1) Introducing Erotic Capital
Catherine Hakim - proudly displaying her own 'erotic capital' in a photograph on the dust jacket of the hardcover edition - introduces her concept of 'erotic capital' in this work, variously titled either 'Money Honey: the Power of Erotic Capital' or 'Erotic Capital: the Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom'. Both editions appear to be essentially identical. (Page numbers cited in the current review refer to the former edition.)
Hakim works hard to convince us that her concept of erotic capital is original. However, it appears to be little more than social science jargon for sex appeal - a new term invented for a familiar concept, introduced to disguise the lack of originality of Hakim's thesis. (One recalls Richard Dawkins's 'Law of the Conservation of Difficulty', whereby 'obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity'.)
Hakim tries to substantiate her claim that erotic capital is broader than mere sex appeal by suggesting that even heterosexual people of the same sex admire and enjoy the company of individuals with high erotic capital, despite not being sexually attracted to them, claiming "women often admire other women who are exceptionally beautiful" and "men admire other men with exceptionally well-toned... bodies [and] handsome faces" (p153). However, I suspect people are just as often envious of and hence hostile towards people of the same sex whom they perceive as more sexually attractive than themselves.
Certainly economists and sociologists have often failed to recognise the importance of sexual attractiveness in human relations. However, this reflects the prejudices of economists and sociologists rather than the originality of the concept. The importance of sexual attractiveness in human relations has been recognised by intelligent laypersons, poets and peasants from time immemorial.
2) Sex Differences in Erotic Capital, the 'Male Sex Deficit' and Evolutionary Psychology
After introducing the concept of erotic capital, Hakim makes two central claims:
1) Women have greater erotic capital than men; and
2) Because men have a greater desire for sex than women, there is, "a systematic and apparently universal male sex deficit" (p39), whereby men want more sex than they are able to get.
She claims both these phenomena place women at an advantage in their relations with men.
However, once one recognises that erotic capital essentially amounts to sex appeal, it is doubtful whether these two claims are conceptually separate. On the contrary, the universal male sex deficit provides an explanation for why women have greater sex appeal to males. As Hakim herself acknowledges "it is impossible to separate women's erotic capital, which provokes men's desire... from male desire itself" (p97)
There is a curious and notable omission in Hakim's otherwise comprehensive review of the literature, one that deprives her discussion of its claims to originality. Save for a couple of passing references (e.g. p88 and in an endnote at p320), she omits any discussion of a theoretical approach in behavioural science which has, for thirty years, not only focussed on sexual attractiveness and recognised what Hakim refers to as 'the universal male sex deficit', but also provided a compelling theoretical rationale for this phenomenon, something notably omitted from her own exposition. I speak of evolutionary psychology.
According to the tenets of evolutionary psychology, men have evolved a greater desire for sex, especially commitment-free promiscuous sex, because it enabled them to increase their reproductive success at a minimal cost to themselves, whereas women in ancestral populations must have borne the cost of pregnancy and lactation if an offspring was to survive to maturity. This insight dates from over sixty years ago (Bateman 1948), was rediscovered and refined in the 1970s (Trivers 1972), and applied explicitly to humans from at least the late-1970s.
Therefore, Hakim's claim that "only one social science theory [her own] accords erotic capital any role at all" (p156) is disingenuous. Yet, despite her otherwise comprehensive review the literature, including citations of researchers (e.g. Satoshi Kanazawa and David Buss) explicitly testing evolutionary hypotheses, one searches the index of her book in vain for any entry for 'evolutionary psychology', 'sociobiology' or 'behavioural ecology'.
Yet Hakim's discussion often merely retreats ground covered by evolutionary psychologists decades previously. For instance, Hakim (p69-71; p95-6) treats male homosexual promiscuity as a window onto the nature of male sexuality when it is freed from the constraints imposed by women. This was an approach pioneered by Donald Symons in chapter nine of his seminal The Evolution of Human Sexuality published some thirty years earlier. Similarly she notes the failure of publications featuring male nudes to find a market among women, in contrast to the extensive market among men for female nudes (p71), another subject addressed by Symons.
