Thursday, January 12, 2012

Demanding Supply; Supplying Demand

"In a typically razor-sharp exchange of dialogue which establishes – yet again – that The Simpsons provides the most coruscating illumination of contemporary mores, Lisa says to her grade school teacher that 'Good looks don't really matter,' to which Ms Hoover replies: 'Nonsense, that's just something ugly people tell their children.' Stripping away the layers of irony from this statement we can reveal the central premise of Catherine Hakim's book, which is that not only do looks matter, but that they should matter a great deal more. Furthermore, the people who tell young people – and in particular young women – that their beauty and sex appeal are of little importance are themselves ugly, if not physically then at least morally.
     For, as Hakim sees it, [in Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital] it is an 'unholy alliance' of wannabe patriarchs, religious fundamentalists and radical feminists who have – in Anglo-Saxon countries especially – acted to devalue what she terms 'erotic capital.' In Hakim's estimation, for all young women, and in particular those who are without other benefits – financial, intellectual, situational – an entirely legitimate form of self-advancement should consist in their getting the best out of – if you'll forgive the pun – their assets."
— Will Self, The Guardian

"I THOUGHT THIS book would be a treat. I liked everything about it, in theory: its subject matter (erotic capital, such as charm, beauty, sexuality, charisma and social skills — what could be more fun?); its author, who has an interesting reputation as an academic willing to challenge orthodoxies about what is good for women (she is a senior research fellow of sociology at the London School of Economics); its promise of big ideas about how society works.
     Honey Money however, is an acute disappointment. It looks like a book. It has hard covers, 372 pages, chapter headings, dozens of sources and footnotes, a fat price ticket and a press release from its publishers. But looks are deceptive. There is no structured argument being worked through in its pages. Instead, bewildered readers find themselves presented with repetitious, rambling, contradictory, ill-argued assertions, without the faintest sense from the author that she has written these sentences before. It is as if Catherine Hakim wrote drafts of her chapters, hadn’t quite worked out the essence of her thoughts, and then gave up the struggle, leaving us to figure out what she means.
     I’ll spare you the details of the incoherence and the baffling asides — Hakim’s belief that discrimination against the overweight is justified by the human rights of everyone else; her admiration for Silvio Berlusconi’s smiles; her assertion that, on the whole, only young women like sex. Stripped down (where was her editor?), the selling point of her book is that erotic capital is as important to our success in life as our wealth, education or social networks.
     This insight is described by her publisher as ground-breaking. Well, not since I first heard the story of Cinderella has that been news to me, or I suspect to you. Hakim claims that it’s a revelation to sociology, where the theories about the power relations between men and women apparently pay no attention to the role of attraction and sexual desire."
—Jenni Russell, The Sunday Times (via The Hatchet Job of the Year)

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