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‘Kinkeeping’ shows that even in households, outdated gender roles are expected to strengthen family ties

You may not have heard about this certain term before, but you may be unconsciously (and consciously at times) be obscurely aware of: Kinkeeping.

Now, others might say that I’m making up words again (hello to the trolls that keep flooding comments), but this is a real word. Coined in the 1980s by sociologist Carolyn Rosenthal in her article, “Kinkeeping in the Familial Division of Labor”, this refers to the “act of maintaining and strengthening familial ties”.

This can also be defined as a form of emotional labor due to the emotional attachment and unconscious sense of obligation one holds towards their family.

While this doesn’t at all seem anything negative because, what is so wrong with trying to “hold the family together”, right? What makes this all wrong is related to one thing we always deal with every single day: gender roles and stereotypes.

In traditional definitions, which gender is always said to be the “more sensitive” one than the other? The “more familial” one? We don’t have to spell it out for you, because it’s already too obvious.

That is what makes it problematic, and the reason why we should be more aware of it.

Researches done related to the topic have also reached a conclusion that doesn’t seem to be surprising but is disappointing all the same.

A study done in 1996 found that women most often than not undertake the notion of kinkeeping more than men. These women in the study were mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, who have held the role of ‘kinkeeper’ for years and were passing it down to their younger family members.

Psychologist Dawn O. Braithwaite, also defined what ‘kinkeepers’ were, which are “family members who enable and assist family communication, plan family gatherings, and help the family keep in touch.”

The term “Kinkeeping” had already been founded in the mid-1980s, and yet was only raised to awareness by 19-year-old TikTok content creator AdviceGirl (thought_dumpy), whose first video on the topic has now reached 8.8M views, 1.8M likes, and 25.5k comments as of writing.

@thought_dumpy

My mom’s life changed when I taught her about this. #feminist #feminism #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #genderrole #genderexpression #education #kinkeeping

♬ original sound – AdviceGirl

If you’re having a hard time understanding what “kinkeeping” entails, let me re-use AdviceGirl’s simple analogy: going to the theatre to watch a play.

When you go to the theatre to watch a play production, the production ends the whole thing by doing a curtain call. Who are the people called to the stage during this time? The actors, and the more important people behind the scenes such as the director. The audience claps for them, but what about for those people behind-the-scenes?

The people behind-the-scenes who were also heavily involved in the production of the play and its success don’t always get credited for the work they’ve done. The same thing with women being the kinkeepers of their family—their labor for the family doesn’t get recognized at all.

In family dynamics, who is often expected to prepare the meals, take care of the children, clean the house, and be the “light” of the household? Doesn’t it almost always fall on the shoulders of the women?

Another example that AdviceGirl gave is planning a holiday. Mothers are often left with the heavy planning and coddling of the entirety of it, asking questions like, “Is everyone packed? Where’s everybody? What time are we getting there? When are we supposed to get there?”

While fathers often say things like, “Calm down, everything’s going to be fine.” Or “Stop worrying too much”.

Admit it, you’ve never realized until now that there was always the unwritten roles for everyone in the family. Women often get the short-end of the stick—their efforts are almost always ignored.

Again, another example. Does your father know the size of your clothes? Does he take turns in making dinner for the family? Did he ever take care of you when you were an infant?

How about this? We’re all vaguely aware of how men always get praised for doing basic home things or how they’re always praised for “doing the mom’s work”, right? How about for women, do they get praised for it or is society just truly resigned to the notion that “men do the hard work, women do the home work”?

It’s very important that we become aware of “Kinkeeping” and understand what it is. That way, families will turn out for the better rather than the other way around.

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