Erotic Capital: Is this the New Untapped Power for Women?

Women in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere around the world tend to resist the idea that their physical appearance should matter to their professional advancement. In our age of meritocracy and equality, women who accentuate their looks are thought to be superficial. With feminists also expressing disdain for female sex appeal, the unavoidable result is that when professional women display their beauty, charm or sexuality they are oftentimes disparaged and accused of lacking in intellect.

But do we have this all wrong?

According to British sociologist, Catherine Hakim, we just may. It’s not about flaunting sexuality around the workplace, but rather something she calls “erotic capital” – an overlooked human asset all women should exploit more fully. Her latest book, Honey Money – The Power of Erotic Capital, is coming under fire from female columnists who have challenged her proposal that women should make the most of all their assets to level the playing field at work.

According to Hakim:

Erotic capital is not just about looks but a combination of beauty, social skills, dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness and sex appeal – qualities exploitable by both genders but potentially more effective for women because they are more willing to work hard to acquire them – and they can be used to gain advantage from sex-starved men in the workplace.

How much of this is supported by actual research? More than we may think.

 

Over the course of our working lives, we compete for jobs, title promotions, pay raises, contracts, etc. And according to Hakim, being attractive and likeable can be the small factor that helps to tip the balance in our favor.

And while the cumulative benefits can be large, is it worth it? In companies where collaboration, relationship-building and social grace are essential components of success, are even marginal advantages in erotic capital still worth cultivating?

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12 thoughts on “Erotic Capital: Is this the New Untapped Power for Women?

  1. But be careful! Attractiveness works against you when you’re dealing with a same-sex person with low self-esteem. Your erotic capital is no match for the insecurities of your female boss! http://psp.sagepub.com/content/37/8/1042.abstract

    1. You’re exactly right! There is a lot to be very careful about when it comes to this. There is also the recent study that was written about in Live Science. According to the study, some female bosses get a bad rap
      for their “queen bee” behaviors, including the cold shoulder they give to other
      women in the office. However, new research suggests that we should blame the
      sexist work environment, not the bosses themselves, for the behavior: http://www.livescience.com/14695-queen-bee-boss-behavior-sexism.html.

    2. Tera don’t worry about those women. Ok! Ladies if you are one of the women who are mean to other women because of their beauty or person style. You too can be beautiful. I specialize in helping women develop great self esteem through my wardrobe consulting. We are women, it is our essence to be sexy and attractive. Ladies we don’t have to prove our intelligence, if they think we are’t smart. Good then! They will then underestimate us!

  2. There is no question that studies show being attractive opens more doors and opportunity. I’ve seen it in action through-out my life – my experience backing up what the studies say. But let’s not forget other studies and what they suggest about these conclusions. For example, you cite studies that show attractive men earn more than unattractive men. Cool. But other studies have shown that white men earn more than black men. 

    Do you see my point? 

    Just because attractive people earn more doesn’t mean we should EMBRACE erotic capital. And we certainly shouldn’t contribute to furthering misconceptions of worth by doing so. 

    That said, we also can’t entirely undo unconscious perceptions (cognitive bias) of our peers, bosses, etc.  So women or men shouldn’t “dress down”, ignore fitness, health, or personal hygiene to try to rebel against these cognitive biases. (My most recent post is on the benefits of “dressing for success” in order to get around cognitive bias.) 

    But embracing “erotic capital” in the way you suggest here is problematic on multiple levels. It highlights the danger in cherry-picking studies to cite while not considering the bigger picture and the context. So, sure, dress nicely, put on a little lipstick, be friendly (there’s certainly nothing wrong with that), but stay focused on developing talent, intellect, ability, and character. And demand that others pay attention to these aspects too. Otherwise we turn the entire field of careers into modeling/stripping/sex-work/acting where women will be considered less valuable as their looks decline. 

    1. I am in absolute agreement.  I am not advocating for it nor am I
      embracing it, even though I do think it makes for an interesting debate.
      There are arguments that can be made in both the pro and the con
      columns. As a futurist, I always look at where trends are moving.  While
      I don’t think this is indicative of a major shift in perception and
      thinking, I do think Catherine Hakim makes some provocative – for lack
      of a better word – points. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts
      though. When I came across her book, I just had to write about it!

  3. As much as we don’t like admitting this, it’s true. People judge you before you ever open your mouth. Haven’t you ever been treated badly by salespeople when you are dressed down that day? You could go in the next day more put together and the same person will come to you. You don’t have to search for help. it’s the same at the work place. We are more attentive to the people who put a little effort into their appearance. Something I have to think when I give seminars because my business name is Diva by Design. A little more effort is expected!

  4. As much as we don’t like admitting this, it’s true. People judge you before you ever open your mouth. Haven’t you ever been treated badly by salespeople when you are dressed down that day? You could go in the next day more put together and the same person will come to you. You don’t have to search for help. it’s the same at the work place. We are more attentive to the people who put a little effort into their appearance. Something I have to think when I give seminars because my business name is Diva by Design. A little more effort is expected!

  5. How you look is a major selling tool in getting what you want. To use your erotic capital you will need to stop looking like carbon copies of  the “Hollywood” assembly line look-a-likes. Erotica capital represents class, grace and eloquence, the real feminine side of a women.

  6. I so appreciate this post. Women, we are beautiful human beings, its true its your asset. We need to use it to our best ability. My husband plays golf or he has a favorite team. I can’t tell you how it benefits him in life. I even noticed favoritism for my daughter at her private Christian High School because the head of school and my husband had the same favorite college team. So I am for it, but be careful. Honestly, I know that I’ve  benefited in the employment environment because of my appearance. But sometimes girls it’s creepy when they look at you like you are a piece of meat. Honestly, sometimes I feel uncomfortable. That’s when we have to stay focus and be aware of our objectives. 

  7. Being attractive and likeable has its benefits, and while I’m against judging people (especially women) based on their looks, the truth is, it does matter in the workplace. whether we like or not, most of the time we are judged by how we look. But of course, we can always prove people wrong. Just like any other asset of a woman, erotic capital should be something used to advance ourselves, help others and hopefully inspire others to be the best they can be! 

  8. Hi Erica
    I agree with you Erica ladies should use their sexuality to get ahead in the workplace. Women should not have to repress their sexuality or femininity in the workplace, hide their allure , their curves or their beauty. I think the day is fast approaching when women will not have to worry about expressing thier sexual beauty at work. Elisabeth squires says that there has been a cleavage explosion in the workplace in recent years – is that true? Why do you think that is? Do women not realize the effect thier sexy dress has on men in the office.- Do they care that it can distract men?. Do you think theres a growing feminization of the workplace.? would men feel emasculated at all by this because women have far greater power and influence in the workplace than they used to. Women are also outstripping men at university level qualifications and with far more women in decision making positions in the workplace now they can change the whole work culture to favour women.
    kind regards
    Ross

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