Whose Work Is It Anyway? A Bridgeliner Reading List About Invisible Labor

The latest theme for our Bridgeliner Curiosity Club is “hidden work” (aka invisible labor). 

And with some help from you, our readers, we’ve put together a list of reading/watching/listening material to get us ready for next month’s dinner discussion.

We’re always open to more suggestions, but here’s what we have so far, broken down by theme:

The gender imbalance in invisible labor

It happens at work, it happens at home, it happens at school, and in every place in-between: Women are asked — or sometimes just expected — to do the unseen, unpaid work that keeps our homes, businesses, and other institutions running smoothly.

I’m a Great Cook. Now That I’m Divorced, I’m Never Making Dinner for a Man Again,” Glamour Magazine

What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With,” The New York Times

All the Rage Isn’t About Moms Having It All — It’s About Moms Doing It All,” NPR

But it’s not just household chores and parenting duties that get an uneven split. 

Several readers sent us articles about how emotional labor — from remembering people’s birthdays to keeping track of the kids’ play schedules — is often the most invisible and inequitable work that happens in our homes.

Emotional Labor: The Invisible Work (Most) Women Do,” Dear Sugars

Women Aren’t Nags — We’re Just Fed Up,” Harper’s Bazaar

You Should’ve Asked,” a feminist comic by “Emma”

A Modest Proposal for a Fair Trade Emotional Labor Economy,” Bitch Media

And if you want to dive into some of the (healthy) controversy among feminists, check out this essay by Haley Swenson in Slate that argues that the term “emotional labor” is used so often now that it’s lost its original meaning.

Please Stop Calling Everything That Frustrates You Emotional Labor,” Slate

The modern-day slave economy

Slavery offiically ended in the United States more than 150 years ago, but there are still ways it persists in the shadows, especially for undocumented immigrants. 

A recent feature in The Atlantic told the story of “Lola,” a domestic servant in the Philippines who followed the Tizon family to America — but didn’t gain her freedom. 

Meanwhile, journalists have also highlighted the ways our criminal justice system functions as a modern-day slave economy, with inmates paid pennies per hour to do work that makes the state millions of dollars.

My Family’s Slave,” The Atlantic

Exploiting black labor after the abolition of slavery,” The Conversation

The personal struggles we hide

“Hi, how are you?”

The boilerplate response to that boilerplate question is “I’m good, thank you.” But sometimes things really aren’t good. So why don’t we just say that? And what does it mean that some people can say that, and others can’t?

Why Suppressing Anger At Work Is Bad,” BBC

Keeping It Together In the Kitchen,” Racist Sandwich podcast

The case for (and against) universal basic income

One idea for compensating all this invisible labor that happens in our economy is to create a “universal basic income” — a flat-rate payment that every American adult gets, no questions asked. 

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has made this idea the centerpiece (or maybe the only piece?) of his campaign, but it’s not exactly a new concept, especially abroad, where countries like Finland are already putting it into practice.

The Finnish Experiment,” 99% Invisible

It’s Payback Time for Women,” The New York Times

Money for Nothing,” The New Republic

Alaska’s Universal Basic Income Problem,” Vox

Odds and ends

Some submissions don’t fit neatly into one category, but they’re creative and awesome enough  that we want to include them anyway. 

The Lowdown,” an episode of Live Wire that features Randy Belston talking about what it’s like to work in Portland’s sewer system.

Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written. Black Americans Have Fought to Make Them True,” The 1619 Project in the New York Times Magazine

Summer in the City Is Hot, but Some Neighborhoods Suffer More,” The New York Times (about the hidden work done by trees to keep us cool)