What is the mental load? If you have to ask then perhaps you are lucky enough to not struggle under it, or maybe you do but you haven’t yet discovered the term to describe the silent effort put in to keeping things going.
The mental load is, essentially, emotional labour. It usually falls to women, spending much more time than anyone (including themselves) realises, planning and organising the day-to-day minutiae of busy lives. It’s remembering that you need to pay a bill, buy more toilet paper, get a birthday present for your niece, take your cat to the vet – but more and more stuff, every single day – all whilst doing the other more obvious things you also need to do every day, on top of work, family, social life, cleaning the house etc etc. It builds up and up, and it can be completely overwhelming. It isn’t that your partner is incapable of helping, or doesn’t want to help – it’s that they look to you to ‘just ask’ (or tell them) if you need something doing, as if you are the project manager of the household ready to delegate an orderly list of tasks.
The mental load is difficult to describe, socially ingrained, and insidiously upheld. For all these reasons it is something that almost all women have felt but maybe not realised its universality, have never – perhaps could never – adequately put into words. Enter Emma.
Emma is a French cartoonist and computer programmer. The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic is her first book of comics, the product of “two years of social analysis and observation in pictures, which I hope will also resonate with you.” And it certainly will.
The simple line drawings of The Mental Load are deceptive. They are sharp and incisive, packing real social and political punches that will leave you reeling, laughing and crying in equal measure. Emma doesn’t confine herself to the mental load – although she has more than enough material – she tackles feminism in a wider sense, childcare and childbirth, the workplace, the male gaze and everyday sexism, the clitoris… before turning to police brutality, immigration and racism, addressing everyday outrages and absurdities.
This is a hugely important book for EVERYONE and is sure to stir a wide ranging, important debate on what it really means to be a woman today.
Emma’s comics have already been featured in the Guardian and women everywhere are waking up to this previously silently borne encumbrance, as evidenced by a recent stream of article on the subject, from Cosmopolitan, The Telegraph, Evening Standard, and Slate to Working Mother. The Mental Load has already received a host on endorsements from prominent feminist commentators who identify the real need for this book:
“This book is wonderful, it resonated so powerfully with me and I loved the ways in which Emma forces us to look afresh at the gender inequality we so often unthinkingly accept as normal. It is funny, incisive and unflinching and speaks to vital feminist issues women today are grappling with in their daily lives. I know it will make a lot of people think twice, and think differently.”
Laura Bates, The Everyday Sexism Project
“Full of fire, fun and humour, Emma is a political cartoonist for our times. Don’t miss this book.”
“Emma’s strong, smart, clear-eyed book gives us the language (and the urgent desire) to shout from the rooftops about the maddening, unacknowledged injustices women face every day. It validates all the thoughts I have about being a woman and didn’t have words for.”
Liana Finck, author of Passing for Human: A Graphic Memoir
“The Mental Load, a feminist comic by Emma, takes readers on a journey of awakening that is at once delightfully whimsical and frustratingly serious. The graphic stories take aim at the way women’s unpaid caregiving and labor is invisible, undervalued and expected at home, and how it shapes and limits their experiences and career trajectories at work. An eye-opening gem.”
Brigid Schulte, author of the New York Times bestselling Overwhelmed
“Every activist is an alchemist at heart, transforming the familiar into the political. Emma does it by applying forensic objectivity to the everyday, to create visual essays which are transformative agents of change.”
Jacky Fleming, author of The Trouble With Women
The Mental Load by Emma is published on 25 October by Seven Stories Press (9781609809188, p/b, £12.99)
Join us at Waterstones Gower Street on 25 October for the launch of The Mental Load