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Why “Just Work Harder” Doesn’t Work

Ok quick history lesson because I thought I knew this stuff but I really didn’t learn it till I was an adult.

We’re taught that for centuries women were denied access to capital, property, employment, separate economy, government, and our own freaking children

What we’re not really taught was how this was true as recently as the 1960s.

Until the 60s you could legit refuse to pay a female employee because she wore pants. You could call your wife’s employer and be like, “I don’t want her to work. Fire her.” And they would and it was legal. You could ban women from practicing law, not let her open a bank account, and basically trap her in fiscal and legal reliance on men.

If you want to go down the rabbit hole of discriminatory practices and how freaking recent this all is

I’m bringing it up because while legal and financial systems are beginning to be corrected, culture hasn’t quite caught up.

When you take power away from a group, they find other means to access it and for (white) women one way we secured power and safety for ourselves, for centuries, was through proximity to power – aka men.

(Herein lies )

There’s a lot more to say about this – but where it concerns us today is in the culture women maintain as a result of our lack of institutional and systemic power.

We found ways to have power (over) through things we did have access to, like beauty, status, and gossip.

We maintain these practices today. It’s why we’re so eager to fight and claw at other women instead of pointing our attention to the systems which permit and encourage this in-fighting.

Which brings us to Kim Kardashian.

This week the internet exploded because the patron saint of influencer culture said, “I have the best advice for women in business: Get your f**king a** up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”

Ok so. 

Let’s assume we’re all in alignment about how this rally cry of American capitalism supports the illusion of a meritocracy that doesn’t exist – in other words: this is a steaming pile of baloney. 

I’ve written more about that , , , , and .

What I want to know is why we’re so mad that Kim K said what every successful mediocre white man says on the daily. It’s literally the most generic piece of business advice.

Need I remind you: GeryVee’s ENTIRE platform is predicated on that exact message.

Why is he heralded as a Truth Teller, while Kim is considered an illusionist perpetuating a fraud on the public (she is. But so is every bro who tells you, “You just need more hustle!”).

There are many valid reasons to criticize the Kardashians. 

But here I think our anger is misplaced.

Kim K is a problem but she is not the problem here. 

She’s a symptom of it.

She’s exploited the ways women are taught to ascend in this world (beauty, status, gossip) and done exactly what successful business owners, books, and magazines tell women to do: be more like a man.

Now, to be clear: I am not defending Kim, I’m not personally a fan, and I am NOT saying women are not responsible and accountable for their behavior (or garbage advice). I’m saying you’re missing the point if you think the problem is the person.

The problem is the systems WE SUPPORT that led to her ascension: devaluing caregiving, an economy reliant on invisible unpaid labor, incentivizing bad behavior by profiting from controversy, the illusion of being self-made, all the well-documented ways America is not a meritocracy, exploitation of beauty, culture of gossip, equating a man’s worth to his net worth…

Ok here, let me drive this home:

Napoleon Hill literally had a chapter on how a slave used the power of thinking and hustle to escape slavery. And we still buy and recommend his book.


Let’s stop wasting our time and energy on tearing down someone who literally profits off the controversy and start focusing our attention on fixing these problems.

Universal childcare, elder care and support, literally anything recommends, paid family leave, healthcare, equal access to quality education, flex schedules, valuing unpaid and invisible labor that is the literal backbone of this economy…the list is long and hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.

We are still languishing in the relics of our cultural inheritances. 

I don’t really care what we think about Kim Kardashian. I care that we keep picking the wrong fights.

There are so many women working to end this bullsh*t that deserve the spotlight. Click on THEIR articles, watch THEIR ted talks, read THEIR books. 

Pick better fights.

There will always be Kims.

What we need more of is YOU.


PS: Hillary and I had some hot takes on this topic . We discuss:

  • The hypocrisy of cultivating a, “My life is so fun and luxurious!” image and then complaining that no one takes you seriously
  • The catch 22 of childcare: We demonize women who have it, attack women who don’t, and leave men out of the discussion entirely
  • Why messages like “just work harder” are a form of cultural gaslighting
  • How “just work harder” is not the same as encouraging the perseverance, grit, and fortitude required to push through the dip
  • How elites used to boast of not working, but now elites are obsessed with their hustle – and how both attitudes are unhelpful social constructs…

And my favorite question: Did Kim’s advice inspire anyone to work harder? As a student of behavior change, I’m fascinated at how this continues to pass as uplifting advice when almost no one is driven to action as a result of it.