Jess Beaulieu has done more than her share of (unpaid) emotional labour.
“I’ve had to listen to a lot of men I’m sleeping with talk about how they still have feelings for their ex-girlfriends,” she recalls. “They would go on and on about how she broke their heart and it was so difficult and they still think about her meanwhile I’m lying there naked beside them and I’m basically invisible.” In the midst of these emotional outpourings, they didn’t bother to ask how she was doing. “I was just their de facto psychiatrist for ex-related issues. I can’t really imagine a worse kind of free therapy to provide.”
For Beaulieu, the frustration has been steadily mounting since she began dating. “I started noticing after I got into relationships with men that I would be their primary ‘friend’ and ‘caregiver.'” Their friendships were not nearly as intimate as my friendships were. And most guys refused to go to therapy or discuss their problems with anyone but me.”
Astonishingly, they would also rely on her to do administrative and domestic labour, as if she were a personal assistant or maid. “I’d make the plans. I’d help them apply for jobs. I’d calm them down when their anger was out of control. I’d be responsible for communicating. I’d stand up to their bro pals when they were being sexist.”
After nearly a decade of this emotional toil, reading articles on the subject, and speaking with female friends who were in similar situations, she began to see a trend. “I started noticing how emotionally drained I’d often be after hanging out with certain guys who really sucked the labour out of me,” she says. Her experiences provided the fuel for her new play coming to Fringe, the aptly titled Emotional Labour.
Beaulieu, along with Luis Fernandes, co-wrote and co-stars in the play which centres around the struggles of a couple and the different experiences they have interacting with the opposite gender. The show aims to open a broader conversation about how exhausting it is to take on the emotions of another, and why it’s important for us to take responsibility for contending with our own issues. She hopes the show is validating for those accustomed to giving free emotional labour, and a wake-up call for the takers.
“Emotional labour is still labour,” she says. “It’s very taxing and unequal when it comes to gender. It needs to be taken more seriously. Especially if you’re a man.”
Emotional Labour plays at Toronto Fringe July 3-14. Get tickets here.