On feminism and alienation2 Comments
In July, Jess Zimmerman published an article called “Where’s my Cut?: On Unpaid Emotional Labor.” She argues that women learn to stroke men’s egos, calm their tempers and endure their insults, all without pay. She’s joking, of course, when she suggests that these men write checks to their girlfriends, confidantes and sisters — she just means that women deserve acknowledgement. Women aren’t born with the deep-seated desire to smile and nod at men’s complaints; they don’t wake up every morning thinking, “If only I could find a man to interrupt me, ignore me and bulldoze me!” In sum, unpaid emotional labor is a service, not a right.
We — David, Andy and Jane — mention this article for several reasons. 1) WKND is a feminist publication, with feminist ideals. 2) The work of an editor is not unlike the work of a female confidante.
For the past year, we have produced an issue of WKND every Friday morning. In other words, we have gone to class (or lunch or work) on Fridays and seen our publication in unexpected places. Pulpy WKND in the gutter. Faded WKND in the Pierson courtyard. Food-stained WKND outside Atticus. Mostly, we’ve seen WKND in the hands of strangers — a sight that stirs up complicated feelings. First, we see these strangers and think: Thank God! Thank God the words and pictures actually left 202 York St., and moved into the boundless world beyond!
Much of the work we do as Yale students is private work: papers we write for professors, jobs we hold for our parents, races we run for ourselves. Or, in Marxist terms, we’re estranged from our destinies and alienated from our labor, mechanistic cogs in the Yale machine that engage with texts, ideas and people for no good reason.
But WKND has been a path towards Marxist self-actualization for its editors. To see a stranger read your newspaper is to feel a little more autonomous, a little more in control. We’ve seen the fruits of our labor, and (weirdly, inexplicably) felt closer to our fellow students (even to those who aren’t feminists). Though powerlessness often reigns supreme at Yale — we’re tired, we’re taking bad classes, we’re not getting enough financial aid — WKND has given a little power back to three disorganized, hopeful kids.
Of course, as we watch strangers reading WKND every Friday, we could also think: That stranger does not know that I am the puppet master! I pitched, then edited those interesting articles. Unpaid emotional labor! Why work on something without pay, and without recognition? No one emails the editors telling us we’ve done a great job. (Full disclosure: We haven’t always done a great job.)
But we do not have those thoughts. And here, let’s establish a distinction between the unpaid emotional labor provided by marginalized groups and the service provided by editors: it’s a question of vectors. (WKND always believes it’s a question of vectors). When a woman engages in conversation with a Bad Man — one on one, face to face — she often harbors illusions of reciprocity. Conversations, after all, often involve respect and empathy. Yet the Bad Man quickly disabuses her of this belief: She ends up stroking his ego, soothing his anger, suffering his insults, et cetera. Her conversational vector shrinks to nothing, while his dominates the “conversation.” (Proof that feminism is relevant: In May, a self-identified male feminist told Jane, “I only interrupt you because I care about you and our relationship!” At the time, Jane was too sad to explain why that sentence was not, in fact, a feminist statement. A Yale diploma and Judith Butler textbook do not a feminist make!)
When we see a stranger reading WKND, we see that person’s intellectual vector engaging with the author’s intellectual vector. All we — David, Andy, Jane — did was bring the two parties together, facilitate the discussion. Each week, we have nudged our writers towards readers, then stepped back to watch the beginning of real reciprocity.
So no: The editor’s work is like, but unlike, the female confidante’s work. The female confidante endures the failure of conversation, while the editor can sometimes spark discussion through unpaid emotional labor. The editor does not entertain illusions of mutuality, and therefore neither reader nor author has done the editor harm. To wit: Don’t pay your YDN editors, pay your female friends.
This is our last issue as puppet masters, our last chance to bring writers and readers together. We love you, fellow cogs in the machine. We hope you pursue something (anything!) that makes you feel a little more autonomous, a little more in control.