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Using sex surveys 20 years out of date, Hakim explains to the unfortunate reader that "erotic capital", like social or financial capital, has "six elements" and can be used to "bargain" and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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.