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Abstract

In a variety of discourses and empirical studies it has been argued that compared with women, men show more reluctance to express intimate emotion in heterosexual couple relationships. Our paper attempts to theorise this gender asymmetry in intimate emotional behaviour as a sort of ‘emotional power’, within the wider context of continuing gender inequalities of resources and power in society. To the extent that men's role as breadwinner becomes their central life interest (they become ‘workaholics’), women are left with emotional responsibility for the private sphere, including the performance of the ‘emotion work’ necessary to maintain the couple relationship itself. Increasingly women's dissatisfaction in relationships (which men dismiss as unjustified ‘whingeing’) stems mainly from this unequal division. Yet many women still collude with male power by living the family ‘myth’ and ‘playing the couple game’; they perform emotion work on themselves to convince themselves that they are ‘ever so happy really’, thereby helping to reproduce their own false consciousness. This suggests that gender asymmetry in relation to intimacy and emotion work may be the last and most obstinate manifestation and frontier of gender inequality.