3) Reliability of Sex Surveys
Throughout chapter two, Hakim cites numerous sex surveys replicating the robust finding that men report more sexual partners than women, more extra-marital affairs etc. Yet she never grapples with, and only once in passing alludes to, the problem that (homosexual encounters aside) every sexual encounter must involve both a male and a female, such that, on average, men and women must have the same average number of (heterosexual) sexual partners over their lifetimes.
There are two plausible solutions to this discrepancy. Firstly, there may be a small number of highly promiscuous women (i.e. prostitutes) whom surveys do not generally sample (Brewer et al 2000).
Alternatively, people may be dishonest even in ostensibly anonymous surveys. Evidence for this is provided by the finding that women report more sexual partners when they led to believe their answers will be anonymous than when they are led to believe that their answers might be viewed by the experimenter, and more still when they believe they are hooked up to a lie-detector machine (Alexander and Fisher 2003). When they thought they were plugged in to a lie-detector, women actually reported more sexual partners than men.
Hakim never addresses this issue or its implications for the reliability of the sex surveys findings she extensively cites.
4) Feminist Fallacies Regarding the Suppression of Female Sexuality
Hakim claims that men have denied and suppressed the exploitation of erotic capital because they are jealous of the fact that women have more of it. She views the sexual double-standard and the puritanical tradition of Christianity (and Islam) as mechanisms of this suppression.
Hakim claims that men began to seek to control female sexuality, and, by extension, women themselves, so as to assure themselves of the paternity of their offspring. However, by failing to avail herself of the research of evolutionary psychologists, she fails to explain the ultimate reason why men would be interested in the paternity of offspring, namely their evolutionary imperative of securing the passage of their genes to subsequent generations (see Wilson and Daly 1992).
Hakim therefore traces male efforts to control female sexuality to the supposed discovery of the role of sex in reproduction in 3000BC. She is apparently unaware that naturalists have observed analogous patterns of 'mate guarding' in non-human species, who are unaware of the relationship between sex and reproduction but have been programmed by natural selection to behave in such a way as to maximise their reproductive success without any awareness of this ultimate function. (Given that chimpanzee males seek to sequester fertile females in 'consortships' and alpha-males seek to prevent subordinates from mating, it is a fair bet that hominid mate-guarding dates from before 3000BC.)
Hakim claims that the stigmatization of activities such as prostituion and other forms of 'sex work' results from men's envy of women's erotic capital and their desire to prevent women from exploiting it. This theory is plainly contradicted by the observation that women are generally more censorious of such activities than men (Baumeister and Twenge 2002). Men, on the other hand, are more liberal on all issues of sexual morality save for homosexuality and, for obvious reasons, rather enjoy the company of promiscuous women (although they may not wish to marry them)
Hakim herself acknowledges, "if women... object to the commercial sex industry more strongly than men, this seems to destroy my argument that the stigmatisation and criminalization of prostitution is promoted by patriarchal men" (p76). However, she attempts to defend her theory by asserting that "women have generally had the main responsibility for enforcing constraints but did not invent them" (p273) and that "over time women have come to accept and actively support ideologies that constrain them" (p77).
Quite apart from the fact that this view effectively reduces women to mindless puppets without agency of their own, it fails to explain why women are actually more puritanical than men. Perhaps men could manipulate women into being somewhat puritanical or even as puritanical as themselves, but men are unlikely to have manipulated women into becoming even more puritanical than those who are supposedly doing the persuading.
5) The Mythical 'Male Sex Right'
Hakim suggests that sexual morality reflects a "male sex right" (p82). On this view, the moral opprobrium attached to "gold-diggers" reflects the assumption that "men should get what they want for free, especially sex" (p79) and that "men should not have to pay women for sexual favours and erotic entertainments... [but rather] should get what they want for free" (p98).
However, this claim is contradicted by three incontestable facts:
a) Promiscuous sex has traditionally been (and continues to be) stigmatised and morally condemned even where it does NOT involve payment;
b) Marriage is not condemned by moralists but rather held up as a moral ideal despite the fact that, as Hakim acknowledges, it involves a trade of sexual access in return for financial support;
c) Far from advocating that men should get sex for free [as Hakim's analysis would suggest], moralists have traditionally promoted abstinence and celibacy.
