Years ago, I posted a playful, heart-in-cheek article about the emerging post-feminist femme fatales (PFF) on a staunchly feminist website. A PFF, I wrote, was both an “accomplished woman in all political, social, environmental and economic arenas,” and an “enchantress.” Confident and graceful, funny and committed to social justice, she wore lingerie, laughed at her whim, ate her cake and shared it, too, without counting calories or flaws.
I took the comments to heart, and stored the seeds of the concept away. It wasn’t so much a wound licking moment as a realization that the pendulum has yet to settle. As the saying goes: We’ve come a long way (I’ll drop the patronizing, ‘baby’). We also have a long way to go, and many are rightly indignant that when it comes to women, sex and power, the scales have yet to be balanced.
We ain’t going to get there until we own our ‘Erotic Capital’.
British sociologist and former London School of Economics professor Catherine Hakim provoked heated discourse with her recent book introducing a bold and pressing look at the concept. In Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Bedroom and the Boardroom (2011), Hakim theorizes that, in addition to social, cultural and economic capital, each person has a fourth asset called Erotic Capital that he or she should harness to advance within society – in fact, anyone not doing so is being unnecessarily foolish.
“Sociologists and economists have long recognized three main types of capital: social, economic and cultural,” writes the noted NY Times best selling author and sexuality counselor, Ian Kerner. “Your capital depends on the assets and resources you can potentially use for gain, whether that means making more money or making more friends.”
By Hakim’s definition, erotic capital is more than just being sexy or having good looks. The six facets include:
“While one of these characteristics might make you gorgeous or funny or fun,” writes Kerner, “you need the whole group to maximize erotic capital. And you don’t have to be born with it - erotic capital is cultivated and learned and has a lot to do with your self-esteem.” Even if you’re blessed with oodles of the stuff, erotic capital will only serve you if you actually cash in on your assets.
Hakim’s theory is not without critics. Kerner and others point out that it is based on the assumption that women have lower libidos than men, something he takes some issue with. The number of women reporting that they want sex when their partner’s do not is on the rise, and one reason (many have been proposed) may be the massive increase in masturbation due to online porn.
“The Internet has made porn much more accessible - and the frequent masturbation it triggers may be making men too worn out for sex with a real partner… Men are masturbating 50 to 500 percent more than they would normally without Internet porn,” he says.
In an article for Jezebel, Anna North explores the problem of generalizing our sexual oomph in 3 Reasons Why Erotic Capital is Bullshit. “It's notoriously difficult to determine people's sexual desire from surveys, and all too easy to make blanket statements like ‘women make more effort to develop charm’,” North points out.
Erotic capital also depreciates and doesn’t necessarily translate into real economic power. “The bottom line is that ‘erotic capital’ is all about others’ perceptions of women, rather than about things women themselves can do or acquire. That’s the main reason ‘soft power’ isn’t real power - because when your influence is based on someone else’s desire, he’s the one who’s really in control.”
Then there’s the ugly little thing called backlash if you flaunt too much of your erotic equities. Rising celebrity doctor Lissa Rankin MD recently blogged about her venture down sensuality lane when she asked, Can We Be Both Professional & Sexy?
At issue was whether or not a woman risks too much for publicly sharing sexy pictures of herself while cultivating the spotlight of a more conservative mainstream media. Posting her imaginary conversation between her Gremlin and her Inner Pilot Light, Rankin voiced what I thought was a bold and thoughtful decision, and was heartily smacked by many commentators who called her narcissistic and self absorbed.
It turns out that erotic capital is an investment that comes with risks, some more uncomfortable than others, especially if you are a woman intent on increasing your assets. No wonder many are hesitant to restructure their portfolios. Much is still at stake in a society that views women’s sexuality as something tarnished, vulgar or dangerous, or as North points out, measured by how it is valued by others.
Here’s where my seedling starts to sprout again. I’m interested in stripping us of the view that our sexual essence and erotic power needs to be contained. It belongs to us. It serves us. It is ours. Beyond asking if we can we be both sexy and professional, and make investments in ourselves via our erotic equities is a realization that women are by nature sentient and sensual creatures.
I’ve come to explore and believe that a woman’s strength emanates from a primal, carnal place as much as it does from her brilliant mind and expansive heart. I’m no sociologist or hardened cultural critic with troves of research to substantiate what I have observed or learned intuitively.
As a writer and an intimacy coach working with women to vitalize their libidos naturally, however, I’ve spent enough time poking around our secret erotic selves to learn that underneath our acculturated facades lurk fierce femme fatales yearning to live and love on full throttle, and not just because we want to snare a mate, secure that job or aspire to higher social standing.
Who do we serve when we cultivate and unleash our fully turned-on and tuned-in selves? Erotic capital turned outward may get us further in our daily and professional lives. Erotic capital turned inward may do something even more. Are women and the world ready for that new era in sexual power and awakening?
I’m counting on it.
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