The impact of performing unpaid emotional labour in women’s lives

If I were to add up the hours spent performing emotional labour during my last heterosexual romantic relationship (for free, of course, for this white and mediocre world of ours will not contemplate the conflation of romance and money unless you’re born to it), which lasted for about a year, I would find that I spent almost a whole month in total doing that — thirty days or seven hundred and twenty hours (720) straight. Now, unfortunately, I didn’t keep a ledger of the time spent trying to compensate for his subpar emotional labour, the one that made me feel like I was not important enough, desireable enough or talented enough, but let’s say I spent at least half an hour every day convincing myself that his inability to be empathetic enough to make a decent (not fantastic, not incredible, just barely decent) attempt at supporting me emotionally was not my fault, and making up for his lack of support — for that is what emotional labour is, amongst other things, not hugs or compliments. One hundred and fifty-four hours (154) spent trying to save myself from the emotional wreckage caused by a man who was not an abuser (as text-books define them), didn’t have any ill intent but lacked all ability to be emotionally supportive (yet required loads of it and wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to be supportive himself). Now, my therapist charges sixty (60) euros per hour, so let’s say that the cost of not-professionalized emotional labour is half of that. This man owes me over twenty thousand euros (20,000) for the emotional labour I performed for him.

But why would he owe me that money, you ask? Don’t we all perform different labours for our significant other(s) for free? Why, yes. Women, in particular, do it all the time. For our families, for our friends, for our colleagues, for our husbands, for our lovers. We have a world-class-history of doing just that, and we’ve been getting no returns on it. The emotional labour we perform allows men to win more money, live better, healthier, longer lives, and at the same time, our association with them leads to shorter, more miserable and riskier lives for us. How can this be? Well, (cis) men are not brought up to be the emotional bastion of their communities. It’s not that they lack the ability, is simply that they keep choosing not to exercise it, which in turn forces us to perform not only free emotional labour for them but also to double the hours spent performing it for we have to heal ourselves from the pain they inflict upon us with their lack of empathy.

Now, while I might be using the figures drawn from my last relationship, I am not making up data based on a single anecdote. Every relationship I’ve had, most of the relationships my colleagues have had, every woman that I’ve met in my life (trans or cis, mind you) — we all tell the same tale. It’s in our education, in our common culture, in our backgrounds, in our families: romantic heterosexual relationships are our damnation because men have proven to be statistically incapable of learning how to properly perform something that we’ve been doing since we were children (this is not to say that we perform emotional labour perfectly or that it is easy to perform, is simply to say that it’s their choice not to perform it and this doesn’t stem from their lack of ability but from the comfort of their current position).

Would money make a difference, if this man paid me what he owes? Well, we live under capitalism, so yes, it would make all the difference. If all the men in my life had paid what they owe me, I would live a much more comfortable existence, akin to the comfort that they’ve stolen from me. Money is the currency in which we price our lives in this world, so of course, I expect men (who are still winning more money than me, and much more than my black colleagues) to pay me (in cash) for my labour, given how unlikely they are not only to be able to perform it at my level but also not to cause any harm to me during my association with them. How else am I to cover the losses in which I will incur? Charging men for their contact with me it’s not a matter of enriching myself (although of course, this is a position to be encouraged and exercised), but merely of surviving my association with them without losing time, life and moneyContinuous exposition to men is harmful to any minority — so they should start making amends by paying first, and then trying to evolve (without causing any losses to the women surrounding them, hopefully). Redistribution of wealth is fundamental and non-negotiable.