Another Way of Looking at Slut Shaming: “Stop Working So Hard, They’ll Expect the Rest of Us to Do It, Too”

A muddy rubber boot with a flower growing out of it. The boot seems to be sitting on a tree stump in the middle of a forest.
Image by Buddhike de Silva / CC BY

[Please note that I wrote a follow-up post to this one: For the record, I think slut shaming is bad.]

I was raised in a house where work ethic was lauded as the highest virtue. My father was away for weeks at a time on work trips. When he was in town, he routinely worked 70 or 80 hour weeks. I came to know him as the form that crashed on the couch. Falling asleep over his plate of spaghetti, while a buddy cop movie droned on in the background.

“Leave him alone,” my mother would say. “And don’t you dare change that channel.”

My parents fought about many other things, but his work schedule was never up for debate. My mother was very clear that Dad was a great provider and that this was something she valued about him. She’d watched her own mother take care of a disabled husband and raise four kids while working full time in a doctor’s office. In rural Maine. During the 60s. While the neighbors gossiped and judged their family.

“The other kids had so much money, and we had nothing. I had to be smart and make my own clothing with a sewing machine. Otherwise, I would have looked disgusting,” my mother told me.

So Mom vowed as a young child to never have to do what my grandma did. She wouldn’t be both caretaker and breadwinner. Mom would do things differently and marry a man who provided for her.

And along came my dad, who by this metric was a total prize. Huge brain. Bigger work ethic. Sure, he wasn’t terribly romantic or a good communicator. Fell short of her expectations in a number of other ways. But he was dependable, and, boy, did he ever provide.

My parents were both perfectionists (Dad at his job, Mom with housework) who raised me to believe that there was no greater sin than laziness.

So when I got my first conventional day job, I naturally hopped right to it. Poured myself into doing as much as I could right away.

It didn’t take long for a coworker to confront me about it. And what a rude awakening. “Stop working so hard.”

“Why?” I asked. We were at work, after all.

“You’re making the rest of us look bad,” they said. “If you don’t stop working so hard, they’ll expect the rest of us to do it, too.”

I walked away from the interaction stunned. It had never occurred to me that there were people out there who didn’t want to work hard. And it certainly hadn’t crossed my mind that they’d pressure others not to apply themselves.

The Minimum That’s Required

In a study published in 2002, psychologists Twenge and Baumeister theorize and write of the suppression of female sexuality:

Why would women want to suppress female sexuality? Sex is undoubtedly a major potential source of pleasure and fulfillment in life, and for women to stifle their own sexuality would seemingly be a self-destructive act.

Social exchange theory could, however, suggest an important reason that women might seek to suppress each other’s sexuality. Social exchange theory analyzes human behavior in terms of costs and rewards and therefore considers interactions as exchanges in which the various parties offer each other rewards in return for obtaining what they want (e.g., Blau, 1964; Homans, 1950, 1961). A social exchange analysis of sex would begin from the assumption that sex is a resource that men desire and women possess (e.g., Baumeister & Tice, 2000). To obtain sex, men must offer women other desired resources in return, such as money, commitment, security, attention, or respect…

Women might be able to garner two kinds of benefits from restricting the supply of sex available to men. First, women in general might be able to extract better treatment and other resources from men. This idea assumes that men are willing to do whatever is necessary to obtain sex and will often do roughly the minimum amount that is required.

Second, widespread suppression of female sexuality reduces the risk that each woman will lose her male lover to another woman.

The evidence favors the view that women have worked to stifle each other’s sexuality because sex is a limited resource that women use to negotiate with men, and scarcity gives women an advantage.

“Cut That Out, or They’ll Expect It From the Rest of Us”

In this sense, when women are having casual sex, they are “giving away the milk for free.”  And in addition to potentially shortchanging themselves, they are also possibly driving down the “market price” of sex. Or at least other women’s ability to leverage sex into other desirable outcomes. Therefore, in Twenge and Baumeister’s paradigm, women have a vested interest in discouraging other women from having casual sex. By shaming or judging them. Even if they aren’t consciously aware that they’re doing this.

It’s another case of “cut that out, or they’ll expect it from the rest of us.”

Much in the same way that the definition of “hard work” can change depending on the team average, sex’s power as a negotiating force greatly diminishes when it’s no longer viewed as scarce.

And that threatens some people.

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A followup post: For the record, I think slut shaming is bad. 

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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