Women Should Use Sex Appeal, Sleep with Boss for Promotions at Work, Catherine Hakim Interview

Uploaded by MidweekPolitics on 13.09.2011

Announcer: The David Pakman Show at www.DavidPakman.com.
David: Catherine Hakim is a British sociologist and senior research fellow in sociology at
the London School of Economics. She's also become known for her work on erotic capital.
In her new book "Erotic Capital", Catherine argues that women should use sex appeal to
level the playing field at work. We talked about this last week, we got an incredible
amount of response, and I'm thrilled to thank you so much for joining us, Catherine.
Catherine Hakim: Hello.
David: In the book, you talk not only about women using their erotic capital or their
sex appeal, but also about men, but you indicate that men have been more successful in using
it. So am I right in saying you believe that both men and women do use it and should use
it, but that women simply have been less successful? Am I right about that?
Hakim: Yes and no. Men are certainly getting more substantial earnings markups or increases
for being attractive rather than unattractive. The average for men is a 17% addition to earnings,
whereas the average for attractive women is an additional 12% to earnings. So there's
this gap between men getting a lot more for being attractive. But no in the sense that
we're talking about it as if it's something that people actually turn on and off.
David: I mean, some of the things you describe in the book include, for example, the clothing
that one wears, how they choose to make themselves up, hairstyles, etc. Those aren't necessarily
things that are just a constant, right? I mean, you have to make an active decision
to say well, I am actually going to be more conscious of how I'm dressing and my appearance.
It's not just a constant like intellect, I don't believe.
Hakim: Yes, it does involve effort. I mean, it certainly involves effort, in that, going
to the hairdresser regularly, having it cut regularly rather than never at all, and wearing
nice clothes that are ironed and so on rather than scruffy, it involves effort.
But at the same time, most people do that once they've got into the habit of presenting
themself attractively, they wear... they wear those attractive clothes and those attractive
colors all the time rather than sometimes turning up in a flat and sometimes turning
up smart. It's true that there are variations when they're making a greater effort to go
out to a party or something, but it is generally the case that people who have already invested
in their physical appearance and their manners and their self-presentation are not totally
switching it off sometimes.
And the key point I would also like to make is simply that it is a mixture of physical
and social attractiveness. And all the studies show that these things do tend to go together.
David: Fair enough. The... many self-described feminists emailed me after we talked about
your book last week, and they are, and I'm sure this is not news to you, they're angry.
They consider that when erotic capital or sex appeal is used to get ahead, that it only
perpetuates women being seen as sexual objects and not really anyone's peer or true colleague
at work. How would you respond to that?
Hakim: Well, there are key... two examples of people with erotic capital. First, Barack
Obama, who, in my view, one of the advantages that helped him be the first black person
to be elected president of the United States was the fact that he's extremely well-presented,
tall, slim, well-presented, good clothes, charming manners, as well as a good speaker,
clever, and all the rest of it. But his self-presentation is first-class, and so also is his wife's.
And the second example I would use is Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister who's
now been appointed to the head of the International Monetary Fund. There's no question about her
competence, her intelligence, her qualifications. She was an extraordinarily successful corporate
lawyer. She was the first woman to be appointed a finance minister in the European Union,
and everyone says that she was extremely successful in that context, and she's now the first woman
to be appointed the head of the International Monetary Fund.
But like most French women, she doesn't rely exclusively on her intellect and her qualifications
and work experience, she also invests seriously in her erotic capital.
David: She is fortunate enough to both have the intellect, the resources, and the education
to be a charming and attractive person, and very competent at her job. I am familiar with
The thing is, the place where I think many women are concerned about this is they feel,
and you can just tell me directly whether this is something you would... you would recommend
or not, that in many cases, somebody who is incompetent can get ahead solely based on
sex appeal, on dressing provocatively or on "flaunting it", as someone would say, and
that that in some sense is not really going to get the women's equality movement any further
ahead in the long term.
What about... forget about the women who both have intellect and the financial resources
and the determination and intelligence to use those... to use their appeal, but women
who just are flaunting it at work and that's it? Is that really going to move the women's
rights movement ahead?
