It is safe to say that women wear very many hats. They take on many responsibilities and roles during any typical day, including mom, daughter, professional, caregiver; the list is truly endless. Even in today’s most forward-thinking households, women are still primarily caring for the home and the family while maintaining a full-time career and schedule. As we dive into this topic, it is truly essential to understand that the feelings of exhaustion and struggle are completely normal and shared among many women. They largely stem from the mental load that women have to carry.
What is the mental load?
Invisible labor does not only affect mothers who are worried about pick-ups, drop-offs, and family schedules – but women of all types also take on an immense amount of invisible work that impacts their focus and energy. The term mental load or invisible labor usually refers to the unseen responsibilities that typically fall on a woman’s shoulders. This, of course, can refer to a woman’s role in managing the household, but it also signifies the assumed responsibilities that women take on in all circumstances and situations.
Sometimes, the invisible labor that women incur is due to the fact they are expected to be in charge. It is about having a never-ending list of responsibilities, both for yourself and for others, running through your head. This list contains everything from knowing what needs to get done, when it needs to get done, making sure that tasks and responsibilities are adequately delegated, and ensuring that everything occurs without issue.
How the mental load affects women
All women can undoubtedly empathize with one another and agree that carrying this mental load and constantly engaging in this invisible labor is exhausting. Not only does invisible labor consume your time and your energy, but it is also taken for granted that it is just something women should do. This can result in feelings of frustration, being misunderstood, and not properly being seen or heard. Essentially, whether you’re a mother running a household, a daughter helping out around the house, or even a single female who is a professional, there is an assumption that women will effectively manage all aspects of a situation.
Take, for example, the common household task of laundry. While a mother may not physically complete all of the functions associated with laundry, including starting a new load, folding freshly cleaned clothes, or switching clothes from the washer to the dryer, she is still typically in charge of ensuring that everything is completed. This includes making sure that tasks are planned, finished, and that the proper supplies are available.
“You should have asked” – Why this statement is a problem
One of the hardest things about invisible labor is that it can be incredibly difficult to explain to someone else and also hard for them to understand. This is most obvious in situations in which a total breakdown occurs. For example, you have a woman who has just gotten home from work, is getting dinner ready, helping out with homework, and something disastrous happens to result in the woman opening up about all of the feelings she’s been holding inside.
At this point, it is relatively typical for a man in this situation to respond with, “You should have asked me for help!”. Now, it is essential to point out that this statement is meant to let the woman know that help was there, just that she didn’t ask for it. While there is good intention in this situation and with this statement, it still perpetuates this idea that women are managers. Unfortunately, this mindset creates the same cycle in which women are expected to take on the responsibility of planning, delegating, and following up on all of the necessary tasks and functions of a family.
Unknowingly, what people fail to understand is that women are typically the only ones who take on the mental load. Women don’t just need help with getting everything done, they also need relief from being the one who determines everything that has to get done. Rather than simply saying, “you should ask me for help,” it is critical to understand that there is more to the frustration, exhaustion, and struggle than physically completing a task. So much of what contributes to these feelings is not just about undertaking all of the actual labor, but also being expected to determine what that work needs to be.
How we can all make some changes
The one good thing about this issue is that it’s fixable. As we all, both males and females, contribute to the problem in one way or another, we can all work towards making it better. The critical thing to understand is that women do not just face the struggle of invisible labor and the mental workload at home. It is something that we face in nearly every aspect of our lives. Therefore, it is crucial that we recognize the many facets of this problem and find ways to improve this issue.
For example, companies can offer more flexible scheduling in the workplace regardless of gender, supporting the ever-growing and ever-changing schedules of people’s personal lives. As long as the work gets done, there is no reason to believe that flexibility and adaptability cannot bring significant, positive change to women and men alike.
We also need to have more conversations about this topic. Nearly every woman can empathize with these feelings and has felt them at some point or another in their own life. It is not often that even women know how to recognize this within themselves. By identifying the problems caused by the mental workload and invisible labor, we can better understand how it affects the lives of women and how to create a better environment that adequately supports both the physical and mental labor that is expected of women.