Book review: Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital

I WONDER if Catherine Hakim regrets using Arnold Schwarzenegger, not once but twice, as an exemplar of the key concept in her book.

In fact, there is something entirely apt about a man who has been exposed as having fathered a child with a member of his domestic staff being the poster boy for a concept that is politically repugnant, morally questionable and intellectually bereft.

Hakim doesn’t seem to mind making wild and unsubstantiated claims (did you know that feminist politics has caused women to stop smiling? Or that it has also made men use prostitutes, as well as perpetuating contempt for female beauty and sex appeal?) but I do, so allow me to state what erotic capital is before I continue to make substantiated claims about it. Erotic capital is, according to Hakim, “sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation”. It can boost your income by 10 to 15 per cent over those schmucks who don’t have it. Although, as a Senior Research Fellow at the LSE, Hakim says it more eloquently: “Many people fail to make the effort”.

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Hakim is a sociologist and the book contains a wealth of references, and yet it all comes down to this: make yourself more attractive (ie, adhere to mainstream, conventional values of what is considered to be attractive) and you will reap rewards. After all, men are simply buffoons led by their libido, therefore all that women need to understand is how to best manipulate that weakness to get what they want. Let’s be clear: being awash with erotic capital has nothing to do with being decent or clever or kind, it’s not about equality or progressiveness, it’s about getting what you can using whatever means you have at your disposal. (Remember Arnie?) For Hakim, women have more erotic capital than men because “they work harder at personal presentation”. Anyone who thinks that it might be because that’s the only capital that women have consistently been limited to is just a non-smiling, sex-hating feminist.

The truly depressing thing about Hakim’s argument is that if you buy it, you have to accept that there is no scope for meaningful change in relations between the sexes. Men are sex-starved, always have been, always will be and women should exploit this vulnerability. Grim.

Edinburgh International Book Festival, Saturday, 7pm