Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley (a review)

Ariel Swift

(Editor’s Note: Ariel is the perfect person to do this book review as she interviews author Gemma Hartley for her podcast, A Swift Moment. I cannot stress how much I recommend devouring every single episode of Ariel’s podcast, but most especially this interview with Gemma. Enjoy! -Bethany)

Gemma Hartley tries to make a polarizing topic feel more manageable in her new book Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward, released in November by Harper Collins Publishing. She admits in her interview with me on A Swift Moment that this book happened quickly after her article on the same topic for Harper's Bazaar went viral. That turn around time meant she chose to be transparent in this book about how hard changing the balance of emotional labor was for her own family, and that this is only the beginning of the conversation on this topic.   

The book is a mirror, and an education. Over and over, Hartley shares stories from women who are frustrated and exasperated with the sheer amount of aloofness their partners seem to have toward the everyday needs and tasks of family life. She also shares historically-based theories for why and how we got to this place, a place that teaches girls from a young age the work of tending and kinship, while leaving boy children—and adult men—free, and making excuses for them.

The chilling part of reading through Fed Up was seeing examples of inequality in the workplace, in the home, in our communities, and in our self-talk. The book shows over and over again how deeply knit together women's worth and identity have become with how well they do emotional labor.  

I read Fed Up knowing me, my choices, and my relationship with my husband would get thrown into the gauntlet of comparison. Reading it still felt like ripping off a bandage on a bullet wound. I found myself wondering, over and over, "What do I do now?" If there were one thing I wish this book had, it would be discussion questions or discussion language at the end of each chapter.

Hartley gives some helpful direction near the end of her book, but she admits this is the start of the discussion and not an answer or cure. It is an uncovering. It is a touchstone to show readers they are not alone, and there are ways to navigate through which will take real work and commitment.  

It may not be a book that saves marriages, and one could even argue this book encourages frustrated women to end their relationships. Fed Up exposes how steep the uphill climb is toward helping men understand that they need to step up, that the current level of their contributions to caretaking, mental work, and the emotional health of their families just isn’t going to cut it anymore.  

I recommend this book to those coupled or uncoupled. It is powerful. It is frustrating. It is part of a broader dialogue about where women rank in society. Also, it is a book that asks the important question: When will the invisible work that holds families and communities together be valued enough to be taken up and performed by all genders?  

Read it for solidarity. Read it for the research. Or read it to be current on the cultural phenomenon that is modern feminism. If you respect and care about even a single woman in your life that has helped you reach this point, just read it.

To get your copy of Gemma’s book, click here.