A few days ago, Catherine Hakim published an article in the UK online magazine Prospect called 'Have You got Erotic Capital?' Erotic capital, according to Ms. Hakim, is:
...a nebulous but crucial combination of physical and social attractiveness. Properly understood, erotic capital is what economists call a “personal asset,” ready to take its place alongside economic, cultural, human and social capital. It is just (if not more) as important for social mobility and success.
Erotic capital goes beyond beauty to include sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation, such as face-painting, hairstyles, clothing and all the other arts of self-adornment.
Ok- beauty, sex appeal, charm, fitness, good in bedness, and good at making yourself fancy.
My interpretation of what she's saying is that if you're the kind of people that others find attractive as an entire person, you have erotic capital. And that's a good thing. So for, I'm with her - I particularly like that being straight up gorgeous isn't a prerequisite (not for me, obviously, because I am all goddessy even when I climb out of bed, but for everyone else).
...women have long excelled at such arts: that’s why they tend to be more dressed up than men at parties. They make more effort to develop the “soft skills” of charm, empathy, persuasion, deploying emotional intelligence and “emotional labour.” Indeed, the final element of erotic capital is unique to women: bearing children. In some cultures, fertility is an essential element of women’s erotic power.
While she opened the article by listing Barack Obama and David Beckham as individuals with erotic capital, she's certainly starting to skew towards those of us with girl parts. The "soft skills" (because charm and persuasion are "skills", whereas woodworking and fencing are just plain skills?) she mentions are all things that have traditionally been perceived as feminine traits - and that's before she throws in the babymaking.
Anything else, Ms. Hakim?
World Health Organisation research shows that humans see sexual activity as essential to quality of life—but men still rank sex as more important than women. Indeed, rocketing global demand for sexual activity of all kinds (including commercial sex, autoeroticism and erotic entertainments) has been far more pronounced among men than women. Sex tourism is essentially a male hobby, while erotic magazines for women often fail.
This creates an effect that should be familiar to any economist: the laws of supply and demand raise the value of women’s erotic capital, in particular their beauty, sex appeal and sexual competence. ... it should not surprise us that some women do use sex, and their erotic capital more generally, to get what they want.
I really wanted to like this article. I find the way I'm treated on any given day is influenced by my attitude as well as my appearance, and I wanted her to give me a framework for the balance between those two things. I wanted to hear how men and women use their erotic capital differently with each other and in different types of situations - professional vs. romantic, for example. I wanted to know how the "soft skills" she mentions vary for men and women - empathy isn't traditionally a valued male trait, for example, so I would be interested to hear if it did in fact increase mens 'erotic capital'.
Instead, I got a longish article about the fact that how you look is important if you're a woman. If you're pretty, you don't need to be as smart and people will still want to be around you. If you're not pretty, you can distract people by being charming, persuasive, and good in bed. Either way, consider using sex as a bargaining chip, ladies - men like it more than we do. If you don't want to waste space by typing out all of those traits and "skills" separately, refer to the combination as 'erotic capital'. The more of those things you have, the more people will want to hang out with you. People wanting to hang out with you is good, because it means you will have more friends, more prospective lovers, and be more likely to get and keep jobs.
I don't think she's wrong about the things that she says - I just think it's more of the same thing we read and hear everywhere. Please, someone show me a way that women can build capital that involves neither hair nor vaginas? Please?