Erotic Capital and Myths of Male Weakness

Catherine Hakim, a professor at the LSE, has been getting a fair amount of press for her Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital. Though the book has not yet been released Stateside, it’s stirred up considerable controversy in the British press — and stoked the dark fears of Men’s Rights Activists in this country. So it’s the subject of my column today at Good Men Project: “Exploit Men Whenever You Can”: Erotic Capital and the Myth of Male Weakness.

Excerpt:

Hakim’s thesis is as insulting to men as it is to women. What she’s hawking, with her crude call for women to exploit the “male sex deficit” to their advantage, is the hoary old myth of male weakness. That myth suggests that men have such a strong sex drive that they can be easily manipulated by women. The myth of male weakness is why we often cast more blame on the woman who sleeps with the married man than on the dude himself; the myth of male weakness is why we blame scantily-dressed women for “distracting” innocent men on the street and in the workplace. Women, as Hakim insists, aren’t that interested in sex to begin with – so they don’t have the same vulnerability to lust. But men’s frailty is women’s opportunity, she reminds us. And it’s an opportunity women shouldn’t be ashamed to seize.

Because men are so weak, good looks and flirtatiousness – the basic currency of erotic capital – don’t just supplement a woman’s intellect. Rather, they can serve to cover up deficiencies in ability or experience. The power of erotic capital lies in men’s willingness to choose sex over anything else. Play your cards right, Hakim seems to be saying, and a male boss will promote you to a position for which you are unqualified based on his attraction to you. Exploit the male sex deficit, she suggests, and your sex-starved professor may just give you a grade you haven’t earned.

Role/Reboot picks up the piece as well, and runs it with a different subtitle and a different image, which changes quite a bit.

14 thoughts on “Erotic Capital and Myths of Male Weakness

  1. Hugo,

    see, the problem with the myth of male weakness is that you seem to see it as an absolute myth instead of a relative one, one in which degrees matter. Your theory rests on hard assumptions about symmetrical sex drives that seem to be contrdicted by most people’s reality, whereas you don’t consider reality an acceptable variable, being itself influenced by the cultural consequences of the myth, which, alas, is where the myth becomes logically demystified and a real phenomenon.

    So you end up saying – you *are* like that, but you could be different, if you were different because evereyone else was.

    See, I agree that there is something like a myth of male weakness, even though it’s more than a mere myth. It’s a plethora of social rules and expectations which are very real.

    But your assumption relies on the assumption that female sexualiy is not scarcer than male sexuality in aggregate, so that temptation by female sexuality wouldn’t/couldn’t work on men’s weakness. Yet you never, ever back up that point with more than saying “there is no male weakness, it’s a myth”. Which, in the light of most people’s experience, let alonw world history, probably isn’t sufficient.

    I mean, I don’t know how well Catherine Hakim supports her claims about male and female sex drives and their cultural expressions, but even if she doesn’t, she’s got people’s intuition on her side. So your saying “you’re wrong” probably won’t convice a lot of people who didn’t believe you in the first place if you don’t back up your claims with more than your claims, don’t you think.

  2. I’m actually leaning toward siding with Sam this time. It’s not an absolute, as he said. There are males out there with some self control, but they are few and far between. I’d put about half of the men I meet every day somewhere on the creepiness spectrum. How creepy they get usually depends on whether or not I tell them I’m poor, and the availability of other women who look more like Barbie than I do.

    It’s sad but true, Hugo. I refuse to prostitute myself in anyway shape or form, even to somebody I could conveniently call husband, but wouldn’t love. And I’m homeless and destitute because of that choice.

  3. The biology isn’t really necessary anyways, Sam. Anyone even vaguely familiar with “The Feminist Lens” should be able to construct a number of non-biological explanations.

    Men’re told they’re supposed to pursue sex, women’re told they’re supposed to avoid it. Men gain social status through sex, women lose it (mostly – as in everything, exceptions exist). Men get a much bigger hunk of their emotional intimacy through sex (which is at least part social conditioning). I could expound on this at length, but it shouldn’t be necessary.

    The problem is probably the obvious one: Hugo is an upper class hunk. He doesn’t have anything like a typical experience of dating and mating. It’s his everyday experience that women just throw themselves at men recklessly from all angles. And everything flows from that.

  4. If the summary of Hakim’s claims is accurate, there seem to be 3 major ones at work which, unfortunately, the article doesn’t particularly address.

    1. Men, by some measure and for some age groups, desire sex more than women.

    2. As a result, women can exploit men to their (women’s) advantage.

    3. Women should do this.

    I’d strongly disagree with 3, but it’s basically an ethical rather than factual claim. 1 is rather vague without defining a measure, but of course 2 suggests one relevant to this scenario (do men desire sex more in the sense that they can be more easily manipulated by someone attractive?). Of course then you get into the question of degrees of attractiveness.