In short, what is condemned is the promiscuity itself, not the demand for payment!
6) An Alternative View: Puritanism and Prudery as Price-fixing Among Prostitutes
Given the inadequacies of Hakim's theory, a more plausible explanation of stigmatisation of sexuality is demanded. This lies, not in feminism, but rather in economics.
Given that it is primarily women who disapprove of promiscuity, prostitution, perversion, pornography and other such fun activities, the better view is that women themselves benefit from their suppression. On this view, what is stigmatized is not the sale of sex per se - but rather its availability at too cheap a price. This risks of driving down prices and affecting the prices other women can command. In other words, if men can get sex cheaply outside of marriage or committed relationships, then they will have no need to pursue such relationships and women will lose the economic security with which these relationships provide them.
This view has been most comprehensively developed by psychologist Roy Baumeister and colleagues. Baumeister and Vohs (2006: p358) write:
"The so-called "cheap" woman (the common use of this economic term does not strike us as accidental), who dispenses sexual favors more freely than the going rate, undermines the bargaining position of all other women in the community, and they become faced with the dilemma of either lowering their own expectations of what men will give them in exchange for sex or running the risk that their male suitors will abandon them in favor of other women who offer a better deal."
Therefore, women's efforts to prevent other women from capitalizing on their sex appeal is analogous to "other rational economic strategies, such as OPEC's efforts to drive up the world price of oil by inducing member nations to restrict their production" (Ibid: p357).
An identical analogy is adopted by Warren Farrell ('The Myth of Male Power'):
"In the Middle East, female sex and beauty are to Middle Eastern men what oil and gas are to Americans: the shorter the supply the higher the price. The more women 'gave' away sex for free, or for a small price, the more the value of every woman's prize would be undermined"
On this view, contra Hakim, it is no surprise that feminism and anti-sex attitudes tend to go together, because reducing the supply of sex and thereby increasing its market value enhances women's bargaining position in heterosexual relations with men (Symons, op cit.: p262).
Hakim acknowledges this alternative theory only in her endnotes (at p273 & p283). Both times she summarily dismisses the thesis, on the first occasion giving no reason, and on the second on the grounds that "of course... marital relations are not comparable with casual relations" (p283). She expands upon this claim in the main body of her text, claiming "the dividing line between the two markets [involving short-term relationships and long-term relationships] is sufficiently important for there to be little or no competition between the two markets" (p235).
However, this is questionable. From a male perspective, both long-term and short-term relationships may serve identical ends, namely access to regular sex. Therefore, paying a prostitute may be a (cheaper) substitute for the time and expense involved in conventional courtship.
According to Baumeister and Twenge (2002: p172), "just as any monopoly tends to oppose the appearance of low-priced substitutes that could undermine its market control, women will oppose various alternative outlets for male sexual gratification", such as pornography and prostitution. As explained by Tobias and Mary Marcy in their forgotten early twentieth century Marxist-masculist masterpiece, 'Women as Sex Vendors' (see link below), street prostitutes, especially those supporting a pimp, are stigmatised simply because "these women are selling below market or scabbing on the job" (p29).
7) What's that got to do with the Price of Prostitutes?
How far Hakim is mistaken in her reasoning is illustrated by her claim that, in the event of "the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry... men would probably find they have to pay more than they are used to" (p98). In fact, the usual consequence of the decriminalisation of the sale of a commodity is a fall in its value. Indeed, apparently contradicting her early assertion, Hakim later admits that "in countries where the [sex] trade is criminalized, such as the United States and Sweden, the local price of sexual services can be pushed higher due to higher risks" (p165; p187).
Hakim claims that "men would prefer women not know" that, in the sex industry, women can earn up to "fifty times what they could earn in ordinary [sic] jobs" (p229). Yet, men would benefit if this were more widely known - because then more women would presumably be attracted to this line of work and prices would be driven down by increased competition.
8) Why Sexual Double-Standards Work Both Ways
Hakim argues that "the patriarchal nature of... stereotypes [regarding female prostitutes] is exposed by quite different attitudes towards men who sell sex: attitudes here are ambivalent, conflicted, unsure" (p76). An alternative explanation is that men who sell sex do not threaten to 'undercut' women seeking to attract husbands (see above).
