Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Don't tell women they have to sell themselves


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Tuesday 08 November 2011 18:29

Let me introduce you to Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics. Her copper hair is dyed, I think. She has pretty blue eyes, kissable red lips, and unlined skin, a goodly bosom too, emphasised by a tight-fitting jacket. She projects such scary sternness I find my wanton mind imagining her in a secret double life as a resourceful dominatrix with lots of black corsets in her drawers.

Why am I leering so brazenly at this academic? 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.) That testosterone-fuelled desperation needs to be 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.

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". 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?

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 levels of female unemployment in Britain revealed last week. Does Hakim think hese women are just not putting on the right kind of make-up?.

The road is hard but we have come some way. In the past 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, sexual and mutually dependent relationships where the housework, child rearing and breadwinning is shared. Women in the past in most societies, 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.

My mother hid the little money she had in her bras and always told my dad she was broke, and he used to keep from her the bonuses that infrequently came his way. She had to flirt with the merchants who gave her goods on credit and then would weep with humiliation. What a rotten way to live.

Hakim's surname is common in the Arabic-speaking lands, though she never discloses her personal background. She must know that in countries from China to Chile, women and girls do exactly what she is recommending to us. Appropriately that is the central story in the 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 to interview 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 by his first wife, who loved orgies with her black slaves. The raunchiness is indescribable and so too the tragic lack of true connection between couples. Married women had to play sexual games, to dupe their men to get their own way. They still do, says Echouafni, even in Saudi Arabia.

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