Hakim: Well, I don't think women are appointed to jobs of any kind unless they have the relevant
work experience, qualifications, and whatever else is required. And I'm not certain anything
that I have written, and certainly nowhere in the book have I suggested that women should
be flaunting sex appeal at work, I have always said that social attractiveness is the aspect
that counts most in the workplace. Physical attractiveness is the aspect that counts most
in private life and your private relationships.
David: And when you talk about the social aspect, you do also in the book mention plastic
surgery, and that's really a physical aspect. That's not... that's not the social side,
is it?
Hakim: No, but I'm certainly saying in the workplace, it's the social attractiveness
that counts most. In private life, it's the physical attractiveness that counts most.
And in some countries, such as Brazil, where physical attractiveness is considered very
important, people think it's perfectly reasonable to invest in plastic surgery, if you have
the money, if you don't, well, then that's fine, just as people often consider that it's
perfectly sensible to invest in going to the gym regularly, working out regularly so as
to keep a very good body and to keep fit.
David: The other group of emails that I received all wanted me to ask you the same question,
which is are you going as far here as to say that sleeping with the boss would be OK to
get promotions? I don't see any evidence of that, but I will put the question to you because
so many wanted to know. You aren't going that far?
Hakim: What worries me is that at the moment, we have a system where bosses, male bosses,
are caught happily sleeping with their secretaries and not giving them anything in return. And
I'm saying that if you're in that sort of situation, the woman in question should make
sure that she is getting something in return, because the people who are doing the seducing
at the moment are always the men who are in superior positions of authority and power,
and women are not making sure that there is some fair exchange. That might be a promotion...
David: So you're OK... you're OK with sleeping with the boss if there's a... if there actually
is a promotion associated with it, you're just not OK with sleeping with the boss if
there's no... nothing in it for the woman?
Hakim: I can't see any major problem, unless it's against the ethics of a particular workplace,
and some of them do have those sorts of ethics.
David: But isn't there a fundamental problem, which is that a woman is using... is willingly
turning herself, even if they... if they do it knowing that they're going to do a promotion,
isn't that a disaster, because the woman is saying I am using myself as a sex object to
get a promotion as opposed to any of my actual skills? It seems like a big deal to me, Catherine.
Hakim: It seems very odd that everybody's focusing in what you're saying. Everybody's
focusing on the woman in the question, and not on the fact that men exploiting women
in the workplace and having an affair with junior attractive women and giving them nothing
in return. And when they get bored with the women, they go off and they then say oh, you're
redundant, and you're fired, or you're moved to a job elsewhere that there, you won't get
in my way, because it's an embarrassment to have the young woman still hanging around
when they have got tired of them. Nobody bothers about that, but everybody's saying what you're
David: No, we do. We do get that. I get that. I get that completely.
Hakim: ... they're focusing all on the women. I think if it's going to happen, and workplace
affairs do happen...
David: I'm focusing on the women with you, Catherine, because you wrote about it.
Hakim: That's the point, workplace affairs do happen, whether you think they're a good
thing or bad thing, between colleagues, between subordinates and superiors, they happen. If
they happen, I'm simply saying women should make sure that they, because it is usually
the attractive women in question, they should make sure they get something in return.
David: Have you used your sexual appeal or erotic capital to get ahead? I mean, are you...
in this book, do you speak from experience?
Hakim: I think in Europe it's much more accepted that flirting is part of ordinary civilized
life, it doesn't necessarily go anywhere, it doesn't necessarily mean anything.
David: I understand, but my question was whether these are... this is something you've done.
Hakim: I think everybody uses it and does it to some extent in small ways all of the
David: OK. And my last question is there are some people that just... I know that this
may be... may be a little crass to say, but not everybody is attractive. There are some
ugly people out there. What about them? There may not be anything they can do to get any
level of erotic capital. Isn't that a possibility?
Hakim: Well, the French view here, again, is something that appeals to me. The French
view is that there's no such thing as an ugly woman, only a lazy woman, and everyone can
be attractive if they use appropriate styling and presentation, the right color of clothes,
the right style of hairstyle.
David: Of course, the book is "Erotic Capital". Catherine Hakim is the author, British sociologist
and senior research fellow at the London School of Economics. Thank you so much for doing
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