    But intuitive guesses aside, there certainly exist some measures whereby there’s empirical data in favour of men desiring sex more (for example, as part of a different thread some time ago I linked to a review article which suggested this tends to be the case in heterosexual relationships). So whether Hakim is correct or not (would be interesting to know what she cites in support), as Sam noted, just saying “myth of male weakness” isn’t much of a rebuttal.

    Oh, and regarding

    If you happen to be a heterosexual woman with a ravenous libido, and you were born before 1981, stop reading now. In Hakim’s worldview, you’re a unicorn.

    – sigh – is it really necessary to point out the obvious, that individual exceptions do not disprove a general trend (real or not)? Alice who is 6 foot 4 and Bob who smoked like a chimney and lived to 102 do not disprove the notions that men are generally taller than women and cigarettes bad for you, nor, correspondingly, does pointing out such trends imply that Alice and Bob don’t exist. Hakim may well be wrong, but the existence of women with high libido doesn’t show it.

  5. The people who authored that study forgot one eensy weensy little variable. I’d love to set up the experiment myself. Check this out: get a nice sample of men to record their actual and imagined sex lives for a year, and then get those same men into a lab for 2-4 weeks, where they can push a button every time the thought of sex crosses their minds. Then flash some pictures of experiences that were painful for them, sports injuries and the like. Then show them a CGI image ala rotten.com of a man’s erection getting fish hooked and peeled like a banana. Tell him to think hard on how that would feel, and how he would feel if the consequences of having sex were a 1 in 10 chance of having to suffer pain like that. Every time he thinks about sex, the gross images get piggybacked on to it.

    I’d love to see if an experiment like that would actually create a drop in the amount of fantasizing that the participants do. I suspect thoughts of a prospective partner suddenly turning abusive, and vivid images of childbirth during sex are the culprit for lower sex drives among women. Trust me. We enjoy it as much as, or possibly more than men do when it’s done right. It’s just so rarely done right. I’d have to google the exact statistic, but I think it’s something like 20% of women live their whole lives and never have an orgasm. I wouldn’t want sex at all if I were them. I can understand why those women would want to make men pay for it.

    So it’s not an innate difference in how much sex women want compared to men. It’s a difference in how much sex we believe we can safely have, and under what circumstances. Sex is risk-free, and therefore more fun for guys.

  6. Xena – the paper I linked to is a review paper which discusses multiple studies; which one are you referring to (and did you read the original study in order to know what reasons they did or didn’t discuss)? And was it a study which was attempting to determine the reasons for women having less frequent thoughts of sex or simply whether or not they did? (in which case possible reasons haven’t been “forgotten”, they’re simply outside the scope of the study).

    As far as Hakim is concerned, certainly her thesis (whether or not correct) doesn’t seem to require any particular belief about why men desire sex more, simply that they do.

  7. No, Jebedee. I was trying to be funny. I didn’t read the whole thing. I was pointing out that women born before 1981 with high sex drives are not “Alice” or even “Bob” (the actual odds of dying prematurely from a smoking related illness are 1 in 5. Prematurely being the operative word. I’m sure that number again die at or after the average life expectancy of smoking related ilnesses–but that’s another debate). Horny older women are everywhere. A desire is something that may or may not be acted upon. I was pointing out that the desire is there. Women just act on it less frequently than men because sex is more risky for women. I’ll read the study if we must get all serious. If I need to retort, I’ll see if I can dig up something reputable. I vaguely remember something by Masters&Johnson in the late 1960′s. I’ll see if I can find something that builds on that research.

    I do agree that Hakim’s proofs are flawed, btw. She’s describing a very vicious, but very real pattern of self-interested human behaviour that exists not because it promotes any kind of social cohesion, but because men kept women out of the workforce for so long that prostituting oneself to some creepy sugardaddy was the only way most women could survive. It has jackshit to do with who has a higher sex drive.

  8. Xena – I don’t think it’s enough to point out that “horny older women are everywhere”. The question, broadly speaking (it depends on precisely what one is trying to prove) is how their numbers and the extent of their desire for sex (by some measure) compare to those of men, which isn’t something that can be established by anecdote.

    I am not claiming that a woman with a higher sex drive than a man is precisely as relatively common as a woman who is taller, or a smoker who lives longer than average, merely that the existence of examples doesn’t prove or disprove a trend. Which is pretty obvious, of course, but it was in response to Hugo’s strawman that claiming men are more interested in sex is equivalent to saying that horny older women don’t exist.

  9. As a reference to cycles, it is also interesting how this entire construct eventually loops back on itself. If women are perceived as having ‘erotic capital’ and men desire this capital followed by women using this capital to acquire something (or, men thinking they are using this capital to acquire something, even when they are not), men (speaking on a cultural scale) begin to expect women to use said capital.

    Vicious cycle.

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