Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Women without any rights know all about 'erotic capital'

Hakim attacks feminists for devaluing the sexual currency held by British women. I can only thank them for freeing us from lives endured by millions

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Let me introduce you to Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the prestigious London School of Economics. Her copper hair is dyed, I think, though looks as if it's been cut by an apprentice at a retro fifties salon. She has pretty blue eyes, kissable red lips, and unlined skin (botoxed?), a goodly bosom too, emphasised by a tight-fitting jacket but shoulders that are a little too wide. She projects such scary sternness I find my wanton mind imagining her having a secret double life as a resourceful dominatrix with lots of rulers and black corsets in her drawers.

Why am I leering so brazenly at this academic and erstwhile civil servant? Because that kind of commodification and self-objectification is what she appears to be advocating in her new book called Honey Money, the title inspired by smart whores in Jakarta who say up front: "No money, no honey". In sum, her thesis: men want sex more than do women after the age of 30. (Says who? Not I, nor most ladies of many years.) That testosterone-fuelled desperation needs to be mined and exploited and to do that females must become lifelong geishas, ceaselessly prettify themselves, eradicate all defects, learn charm and flirty ways and bargain cunningly with men when they beg for or demand sex. Think about that. In the whiniest of voices she says: "No, go away, I'm tired, don't want to, leave me alone." Then, with a big smile and fluttering eyelashes succumbs: "Ok, if you go buy me some Jimmy Choos or a new fridge." What a terrific turn-on.

Hakim also contends that acquiring the skills to get the right price from our lovers and husbands will make women brilliant negotiators in the workplace too. Anglo-Saxons get it in the neck. They are supposedly puritanical, and unlike the freely-fornicating French and Italians, remain ignorant of the power of sex or "erotic capital". Does she drive through and just not notice our highly sexualised culture? Hakim obviously thinks the women bedded by Strauss-Kahn, Silvio Berlusconi, Peter Stringfellow and the like are excellent role models and even goes on to advise attractive, impoverished students to sell themselves harder in the marketplace.

Even more repugnant is Hakim's approval of a hierarchy based on good looks. Ugly, fat and old people who do not make themselves desirable deserve nothing. Would she perhaps like them to just go die and make way for the beautiful and canny? She joins Camille Paglia and other wilful female contrarians for whom equality is not only unachievable but misguided and even deplorable. More than a century after getting the vote, we are still on an arduous journey, inching painfully towards gender parity, which often falls away suddenly. Consider the upsetting levels of female unemployment in Britain revealed last week. For Hakim it must be because these women are just not putting on the right kind of make-up, or flirting well enough or are too stupidly Anglo-Saxon to use their erotic capital.

The road is hard but we have come some way. In the last 40 years in Western nations, for the first time in human history some of us are able to live as equal heterosexual partners, to have honest, robust, sexual and mutually dependent relationships where the housework, child rearing and breadwinning is shared. I would not have it any other way.

Women in the past in most societies, including in the West, were subjugated and had to use secrets, lies, guile and their bodies to survive and get what they wanted. The men were encouraged to be mistrustful and domineering and many felt burdened by the economic pressures to provide.

Several of my friends from Uganda married rich men for their money and have ended up withered and desolate, even though they parade around in the most expensive clothes and jewels. Many of the husbands too never knew real love. My mother hid the little money she had in her bras and always told my dad she was broke, and he too used to keep from her the bonuses or cash that infrequently came his way. She had to flirt with and charm the merchants who gave her goods on credit and then would weep with humiliation. What a rotten way to live.

Hakim's surname is interesting – it is common in the Arabic-speaking lands, though she never discloses her personal background. She must know that in those countries and elsewhere, from China to Chile, women and girls do exactly what she is recommending to us. Appropriately that is the central story in the original One Thousand and One Nights, turned into a fabulous play by the director Tim Supple which opens in Edinburgh this week. I went up there for the BBC's Culture Show to interview both Supple and the young Arab-British actress Houda Echouafni, who plays Scheherazade.

The reason the King in the tale executes his wives after deflowering them is because he has been cuckolded big time by his deceiving first wife, who loved having orgies with her black slaves. The raunchiness is indescribable and so too the tragic lack of true connection between couples, except at the end when Scheherazade wins over her man. Married women had to play sexual games, to dupe their men in order to survive and get their own way. They still do, says Echouafni, even in Saudi Arabia, where illicit affairs with chauffeurs are not uncommon. I can see why they would be. When sex with the husband is either a duty or faked pleasure, the real thing is sought elsewhere.

But it all rests on terrible suspicion between everyone. The same is true even in the coming new superpowers India and China. There are prosperousIndian wives in urban centres who keep their husbands happy through pretence while also keeping toy boys. Hakim attacks feminists and patriarchs for devaluing the sexual currency held by British women. I can only thank them for showing us such respect and freeing us from the lives still endured by millions of women who are kept and must make themselves available and for whom sex is purely transactional or procreative.

Many of us love clothes, lipstick, high heels and the odd flirtation, but we have brains and character, self-respect and careers, and what's more we love good men too. This may mark the arrival of redtop sociology. Perhaps they should put Hakim on Celebrity Big Brother.


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