I proselytised about recent online conversations on "emotional labour" in my last Internet Bibliography. In the face of overwhelming demands from friends and family to be listened to (supportively, pre-reflexively, ad nauseum), Amy Schumer once more rides in on her bright white steed to fix the problem, by presenting to us the fabulous Listen Alert service. Users in desperate need of a kindly, attentive ear simply press on the Listen Alert panic button - ever accessible on a lanyard round your neck - and are connected with support staff willing to do the dirty work of emotional labour, i.e. listen to you whilst effacing their own needs/desires in the moment. As one Listen Alert tech says: "Just stay calm and tell me your story."
Schumer-the-saleswoman has to point out that "Listen Alert is not just for women", which flags the fact that men might pre-emptively feel excluded from the target customer base. After all, men don't need to (pay to) be listened to amirite? In the "ad", when one man is ignored by his date at dinner, he pours his heart out to Listen Alert's Katie - who listens, completely engaged, to his comments about his fluctuating weight and ever-increasing height in college. She reveals her investment in his remarks when she, in a natural and deft conversational move, asks "but what size shoes did you wear?!" What strikes me, though, is that this interlude seems entirely normative - a woman responding sensitively and in a validating manner to a man discussing his life experiences. By contrast, I am blown away by Geoff, one of the male Listen Alert call-centre techs, who starts one conversation with "[t]ell me everything - don't leave out your feelings." This dead-pan depiction of a "manly" (not overtly non-hetero, bearded) man digging in to emotional labour with gusto seems fairly radical. Of course, Geoff and all the Listen Alert techs get paid for this service, which runs to $100, 000 per month per user. And cheap at the cost, I crow!
Emotional labour is a necessary service in relationships - it is the assemblage of behaviours that bind us together. When all parties in a relationship commit to taking on the assorted tasks of emotional labour - made in the measure of what each party specifically needs or wants - things are fine and dandy. A barter or trade economy of sorts is in operation which keeps everyone feeling that things are more or less in balance. And, yet, so often women are almost exclusively loaded with emotional labour. Socio-cultural mores suggest that women not only take on more of this service work, but that men are not tasked with giving back in kind. Women from an early age are schooled - overtly or implicitly - on how to perform such emotional labour, and it often makes up a significant portion of the performance of femininity. Like Listen Alert techs, women are (supposed to be) "trained operators" in the business of emotional service work. Men, in comparison, are often instructed that doing emotional labour makes them less masculine. Once more, nobody wins under patriarchy, people. Emotional labour has to be monetised in the Schumer-verse, because it is not performed in an egalitarian or reciprocal manner. Talking more generally about emotional labour, Metafilter user Rangi points out, "in a healthy relationship, this kind of labor wouldn't have to be monetized because it would be reciprocal". Emotional labour should not need to be monetised necessarily, but it certainly does come at a cost to the labourer in question: time, energy, effort, emotional bandwidth, and so on and on. Emotional labout is not "free". By positioning emotional labour squarely within the capitalist service economy, Listen Alert conjures up - if only spectrally - the "lost wages" of so many emotional labourers.