Should Women Use Sex Appeal to Close the Wage Gap?


According to a new book, the best way for women to try to close the wage gap is to flaunt their sex appeal in the office. There’s even a new term for it: “erotic capital.”

Catherine Hakim, a fellow at the London School of Economics, just published the controversial†Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom. (Yeah, you read that title right.) Basically, the premise is that everyone has some level of sex appeal; different people have different levels and different people use it differently. In this way, it is much like economic capital (wealth): some are born with trust funds, others are paupers; some invest their money, others spend it. But this erotic capital, according to Hakim, affects peoples’ life trajectories in much the same way that net worth does. This is one of the reasons why the wage gap persists – women just don’t know how to use their erotic capital as much as men do.

So far, this kind of makes sense. There is a lot of evidence that shows that people who are rated as subjectively more attractive make more money than those who are not. Most people agree that this is probably a bad thing. In a new book, Daniel Hamermash argues that people who are discriminated against because of their appearance should have the right to sue for damages. As he wrote recently in the New York Times, “why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?”

Hakim, though, disagrees, saying in an interview that it’s OK to discriminate in the workplace based on appearance, much as one might “discriminate between good restaurants and bad restaurants.” She then goes on to say that “there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed of exploiting [attractiveness] and no reason at all to be embarrassed at saying this has value. Having erotic capital isn’t something you sort of turn on and turn off like turning on a tap or faucet, in the same way that intelligence isn’t something you either switch on or switch off.”† And since men have an insatiable need for sex, women should just play into that.

Woah Nelly. There is so much wrong in those few lines, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it. First off, her entire premise is based around the idea that women aren’t trying as hard as men to be attractive. To that, I say watch any TV show or commercial or read any book ever.

Beyond that, though, Hakim assumes that sex appeal is something intrinsically important to everyone’s job and career. And all this time, I thought it was about the quality of work I was producing! Silly me. Suggesting to women that the best way for them to make more money is to play on their looks is almost straight out of Mad Men; it’s retrograde, sexist and sounds like whomever said it had three too many martinis at lunch.

Indeed, the problem isn’t that women aren’t doing enough to make themselves look pretty — it’s that the entire system was built to be stacked against them. Instead of worrying about whether or not women are sexy enough to compete in the office, we should be worrying about what real life policies could reduce the wage gap — like enforcing equal work for equal pay laws and making it easier for women to take maternity leave without seeing their pay or careers stalled.

But then, why try to solve all of those hard, big-kid problems when you just say women who don’t get ahead are ugly and call it a day?

Related Stories:

A Womanís Ph.D. Is Worth a Manís B.A

Wealth Gap Between Whites, Minorities At Historic High

Thinner Women Earn More Money, Study Says

Photo credit: je@n's Flickr stream.


Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

arg....I can't believe a woman could write such a book....i feel so disgusted and let down.

Kim Rivers
Kim Rivers6 years ago

I want EQUALITY ! In life, my job,and for every woman in the world !
nothing to do with SEXuality, or SEX appeal !!!

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

Hakim is taking everything wrong with high-school girls (and younger) mentality and now bringing it to the work place. So much for women's rights progress.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

We're not just treading water or pedaling backwards, but RUNNING BACKWARDS!! This is NOT the goal of equal pay for equal work campaigns, but to make societies THINK about equality, that women are equal to men, and if they do the same work, they should be paid the same pay. DUH, and DOUBLE-DUH! This author (?) does a real disservice to us feminists who have spent our lives trying to get equality of the sexes and give our daughters and sons a real chance at real friendship with each other.

Sue T.
Susan T6 years ago

this is so stupid I cannot believe it!

Kinda like going back to the "Mad Men" era.

thanks but no f'ing way.

Steve A.
Steve A6 years ago

Thirty years ago I worked for a boss whose advice on recruitment was:
"Hire the ugly girl, she won't distract the guys from their work."

Twenty years ago I worked for a boss whose advice on recruitment was:
"When all else is equal hire the applicant with the biggest t*ts"

Men will be men, women will be women, and they'll all use “erotic capital” to their advantage.

Leslie J.
Leslie J6 years ago


David L.
David Laing6 years ago

Sex belongs in the boudoir, NOT in the boardroom or on Main Street (or Wall Street, for that matter)! Women should not have to feel that in order to be acceptable in a social or work environment they must flaunt their sexual attributes. Men aren't under such sexist stigmata; why should women be? Men don't feel it necessary to show their legs or upper chests, or to apply eye shadow and false eyelashes in order to be accepted, why should women? In any work, and many social, settings, sex is a distraction and as such is simply inappropriate. The separation of sex and society should be as fully respected as the separation of church and state.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

wild animals do it. other primates master. we should learn from our animal brethren. after all, they are better than us.