Honey Money: the Power of Erotic Capital is about as seductive as a balance sheet

An anti-feminist book so bad it's good for the cause.

Catherine Hakim, senior research fellow at the London School of Economics and staunch anti-feminist, is my new hero. With one book, she has done more to advance the cause of women's liberation than months of worthy campaigning could achieve.

It's not that Honey Money: the Power of Erotic Capital - in which Hakim argues that women should be taught to use their sex appeal to exploit men - is a bad book. It's that it's such a bad book, so poorly researched, so woodenly ill-written, so crassly offensive in its argument that all men are randy beasts and more women should become prostitutes, and so drearily hateful in its conclusions about human nature, that it's a
highly effective advert for feminist revolution.

Using sex surveys 20 years out of date, Hakim explains to the unfortunate reader that "erotic capital", like social or financial capital, has "six elements" and can be used to "bargain" and "negotiate" at work, at play and - most tragically - in relationships. The arguments are a mixture of cod psychology and ugly Daily Mail stereotypes: men always want more sex than women ("the universal male sex deficit"), and the proof of this is that gay men are all shallow, shag-crazed hedonists. Men will always be more powerful and better paid than women, so women can and should manipulate them for social, financial or professional gain using sex - sorry, "erotic capital". Discouraging them from doing so is an evil feminist plot
to deny women the only real advantage they have in the "gender war" - their physical charms - although Hakim does not enlighten us as to where this leaves unattractive women, older women, women who can't afford the strict beauty and grooming regimes she recommends, or those of us who forget to wash because we've been up all night watching Buffy, eating cheese and scratching ourselves.

Honey Money is a manifesto for female social and sexual capitulation, presented with all the wit and charm of a company stock report. The language is clinical and calculating, the mysteries of lust and seduction reduced to a bloodless balance sheet in which "laws of supply and demand determine the values of everything, in sexuality as in other areas".

With her leaden argument that "the male sex deficit allows women to leverage the exchange value of women's erotic capital to a higher level", Hakim writes like a hedge-fund manager who's been put in charge of a brothel. The staggeringly unseductive prose is almost forgivable, though, because Honey Money manages to make the most tenaciously sexist bits of cultural detritus sound as pig-headed and embarrassing as they really are. For that reason alone, everybody should read this awful, awful book.

Neurotic capital

Last week, I went on Newsnight to debate with Dr Hakim, and was all set to be angry with her. I had geared myself up to remind her that women of principle fought for generations for her right to earn a PhD in scabbing to the patriarchy. Instead, I found myself overwhelmed by the desire to give her a hug. Given the amount of store Hakim's own research sets in "the social magic of smiles", one might have expected at least a soupçon of social flirting, but you could have sharpened a pencil between her lips, and she refused a cup of mediocre BBC tea with the sort of ill-grace normally reserved for suspected poisoners. She snapped that she "didn't want to talk" and sat glaring at everyone for half an hour. I could make some cheap crack here about neurotic capital, but actually I just felt sad for her.

Because it is sad. The worst thing about Honey Money and the notion that female sexuality is just another resource to be flogged off to drooling men is not that it's demeaning to both genders. It's that it is a horribly cynical way of understanding relationships, and one that currently rings true for too many people.

This paranoid, reptilian book, with its promotion of a brutal free market in female flesh, is a glimpse into a lonely future where profit has been permitted to force its dull, Gradgrind hand into every last cranny of human interaction.

In Honey Money there is a great deal of discussion of returns, assets and sexual bargaining. There is almost no talk of compassion, seduction
or love. That should tell you all you need to know about "erotic capital".

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 29 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Gold

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change