Emotional labour is exhausting

The Mount Allison community is known for being politically active and socially engaged, with a strong feminist presence. Despite this, there is still a culture – not unique to Mt. A – that forces women to perform more emotional labour than men.

Emotional labour can be defined as expending energy to address the feelings of others and work to help them feel comfortable. This work can be exhausting and emotionally draining, hence its name. While asking friends for advice and reaching out to others can be components of healthy relationships, this work can become emotional labour for other people when it is not reciprocated.

Emotional labour takes on many forms, from making women feel guilty for not responding politely to street harassment to criticizing them for doing “inappropriate” things such as swearing or talking about sex. As women, we are continuously forced to justify the decisions we make about our bodies, which includes defending what we eat, what we wear, what we do with our body hair, or when, how and why we want to have sex.

On top of these things, women are also expected to cater more than men to the feelings of their peers, which is justified by the myth that women are naturally more caring. The backlash and double standards that women must face on a daily basis require an unbelievable amount of energy and emotional capacity.

Women do a disproportionate amount of gendered work and emotional labour on campus. Jeff Mann/Argosy
Women do a disproportionate amount of gendered work and emotional labour on campus. Jeff Mann/Argosy

At Mt. A, women contribute to traditionally gendered labour much more frequently than men do. This includes cooking and volunteering for bake sales, carrying out logistical aspects of big events, or being the main (and sometimes only) active advocates against gendered issues like sexual violence and harassment. Female professors are often asked to participate in events outside of the classroom more than male professors, are judged more harshly on course evaluations for not being nice or caring enough, and are expected to exclusively address women’s issues at events like panel discussions.

An instance of unfair emotional labour occurred last year during the WGST cuts. Throughout the protests, some male students decided that they were better equipped to combat the cuts than female professors who have been engaged in political feminist work throughout their lives, and attempted to tell the professors and WGST students how to run the protests.

This type of behaviour required women to explain to the male students why this was a problem, which compounded the labour that the organizers were already undertaking – not to mention the fact that listening to men speak over WGST students is emotional labour in itself. While it is important that non-WGST students care about the precarious nature of the WGST program, speaking over women who hold a direct stake in its continuation is not the way to be an ally.

The excessive emotional labour performed by women at Mt. A can be reduced. By doing little tasks or performing traditionally gendered labour like addressing conflict or volunteering for and attending events that focus on gendered issues, men can reduce the emotional labour of women on campus. Changing this culture requires that male allies take an active role in helping the women they hope to support –  simply voicing support is not enough.

Everybody has the capacity to care for others and take on some of the hard work that is necessary in addressing issues of social injustice. Allyship is a verb that requires allies to check in and continue to educate themselves for the sake of the cause and those who are most marginalized – so let’s get to work.

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