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When Petya Yankova read Catherine Hakim's new book on "erotic capital," she wondered how well Hakim's ideas would apply to her home country of Bulgaria, and to other Eastern European societies. Here she looks at how female beauty has traditionally been viewed in Eastern Europe, and asks young people what they think about the idea of women using their attractiveness to get ahead.

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Photo: Isabel Meyer/www.youthmedia.eu (CC-NC-ND)
Beauty and charm can potentially be a source of power. According to Catherine Hakim, women generally possess more "erotic capital" than men - and they should recognise and exploit their own attractiveness.

What is erotic capital?

"Women must learn to bargain and negotiate with men for a better deal, for greater recognition for their contribution to private life," claims Catherine Hakim in her book Honey Money. The book explores the meaning of what Dr Hakim calls "erotic capital": a combination of innate and acquired qualities, characteristics and skills, which according to Dr Hakim could and should be used to their possessor's advantage. Erotic power consists of beauty, sex appeal, liveliness, charm, social skills and sexual competence.

The idea of erotic capital has attracted a great deal of academic and public attention. The book has been severely criticised and has even been discarded as uninformed and biased, despite the solid statistical background Dr Hakim provides. Perhaps because the concept is generally considered too subjective, Dr Hakim feels the need to support almost every sentence with hard statistical evidence. The result: more than one-third of the book consists of survey results. But do statistics tell the whole story without any distortion? How could they measure a concept which people are reluctant to discuss honestly, even in private life?

Dr Hakim bases her theory on scientific surveys from around the world, yet the book is clearly written with middle-class Western European society in mind. Most of the real-life examples Dr Hakim uses and most of the suggestions she gives are intended for a British readership. How would Eastern Europeans react to Dr Hakim's advice that we should make use of erotic capital?

As Dr Hakim defines it, erotic capital consists of physical attractiveness, liveliness, social skills, sexual expertise, and charm. Of course, what is considered attractive varies from culture to culture, and in some regions of the world fertility comes as an additional asset. Dr Hakim relies on research to point out that women generally have higher erotic capital than men, partly because of the 'male sex deficit' or the fact that men apparently want more sex than women. As with any generalisation, this has its exceptions, but on the whole, as Dr Hakim states in Honey Money "over the course of their life, men's demand for sexual activity of all kinds is substantially greater than among women."

In a perfect world, women should be able to use erotic capital to get a better deal in public and private life.

This obviously gives women an advantage. In a perfect world, women should be able to use erotic capital to get a better deal in public and private life. In real life, however, Hakim argues that society censors the attempts women make to use erotic capital to their gain, and that such women are stigmatised. For centuries, feminism, patriarchy, and Puritanism have all tried hard to emphasise hard work rather than short skirts as the way to recognition and respect for women. What Dr Hakim proposes is making use of erotic capital, combining hard work with a short skirt.

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