Das erotische Kapital, volume III: Hakim’s got issues

They say that when an author writes, we are afforded a unique glimpse into their psyche. If that is the case, Catherine Hakim and I definitely wouldn’t get on.  Hakim, you see, does not seem to be a very nice person, attempting feebly to justify her dislike of various groups of society with flimsy non-evidence and her own risible theorising.

Hakim doesn’t like feminists very much. That is hardly surprising, considering feminists don’t like Hakim very much; if feminism were a picket line, Hakim would be a big black-legged scab. Hakim’s issues with feminism, though, are based on rather poor information: she read Sheila Jeffreys once, and didn’t like it. According to Hakim, the work of one feminist–whom many feminists hold in low regard due to her transphobia–indicates the whole of feminist thought. This somehow translates into feminists being exactly the same as patriarchy, a point which Hakim never manages to argue convincingly, or indeed coherently.

According to Hakim, feminism has “no realistic alternative to heterosexuality or marriage, except celibacy or lesbianism”. My notes in the margin on this sentence include a drawing of a frowny face and the words “NO NO NO NO NO READ FEMINISM YOU IDIOT”. Kindly, one could say Hakim’s view of feminism is based on the fact that she is only familiar with one particular flavour of feminism from decades ago. Unfortunately, one or two of her references are recent, and misrepresent the views of the authors, which suggests she is simply tilting at straw feminists.

While her hatred of feminists and feminism is ostensibly academic, a more visceral bile is reserved for fat people. I threw my copy of Honey Money across the room when she pointed out that people boo the Ugly Sisters in panto because they are fat, and this isn’t really discrimination at all. I am not exaggerating. She actually says this:

Cinderella’s competitors at the ball are her two Ugly Sisters. In English Christmas pantomime, the Ugly Sisters are usually played by men who display absolutely no femininity or elegance in their style or manners. They are badly dressed in gaudy clothes, have grotesque hairstyles and are generally figures of fun, sometimes displaying beards or bellies. There is usually one tall thin Sister and one fat Sister. In the shows, the children will often collectively boo the Ugly Sisters. In real life, the social exclusion of fat and ugly people can be labelled as discrimination

[three pages of concern trolling about “health” and droning on about how absolutely hideous fat people are and how they can’t fit in aeroplane seats and why would anyone want to fuck a fatty bullshit cut because it’s thoroughly offensive and relies almost entirely on anecdote]

The concept of “discrimination” is too readily applied in situations where there is differential treatment or outcomes. In many cases, there is a simple explanation for such outcomes that do not involve unfair favouritism or intentional bias in favour of or against particular groups. In other cases, there can be solidly documented justifications for differential treatment, as in the case of the obese and overweight.

Honey Money, pp129-132 (Hardback edition)

Hakim pretends to show evidence for her hatred of a group of people, when in fact it is entirely her usual quality of evidence: a few anecdotes from others as unpleasant as her.

It is not just fat people who bother Hakim–she also has issues with others who fail to conform to the narrow conventional beauty standards. Lesbians appear to bother Hakim somewhat, because they do not make enough of an effort with their appearance for her liking. Indeed, Hakim’s relationship with homosexuality on the whole is dismissive (at best), as queer sexuality cannot be explained by her theory, which is framed entirely in the light of heterosexuality. This is justified by using the results of a single study which found that the proportion of the population identifying as gay or bisexual was far smaller than that which is usually found. With her skill for twisting data to suit her theory, Hakim conveniently forgets to mention that this study was conducted by asking people on their doorsteps if they were gay, which is bound to bring up all sorts of response bias. Magicking away queer culture by mentioning the “disproportionate influence” and focusing instead on “the 95% majority of ordinary heterosexual men and women” means that Hakim can ignore huge swathes of society who do not conform to her standards.

To round off this section on groups Hakim hates, here is a small quiz. To whom is she referring in the following little outbursts of ire?

1. Some cultures actively repress sexuality, flirting and the display of sex appeal. ____ is one.

2. The public culture of “gender equality” in _____ has produced one of the most sexually restrictive cultures in Europe.

3. _____ do not flirt. In ________ there is a total lack of everyday eroticism.

The answer to all of the above is either “Sweden” or “the Swedish”. I’m not entirely sure why she thinks the Swedes are so stuck-up; the survey results provided by Hakim herself point to the contrary.

So who does Dr Catherine Hakim like? Surely she cannot merely be a miserable old bag entirely fuelled by hate?

There are indeed sectors of society who Hakim is enamoured by. She consumes vast quantities of popular literature about these people and writes about their lives in an aspirational fashion. Her lionization of this group of people is so apparent that it is difficult not to believe that Hakim sees them as the very zenith of human evolution.

These people are sex workers. She writes reverently of the experiences of Belle du Jour and authors of other sensationalist memoirs, presenting the sex industry as a fantastic place to work for women. While for some this is indeed the case, Hakim is very dismissive of problematic areas within sex work: were Hakim to be believed, it is the best job in the whole wide world, where you get laid a lot in exchange for zillions of pounds.

Sex work is not a risk-free enterprise, and Hakim mentions this very briefly, in the context of  “everyone encounters unpleasant people and unpleasant experiences whether in the sex trade or ordinary jobs”. The actual risks are not mentioned at all–for example, that sex workers are the most likely group of people to experience rape. Likewise, the relationship between a streetwalker and her pimp is presented as “a nice example of barter”. This uncritical, rose-tinted analysis of sex work is highly problematic: while she is right that sex work ought not to be stigmatised, she is thoroughly wrong to completely dismiss legitimate risks faced by these workers. If Hakim is attempting to lay groundwork for the legalisation of sex work, she is going about it the wrong way.

It would seem that sex work, in Hakim’s world, is the ultimate career goal for women. This is but one of the horrifying implications of Honey Money which will be explored in the final section…

Das erotische Kapital:

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