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Kathi Weeks on the Mandate to "Love Your Work"


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The Verso blog has republished a piece by refusal-of-work theorist Kathi Weeks entitled “Down with Love: Feminist Critique and the New Ideologies of Work” (originally published in WSQ). The piece applies 1970s feminist critiques of love and romance to modern-day ideologies of work that counsel us to “love” our jobs. Read an excerpt from the piece below, or the full text here.

Whereas an earlier version of what Phyllis Moen and Patricia Roehling name the “career mystique”—which idealized the iconic Fordist employment contract—depended on the hidden material support and ideological cover of the “feminine mystique” of domesticity that Betty Friedan so effectively exposed, a new career mystique, a version that extols the emotional commitment and entrepreneurial zeal of the ideal post-Fordist wage worker, is banking on another familiar feminine mystique, one that celebrates the happy raptures of romantic love as the essence of feminine fulfillment. The old cliché “that women live for love and men for work” that Shulamith Firestone struggled against in her masterwork, The Dialectic of Sex (1970), must now be adjusted to a rather unexpected update: we should all love our work. In this way, under heteropatriarchal capitalism, the ideology of romantic love born of the separate spheres, an idealized and feminized model of love, is being harnessed, not only to continue to assign domestic work to women, but to recruit all waged workers into a more intimate relationship with waged work.

Just as the Protestant work ethic can be construed as an ideology propagated by the bourgeoisie and inculcated into the working classes, the current discourse of love and happiness at work undoubtedly finds its greatest resonance within the professional and managerial classes. But just as the work ethic in the U.S. today circulates widely in the culture—as well as among employers, public officials, and policymakers—as an unquestioned value, the mandate to love our work and be happy with it is arguably becoming increasingly hegemonic as a cultural script and normative ideal. The improbability of its claims about how workers can find meaningful delight in their jobs, its seeming irrelevance to the real conditions of most employment, has not prevented the ideals of love and happiness in and through work from coming to set a broader cultural standard, one that affects a growing swathe of workers. To be competitive in this job market and to hold on to, let alone advance within, whatever job we might manage to land, we will need to adapt, in some way and to some degree, to the workplace-feeling rules and affective expectations that are increasingly being imposed up and down the labor hierarchy. Whether that means an employee will be required to employ the transformative effects of deep acting to satisfy an employer’s expectation of happy workers, or only to display the approved countenance by means of surface acting, depends on the employee’s location in the waged labor force. But given the shift in the balance of power between labor and capital under neoliberal restructuring, which bestows on employers the luxury of “playing the field,” more and more prospective employees mindful of their ongoing employability will need to work continually on their lovingness and aptitude for happiness at work.

Image via Success magazine.