• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Invisible Labor of 'Morning Joe'

Partners and careers.

May 24, 2017

I’ve been watching the coverage of the recent engagement of MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzesinski. Many have been suspicious about their relationship from the beginning. Since their formal announcement, the media coverage of their engagement continues. Someone has compiled footage of their time together, now seen through the lens of their falling in love. There is even speculation on how the show might change because of their marriage.

Apparently, the show may become better because of this human-interest component. The couple has been described as “famously cagey” about their personal relationship. That doesn’t surprise me because, as someone whose partner also is an academic, I’ve found navigating the workplace waters to be tricky at times, and we aren’t even televised live on television.

At a previous point in American history, spouses worked together by need. Living on a farm necessitated that both members of the couple would need to contribute just to make sure all the tasks were done. While I have no idea if this led to a happier lifestyle, some would say that women had more equality in that environment, where domestic space and work space were more blurred. 

Joan Williams, in her book Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It (a great read, by the way), explores the development of the separate spheres of work for women and men. These days, modern couples working together are considered more the exception than the rule. Working Mother magazine, for example, lists “15 Power Couples Who Work Together.” Working together is considered so difficult to navigate that people give advice for negotiating it. Scholars also explore the effects of couples working together within both businesses and personal relationships (main results: it’s complicated).

Many of these articles position the major concern as impacting the personal satisfaction of couples or the problems that emerge within a business. In fact, that’s never been a major concern for me. Instead, I’ve always worried about the impact on my identity as a woman. My husband and I briefly considered, when we both had brand-new doctoral degrees and a marriage certificate in hand, a job opportunity that would have placed us at the same university. We rejected it, mainly for its location, but also for our desire to carve out our own identities.

We happily attended conferences with our different last names, glad that attendees and senior scholars who did not already know us wouldn’t be the wiser. In some ways, I think it’s made it harder for us. Our interests overlap, and we spend much time discussing, editing, and proofreading each other’s work, but only one name ever appears on the final copy. Sometimes, I imagine a different world where we collaborated and would have twice the publications. But, in my mental picture, I’ve never gotten past the question of who would get first author. Even though in theory both authors matter, I know I would resent being listed as second and feel guilty for being first.

In Morning Joe, the first author is clear simply from the name of the show. Those who have followed the couple may remember previous stories about Joe apologizing to Mika for calling her snotty. Some have even called out the show as sexist. Joe has such a history of interrupting Mika on air that the MSNBC website has a page where he justifies his reasons for his interruptions. Apparently, she does more of the organization off camera, and he interrupts her on air to keep the show on time.

In my own relationship, I sometimes do more of the organization, or what scholars label as the emotional labor (prepare the kids’ water bottles, remember the times for their practices, wash and find their uniforms, and make sure the homework is done), as he takes center stage (actually taking them to the basketball game). This works out fine for us, as we are both working towards the same goal: happy, active children, and we are mutually invested in both being happy ourselves. At work, though, goals, happiness, and priorities are often at odds. We already know from numerous reports, studies, and everyday experiences that that women’s labor often goes unrecognized.

When Joe is rude to Mika, we could just pretend she has a mean co-worker, but when her co-worker is also her husband, will that change how we see their interactions? Or, will her new status as his wife be what actually gives her more public power on the show? Perhaps their dynamic is less gendered than personality driven. Either way, as the show now has wedding bells ringing in the background, my suspicion is that Mika may move into the role of star, but as the bride and not a journalist.



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