Moreover, in respect of long-term relationships, these double-standards are reversed. Women who are economically dependent on the wages of their husbands are not subject to any stigma. On the contrary, housewives economically dependent on their husbands are heralded as upstanding members of the community.
In contrast, attitudes towards 'househusbands' are, at best - to adopt Hakim's own phraseology - 'ambivalent, conflicted, unsure' and, at worst, overtly censorious. Moreover, men who are dependent on the earnings of their partners and whose partners happen to work in the sex industry are even more stigmatised - and even criminalized - for their purportedly exploitative lifestyle. Yet the lifestyle of a pimp is essentially indistinguishable from that of a housewife - both are economically dependent on the earnings of their partners (and both are notorious for spending an exorbitant proportion of their sexual partner's earnings on items such as clothing and jewellery).
9) Is Women's Sexual Power Innate or Well-Earned?
Hakim argues that exploitation of sex appeal for financial gain (e.g. working in the sex industry, marrying for money or flirting with the boss to promotions) is perfectly legitimate. In defending this proposition, she resorts to ad hominem, asserting (without citing data) that disapproval of such activities "almost invariably comes from people who are remarkably unattractive" (p246). I will not stoop to respond to this substitution of personal abuse for rational debate (roughly, 'if you disagree with me it's only because you're ugly!'), save to comment that the important question is not whether such people is ugly - but whether they are right.
Defending women's exploitation of the male sexual drive, Hakim protests "apparently is fine for men to exploit any advantage they have in wealth or status, but rules are invented to prevent women exploiting their advantage in erotic capital" (p149). However, whereas men's greater wealth and status is a consequence of many years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice and is therefore well earned (see Why Men Earn More; Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality), women's greater sex appeal merely reflects their fortune in being born female.
Hakim denies erotic capital is "entirely inherited", claiming "all aspects of erotic capital can be developed" through investment of "time and effort" (p134). Hakim surely exaggerates the extent to people can enhance their sexual attractiveness. No amount of make-up howsoever skilfully applied can disguise excessively irregular features and even expensive plastic surgery and silicone enhancements are recognised as inferior to the real thing.
Moreover, even Hakim would presumably be hard-pressed to deny that the advantage incumbent on being born female is "entirely inherited". Even men who undergo costly sex change operations are usually insufficiently feminine to be as attractive as the average woman.
Hakim argues that "women generally have higher erotic capital than men because they work harder at it" (p244). However, she admits "even if men and women had identical levels of erotic capital, the male sex deficit automatically gives women the upper-hand in private relationships" (p244). She does not comment on what causes the 'male sex deficit'.
A Darwinian perspective suggests that both women's greater erotic capital and the male sex deficit result ultimately from the fact that females biologically make a greater investment in offspring and therefore represent the limiting factor in mammalian reproduction. No amount of hard work will grant to men the sexual power conferred upon women simply by virtue of being born female.
10) Disadvantage, Discrimination and Double-Standards
Given that she believes erotic capital can be enhanced through the investment of time and effort, Hakim denies that the advantages accruing to attractive people are unfair or discriminatory. Similarly she does not regard the advantages accruing to women on account of their greater erotic capital (such as their greater ability to marry higher earning spouses or earn lucrative salaries in the sex industry) as unfair.
However, Hakim is only too ready to invoke 'discrimination' when inequality of outcome seems to benefit men. For example, she argues that in "the entertainment industry... there is an unfair bias against women" because "in Hollywood, male stars earn more than female stars, even though female stars do the same work, but going 'backwards in high heels'" (p231).
She neglects to observe that in Hollywood's neighbour, the pornographic industry (itself part of the entertainment industry as Hakim defines it), female performers earn more and the disparity is far greater and affects all performers, not just A-list stars. Neither does she note that top female fashion models earn six or seven times more than their male counterparts (see Farrell's 'Why Men Earn More': see link above).
Although elsewhere she rightly decries an uncritical over-reliance on discrimination as an explanation for income disparities between groups (p131-2), Hakim asserts that the greater wage premium associated with physical attractiveness for men as compared to women in the workplace is a form of "hidden sex discrimination" (p194) and "clear evidence of sex discrimination" (p246) given women's greater erotic capital. She overlooks a more plausible explanation suggested by her own data.
Given that, as Hakim's own data shows, attractive women are better able to exploit their attractiveness in other spheres, perhaps attractive women have less need to invest heavily in career advancement, since these other means of social advancement are readily available to them. On this view, the wage premium associated with physical attractiveness for women is partially offset by attractive women's lesser need to invest in their career because their attractiveness opens up less arduous routes to economic and social advancement - such as marriage.
It is known that more attractive women are more likely to marry men with higher levels of income and capital (Elder 1969; Hamermesh and Biddle 1994; Udry and Eckland 1984). This offers an alternative means of social advancement for attractive women, enabling them to reduce their efforts at work.
It seems that Hakim regards any advantage accruing to women on account of their greater erotic capital as natural and legitimate, not to mention fair game for women to exploit to the full. However, in those rare spheres where sexual attractiveness appears to benefit men more than women, this advantage is then necessarily attributed by Hakim to a "hidden sex discrimination".
11) The Fundamental Fallacy of Feminism
Hakim claims that the importance of erotic capital has been ignored due to continuing patriarchal male bias in social science. My own view is that, on the contrary, it is feminist bias in social science which accounts for the neglect of the importance of sex appeal, because feminists, in their efforts to portray women as a disadvantaged and oppressed group, have sought to ignore or downplay women's sexual power over men.
Although Hakim accuses them of being unwitting agents of patriarchy, feminists have probably been wise to play down women's sexual power over men - because once this power is admitted, the fundamental underlying premise of feminism, namely that women represent a disadvantaged group, is exposed as a fallacy. Much of data cited by Hakim herself demonstrates precisely this.
For example, Hakim observes that "the marriage market remains an avenue for upward social mobility long after the equal opportunities revolution opened up the labour market to women" and cites data showing that "all the evidence suggests that both routes can be equally important paths to wealth for women in modern societies" (p142). As a consequence, Hakim observes that "there are more female than male millionaires in Britain", many of whom are "wealthy widows or divorcees who have married well" (Ibid.).
This suggests that it is men rather than women who should be campaigning for 'equal opportunity', because, whereas most traditionally male careers are now open to both sexes, the opportunity to advance oneself through marriage remains almost the exclusive preserve of women. As Hakim observes, marriage is not a significant path to wealth and social status for men, because "even highly educated women with good salaries seek affluent and successful partners and refuse to contemplate marrying down" (p141).
In addition to having greater opportunities to achieve wealth and status through marrying a wealthy spouse, women also have the opportunity to pursue careers in the sex industry, another economic sphere largely closed to men (save as consumers). As Hakim documents, such careers are extremely lucrative, even for women with no formal qualifications from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to Hakim, women working in the sex industry "can earn anywhere between twice and fifty times what they could earn in ordinary [sic] jobs, especially jobs at comparable levels of education" (p229).
In contrast, men are not only denied these means of enrichment but are also driven by the male sex deficit to spend a large portion of whatever wealth they can acquire attempting to buy the affections of women. As a consequence, despite working fewer hours, for a lesser proportion of their adult lives in safer and more pleasant working environments (see links above to Warren Farrell's 'Why Men Earn More' and Kingsley Browne's 'Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality'), women are known to dominate almost every area of consumer spending (for example, making 88% of retail purchases in the US according to Pocketbook Power: How to Reach the Hearts and Minds of Today's Most Coveted Consumer - Women: p5).
Men, meanwhile, are, according to Hakim, condemned to a "semi-permanent state of sexual desire and frustration" and "suppressed and unfulfilled desires permeate all of men's interactions with women" (p228). This is surely exaggeration. To take Hakim at face value, one would almost believe that men walk around with permanent erections.
However, hyperbole aside, Hakim has a point. Her claim calls to mind Camille Paglia's description of men as "sexual exiles who wander the earth seeking satisfaction, craving and despising, never content" and in whose anguished longing "there is nothing... for women to envy" (Sexual Personae).
Therefore, Hakim claims, by virtue of the 'principle of least interest', women generally have the upper-hand in interactions with men. Her conclusions are dramatic. She writes that, although "at a national level, men may have more power than women as a group, this does not automatically translate into having more power at the personal level" (p245). On the contrary, "in societies where men retain power at the national level, it is entirely feasible for women to have greater power... for private relationships" (Ibid.).
Women are thus the true powers behind the throne and behind every rich and successful man is a woman taking a portion of his earnings in addition to her own. One is reminded of Arthur Schopenhauer's observation that whereas "man strives in everything for a direct domination over things, either by comprehending or by subduing them... woman is everywhere and always relegated to a merely indirect domination, which is achieved by means of man, who is consequently the only thing she has to dominate directly" (Schopenhauer, 'On Women').
As Aristotle asked of the Spartans, so we must ask of our own societies - "What does it matter if women rule or the rulers are ruled by women?"
In conclusion, the problems with Hakim's thesis are twofold. Firstly, her claims to originality are disingenuous. Her central insights - the importance of erotic capital, the sex difference in erotic capital and the 'male sex deficit' - have all been anticipated by research in evolutionary psychology, which not only recognised each of these phenomena (albeit using different terminology), but also provided what is notable by its absence from Hakim's account - namely a compelling theoretical explanation for them.
Secondly, Hakim shirks from following these insights to their logical conclusion - namely that women's greater sex appeal ('erotic capital') and men's greater sexual desire (the 'male sex deficit') confer upon women a sexual power over men which enables them to dominate and exploit the latter to such an extent as to undermine the fundamental basis for feminism - namely that women represent the disadvantaged sex. Hakim's own data point to this conclusion but she fails - perhaps out of deference to feminist sensibilities or a residual feminist indoctrination from which she is unable to break free - to follow through her contentions to their logical conclusion.
Instead of decrying women's exploitation of men, she actually encourages women to exploit men's sexual frustration ever more ruthlessly (p239-45), concluding that they do not currently exploit their advantages to the full. This is despite the data she has herself cited demonstrating that women are already, on average, as rich or richer than men - not through their own hard work, but rather through the expediency of marrying men who are wealthier than themselves and expropriating the latter's hard-earned cash and proceeding to live an exploitative, parasitical non-economically-productive lifestyle at the their husbands' expense
A full understanding of the extent to which women's sexual power over men confers upon them an economically privileged position in society is provided by at least three works which pre-date Hakim's own, namely Esther Vilar's The Manipulated Man, Matthew Fitzgereld's Sex-Ploytation: How women use their bodies to extort money from men and Tobias and Mary Marcy's forgotten early twentieth century Marxist-masculist masterpiece Women As Sex Vendors. Each recognise that, while men work harder than women so as to earn more money than women, women are able to use their sexual power over men to appropriate this surplus, through marriage, divorce, dating and other forms of disguised prostitution. This understanding is also apparent in Warren Farrell's The Myth of Male Power.
Alexander MG & Fisher TG (2003) 'Truth and consequences: using the bogus pipeline to examine sex differences in self-reported sexuality' The Journal of Sex Research 40(1): 27-35.
Bateman, A.J. (1948), "Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila", Heredity 2 (Pt. 3): 349-368
Brewer DJP, Garrett S, Muth S, Kasprzyk D: Prostitution and the sex discrepancy in reported number of sexual partners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America; USA 2000, 12385
Elder, G.H., (1969). Appearance and education in marriage mobility. American Sociological Review, 34, 519-533.
Hamermesh, D.S., and Biddle, J.E. (1984). Beauty and the labor market. American Economic Review, 84, 1174-1194
Trivers, R. L. (1972) Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.) Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871-1971 (pp 136-179). Chicago, Aldine
Udry, J.R. and Eckland, B.K. (1984) Benefits of being attractive: Differential payoffs for men and women. Psychological Reports, 54, 47-56
Wilson MI,; Daly M. 1992 The man who mistook his wife for a chattel. In: Barkow J, Cosmides L, Tooby J, eds. The Adapted Mind, New York:Oxford,1992: 289-322.