One thing I’ve increasingly heard from many friends in marginalized communities is the great demand for performing something called emotional labor, which is “the process by which people manage and often suppress their feelings, their facial and verbal expressions, and their body language in order to fulfill the emotional demands of some task.” One common refrain I’ve heard from these friends is that they are exhausted from having to perform this extensive emotional labor, especially when the labor asked of my friends involves something that people can find out themselves through minimal research.
Arielle Rebekah Gordon at Trans and Caffeinated wrote about her own experiences with having to perform extensive emotional labor. As an activist for transgender rights, she, like many of my friends in marginalized communities, has expressed just how exhausting it is to consistently perform emotional labor for other people.
While the emotional labor asked of Arielle may be in some ways different from the emotional labor asked of people in other marginalized communities, many of the same issues expressed in her post about emotional labor have been expressed by friends also having to perform extensive emotional labor. They are issues that others of us should be aware of.
So, I hope that my readers also read her post on emotional labor, and also give her blog a look!
You can find Arielle’s post on emotional labor here.
You can find Arielle’s blog here.
 This definition of emotional labor comes from the post I shared. The only difference between the definition I have and the definition from the author of the shared post (Arielle) is that my definition is in the third person while her definition is in the first person.
 For example, the common question of, “Have you had ‘the surgery’?” is a question that is specific to people who identify as transgender.
Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.” We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”
That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.
The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.
A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:
- Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
- Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
- Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
- Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.
I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.