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). Read more ›