I spent a week at a philosophy and music festival in Hay-on-Wye called How The Light Gets In. Those of you who know me well will know that this is quite unlike me – normally if there’s a festival involved I’ll be running around trying to fit in bands and acts between getting suitably wrecked. The festival, though, was a really interesting week spent stewarding, meeting new people and going to talks as well as the usual getting-suitably-wrecked activities which occur when you combine me and a field of tents.
In between talks about witch feminism and legalising LSD and consuming copious amounts of wine, I also met a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life. Philosophy people are a strange folk, combining their love of words and debate with the usual shenanigans which happen at festivals. But, alongside the wonderful people I met and made good friends with, philosophy is also a field rife with casual misogyny, something which I want to discuss further here.
Here’s a question for all the ladies out there… Have you ever been in a conversation with a dude about deep, emotional issues; really connecting with him over some personal stuff, when you realise that you know everything about his life and he knows nothing about yours?
It’s something I never recognised as a micro-aggression until very recently. It took Hay-On-Wye’s philosophy festival How The Light Gets In and its various philosophy bros to show me how many men use the kindly and well-emotionally-versed female ear to listen to their issues without reciprocation.
This practice, which I am going to use the term ‘emotional labour’ to describe, results in the labourer feeling lighter – having satisfied their entitlement – and the ‘labouree’ (not actually a word) feeling short-changed and silenced. The act of emotional labour often takes place in a gendered situation, when emotionally immature men unload and lay out all their problems for an emotionally mature woman to sort for him.
It is difficult to pick up on, whether you are on the receiving end or the other side. I personally spent 9 months doing it on the daily with an ex-boyfriend whom I now see as abusive. There isn’t, of course, anything wrong with sharing emotional topics and problems. The issue arises mostly with its unreciprocated nature and the relationship between those doing it.
Which brings me onto the festival.
A week-long stint in a few fields with a large group of philosophy students included at least three separate such encounters with three separate men.
The lad culture of the outside world, of catcalling and arse slapping, of groping and derogatory language, is not accepted in the intellectual realm of the Philosophy Bro. But how instead should he hope to communicate with the female of the species? Females who, despite all the reading, debating and misplaced self-confidence he has undertaken in his past, remain a mystery. So, he decides to interact with her in the only way he knows how; to indirectly ask for support and advice on all those problems he has been piling up through his life. Two birds, one stone, right?
The effect that these three encounters had on both me and my girlfriend was that we noticed and discuss the behaviour. Specifically, a significant event in one Bro’s life wherein he was chided on a feminist Facebook group for using a ‘not all men’ comment was one such sob story we discussed with incredulity again and again. We even wrote poetry about this phenomenon, which we then performed in front of one such Philosophy Bro without him noticing it was about him.
So, what conclusion can I draw from this rant? Watch out for any free therapy you ask for, Bros. Make sure you offer some in return.
Below is the poem I wrote about emotional labour whilst at the festival. It is as of yet untitled (although it has been fondly nicknamed The Dishwasher One)
You unload on me
Like a dishwasher
With its drainer clogged.
Cutlery tray neglected
And bogged down
With remnants on forks and knives
Like the weight of your cries
About how some feminists
Made you hurt
Stacked you up neatly
To wash out the dirt
But instead you know
That through all the years
You held and now subject my ears
To your yellowing Tupperware
And unidentified bits
At the bottom of smoothie blenders,
This, your short-sighted views
On all of the genders
And how dare you share
With me your stack of unwashed plates
When I tentatively speak
You do not reciprocate
When I bring out my single, filthy cup
You do not give a fuck
It’s time to wash up.