Men Can Do Everything Women Can Do (That Includes Invisible And Emotional Labor)

I told myself a false story to justify the disproportionate amount of behind-the-scenes labor I took on in my marriage.

Boys can carry the invisible and emotional load too. Getty Images | Unsplash, Anastasia Collection | Canva

For years, I told myself a story. The story went something like this: Women are biologically better at invisible and emotional labor. Men, by their genetic makeup, are more or less hopeless. I told this story to justify the disproportionate amount of behind-the-scenes labor I was taking on around the house.

“It just comes naturally to me,” I told my sister with a what-can-you-do shrug.

To be fair, it was an understandable assumption. I looked around and saw other women like me — strong, smart, feisty, and married to men who loved them for it — and nearly every single one felt backed into the same corner.


Somewhere along the way, we had become household operations managers, along with the dozens of other roles that parents juggle daily. For my part, I had never, not once, considered a career in operations management, as it speaks to neither my passions nor my core strengths. But in my home, I was the one who could recite the grocery list in my head; who knew everyone’s schedule by heart; who created the childcare spreadsheets; who planned playdates, weekend outings, and vacations; who figured out the logistics of getting everyone where they needed to be each day.

Even though this work made me stressed out and often grumpy, I clung to the notion that my two X chromosomes lent me a natural talent for organizing playdates and that my husband was biologically incapable of remembering what to get, or even knowing what we needed, from Walgreen’s unless I texted him The List.


Otherwise, how could so many women fall into these same roles, and how could our otherwise savvy and caring husbands be so clueless? It had to be biological, and if it was biological, then what else was there to do but grin and bear it?

My sister disagreed. The behavior is both socialized and teachable, she said.

@sheisapaigeturner Replying to @ImperfectDad invisible labor, isn’t necessarily something you can’t see. You can see that you have toothpaste you just don’t know how it got there. It’s important to acknowledge the work that makes the world go round even if you are not seeing it. #invisiblelabor #domesticlabor #emotionallabor #mentalload #mentalloadofmotherhood ♬ original sound - Paige

I wondered if my sister was right, but a part of me didn’t want her to be right. Being “naturally better” at invisible and emotional labor was easier, in a way. It helped me to rationalize the status quo. To carry on with business as usual.


That doesn’t mean it always sat well with me. I was acutely aware of my hypocrisy. Here I was, trying to raise my daughter to be strong, smart, and feisty — and yet, every day I was showing her counter-examples of inequity and martyrdom.

Out in the world, I was espousing feminist ideals — and yet, I was failing at feminism in my own home.

RELATED: Explaining Emotional Labor to My Husband Takes Too Much Emotional Labor

I recently made a rare admission to my sister. She was right. I was wrong. My 180 started with the revelation that I’m not “naturally” good at many of the skills that invisible labor requires.

When I took the CliftonStrengths assessment at my job, four of my five top strengths were in Strategic Thinking. This popular assessment, developed by Gallup, offers a personalized ranking of 34 different strengths, which are divided into the four domains of Strategic Thinking, Relationship Building, Influencing, and Executing.


My company’s former operations manager had five Executing strengths in her top 10. How many do I have? A big fat zero. The definition of her top strength, “Arranger,” immediately caught my eye. As Gallup describes it:

"Arrangers are jugglers and orchestrators of improvement. You are comfortable initiating reconfiguration. You are aware of the pieces and how to make them all fit. An Arranger wants productivity in the most efficient way possible. Being able to brave something complex, and doing it with delight and mastery, is really what Arranger is all about. The value that you bring when you are at your best is being able to embrace complexity that allows others to relax."

This, minus the element of delight, perfectly encapsulated what I had spent most of the last decade doing inside my home, what I had so fervently insisted came “naturally” to me. And yet, out of 34 strengths, Arranger ranks 22 on my list. Not exactly a resounding endorsement of my God-given talent.


Even more telling, out of the six people at my company who have Arranger as one of their top 10 strengths, five of them are male. An analysis of over 25 million CliftonStrengths assessments has shown that there is no definitive pattern when it comes to how the 34 strengths play out among men and women — that is to say, no strengths that naturally favor one biological sex over the other.

It’s also worth noting that while our former operations manager (now CEO) happens to be female, nearly 66% of operations managers in the United States are men.

