Gendered emotion work around illness and injury



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This paper brings together theoretical work on gender, caregiving, and illness to investigate emotion work performed in response to a spouse’s physical illness. We analyzed qualitative in-depth interview data with 36 individuals in 18 long-term heterosexual marriages (N=36) wherein one or both spouses experienced illness. Findings indicated that men and women performed, received, and interpreted their emotion work in gendered ways. Women with an ill spouse performed emotion work more often than men. Women who were ill themselves often performed emotion work to relieve the burden on their spouse—a dynamic not found among men who were ill. When women performed emotion work, they constructed this work as a natural propensity. Men who did not perform emotion work constructed themselves as protective and problem-solving. These findings point to underlying intra- and inter-personal processes that may help to explain why women experience higher levels of caregiver burden and depression than do men.