, we see that our culture is hugely responsible for this, with females being inundated with their responsibility as homemakers and peacemakers since birth. Similarly, she makes an interesting observation when she examines the role and impact of emotional labour in romantic films. It becomes clear that through romantic films, we internalise the idea that women keep men through continuous and under appreciated acts of emotional labour. Yet men only perform emotional labour as grand and public gesture of affection when they are trying to win back or gain the attention of a girl - a once off. This one grand gesture is then supposed to sustain the remainder of the relationship where the girl then returns to being the one doing all of the heavy lifting until Valentine's day or any other notable occasion happens. 

Hartley shares a lot of her own relationship and experiences with the reader. One particularly memorable moment story was centered around her traumatic first pregnancy. When pregnant, she continued to do the majority of emotional labour. She dedicated her spare time to reading as many baby books as she could in preparation for her child's birth. However, as this was her assumed responsibility, her husband never took the initiative to read any. This meant that once the baby was born it was clear that she was supposed to know what to do. Surely, this was more her domain, even with no prior experience. You could so vividly feel the weight of these expectations as the author, physically incapable of caring for herself, dealt with feelings of immense isolation and fear postpartum. The feelings almost jumped off the pages. 

She doesn't drag her husband to filth. He consented to private parts of their relationship being shared and by the end of the story, the couple slowly but surely find a way around their biggest and only relationship obstacle. She praises him numerous times for doing anything once asked and doesn't hesitate to mention how excellent he is as a father and husband, especially in comparison to others. However, she does critique the harmful way in which we praise fathers for doing the bare minimum whilst Mother's are encouraged to aspire to "doing and having it all." 'Fed Up' gets to the centre of how stereotypes such as the incapable and perpetually untrustworthy father are more harmful than humorous, making for an easy out and seriously low standards. 

While the novel can get repetitive at points, Gemma Hartley ultimately uses 'Fed Up' to prove that asking for things to be as good as they should and can be, is important even when progression has rendered a situation better than it was before. She discusses how emotional labour is seeped into the retail, customer service and leadership roles women do and even dedicates a few pages to making interesting links between emotional labour and the #MeToo movement. 

The book is not at all call to reject emotion work altogether, instead it celebrates it and makes clear the way forward. 'Fed Up' explains how necessary it is to reject the notion that emotional labour should be seen as gendered and limited to women. Hartley highlights the way in which this dichotomy is harmful to young girls and women and how it can prevent the formation of healthy and equal partnerships overall, yet by the end it is clear that this damages men also - when men are excluded from performing such fulfilling, thoughtful, and necessary work, they miss out on living the type of full lives we should all aspire to. 

'Fed Up' by Gemma Hartley is out now.
Disclaimer: Thank you Date A Book and Hachette Australia for my review copy! I received this novel from the publisher's for review, this has not affected or influenced my opinion in any way. Opinions are entirely my own.

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