Last week, with a conspiratorial grin, a friend handed me a book. “Destroy it,” she whispered.
I held in my hands Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by a certain Dr Catherine Hakim, who is best known for her ludicrous theory which suggests that feminists have already won and any oppression experienced by women is because they’re not trying hard enough. Honey Money is rooted in this theory, but adds more.
Its central thesis is the existence of a type of social asset called “erotic capital”, fitting alongside economic capital, social capital and cultural capital. Erotic capital is made up of beauty, sexiness, charm, liveliness, social presentation (i.e. how one dresses) and sexuality, including sexual competence. One might notice that erotic capital is all about sex and sex appeal, as its title suggests, yet Hakim spends a good portion of the book arguing that it is definitely not all about sex. If it isn’t, then she hasn’t found anything new, as all of these facets of erotic capital would fit in with the other three social assets. The only way for this theory to be distinct and new is if it is all about sex. Which Hakim reckons it isn’t.
The second major concept explored in Honey Money is the “male sex deficit”. Just say those words out loud to yourself a few times. Male sex deficit. Male sex deficit.
Couched in its economic-sounding language is a concept as old as the hills: men want more sex than women. This notion is unquestioningly asserted repeatedly, and used to explain pretty much everything in the book. Men are randy old goats, while the women just aren’t that into sex. But it’s OK, girls! We can just tease and we’ll get what we want, because our erotic capital’s a scarcer resource.
As I read the book, I became more and more furious that someone wrote this, then someone published this, then people read this and some of them might agree with the thesis put forward. I scrawled angry notes over it with a biro. NO! carved out in blue in the margins.  dotted all over unreferenced assertions.
It became my nemesis.
There is a lot wrong with the book, and much of the criticism has already been covered in other reviews. I found even more.
This week, therefore, I present a treat for you. I read Honey Money so you don’t have to. For the next few days, I will utterly demolish everything which is wrong with Hakim’s thesis, from the unfortunate insights into Hakim’s tortured psyche, to her fraught relationship with interpretation of data, to the horrifying implications of what she believes she has found.
In the meantime, I leave you with this screencap from Disney’s Aladdin, which I think sums up the work rather well.
Das erotische Kapital:
11 thoughts on “Das erotische Kapital: a comprehensive review of everything wrong with Catherine Hakim’s Honey Money”
I tremble with anticipation.
I saw a couple of reviews about this when it came out. Predictably, it triggered my gag reflex, but I didn’t consider buying a copy and haven’t seen anyone reading it on the tube.
The whole thing seems very… well, AMERICAN. Do you think it sold well in this country?
Oh, holy shit, she’s British, and a sociologist. I just assumed from the title and content that she was an American televangelist.
What I find suite surprising is that not one of the ranting reviews of this book address the idea that Hakim’s primary goal in writing this book is to affect law and legalize prostitution. Why does no one see this as clearly as I do? She is a sociologist. She works at the London School or Economics. She has published 100’s of articles on women’s issues and economic plight. She spends considerable time in the book talking about paid sex, value of sex, who makes more from their sales of sex appeal, charm and grace (men who have less of it than women). She is suggesting that women take back their secret erotic capital and use it to get themselves on an even or better financial position than men who label womens erotic attributes with slandering derogatory titles.
There is nothing new about the concept that sex sells. Hakim is simply saying, cut out the middle’man’.
I also have found it interesting that women are the one’s who are outraged at this book in most of the reviews I’ve read over the course of the last 7 months. Is it the idea of selling sex? Sex has never been free – there has always been an exchange of some sort be it house, home, car, children etc etc. etc. That it should be free is silly as well. Men would like to leverage the ‘love’ factor to suck up your youth beauty and energy whenever they can. Ever heard the guy who sleeps his way to the top called ‘slut’? I think not! He is called charming.
Sorry, I digress. Hakim’s book is primarily laying the groundwork and case to legalize prostitution. This is voluntary prostitution. Frankly, I have no thoughts about that other than it should be legal for women to choose what they want to do with their bodies. research shows that those who do it usually do it in exchange for more economic or cultural capital vs. the career of their dreams. It’s a stepping stone. Why? Because Freakonomics dictates that a 15 minute hand-job pays more than working three hours at Starbucks! Go figure ladies. Want to change something, change that. Smart chicks go to pay for their college tuition faster- that is what Hakim is saying.
I am personally a firm believer in erotic capital, and it’s use in creating traction between social, economic and cultural capital. She left off one of the key attributes to getting what you want and keeping it and that is the ability to nurture. Now that is un-american and perhaps un-european.
The word erotic is a funny one as well. It incites anger and horror instantly- then secret intrigue. It’s gotten a bad rap- thanks to prostitution and exploitation vs. pleasure. Denotation and historically, its a positive.
Looking at the 6 components of Erotic Capital per Hakim, they are learnable and should be learned. They are a form of communication and used correctly can benefit both parties. Too much focus on any one of them is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness. That is my take on it.
I think you will find parts two and three of this review useful when they are up, as I demonstrate Hakim fails to offer a coherent argument for either erotic capital or the legalisation of prostitution.
Glad you’re convinced, but I suspect you might need to think somewhat more critically about the issues.
Hakim is trying to argue that *all women* should use the logic of prostitution in our daily lives and interactions at work. It’s an attempt to universalise prostitution, not merely legalise it!
I will look forward to parts two and three. I hope you do address the concept of legalizing prostitution, research Hakim’s other works and look at the big picture of her objectives even if you feel she does not do it successfully. She did appear to change the title of the book for publishing in America, making it more controversial. I’m not sure if it works in her favor or not. More people have negative gut response and appear not to read the book in its entirety or the citations in the back therefore miss the concept of changing laws around the sale of sex.
What I think is the most depressing aspect of this thesis (although I admit I haven’t read the book) is the idea that women might individually withdraw (or “teasingly” threaten to withdraw) their “capital” to improve their situation, but the only collective and organised form this might take is prostitution. But if this were true, presumably men could – collectively – decide to withdraw their limited “erotic capital” and start selling sex through brothels.
..”Erotic capital” and its discontents.