Turns out, men around the world possess and use the skills and strengths I once believed them genetically incapable of — just not in their homes.

RELATED: The Unsettling Realization My Partner Learned As A Stay-At-Home Dad


It’s time to flip the script. For too long, the feminist movement has focused almost exclusively on ensuring that girls can do everything boys can do — play sports, become CEOs, learn to code, travel to the moon, and run for President. Clearly, given the stark gender disparities that persist in male-dominated fields, this battle has not yet been won. It’s one we need to keep fighting.

But there’s a parallel battle that most of us haven’t been fighting at all, a battle that plays out in our homes. Girls are proving every day that they can do everything boys can do. Then we grow up and find ourselves doing these things in addition to the decidedly less glamorous things we have been doing for the better part of human history.

The truth is, that boys can do everything girls can do, but no one is asking them to. Sure, I grew up in a generation of children whose dads did dishes and changed diapers. But just because they were contributing to the home didn’t mean they saw the home as their domain. The home was still considered the place where women ran the show, whether or not they wanted to.

Forty years later, not much has changed.


It only stands to reason that when it comes to invisible labor in the home, men tend to assume that sheepish “aw shucks” shrug. Or as Chris Pratt once put it in a wince-worthy Instagram homage to his wife: “She helps me with everything. In return, periodically, I open a jar of pickles.”

Do men say these things because they don’t want to be helpful? Or because they truly believe they aren’t capable of invisible labor?

I’d concede a bit of the former, even if on an unconscious level. After all, playing sports is fun. Becoming a CEO earns you money and influence. Making doctor’s appointments? Figuring out how to get Child A to daycare and Child B to school and still get to work on time? Not much fun, never glamorous, rarely even acknowledged.

RELATED: FYI: Feminism Is A Reaction To Men, Not An Original Standpoint


But ultimately, socialization is far more powerful, and far more insidious, than any of us realize. It’s easy for women to dump on men, to roll their eyes at their sheepish shrugs. But men are just as susceptible to the forces of socialization, to the gendered messages that plagued our childhoods, and to the expectations and behaviors of the adults that served as their role models and caretakers.

@sheisapaigeturner The mental load of knowing everything that the kids and home needs is very heavy. And your partner can and should be able to ease that burden on you. But I find we have to really hold strong on the boundaries in our homes #mentalload #mentalloadofmotherhood #millennialmom #domesticlabor #fairplay #primaryparent #defaultparent #leadparent #groceryshoppingtips ♬ original sound - Paige

As the mother to an eight-year-old boy, there’s a lot I wish I’d done differently

I wish I’d bought him fewer Hotwheels, shown him fewer superhero movies, and gifted him fewer action figures. And to be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with Hotwheels, superheroes, or action figures. It’s just that we feed our boys a steady diet of this stuff because we insist it’s “what they like,” when it’s us — the adults, the toy companies, the media franchises — who have already decided that for them.


When my daughter was a baby, I was completely taken aback by girls’ clothing options — by the abundance of ruffles and sparkles and unicorns and shades of pink. As I accepted bags of hand-me-downs from neighbors and friends, my plan to dress her in “gender-neutral” clothing quickly unraveled. On the rare occasions that I bought clothes, shopping in the boys’ section was no better: endless racks of shirts sporting trucks, dinosaurs, and footballs.

We grow up in a world where the differences between our genders are constantly reinforced, from the colors of our swaddling blankets to the presence or absence of wheels or sparkles on our toys. Then we grow up, and women are told they’re failing because they can’t lean in and “be more like men” in the workplace. Cisgender men in heterosexual relationships fight with their wives because they can’t step up and “be more like women” in their homes.

Once you accept that boys may not “naturally” like trucks any more than grown women have a “natural” ability to sign field trip permission slips, the world cracks wide open. Women can not only claim the boardroom, but men can claim the color pink. Women can not only score goals on the soccer field, but men can make lists and find childcare.

The more we can break down these barriers, the more hope we have of creating a future in which men, women, and everyone in between can open their own pickle jars and be helpers. A future in which we can all claim ownership of our homes and the proverbial moon.


RELATED: Therapist Says Men Who Don't Help Out At Home Is Just A Symptom Of A Bigger Problem With The Men Themselves

Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.