Discussion

Discussion: Should we embrace ‘erotic capital’?

From: bluestocking.editor@gmail.com
Sent: Friday, April 06, 2012 5:49 PM
To: Charlotte Fischer, Katya Behrens
Subject: Erotic Capital

Dear Katja and Charlotte,

Thank you very much for agreeing to take part in our Bluestocking’s latest email discussion!

In Erotic Capital: The Power of Attractiveness in the Boardroom and Bedroom, sociologist Catherine Hakim argues that since women’s physical attractiveness – or “erotic capital” – inevitably has a big impact in all areas of our lives, we must embrace it and put it to good use. Do you think the use of “erotic capital” is admissible in gaining social and/or professional status, and does it compromise commitment to gender equality?

Once again, many thanks for taking the time to do this, and we look forward to reading what you have to say!

The Bluestocking Team

From: Katja Behrens
Sent: 11 April 2012 18:46
To: Charlotte Fischer
Cc: bluestocking.editor@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Erotic Capital

Hi Charlotte,

Erotic Capital!?

May it be my educational choice, professional pathway, or even only my upbringing. Something inside me immediately rebels against conforming to this expression. Is it really necessary to abstract a woman’s eroticism and project it as an alleged economy relevant factor?

Mixing ambiguous terms such as ‘physical attractiveness’ and ‘erotic’ with the subtitle ‘The Power of Attractiveness in the Boardroom and Bedroom’; is from my point of view creating the phenomenon that is then wished to be analysed. Moreover it appears in Hakim’s book to be particularly allocated to femininity. What is left when all flowery pans have been taken away? A loose, generalised, and highly stereotypical assumption…

Nevertheless, there is something I like about it: it includes sexuality, (physical) attraction, or our instinctual inclinations into a branch of life of which (I feel) is sometimes conceived of, as if employees strip of their instincts and only enter their office with pure rational and mere economic intention.

What do you think?

All the best,

Katja

From: Charlotte Fischer
Sent: 23 April 2012 21:44
To: Katja Behrens
Cc: bluestocking.editor@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Erotic Capital

Hi Katja

I think you’ve hit on something when you point out that this understanding of capital only is considered to apply to women. It seems to be that the point of erotic capital isn’t about saying people should enjoy and not be embarrassed about their own sexuality – by turning it into capital, it says your sexuality’s value depends on what other people think of it. Your power doesn’t come from your own sexuality – it comes from other people’s approval of it. (This is how capital works, right? A second party has to agree to an understanding of its value. If I thought your five pound note was just a piece of paper, no matter how many tins of beans you thought it should be worth, you could only buy a penny sweet or two.).

In my head erotic capital is basically just a rehashing of this fake-sexuality-liberation that’s been going on with all the crap around pole dancing, ‘reclaiming’ the Playboy logo, Girls Gone Wild etc. Feminism fought hard for women to be able to own and enjoy their sexualities. So why do we have another movement focusing our sexual value on men’s appreciation of it?

X

From: Katja Behrens
Sent: 29 April 2012 10:12
To: Charlotte Fischer
Cc: bluestocking.editor@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Erotic Capital

Hi Charlotte,

Interesting points you raise about how ‘erotic capital’ appears to be the supply for a particular (and male) demand.

Remembering my work experience, I was sort of able to indicate an important factor: authenticity. I have seen girls who thought that wearing short skirts and cleavages would help them to improve their position. And I’ve seen girls who tried to strictly only convince with their job-related skills. And most importantly, I have seen both of these approaches succeed and fail. So I think the answer really lies in who it is one is facing and whether or not their physical attraction is part of them or just a costume they wish to put on.

Being authentic and confident about oneself is gender-comprehensive and as far as I am concerned the most striking ‘weapon’.

