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‘Emotional Labor’: Are we expecting too much from Dan Andrews?

By Mikayla Chadwick

Today, Dan Andrews fronted the media for the 94th day in a row. But, while we expect him to show compassion and take the blame, are we asking too much?

In today’s political landscape, we force our politicians to be emotional: we want their compassion, we need to see them suffer as we do, we need to see them happy for our nation’s successes. So, what does this mean for Daniel Andrews?

What does it mean when we expect him to be civil, calm and collected when answering questions from a reporter for the 94th day in a row, when he knows they will publish yet another article asking him to take personal responsibility, or label him a dictator? How much can we ask of our leaders, emotionally, before it becomes too much?

Politicians, like waiters and retail staff, are service workers. Their employment depends upon their service to others: their role is to represent us. According to studies, politicians experience emotional burnout and depersonalisation in their jobs, as much as any other service worker. The pain a waiter goes to when he smiles with a ‘customer’s always right’ attitude, is likened by academics to the burden on a politician to smile and respond graciously to a reporter who publishes attacking and victimising articles about them. When the currency of today’s crisis is emotion, be it the fear of contagion or frustration about being in lockdown, how much emotional outpour can we expect from our leaders?

I argue, we can’t possibly expect as much as we do.

A simple scroll down Daniel Andrews Instagram feed will find a plethora of abuse scattered in comments on family photos.

Admittedly, Andrews’ is likely posting photos of his family in an attempt to humanise himself to the public – reminders of ‘I’m suffering too’ and ‘we’re all in this together’. Yet, the act of posting a photo of your family, while expecting to be called a paedophile, a dictator and a villain, requires some emotional work in and of itself. Andrews is experiencing daily something called ‘emotional labour’.

Coined by an American sociologist, ‘emotional labour’ is the effort one endures to act out an expected emotion, while genuinely feeling an entirely different emotion. The classic example usually given is that of an air hostess smiling at her passengers, despite her inner exhaustion. Her employment requires her to smile, even when she really doesn’t feel like it. Though it may be onerous to feel sympathy for our leaders, it can be suggested that Daniel Andrews is suffering the same burden as the air hostess.

Rachel Baxendale, in particular, not only writes incredibly confrontational and scathing accounts of the MP, but is standing in front of him at every press conference with questions ready to be fired. These include hypotheticals that he couldn’t possibly be expected to realistically entertain.

Here, Andrews must maintain a calm and respectful manner, despite what could all well be his true feelings of anger or resentment towards her as a reporter. Statements, even from fellow politicians such as Tony Abbott, saying we are in the harshest lockdown in the world, are found inaccurate by institutions such as Oxford University, who indicated that 13 other countries have achieved the maximum possible score for the overall severity of their lockdowns – Victoria is not alone. Yet, Andrews must keep it together in front of the press. This is a requirement of his job.

Other studies suggest that the role of the politician is to personalise the political – to make his moral integrity and familial accountability political fodder. Leading in a time of crisis embeds you in Australian households – press conferences and decisions made by Andrews affect us in an unprecedented way.

His position on COVID is as much up for ridicule as his personal life. People feel justified in attacking his family on Instagram, because they feel as though Andrews has personally victimised them; as if our leader has personally locked their doors and thrown away the key. Yet, if we saw no photos of his family, if we saw him react with anger to a journalist, he would also be ridiculed.

His position on COVID is as much up for ridicule as his personal life. People feel justified in attacking his family on Instagram, because they feel as though Andrews has personally victimised them; as if our leader has personally locked their doors and thrown away the key.

What Andrews is confronted with as a service worker is indicative of a wider, systemic problem that neoliberalism confronts us with. Our personal lives now are our professional lives. Personal attributes, such as optimism and confidence, are now listed as requirements in job descriptions. Emotion is okay, only when it fits the company well.

For instance, the ill-conceived campaign #GiveDanTheBoot, escalated to boots being hung on Andrews’ father’s grave as a sign of discontentment with Andrews’ leadership. In response to this, Andrews commented “Shame, shame on him, shame”.

Given, shaming the man who hung the boots consequently shames the entire campaign. However, when The Age deemed Andrews as ‘emotional’ in a headline, it was okay because it reflected the family values, we expect of him. Here we can see that he was allowed to be emotional because it served his party’s purpose. Again, the employer (us) set the rules for how and when he is allowed to respond emotionally to an ongoing string of events shaping his life.

If we are to hold Daniel Andrews personally accountable for every decision made during the COVID crisis, then we do not understand the complexity of working in politics.

This is not to argue that Andrews should be void of responsibility. Rather, he should be cut some slack, for prioritising the people over the economy, as opposed to Trump’s prioritisation of the economy over the people. And, to clear this up now, yes, if the economy collapses many people will suffer, but it is the people who sustain the economy. If we all die, so shall the economy.

Let’s give Andrews some credit for keeping us alive and undertaking the burdensome task of managing his emotions day-in-day-out.

This piece was originally published on The Big Smoke. You can find them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheBigSmokeAU/) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheBigSmokeAU).

