THE MENTAL LOAD
How many times did we say to our mothers: “you just had to ask me” when urged by them to carry out a chore? Personally, more than I am comfortable admitting.
Indeed even I, a young woman conscious of gender gaps, have been guilty of this behavior. That’s why I felt called out, a couple of months ago, when reading a graphic novel.
The book I am talking about is “The mental load: A Feminist Comic” by Emma Clit, a brilliant french woman that not only is an engineer but also a capable writer and artist. Through her comedic style, she brings up women's issues, many of which are still deeply rooted in our society and households.
Clit’s point of view is the one of a middle-class french woman that has a job and a partner, with which she decides to have a baby. Pretty common, right?
Yes, however, the power of her narration resides exactly in its “banality”. While reading the graphic novel we, as readers, experience with her a series of unpleasant situations that (pregnant) women in Western Societies still go through today. From colleagues' mansplaining to the body changes observed during pregnancy and other females’ friends’ lack of understanding, when lamenting the consequences that come from having a child.
What resonated with me the most was the concept of “mental load”. Unfortunately, this theme is rarely addressed, despite still being deeply rooted in Western societies.
This unpleasant weight is something that all working women experience at various degrees. It is related to domestic chores and their uneven distribution between the man and the woman within the household.
In fact, a working woman not only has to be a professional in her job but also, once at home, generally has the responsibility of tackling the majority of the chores, as if she had a double job, for which she is not being paid, and consequently a “double day”. The mental load is experienced by women not only as an undeniable sense of physical fatigue but also as constant mental stress, caused by the necessity of having to remember everything and to successfully perform several roles during the day.
In addition to that, this unbalanced load has negative repercussions also on a woman’s performance, given that she constantly needs to keep in mind the requirements of both jobs and the needs of all her family members, on top of her superiors’ demands. To say it in Emma Clit’s words: "The mental load: It's incessant, gnawing, exhausting, and disproportionately falls to women. You know the scene--you're making dinner, calling the plumber/doctor/mechanic, checking homework and answering work emails--at the same time. All that while, you are being peppered with questions by your nearest and dearest 'where are my shoes?, do we have any cheese?...’ ".
There is still much to do in regard to this issue, and that is rarely brought up. A step in the right direction is to acknowledge it and to stop expecting someone else to tell us what chores need doing, starting from our households.
Needless to say, I would suggest this novel to everyone, especially boys and fathers. In order both to tackle this issue in the households where it is already present and to prevent it in the future.
Emma Clit also has an Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/emma_clit/?hl=it
where you can enjoy her sketches: funny but also quite evocative.