Sometimes it makes sense for a company to outsource part of its operations so it can devote internal resources to its primary purpose. That is especially true for things that require specialized knowledge or skills, like accounting. A business that is not large enough to need a full-time internal accounting department still needs correct and complete financial records. Rather than redirect someone from production, administration, or sales, it makes sense to hire an outside accountant who is likely to accomplish the work faster and with fewer errors.
A similar calculus can also apply to life. I can make clothes (and sometimes I do), but for most of my wardrobe it makes sense to buy things someone else made and invest the time it would take me to create those garments into other areas of my life. Generally, we don’t frame this very ordinary behavior as outsourcing. We just get our food from the grocery store, our books from the library, our entertainment from Hollywood, and it’s all very normal.
By outsourcing some things, I have time to work and earn money that I use to pay for my house and food and other expenses. I have time to eat and sleep and move my body to maintain my health. My laundry gets done, my garden gets watered, and my students have a teacher.
It's important to acknowledge that the ability to choose which parts of my survival I outsource (and which I don't) is wrapped up in a lot of privilege. My business is reasonably successful, so I can afford to order dinner on days when I'm too busy or too tired to cook. I have a supportive household, so we divide domestic chores between us. We have central air-conditioning, so we could host friends without the same access during the hottest temperatures in our area in recorded history.
Just as with external tasks, we can also outsource internal processes. Sometimes to machines, like when I use a calculator to add or subtract figures. Sometimes to pets or emotional support animals. And sometimes to other humans. I have spent much of my life performing emotional labor for other people in my life. When I was younger, I thought that was my role in the world. Over time I began to see it for what it is: emotional outsourcing.
For a long time society has relegated the acceptable male emotional experience to a painfully limited range. Weird societal expectations did not, of course, remove all the other emotions from the lived experience of humans designated as male. They were simply handed to other non-male humans for processing. Society said men are logical and women are emotional, so everybody better be on one of those teams and must outsource the appropriate tasks to the other side so as to maintain order.
Where do non-binary or gender-fluid folks fit in that structure? They don't. And when that makes someone uncomfortable, they often hand that discomfort to the gender-non-conforming individual. The same thing happens to non-white folks. When it's time to talk about diversity and inclusion, or address systemic racism, well-meaning white folks lean on humans of color to craft the programing or cultivate cross-cultural understanding.
Women are not inherently more connected to emotions than men. Women are not naturally better at processing emotions than men. We are just more practiced. As a woman, it was necessary for my survival to develop that skill. To stay safe and thrive in a male-centered world, I needed to be able to deal with the emotions humans with more power or privilege outsourced to me. Just as humans of color have to shoulder the burden of whatever white folks outsource to them.
A significant portion of my personal anti-racist work has felt like what I will call insourcing. Taking back whatever I have inadvertently handed humans of color in my haphazard quest to help end racism. I regularly and deliberately spend time questioning my actions and feelings, identifying my own assumptions and longstanding narratives about race and racialized individuals. Picking those constructs apart to get down to the core, resolving for myself what I need to heal, and practicing a different way to do and be in the world.
There isn't any other way to overcome this kind of deep-seeded societal programming. And avoiding the effort only prolongs the suffering for me and everybody else. The work has to be done and we've all got to do it. If I don't do it now, I'm just outsourcing to my future self. Which is what most of the world has been doing about climate change.
Wealthy nations outsource e-waste and other hazardous materials to places with less stringent environmental regulations. Politicians attend summits with other global leaders and make promises to lower emissions, but fail to enact meaningful legislation back home. Companies and countries buy carbon credits from low-emitters instead of ending environmentally detrimental industry practices.
This weekend I stood outside in Portland Oregon and watched a thermometer hit 118°F. My garden is sun-singed and withered, despite voluminous watering and all the shade I could manufacture. I've lived in this city three decades and never experienced anything like it. I've never even heard of such extreme heat here. The future generation wants to resolve climate change. The people who outsourced it to them just need to get out of the way and let them do it.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.