Das erotische Kapital, volume II: Fucking numbers, how do they work?

Dr Catherine Hakim is a doctor of Sociology, with years of experience in data handling and a senior position at London School of Economics. It is thoroughly baffling, then, that she manages to consistently completely fuck up interpretation of data to the point that any person with a modicum of ability for critical thought can identify the glaring gaps in her claims of an evidential basis for her arguments.

Neither theoretical concept is adequately evidenced: erotic capital is a clusterfuck, and the notion of the male sex deficit is shaky at best.

The lion’s share of the “evidence” presented is in fact nothing of the kind: it is either unreferenced sweeping assertions from Hakim or anecdotes. These anecdotes take the form of “this is a thing that happened somewhere, and it definitely shows that it’s a good idea to get your tits out”, or sometimes might be excerpts from memoirs: the reference list is rife with citations of the works of Casanova, Belle du Jour and Hugh Hefner, to name but a few. Those untrained at looking at where the footnotes go might be fooled by the language Hakim uses to imply that somehow these stories represent empirical data.

While a personal history can sometimes constitute rich qualitative data, those presented by Hakim do nothing of the sort: they are popular memoirs precisely because they are sensational: they do not represent the bedroom habits of the ordinary person, but, rather, the sweaty aberrations providing titillation to the masses. To try to hang a theory on this is disingenuous.

Other evidence takes more of a scientific format, though again is thoroughly insufficient for proving any kind of point. The notion of the male sex deficit is–according to Hakim–backed up by “recent sex surveys”. Again, if one follows the footnotes, one discovers that these surveys are anything but recent: most are over ten years old, with some dating as far back as the nineties. If we pretend, for a minute, that a well-conducted survey from yesterday showed Hakim’s hypothesis–that men have more sex than women and want more sex than women–then it would still be fairly poor evidence.

The thing is, Hakim completely ignores the possibility of something which survey developers worry a lot about: response bias. This is something which often happens when people are aware they are being measured: they tend to give responses they think the experimenter wants to hear, sometimes falling victim to providing the “morally” right answers. Let us remember that sex is still A Big Deal in our society, and that men and women are expected to hold different values regarding sex: namely, men are supposed to want it more; women are supposed to want it less. Is it any surprise, then, that in a questionnaire, women respond with wanting less sex than men? The smart researcher will always interpret results in this light. Dr Catherine Hakim does not: the possibility that these self-reported statistics may not accurately represent the true feelings of respondents never enters her analysis at all: results are taken at face value.

And so she concludes that there must be some sort of sex deficit and that men aren’t getting laid as much as they want because women are a bit frigid.

To back up the concept of erotic capital, Hakim claims that it is measurable. It sort of is, in a way which is fraught with problems which are again wildly underplayed by Hakim. Although erotic capital is supposedly comprised of a variety of facets above and beyond attractiveness, almost all of the measures proposed are of attractiveness, which is acknowledged by most researchers in the field to be notoriously difficult to measure objectively. The most objective ways of measuring attractiveness involve using a computer to analyse facial symmetry or waist-to-hip ratio, and often more subjective measures–rating panels or self-report is used. Hakim also, amusingly, includes winning beauty contests as a useful measure of erotic capital.

Largely, the evidence presented for how erotic capital functions in everyday life is based on cross-sectional studies and correlational studies, neither of which are able to give a plausible causal link between erotic capital and outcome. I decided, therefore, using Hakim’s own ideas for measurement of erotic capital to conduct a slightly stronger empirical study of the effect. I got people who I found of varying levels of attractiveness to read me excerpts from Honey Money. My dependent variable was how convinced I was by what they were saying.

Ultimately, no matter how sexy the people were, Hakim’s thesis still sounded like utter nonsense.

As I touched upon in the first post, I am doubtful as to whether what I read is actually a theory at all. A theory requires novelty and distinction from other theories: erotic capital is impossible to unpick from the three other social assets–one requires economic capital to dress well and social capital for the social skills. A theory is also measurable–and many of the facets of erotic capital do not appear to be in any way measurable. Furthermore, a theory must be parsimonious, and much of what is presented in Honey Money is anything but a simple explanation: rather, it is a tortured exercise in reading correlations the wrong way.

The strongest empirical data presented is the “halo effect“, a manifestation of which is that attractive people are judged to be nicer, better and more intelligent. As a result, such people tend to lead charmed lives. This theory is adequate to explain much of the evidence presented in Honey Money, yet Hakim insists on adding extra variables based on little to no evidence, and repackaging it in a pseudo-economic analysis of sex as a scarce resource.

