This meme about customer service depicts someone doing sex work. But it reminds me of how working retail felt for me. I stroked the egos of a bunch of nasty white guys who were customers, while dodging the harm of coworkers who all had their own agendas and assnesses also. I had to be reliably kind and pleasant ten times more than my male coworkers ever had to be.
Yeah, I needed a raise for the emotional labor I was doing, let alone selling product, closing out cash registers, opening and closing the store. I look back at how hard I worked at that job, and I want to cry. It was so much harder than my coworkers ever did. It’s sad to realize that, from this perspective. They were seen as more knowledgeable and valuable, but they were mostly goofing off!
Ostensibly, the goal of the store was selling product, but a lot of emotional work was part of that. Greeting the customer, putting product into their hands, and asking for the sale were all discussed as part of the training. But my being a woman meant I had to do ton more listening, empathizing, acknowledging stupid jokes, and making excuses to end conversations.
I was almost always the only woman working there. Customers would come in to talk to me. That was a big part of why it was a totally different experience for me–geeky guys would show up for the quiet, kind young woman in a dress. I was a captive audience.
That’s part of why I can wince, to see men flirting with baristas and waitstaff. Maybe they don’t mind, but maybe they do. You might not know their true feelings since they’re at work, doing customer service.
The emotional labor was completely undiscussed. Not much has changed. I work in totally different ways now, as a middle aged woman, than the kid I was working retail in a very male dominated field. But then and now, I’m doing a fuckton of emotional labor, and emotional labor is mostly invisible. Or anyone can see it, they won’t name, value, or give someone a raise for it.
Emotional labor is really tiring, though! People think I’m good at it, so it must be effortless. Reminds me of my gender performance. I’m a woman–I’m pretty skilled at it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy work.