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31 Chapter 2 FROMSLAVETOSEAMSTRESS ELIZABETHKECKLEY’SRHETORICOFEMOTIONALLABOR Patty Wilde Gradually I came to realize that the problem that has no name was shared by countless women. —Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions. —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House evoked both interest and ire from readers across the United States when first published in April 1868. Offering an overview of her incredible life story, she chronicles her journey from slave to successful dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. Discussing the various labors she performed in these differing roles, her account exemplifies, as Xiomara Santamarina maintains, “black working women’s potential for overcoming and succeeding against enormous odds” (139). Although Keckley describes a range of labors in her book,1 she devotes considerable attention to the emotional work she conducted as both a slave and free woman. Defined as the affective management for the benefit of self or others, such undertakings demand time, energy, and attention, yet they largely go unrecognized and uncompensated. Sarah Hallenbeck and Michelle Smith remind us that “the erasure and invisibility of much of women’s work is an enduring problem” (201). But, they maintain, “rhetorical studies . . . can help reveal the ideological and rhetorical maneuvers that gender all work and render some women’s work natural, invisible, or inconsequential” (201). Naming and describing such labors is one way that rhetoricians can “open the silences ,” to use the language of Cheryl Glenn (Unspoken, 151), to help make 32 Patty Wilde these efforts more perceptible. While the concept of emotional labor has been more widely circulated in recent years, its historical development has been less explored. To help chart this territory, I analyze Keckley’s memoir, highlighting passages that capture her affective efforts. The kinds of emotional work that she conducted fluctuated according to context, but as her account reveals, whether managing her emotions, providing support, or being present, she was tasked with heavier affective burdens because of racial and social inequities. The research conducted by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild provides a useful starting place to conduct such an analysis, as she gave language to a problem that, before her studies, “had no name” (Friedan 63). Although in common parlance “emotional labor” has come to be a catchall term describing any kind of affective effort, it was originally used by Hochschild in The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling to describe work that “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others” (7). Hochschild draws a noteworthy distinction between emotional labor and emotional work: while emotional labor “is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value,” emotional work “has use value” that is often performed in private contexts (7). Focusing primarily on the former in her groundbreaking book, Hochschild studied how those working in service industries contorted the outward expression of their emotions in order to meet the demands of their jobs. Focusing specifically on flight attendants and bill collectors, she observed noteworthy differences in participants’ affective assignments. Flight attendants, primarily women at the time of her research, were required to “enhance the customer’s status, to heighten his or her importance” through emotional regulation , while the bill collectors, typically men, were expected to “deflate the costumer’s status . . . [by] wearing down [their] presumed resistance to paying ” (139). Hochschild concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that “more women at all class levels do unpaid labor of a highly interpersonal sort” (170). While her insights significantly inform my discussion of Keckley’s emotional labors, because Hochschild addresses different material, social, and economic conditions , they do not, as expected, fully account for the affective labors that Keckley performed as a slave and then a free African American woman. For these reasons, I modify and extend Hochschild’s theories in order to capture most accurately Keckley’s emotional work. SLAVERYANDEMOTIONALMANAGEMENT Keckley devotes the first three chapters to describing the thirty years that she lived as a slave, offering readers a rare firsthand account of a woman’s life in 33 From Slave to Seamstress bondage.2 Here, she describes the brutal beatings she endured, the damaging mental abuse, and the sexual “persecu[tion]” committed by a white man that led to the birth of her son George...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822987185
Related ISBN
9780822945888
MARC Record
OCLC
1113898346
Pages
303
Launched on MUSE
2019-08-28
Language
English
Open Access
No
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