Mikayla Chadwick is a Melbourne-based freelance writer, focused on human and legal rights, global affairs and popular culture. Mikayla holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and is currently completing a research degree in sex work policy reform. To read more from Mikayla, check out her website: mikaylachadwick.com.

 

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5 comments

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  1. Caroline

    Thank you for writing this, and summing up what I think a lot of people are feeling. Ms Baxendale does herself no favours. She asks the most ridiculous questions and the fact she can do this day after day, and is still free to publish her ‘journalism’ is testament to the fact that we don’t actually live in a dictatorship, no matter how hard Rupert’s minions try to convince us it is. I often wonder how much time she wastes at home workshopping those ‘questions’. I think a lot of people silently appreciate the fact we get to see our Premier face the media every day, even when we know that he hasn’t handled things perfectly.

  2. Gangey1959

    “Mr Premier, what would you have done if the ruby princess had berthed in Melbourne?”

    Mr Andrews, dictator Dan if you hate him that much, has dealt with some of the most ridiculous questions for over three months, day after day after day, and all some of our media personnel can do is give him a hard time.
    Did he beam off to hawaii for a few days mid disaster ? Not that I’ve seen from the background shots.
    Are we safe? Healthy? Getting back to “normal”? Victoria is doing pretty well as far as I am concerned, and personally Dan Andrews can be held responsible for that.
    Yes there were some hiccups. Big ones. But HE didn’t bribe security guards, or go our cavorting with no mask and no safe distance, or gather his extended family for any _______ reason that I am aware of. He and his Ministers and the Victoria Police had to pick up the pieces caused by others who did those things, and our medical / hospital system covered all of our backsides.

    I’m not a social media person, I don’t care enough about it, but for fucks sake can we get off our premier’s case and get on with putting our lives back together. Dan didn’t create the virus, nor did he bring it here, nor spread it around. All he has done is try to work out the best way to stop the mentally deficient self centered minority from spreading it far and wide because they just don’t care about anything or anyone else except themselves and how boring it is walking aroun brighton, or albert park lake, or whereverthefuck people like “karen” come from.

  3. Kathryn

    I live in NSW and many people up here (including myself) are full of ADMIRATION for the hard-working, compassionate Daniel Andrews who has worked tirelessly for the benefit of Victorians. His strict self-isolating rules in Victoria have been PROVEN to be the right way to go when you have a look at the devastation, chaos and increasing Covid-19 related infectious cases and deaths (more than 210,000 in America so far) in America, the UK and other conservative countries whose short-sighted, foolish leaders REFUSE to address the issue or put into place strict self-isolating rules to prevent the spread of this appalling virus. The only problem Victoria is having – is the same problem we are having in NSW – X-Y Gen who REFUSE to stop partying or idiots refusing to wear masks!

    The LNP-supporting idiots crawling out from under the woodwork to harass, criticise and attack Daniel Andrews just make themselves look like the usual vindictive, hate-filled, conservative right-wing-extremists who, like Morrison, are full of hot air and no substance and about as dumb as a box of bricks! Wake up! Self-isolation is the ONLY way to put a halt to this virus and this has been confirmed by experts around the world.

    I only wish that Daniel Andrews will, one day, decide to run FEDERALLY so people with an intelligence >30 can vote for a leader who is everything the greasy little snake oil salesman, MorriScam, is NOT: caring, credible, foresightful, intelligent and sincere!

  4. Clare De Mayo

    Though you can call for compassion and understanding towards Andrews, I think it is drawing a long bow to compare him to hospitality workers and airline hostesses. These workers have negligible power in their situations and wield virtually no power over others. This is not the case for politicians. You can call him a ‘service worker’ but the rewards for him are far and above those for the waiter or waitress. He is handsomely renumerated for the role he has undertaken, and I am sure he has a very enviable lifestyle thanks to that position. He has to answer to a higher level of responsibility. Yes, he has stated that he is ‘personally responsible’, but then he calmly proceeded to thrown his Health Minister under the bus. Even the most naive politically would have seen two men running the show, a women who was unlikely ever consulted on issues of import, and then a clever deflection of responsibility in her direction. Where is the compassion for her, and her loss of career? I agree, he doesn’t deserve to be crucified, but blind faith in someone in power is often more a desire to feel a sense of security that our leaders are looking after us when we are in a position of danger. Unfortunately, that ‘blind faith’ is often misplaced.

  5. New England Cocky

    From NSW I think Dan Andrews is doing a wonderful job keeping Victorians safe and healthy despite the worst attempts of self-satisfied idiots believing that they are both COVID-19 proof and above the law. The faults with the Isolation Hotels were made by the contractors NOT Andrews personally nor Labor government policy. The second wave was idiot citizens breaking COVID-19 restrictions because they believed that they were exempt from infection during a pandemic. The Main Stream Media-ocracy policy of misinfoirmatiuon and denigration of a Labor politician doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances merely demonstrates that Australia must revise the media laws by banning media ownership by foreign nationals ….. just the same as in the USA (United States of Apartheid).

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