Das erotische Kapital, volume II: Fucking numbers, how do they work?

Dr Catherine Hakim is a doctor of Sociology, with years of experience in data handling and a senior position at London School of Economics. It is thoroughly baffling, then, that she manages to consistently completely fuck up interpretation of data to the point that any person with a modicum of ability for critical thought can identify the glaring gaps in her claims of an evidential basis for her arguments.

Neither theoretical concept is adequately evidenced: erotic capital is a clusterfuck, and the notion of the male sex deficit is shaky at best.

The lion’s share of the “evidence” presented is in fact nothing of the kind: it is either unreferenced sweeping assertions from Hakim or anecdotes. These anecdotes take the form of “this is a thing that happened somewhere, and it definitely shows that it’s a good idea to get your tits out”, or sometimes might be excerpts from memoirs: the reference list is rife with citations of the works of Casanova, Belle du Jour and Hugh Hefner, to name but a few. Those untrained at looking at where the footnotes go might be fooled by the language Hakim uses to imply that somehow these stories represent empirical data.

While a personal history can sometimes constitute rich qualitative data, those presented by Hakim do nothing of the sort: they are popular memoirs precisely because they are sensational: they do not represent the bedroom habits of the ordinary person, but, rather, the sweaty aberrations providing titillation to the masses. To try to hang a theory on this is disingenuous.

Other evidence takes more of a scientific format, though again is thoroughly insufficient for proving any kind of point. The notion of the male sex deficit is–according to Hakim–backed up by “recent sex surveys”. Again, if one follows the footnotes, one discovers that these surveys are anything but recent: most are over ten years old, with some dating as far back as the nineties. If we pretend, for a minute, that a well-conducted survey from yesterday showed Hakim’s hypothesis–that men have more sex than women and want more sex than women–then it would still be fairly poor evidence.

The thing is, Hakim completely ignores the possibility of something which survey developers worry a lot about: response bias. This is something which often happens when people are aware they are being measured: they tend to give responses they think the experimenter wants to hear, sometimes falling victim to providing the “morally” right answers. Let us remember that sex is still A Big Deal in our society, and that men and women are expected to hold different values regarding sex: namely, men are supposed to want it more; women are supposed to want it less. Is it any surprise, then, that in a questionnaire, women respond with wanting less sex than men? The smart researcher will always interpret results in this light. Dr Catherine Hakim does not: the possibility that these self-reported statistics may not accurately represent the true feelings of respondents never enters her analysis at all: results are taken at face value.

And so she concludes that there must be some sort of sex deficit and that men aren’t getting laid as much as they want because women are a bit frigid.

To back up the concept of erotic capital, Hakim claims that it is measurable. It sort of is, in a way which is fraught with problems which are again wildly underplayed by Hakim. Although erotic capital is supposedly comprised of a variety of facets above and beyond attractiveness, almost all of the measures proposed are of attractiveness, which is acknowledged by most researchers in the field to be notoriously difficult to measure objectively. The most objective ways of measuring attractiveness involve using a computer to analyse facial symmetry or waist-to-hip ratio, and often more subjective measures–rating panels or self-report is used. Hakim also, amusingly, includes winning beauty contests as a useful measure of erotic capital.

Largely, the evidence presented for how erotic capital functions in everyday life is based on cross-sectional studies and correlational studies, neither of which are able to give a plausible causal link between erotic capital and outcome. I decided, therefore, using Hakim’s own ideas for measurement of erotic capital to conduct a slightly stronger empirical study of the effect. I got people who I found of varying levels of attractiveness to read me excerpts from Honey Money. My dependent variable was how convinced I was by what they were saying.

Ultimately, no matter how sexy the people were, Hakim’s thesis still sounded like utter nonsense.

As I touched upon in the first post, I am doubtful as to whether what I read is actually a theory at all. A theory requires novelty and distinction from other theories: erotic capital is impossible to unpick from the three other social assets–one requires economic capital to dress well and social capital for the social skills. A theory is also measurable–and many of the facets of erotic capital do not appear to be in any way measurable. Furthermore, a theory must be parsimonious, and much of what is presented in Honey Money is anything but a simple explanation: rather, it is a tortured exercise in reading correlations the wrong way.

The strongest empirical data presented is the “halo effect“, a manifestation of which is that attractive people are judged to be nicer, better and more intelligent. As a result, such people tend to lead charmed lives. This theory is adequate to explain much of the evidence presented in Honey Money, yet Hakim insists on adding extra variables based on little to no evidence, and repackaging it in a pseudo-economic analysis of sex as a scarce resource.

The more data Hakim presents, the less credible her argument becomes as she tortures her theory around a reality which fails to conform to the world inside her brain. The male sex deficit concept is brought in largely to account for the fact that men tend to benefit more from having “high erotic capital” than women, which is contrary to her prediction that women have the higher erotic capital. Due to the sex deficit, for reasons never coherently explained, apparently men “devalue women’s erotic capital”.

Once again, there are plenty of theories to explain why men often tend to do better than women, and these largely come from feminist schools of thought, which would be a useful theoretical lens through which to view many of Hakim’s findings. As we shall see, though, Hakim has some rather idiosyncratic reasons for dismissing feminism out of hand…

Das erotische Kapital:

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:

Das erotische Kapital: a comprehensive review of everything wrong with Catherine Hakim’s Honey Money

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.

Seriously.

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. [citation needed] 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: