He risked a second nervous look at the strong, almost cruel lines of her face


In fact, it was because of my feminism that I wanted to like Erotic Capital: Whether from nature or nurture, women have traditionally excelled at “soft skills” like taking the emotional temperature of others, listening, adjusting one’s behavior to any given situation, and cooperating. These all happen to be skills that, until fairly recently, have been undercompensated in the workplace. In Hakim’s book I anticipated a deftly written argument that would reclaim the value of women’s work so that maybe we’d eventually start paying people in the professions that make use of those skills — say, teaching and nursing — their true value.

That’s the book I wanted to read. The book I actually read was more like this: Men supposedly have higher sex drives than women, creating a “male sex deficit,” which means men are always in a state of wanting more of what women supply. (…) So women who are willing to address that deficit, by either having actual sex with men suffering from it or presenting themselves in an enchanting manner to exploit it, have erotic capital that can be traded for other forms of capital.

Erotic capital has many guises: from “trophy wives” whose skilled self-presentation becomes a part of a man’s public persona, to men or women who style themselves in such a way as to garner attention at their workplace, to women with otherwise limited means who sell their erotic capacity (whether forthrightly, as with sex workers and performers, or more covertly, as with sales jobs) to establish themselves. It’s “sell yourself” meets “sex sells.” What’s most surprising about all this is that Hakim seems to think she’s saying something new. (…)

That she fails to name a single feminist who has actually come out against presenting oneself well (as opposed to presenting oneself as stereotypically feminine) indicates that she’s attacking a straw feminist, not an actual one. Where are the radical feminists urging women to not use their people skills on the job? Who are these radical feminists who blame women for wearing makeup to work instead of directing their critiques at institutions that demand women do so? Hakim falsely asserts that feminists have been fighting for the eradication of charisma and charm instead of the eradication of coyness and the deployment of sex appeal as woman’s strongest — or only — weapons.

{ The New Inquiry | Continue reading }