Best,

Katja

From: Charlotte Fischer
Sent: 11 May 2012 10:13
To: Katja Behrens
Cc: bluestocking.editor@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Erotic Capital

Aloha Katja,

I completely agree with your point that sexual attractiveness is itself subjective. Where I disagree with you on is that it is the authenticity of your sexual self-presentation that affects your career prospects (have I understood you right? That you were saying that it’s not how sexually you present yourself, but how authentic that presentation is?).

Sadly, I think women have very little control over how other people respond to a presentation of themselves. We should strive to be authentic, but not because people will automatically understand us –  but because it’s how we can be fully ourselves.  In a patriarchal world, women will continue to be seen predominately for their sexual attractiveness  – their value is not of themselves, but as their use as sexual play things of men.

So when we have women who have the audacity to be considered heteronormatively beautiful AND want a career (quelle horreur!) we try and diminish the power they have (professional AND sexual power! Too much! It burns my eyes!) by turning them into sexual playthings. On the other hand, if women dare to want a career and power AND NOT be heteronormatively attractive (a la Hillary Clinton, for example) we diminish her by saying she’s horrific, she’s ugly, she’s a nutcracker, she’s a bitch – HOW DARE SHE APPEAR IN PUBLIC AND NOT MAKE HERSELF BEAUTIFUL FOR US.

The second thing about this is actually, I think it’s very hard to know what message people are trying to ‘authentically’ present. Let’s say I wear a mini skirt. Who can tell if I’m wearing it because it feels nice to have wind against my legs, because I just feel comfortable in it, because it is brown suede and after a history degree at Oxford I’m obsessed with brown suede, or because I’m secretly hoping that every person who sees me in said skirt will want to jump at me straight away.

We’re free to share our bodies with whoever we want, to celebrate them, to enjoy them as we see fit. But ultimately, people should stop trying to assume they can tell the ‘messages’ people send out by them – especially in regard to women. My legs are my own.

From: Katja Behrens
Sent: 19 May 2012 16:13
To: Charlotte Fischer
Cc: bluestocking.editor@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Erotic Capital

Howdy Charlotte,

Your last e-mail made one point especially clear: people dress or better create their appearances for various reasons. And I agree that we are hence very likely to misinterpret the message (or whatever we’d like to call it) the other person wants to put forward. On this basis your call for refraining from judging people by their appearances makes sense…

But from my point of view this is more than idealistic, if not utopian. The implicit assumption remains that we indeed deliver a message. That we dress to express…that we are not getting a tattoo for nothing, but for a reason which in turn gives at least cues about us, our character.

I really do perceive clothing as communication, a mode of expressing ourselves, would you not agree? Moreover, I think it was human drive to bring about the demand for differentiation and individualisation partially supplied by multiplying brands and stores. What I want to put forward here is that I do not think not considering origins of the wish for the opportunity to dress as someone wishes will a) help and b) be realisable. Although I can see why you would wish for such a liberal approach in observing one another.

I would call for a perspective on appearances that affirms the expression of ourselves – including giving cues about our character, motives, beliefs, etc. Looking good and feeling good in what we wear is related to attraction, beauty and eroticism… Accepting the origins of creating one’s appearance is necessary, understanding it through an economic lens (erotic capital) is not.

xx

Katja

One thought on “Discussion: Should we embrace ‘erotic capital’?

  1. Yes we should certainly embrace all that we are and what we have to offer. We have been conned into thinking there is such a thing as ‘free love’ and marriage is more than a business contract. Love is love, passion is passion – those two things are not for sale. The rest of what we have and exchange for social, economic, cultural or mystic capital is subjective and is ALWAYS being traded. The most important thing about personal capital is to know what you are giving and the value is has in the offering. You can then decide to give it for free or trade it for another form of capital. Anyone can become more attractive and more influential; models make a pittance to the products they sell. Think about it for a second and consider the values. Frankly, I am a bit tired of hearing how women ‘took men’ for their money in a divorce as if their time, lost opportunities, child rearing etc. and what they bring to the table in making a man appear stable is not of value. It IS and that is obvious.

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