Forget about emotional capital, or even its left-wing neighbour, social capital. Make way for the latest trend – erotic capital! Less ooh-er matron, more ooh-er manager…
While out and about in the car last Thursday I was listening to Radio 4 – between REM songs – and I overheard an interview with Catherine Hakim, a researcher in sociology at LSE. Listen to the chat here. She was on to discuss and promote her latest book Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, in which she argues that virtues such as attractiveness and vivaciousness play as large a part in professional success as academic qualifications.
This topic attracts – ba-dum tsh – my attention for a few reasons. First off, it reminded me of the argument made by advocates of emotional intelligence like me. We assert that success in life is probably more down to non-academic skills such as motivation, empathy and persuasiveness than anything you learned in school. Your ability to master these skills increases your emotional capital or the value of your personal brand in the marketplace. Maybe erotic or sexual capital is another application of the emotional intelligences paradigm.
Also, I’ve been interested in the so-called halo effect for some time. This is a bias in our brains that makes us judge a person or thing better than it is in one area because it seems to be great in another. So, for example, we tend to think that beautiful people are smarter or more competent than they really are. Hakim’s work seems to take advantage of this bias. But it even applies to products. Because the iPod is regarded well, people tend to overestimate other Apple products. (Surely that is heresy? Yes it is, but don’t call me Shirley…)
Since Hakim explicitly argues that erotic capital is a tool women should wield for career advancement, she has raised some heckles in the sisterhood. For instance, while Elizabeth Day admits that Hakim’s work is “interesting” and “genuinely thought-provoking” in places, in the end she judges it “fairly offensive”. Anna North is more forthright, dismissing it as “bullshit”. Guardian writer Zoe Williams seems proud to have clashed with Hakim over lunch.
I suspect in reality that there’s something to it, probably as a subset of social intelligence. At any rate, read what the lady herself has to say before you dismiss it as so much post-feminist femme fatale.
Erotic Capital in the European Sociological Review
For a more balanced evaluation read:
Catherine Hakim: She ‘s counting up erotic capital by Kaye Spicer. Subheading: ‘The academic with a knack for upsetting feminists has done it again, claiming that sex appeal is as important as brains’. Also try Erotic Capital by Celia Walden. ‘Meet the woman who defined the definitive professional must-have of our generation: Dr Catherine Hakim.’
So do women use feminine wiles to their advantage at work? My wife says yes. Do you agree?