Sunday, August 21, 2011

honey money: the power of erotic capital

Video - Elvis Presley Money Honey 1956

Guardian | In a typically razor-sharp exchange of dialogue which establishes – yet again – that The Simpsons provides the most coruscating illumination of contemporary mores, Lisa says to her grade school teacher that "Good looks don't really matter", to which Ms Hoover replies: "Nonsense, that's just something ugly people tell their children." Stripping away the layers of irony from this statement we can reveal the central premise of Catherine Hakim's book, which is that not only do looks matter, but that they should matter a great deal more. Furthermore, the people who tell young people – and in particular young women – that their beauty and sex appeal are of little importance are themselves ugly, if not physically then at least morally. For, as Hakim sees it, it is an "unholy alliance" of wannabe patriarchs, religious fundamentalists and radical feminists who have – in Anglo-Saxon countries especially – acted to devalue what she terms "erotic capital". In Hakim's estimation, for all young women, and in particular those who are without other benefits – financial, intellectual, situational – an entirely legitimate form of self-advancement should consist in their getting the best out of – if you'll forgive the pun – their assets.

Hakim, a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, is no tub-thumping provocateur, but a well-established sociologist with a string of publications to her name. And Honey Money, despite its somewhat racy title – which comes, apparently, from an expression employed by Jakarta prostitutes: "No money, no honey" – is configured as a serious academic exercise, complete with rather leaden prose, extensive annotation, reams of statistical evidence, appendices and tedious repetitions. Nevertheless, I envisage a blizzard of opprobrium enveloping Hakim, for she has set out here a thesis seemingly purpose-built to inflame the passions of a wide swathe of the opinionated. Taking as her starting point Pierre Bourdieu's well-established analysis of forms of individual capital – monetary capital itself, human capital (intelligence potentiated by education) and social capital (patronage, nepotism and other network benefits) – Hakim proposes another form: "erotic capital". She acknowledges that this term has been used by sociologists in the US to refer to physical appearance and sex appeal, but claims that her definition – widened to encompass other skills such as charm, sociability and actual sexual expertise – is both original and powerfully explicatory.

In some ways I think she's right. There's something altogether refreshing about Hakim's spade-calling, which recalls to mind Schopenhauer's infamous remarks in his essay "On Women": "With girls, Nature has had in view what is called in a dramatic sense a 'striking effect', for she endows them for a few years with a richness of beauty and a fullness of charm at the expense of the rest of their lives; so that they may during these years ensnare the fantasy of a man to such a degree as to make him rush into taking the honourable care of them, in some kind of form, for a lifetime – a step which would not seem sufficiently justified if he only considered the matter." Certainly the pessimistic philosopher's own dealings with women conformed to this view: a lifelong bachelor, he was not so much an enthusiastic as a dutiful customer of prostitutes – attending the brothel as regularly as other haute-bourgeois men visit their club.

Hakim endorses Schopenhauer's characterisation of the "striking effect" of young women's beauty and sex appeal, and gives us cross-cultural statistics to prove that not only is their "erotic capital" consistently greater than that of young men, but that it is also always undervalued: it is attractive young men who get the better jobs and secure the higher wages, attractive young men who end up being US president – regardless of their skin colour. This might seem counter-intuitive in a world seemingly plastered with images of this "striking effect", displayed in every possible state of dress and undress, but the strength of Hakim's analysis lies in the very crudeness of its metric. According to her, while young women may possess considerable charms, men's desire for them always vastly outstrips supply. The reverse is simply not the case: men are both less attractive to women, and markedly less desired by them, especially as those women grow older. What Hakim terms "the male sex-deficit" underlies both the ubiquity of female sexual imagery – as pornography, as marketing adjunct – and the persistent unwillingness of society at large to "valorise" women's good looks. It is, quite simply, not in the interests of all those priapic patriarchs to allow women to actualise their erotic capital, for to do so would seismically alter the balance of power between the sexes.


Dale Asberry said...

Lol, one of the common techniques in the pickup community is the "Neg". It's a backhanded compliment delivered in a playful manner. It is commonly used in an atmosphere of disinterest. In the sense of  "erotic capital", it is used to cause the woman to lower the evaluation of her erotic capital and raise the evaluation of his erotic capital. The point being is that only a high status male would do such a thing because they're the only ones gettin' any. Which leads to my next point...

Humans are mildly polygynous. Women have the erotical capital and the drive to only want to mate with high status males. As the number of high status males is strictly limited... Statistical genetic variation says that only half of all men have gotten the chance to reproduce in human history. I can guarantee that true high status males are NOT the ones in control of this ballgame. Psychopaths make for very poor parents (and reduce the long-term survival of their offspring). Hence, the balance of power would not be a negative for men in general -- it would be a negative for the men with the most to lose.