Why Sustainable Living Requires Tackling Emotional Labor

Why Sustainable Living Requires Tackling Emotional Labor

Note: This letter from the editor was originally published in our weekly newsletter and is being republished here.

Happy Friday guys!

I’m writing this newsletter from a quiet coastal town called Seventeen Seventy (also known as 1770) in Queensland’s Gladstone region and almost six hours north of Brisbane. This town is known for being the second landing in Australia by British explorer Lt. James Cook and the crew of HM Bark Endeavour in May 1770, after first landing in Sydney’s Botany Bay.

I’m here because I needed a mental break; and Ben being the attentive partner he is, could see that I needed one well before I mentioned that I needed to escape. He had this town in mind and aside from the few minutes I contributed to approving accommodation, Ben had sorted out the itinerary and planned the entire trip. Ben often steps up when I have no more bandwidth. He’s amazing like that.

Like all modern, healthy, functioning and emotionally-aware couples, Ben and I work as a team; and yet, I don’t see him requiring the mental breaks that I do– and I reckon I’ve worked out why that is. He doesn’t have to contend with the gender expectations around emotional labor.

While he can “switch off” and watch the footy or other sporting match, and don’t take to heart the emotional woes and lives of his friends and family, and can ignore the dust, dog and cat hair, muddy footprints and farm tools left in the kitchen, I find it hard to do this. It’s possible that it’s also a lot easier for him to ignore these sorts of things as he doesn’t face the same societal expectations and ramifications I do; that as a bloke, when Ben forgets to contact someone on their birthday, or doesn’t call a family member for months on end, or doesn’t clean up right away; there’s no guilt involved on his part (nor is there shaming from other people come to think of it). He was raised not having to really care about such things. It’s no biggie, in his eyes.

Sustainable Living Requires Tackling Emotional Labor
EWP founding editor Jennifer Nini wearing Ace & Jig; photographed at an Airbnb in Noosa. Photo: Ben McGuire.

I don’t get let off that easy; females are expected to be “people-centric”, putting others needs ahead of their own, listening, giving advice, helping and ensuring the home is tidy. These are both internal and external pressures– guilt and shame have become weaponized, by others as well as ourselves. If being a woman is exhausting; being a “wonder woman” is downright impossible, and yet that’s what every woman seems to be striving for.

There is a cultural and societal expectation (perpetuated by our friends, families, communities, media, advertising) that women need to do it all and be all, and give up our time to be there for everyone– and do it smiling. Social media adds another level of expectation that one must be accessible at all times, and share openly about daily life, from the mundane to the super fun, all whilst looking fabulous AF in an Insta-worthy home.

From doing daily tasks such as putting things away in its proper place, through to household chores and cleaning, whilst being there for loved ones, supporting them on their endeavours and careers; and remembering birthdays and occasions (and reminding others about them too), whilst keeping a mental list of groceries and other things that need to be replaced or bought, whilst sorting out the recycling/cupboards/fridge/freezer, juggling the many tasks of a growing start-up and tending to the many tasks required on the farm (though Ben is responsible for a majority of the work since he is both capable and strong) – this is no easy feat and all of it requires time, energy and resources. It requires organisation, avoiding time-sapping events/people/emails/businesses and huge amounts of emotional labor.

There is emotional labor even in just attempting to avoid the traps of emotional labor. No wonder I’m mentally drained– and it’s still only Feb!


On days when the to-do list seems relentless, I have to remind myself to be grateful for the privilege of living a life I consciously chose, even if I didn’t choose the gender expectations that befall on me. In these times of extreme frustration, I think of my hard-working mother, who worked full-time as she raised three children in a traditional household where she cooked and deep cleaned and managed the social calendar and tried to guide our spiritual and religious lives while my dad was pretty hands-off and did his own thing. 

I fought with mum heaps growing up, sometimes arrogantly telling her about what she should and shouldn’t be doing as a mother (comparing her of course to the part-time working mums and full-time stay at home mums that my friends had) and wondering why she couldn’t just be that kind of mother; the Brady Bunch mum, the bubbly mum advertised in commercials, the mother who was doting, and listened, and wasn’t angry or emotionally vacant or resentful, who wanted to watch me play sports and cut up orange slices for the team to enjoy at half-time break, and be there to help supervise at my school excursions.

During one of our fights, mum calmly replied: “Jennifer, when you’ve grown up and you have your own kids and you’re running a household, let’s talk about just how bad I am of a mother then, but until then, I’m not going to discuss this with you.”

I remember her words to this day. I can’t take all those fights back, all the hurtful things I said back, but I can say that I’m no longer an immature little shit LOL.

I have nothing but empathy and understanding for mum (mum if you’re reading this, love you!), because as a grown woman, I am very aware that my mother carried a much greater load than my father; the emotional labor, the mental burden and all the ‘invisible’ thankless work she did and was expected to do, was – and still – is completely unfair. This is all on top of assimilating into a new country and the issues and challenges that come along with being an immigrant, moving away from a tight-knit family and religious community to a more secular and individualistic society. My mother is now my dad’s full-time carer; after raising her children to be constructive members of society, the emotion work still hasn’t ended for her.

In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has Time‘ author Brigid Schulte writes: ‘These days, even as mothers put in extreme hours on the job, the New Domesticity movement urges the ideal mother to raise chickens, grow organic gardens, knit, can vegetables, and even homeschool her children”. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the sustainability movement; that rather than simplifying to live sustainable and healthy lives, women are doing more in the name of ‘green living’ – more boxes to tick in the never-ending list of things to do.

If you’re feeling frazzled, emotionally exhausted, underappreciated, frustrated– I hear you. I understand you. I am you.

Please take my words as a sign to do something for yourself this weekend because as is often said, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’.

Take time to replenish your soul and spirit. To do something you love. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Own that ‘me’ time and look after YOU for a change.

I promise it will be worth it.


Congratulations to Suzanne Dang, winner of the gorgeous Naomi Multicolor straw bag from The Rewind Conscious Store. Your bag will be on its way soon!

Our latest giveaway is for eco-conscious parents with bubs, who are either thinking of transitioning away from disposables to reusable nappies or want to win a 6x nappy bundle to add to their existing reusable nappy collection. For entry details, click here (Aussies only, soz!)

Conversations happening in our ‘Women Who Love Politics’ group:

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  • A podcaster in the group shared about publishing a new episode where she interviews Licia Heath, CEO of Women for Election Australia who shares her story of becoming involved with the organisation that helps women learn how to run for office – and shares her own story of running as an Independent candidate in Sydney.
  • Thoughts on the “Be a Lady They Said” viral video.
  • A throwback to Iceland’s historical ‘Women’s Day Off’ on Oct 24 1975 where almost 90% of Iceland’s female population went on strike, refusing to work, cook and look after children for the day to demonstrate the indispensable work they do for the nation’s economy and demanding an end to gender wage discrepancies and discriminatory employment practices. 
  • An Australian article When it comes to politics, old men still defeat young women” analyses the differences in voting behaviour based on gender. It states amongst other things: “When Australians are asked to place themselves on a 10-point scale from left to right, the average position for men is 5.2 (to the right), while the average position for women is 4.8 (to the left). Women have moved left since the 1990s.”

Popular articles from our archives this week:

And that’s all from me. Enjoy the rest of your week peeps– I know I will!

Peace, love and all that jazz,

Editor-in-Chief Jen xx

Feature image of founding editor Jennifer Nini wearing Ace & Jig and Matter Prints by Ben McGuire.

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