The expectations of pandemic life and quarantine are feminist issues. As women we are acculturated to make others comfortable at all costs. To deny we have wants or needs. To occupy as little space as possible and subsist on as little input as we can manage. We are encouraged to shrink for the comfort of others. This is showing up in pandemic life.
That’s why women are shamed for charging money for their professional services, as if they should need nothing for themselves and only give from their empty cup. Their labour isn’t valued as being deserving of energetic and financial exchange when others are suffering, as if their own suffering was inconsequential and they should be like air plants thriving on only oxygen and what little light is available.
That’s why women are shamed for complaining about the demands of holding a family together as if it’s not of value to educate, comfort and console. This emotion labour, so often unseen, is key to the ongoing productivity of those who benefit from a calm house in which to work and to everyone who benefits from the ongoing compliance with important but restrictive measures that can be difficult to endure without emotional support, but which must be endured for the sake of public safety. Motherhood is not interchangeable with martyrdom conceptually, but we have made it so. We are Corona cruise directors keeping everyone entertained and comforted and we are fucking exhausted.
We are encouraged to smile more to make others comfortable and this seemingly small act of accommodation and emotional labour oozes from every meme that minimizes the valid struggle which is this pandemic and encourages us to “enjoy every moment.” It’s the same way we are encouraged to bear the exhaustion of new motherhood without complaint. We are birthing a new future collectively and it’s so hard. And we are being asked to be performatively comforting in the process, to exude ease as if it is all so effortless because heaven forbid anyone experience the discomfort and hard work of EMPATHY.
Diet culture vultures are circling. We are encouraged not to “let ourselves go” as if our waistlines are an act of community service and there is some obligation to become public art worthy of consumption. When food is scarce from hoarders we are encouraged not to ingest too much of what little is left. We are encouraged to deny ourselves the pleasure of that comfort because the pleasure of a woman is inherently threatening in the business of maintaining the current order of things. Glennon Doyle explores this in her book Untamed and it’s so true.
What would happen if we gave ourselves permission to choose pleasure and eat the last damn donut without deferring to literally anyone else who might have once considered eating a donut in the history of ever and give zero fucks about smiling and just get through this? How strong and scary would we be and why should we care if that scares someone?
They want us hysterical enough to participate in the economy through online shopping to maintain the niceties of societally expected aesthetics. Pandemics still have to be pretty. They want us calm enough to hold it together for everyone else to get things done as if we don’t have shit to do. And they want us grateful enough to ask for nothing in return.
We’ve got to get through this, but we can do so while still pointing out the utter hypocrisy of the structural inequality that persists, pandemic or not.