Prof wants colleges to pay women extra for ‘emotional labor’

Toni Airaksinen

  • A communications studies professor wants colleges to compensate female faculty members for their "emotional labor," such as "supportive communication" and generally "making a person 'feel good.'"
  • Brandi Lawless argues that emotional labor is equivalent to other academic work, such as teaching classes and grading assignments, blaming the "neoliberal agenda" for making emotional labor an expectation.
  • A communications professor at the University of San Francisco is urging colleges to pay female faculty members for their “emotional labor.” 

    Brandi Lawless, who teaches classes oriented towards social justice, argued in the March issue of Review of Communications that “emotional labor” is a form of academic work, just like teaching classes and grading homework is for professors. 

    "The unwritten rule that women are emotional creatures is not natural."   

    Emotional labor refers to “demonstrations of sympathy and empathy, one-on-one attention, supportive communication, counseling, general development of personal relationships, and making a person 'feel good,'” according to Lawless. 

    [RELATED: College RAs suggest paying minority students for ‘emotional labor’]

    In layman’s terms, emotional labor simply refers to the tendency for female professors to act more caring and nurturing than male professors, such as by being friendly and supportive to students, especially those who struggle personally or academically. 

    Responding to emails, talking to students during office hours, and interfacing with school disability offices are all examples of this, Lawless notes. 

    Though women across cultures tend to engage in more of this caring work, Lawless argues that “the unwritten rule that women are emotional creatures is not natural,” suggesting that female professors are socialized into this role because of neoliberalism

    To address this issue, Lawless argues that professors should be paid for this work, declaring that “if we cannot stop neoliberalism in its tracks, then we must do something to improve our working conditions.”

    Her plan encourages professors to document their emotional labor, such as in a calendar or workbook, and demands that academia recognize emotional labor as a valid form of work.

    Lawless also calls on communication studies professors to produce more research on emotional labor that other academics can use to make the case for additional payments, concluding that “given the additional work that is expected of us from students, colleagues, and administrators, we must make arguments for compensation.”

    [RELATED: Students, profs petition for administrative salary cuts]

    Lawless isn’t the first to make this argument, however. University of California, Berkeley professor emerita Arlie Hochschild popularized the theory in her 1979 book The Managed Heart, and “emotional labor” is commonly taught in women’s studies and sociology classes. 

    At the University of San Francisco, Lawless teaches classes such as “Communication for Justice and Social Change” and “Intercultural Communication.” 

    "Within this work, she attempts to identify dominant ideologies, hegemonic systems that perpetuate such taken for granted beliefs, and status-based hierarchies," her bio explains.

    Campus Reform reached out to Lawless for more information, but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen is a New Jersey-based Campus Reform contributor, and previously served as a Senior Campus Correspondent. Her reporting focuses on campus First Amendment, Title IX, Equal Opportunity, and due process issues, and her stories have been profiled by numerous outlets including Fox News, The New York Post, PBS News, and The Washington Examiner.
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