August 11, 2014

Gender Loafing: “Honey, while you’re up…” ~ John Hardman

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Being human, we naturally have a tendency to conserve our energy and let someone else take up the slack.

We are all familiar with the road construction crew where three of them are leaning on shovels while the other two do all the digging. Psychologists have a name for it—social loafing.

We are social loafing when we hide in groups doing less than our fair share, knowing others will take up the slack. Group dynamics are very powerful. Most of us want to fit in and follow the rules. Nobody wants to be seen as a “sucker”—one who does more work than others and get no credit for it.

Instinctively we monitor the group efforts to see how much is appropriate and tend to match our efforts to the group norm.

Our gender roles are both biological and sociological. We are engendered primarily as embodied yang (assertive energy) and yin (receptive energy). Each of us has access to both energies, but, generally, males tend to have more innate access to yang energy and females tend toward the yin end of the scale.

We seem to embody a “creative tension” whereby we tend to favor a personal “sweet spot” in the yin-yang continuum creating an imbalance, a yearning for harmony and an opportunity for procreation. Most of us become complacent in our comfort zones, looking to others to provide the social skills we seem to lack (yes, this works in gay and lesbian relationships as well).

Because our gender roles are also social constructions, we learn almost from birth what we should/should not do to be a “good” man or woman.

Ideally these gender roles enhance and maximize our biological tendencies, but they also open the door to “gender loafing”—doing only what is necessary to feel secure in our gender group and let the other gender do any of the heavy lifting that would require us to expend additional energy.

As a man, I have “let” my wife assume much of the social interaction chores, while she is more than happy to “allow” me to fix broken appliances and trap the mouse in our pantry. Yeah, either of us could do these things, but it is easier (and lazier) to let the other take up the slack for us. And, if we try to do more than our share, then our gender groups will quickly remind us we are “suckers” and chastise us for making them look bad.

Sadly, gender loafing is so pervasive that we do it almost automatically and often subconsciously.

It is so ingrained in us that we feel shame if we don’t participate and live up to gender defined expectations.

Because certain social behaviors and skills are off limits to us, we fail to “taste the forbidden fruit” and entire aspects of our lives atrophy and wither. As we become more constricted in our gender roles, we lose the flexibility of yang and yin within ourselves. This enhances our longing for balance and we seek partners who provide the skills our gender roles deny us.

Gender loafing is doubly damning—first we become lazy, then desperate and needy!

All of us are guilty of “free riding”—doing less than we’re capable of, hoping others will take up the slack. Research shows that peer evaluations—encouraging others in the group (or other group) to point out when an individual is slacking off and not allowing anyone to comfortably “hide” in their groups—increases participation, connection and productivity. Maybe the clash of the feminists and misogynists does have a useful function after all?

Ironically, to increase team effort we must increase individual responsibility.

What habits do you have that are so habitually easy and “typical” for your gender that might be suspected as “loafing”? What skills do you relinquish to your partner, allowing you to free ride rather than grow? Are you open to honest evaluation by others or do you hide in the gender crowd?

Okay, many of us have been slackers. Now all we have to do is to quit leaning on that shovel and get to work with the rest of the crew to dig our way out of this rut. Yes, your peers and partner are watching you, so no free riding allowed!

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr

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