Book Review: The Mental Load by Emma

The Mental Load by Emma
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In her first book of comic strips, French artist Emma reflects on social and feminist issues by means of simple line drawings, dissecting the mental load, ie all that invisible and unpaid organizing, list-making and planning women do to manage their lives, and the lives of their family members. Most of us carry some form of mental load – about our work, household responsibilities, financial obligations and personal life; but what makes up that burden and how it’s distributed within households and understood in offices is not always equal or fair. 

In her strips Emma deals with themes ranging from maternity leave (it is not a vacation!), domestic violence, the clitoris, the violence of the medical world on women during childbirth, and other feminist issues, and she does so in a straightforward way that is both hilarious and deadly serious. If you’re not laughing, you’re probably crying in recognition. Emma’s comics also address the everyday outrages and absurdities of immigrant rights, income equality, and police violence. 

I guess I should start off this review by saying that before I stumbled upon this book in a local bookstore, I had never heard of Emma or her blog. I think this will be a fairly short review because I don’t have a ton of thoughts about this book — I appreciate what it’s aiming to do, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a groundbreaking piece of work.

The thing is, the people that are going to pick up this book are likely people who already agree with the author. I can’t imagine many people who are anti-feminist picking up a book that literally says “a feminist comic” on the front cover. I didn’t find much in this book that was new to me, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily consider myself well-read when it comes to feminist theory.

I think my favorite section of this book, and the one that was most interesting to me, was the one titled “You Should Have Asked.” This is where Emma brings up the mental load — the extra work that women in heterosexual relationships stereotypically have to do. I found myself nodding along as I read, recognizing behavior from past relationships and finally realizing what had been wrong that I hadn’t been able to put into words.

Aside from that, the book is mostly a collection of the author’s thoughts on several highly political topics. I agreed with some and disagreed with others. I wasn’t really pulled in by the art style and the font could be pretty hard to read at times, so I got distracted a lot while reading about the topics that I wasn’t terribly interested in.

Still, if you’re looking for an accessible primer for feminism, this graphic novel would be a great place to start.

Have you read The Mental Load? Can you recommend any good books dealing with feminism?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Mental Load by Emma

  1. Natasha Oliver says:

    Thanks for your honest review.

    My hubby and I had a discussion about a similar topic a few years back now, but you’re post reminded me of it: He was watching a YouTube video of some guy flying first class, and then the same guy touring a city in Europe while flying his drone overhead, and every now and again it’d cut to the drone’s footage.

    I got annoyed (probably because I was coming off a crappy night’s sleep bc of the kids and was busy putting laundry away) and said to him: This isn’t interesting. It’s not life. Why don’t they make a 24-hr documentary about a woman’s life, a mother’s life. That’s interesting bc it’s remarkable how without sleep, she still gets up and runs everyone out the door and then herself to work, home for dinner and baths and bed, and oh crap, I forgot to get a gift for Timmy’s best friend’s birthday party tomorrow. That woman is deserving of respect and admiration! Not some guy who’s flying a damn drone after an amazing sleep up in first class!

    And my hubby said: bc her life is not interesting. Everyone knows (subconsciously) that the scales aren’t balanced and that parenting [though a blessed experience] is a schlog, and most people are just trying to get through it with as little damage done to everyone as possible.

    He went on to say: This is different. This is watching someone live their life to the fullest. We aren’t reminded of our grind or someone else’s by watching this. We’re able to relax and forget for awhile.

    It sounds like The Mental Load doesn’t take us away from the schlog of life, but buries us deep in it, and no matter how true and unfair, ultimately, people want to escape. No one wants to be reminded of the injustices. That’s why satire is so potent!


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