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Never Underestimate The Power Of Sex As an Incentive…

July 16th, 2009 · 9 Comments
Gender · Incentives

(Not that I ever would, given the title of the site… 🙂 )

I love this…Leymah Gbowee of Liberia seems to have figured out the power of incentives better than most corporate executives ever will- she, among other things, organized a sex strike in Liberia in which Liberian women refuse to sleep with their partners until the civil war there ends. (Ended? My knowledge of current events seems to have tunnel vision.) Her rationale was that the men of the country were perpetrating the violence there (in her words) either by commission or omission. That’s basically a more eloquent version of “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” So she gave them another good reason to be a part of the solution.

Best quote: “We needed a way to get through to [our men], and we thought that was one of the best ways.” Smart lady- she seems to get that you can argue and debate until you’re blue in the face, but it often doesn’t have nearly as much of an impact as figuring out how to hit somebody where it hurts. She is also enough of a realist to recognize that it doesn’t so much matter *why* people stop fighting, as long as they actually do stop fighting. (Incentive designers take note- it’s helpful to decide whether you care about the reason for good behavior or just the good behavior itself, and the decision is not always clear cut. If you don’t believe me, think about the idea of paying kids to get good grades.)

I’m kind of in love with this woman…and also am very impressed at Stephen Colbert’s ability to be funny/playfully mocking while remaining completely respectful.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Leymah Gbowee
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Jeff Goldblum

Despite my girl crush, however, I am not going to let Ms. Gbowee off the hook when it comes to unintended consequences. What sorts of things should she have been wary of when formulating this plan?

Coordination failures are certainly a potential problem- why not just let everyone else abstain? I mean, if you are the only woman having sex with her man it’s not like the plan is going to go to pieces…but if everyone thinks this way then nothing is accomplished. Luckily, it appears that the women’s desire for solidarity won out over the incentive to free ride.

I would also like to know what the market for prostitution looked like during this time. From the prostitute’s perspective, it’s a much tougher choice to abstain from sex- the wives and girlfriends were (theoretically, or at least one would hope) subjecting themselves to a cost by witholding, but not nearly as much of a cost as giving up a source of income. Given that, I am curious as to whether prostitutes went on strike as well. If they didn’t, the striking women are taking a bit of a risky path since they are giving their men an incentive to seek out substitutes for, well, them. If I was one of these women, I would want to provide for the prostitutes under the condition that they also go on strike, since lowering the availability of substitutes is a helpful factor in this case. Hmmm…now that I think about it…ok, I don’t even want to ponder what other substitutes would need to be accounted for. (Let’s just say I’ve had sheep on the brain this week and leave it at that. Ew. Or, as my friend pointed out, ewe.)

Tags: Gender · Incentives

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Caitlin // Jul 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I love it when life imitates Greek comedy.

    (Lysistrata ftw!)

  • 2 Toolbit // Jul 16, 2009 at 4:56 pm


    I find it ironic that desperation caused these women to fight back lead to a desperation that ended the war.

    Fun stuff, Jodi.

    Toolbit out.

  • 3 R.M. // Jul 17, 2009 at 9:10 am

    As a result more men will have more testosterone in their system, which may result only into even more violent war.

  • 4 The Weakonomist // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:07 am

    You make the assumption that women in fact deprive themselves by not sleeping with their men. If their culture is anything like American culture (it is) then this is a gift to themselves more than punishment to men.

    However I am supportive of their venture and just hope they don’t inspire American women to use similar tactics.

  • 5 Emily // Jul 17, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Hahaha Lysistrata was the very first thing I thought of as well!

  • 6 H // Jul 17, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    I’d be a bit worried about marital rape in addition to prostitution.

  • 7 Lawrence M // Jul 22, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I didn’t watch the video but from solely reading your post, I agree with H. And to take it a step further, could this not perpetuate the war as the sex-deprived males become more violent and rape their opposition’s women?

    Also, I don’t know the logistics of their war, but do you go to the trenches for your 8hrs then go home to the family and after your woman provides you with a warm meal and a lay, you go back to the grind of war in the morning?

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