The more data Hakim presents, the less credible her argument becomes as she tortures her theory around a reality which fails to conform to the world inside her brain. The male sex deficit concept is brought in largely to account for the fact that men tend to benefit more from having “high erotic capital” than women, which is contrary to her prediction that women have the higher erotic capital. Due to the sex deficit, for reasons never coherently explained, apparently men “devalue women’s erotic capital”.

Once again, there are plenty of theories to explain why men often tend to do better than women, and these largely come from feminist schools of thought, which would be a useful theoretical lens through which to view many of Hakim’s findings. As we shall see, though, Hakim has some rather idiosyncratic reasons for dismissing feminism out of hand…

Das erotische Kapital:


7 responses to “Das erotische Kapital, volume II: Fucking numbers, how do they work?

  • quiteirregular

    Thanks for tackling this one, I’ve heard a lot of murmuring around it coming from the US, and it’s decent of you to read it so we don’t have to! I agree her theory sounds unstable at best – so unmeasurable as to be unfalsifiable on any point. I guess the best it could hope for would be to appear as a convincing way for people to interpret their life experiences: “proof” on an individual “Ah, yes, that *is* what it feels like, whether or not it’s actually the case…” level rather than a convincing template to throw over social or economic statistics. But I rather assume that’s not the aim of major sociological works?

    Just to get on my own hobby-horse for a moment, I can’t believe the book relies on “evidence” like the works Belle du Jour and Casanova. I’m not impugning either of them as people, but historians/ sociologists who cite highly wrought works of art as proof of anything surely need to account for the formal qualities of those works if they’re going to “discover” anything other than the conventions by which that particular art is carried out. I always got the impression the first question you should ask of a historical document is not “What does this tell me?” but “What is this trying to do to me?” Navigating letters and diaries (which have their own conventions) is tricky enough, without deciding that sensational semi-fictional “memoir” is the equivalent of a statistical analysis rigorously controlled for complicating factors.

    That rant aside, is there any way of jettisoning Hakim’s claims to empirical truth (treadng carefully here, as I’m not familiar with what terminology psychology or sociology uses in these areas!) and simply reading the book as an account of gender assumptions and systems in the early C21st? Can the numbers be ignored, and the book understood as a account of how the world works, as if there were such a thing as “erotic capital”, underwritten by a pervasive delusion that men want more sex than women which can be called a “sex deficit”? Or does she make too many claims that these are facts which will determine our actions whether we believe in them or not?

    • stavvers

      Thanks for your comment. I, too, was flabbergasted at tge utterly uncritical use of memoirs as ‘evidence’.

      I think the text would work best as an individual affirmation and/or a non-empirical state of affairs, but Hakim insists that it is a viable sociological theory with empirical proof, reoeatedly, leading to a set of recommendations if what to do with this information. I am very concerned that someone with Hakim’s experience and qualifications thinks this oasses for a useful sociological text.

      • Jay @hautepop

        LSE specialises in dodgy sociology unfortunately – they have Satoshi Kanazawa uncritically reflecting racist cultural norms, and now they have a Hakim reflecting sexism.

        If they were anthropologists I’d be suing the school for devaluing my degree!

        But instead I fear they’re much valued for their high ‘outreach’ and ‘public impact’ scores on the RAE…

        • stavvers

          Certainly gets them those headlines, doesn’t it?

          Didn’t realise Kanazawa was also LSE. I will now remember to take everything that comes out of their sociology department with a huge pinch of salt!

    • burnyourbones

      “historians/ sociologists who cite highly wrought works of art as proof of anything surely need to account for the formal qualities of those works if they’re going to “discover” anything other than the conventions by which that particular art is carried out. I always got the impression the first question you should ask of a historical document is not “What does this tell me?” but “What is this trying to do to me?””

      I want to give you a massive round of applause for this. Yes, yes, yes.

  • Finisterre

    Thanks for this spanging of Hakim’s stupid book.

    W/r/to to the sex deficit bollocks, it reminded me of that study whose name I can’t remember (but S. Fry cited it during his recent bout of talking horseshit about women’s sexuality) where they ‘proved’ that women like sex less by asking random male and female students whether they fancied a shag right then. I’m sure you’re aware of it and that more men said ‘yes’.

    But there was another, later study that showed that once you had corrected for the safety and slut-shaming aspects – ie, once these factors in the women’s decision had been accounted for – the difference was negligible. I’m sure you’re aware of this too, but it seems relevant to this post. It drives me mad when people airily talk about men’s supposed ‘needs’ and women’s assumed reluctance. Fuck THAT noise, say I and many of the women and men I know.

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