Catherine Hakim, a sociologist and research fellow at the London School of Economics, has an idea about how women can get ahead in the workplace: Flaunt it.
In her new book, Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom, Hakim argues that women should use their natural sexuality, or “erotic capital,” to succeed at work.
For Hakim, erotic capital is defined as a “combination of six qualities, including beauty, sex appeal, social grace, liveliness, social presentation, and sexual competence.” According to Hakim, erotic capital doesn’t involve sleeping your way to the top, but rather entails staying physically fit, dressing well, and looking your best at all times.
Although Hakim’s premise seems counter to what we’ve always been taught by our feminist foremothers—to simply work hard and try your best to compete equally with men—Hakim, a self-described feminist, and says that most radical feminists get it wrong.
She told Slate:
“As I see it, patriarchal men, but also to a larger extent, radical feminist women, which women seem to listen to more than men, say that beauty is only skin deep, it’s trivial, it’s superficial, it has no value, and you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to exploit it. And the whole purpose of my book is to say, for men and for women, there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed of exploiting it and no reason at all for you to be embarrassed at saying this has value. Having erotic capital isn’t something you sort of turn on and turn off like turning on a tap or faucet, in the same way that intelligence isn’t something you either switch on or switch off. It’s there as part of the sort of person you are: in your style, in the way you talk to people, in the way you dress every day, in the hairstyle you wear every day. And it’s really a change of perspective that I’m recommending, that women should know that all of this has value.”
Research has already suggested that “good looking,” thin people go further in the workplace, but Hakim argues that anyone—no matter how they look—can have erotic capital if they work (or pay) for it. For Hakim this involves being in shape, buying expensive clothes, and always looking flawless
But what happens when women don’t have erotic capital? Should they be penalized on the job?
“People who are stupid are penalized. Discrimination is part of life itself. Discrimination is part of being an intelligent and thinking person. And I can’t see any possible reason for saying if erotic capital has genuine social and economic value, then those who don’t have it will not be winning in that area. They may win in other areas. They may be very intelligent, and therefore getting that advantage. They may be very gifted in music or sport or politics or some other area of activity, but they’re certainly not getting the benefit of high erotic capital.”
What do you think? Should women capitalize on their “erotic capital” at work? Have you?