Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Eros Kapital
April 6, 2010 3:43 AM   Subscribe

This recent academic article [PDF] by Catherine Hakim presents "a new theory of erotic capital as a fourth personal asset, an important addition to economic, cultural, and social capital," and proposes "a new agenda for sociological (and feminist) research and theory." Here's a stripped-down magazine version. The theory is controversial and thought-provoking, sure, and there are counter-arguments. The Financial Times notes the obvious: If eroticism is indeed a kind of capital, then there is a market in it. Meanwhile, newspapers get yet another reason to print pictures of sexy people. [All links are SFW]
posted by chavenet (45 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think Moll Flanders had this sorted out in 1722.
posted by Phanx at 3:53 AM on April 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Feminist theory erects a false dichotomy: either a woman is valued for her human capital (her brains, education, work experience, and dedication to her career) or she is valued for her erotic capital (her beauty, elegant figure, dress style, sexuality, grace, and charm). Women with brains and beauty are not allowed to use both—to ‘walk on two legs’ as Chairman Mao put it.

Beauty is nothing without brains.
posted by three blind mice at 4:05 AM on April 6, 2010


Damn. Another way for me to be broke. Is encyclopedic knowledge of trivia going to become capital anytime soon?
posted by Ghidorah at 4:16 AM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Feminist theory erects a false dichotomy: either a woman is valued for her human capital (her brains, education, work experience, and dedication to her career) or she is valued for her erotic capital (her beauty, elegant figure, dress style, sexuality, grace, and charm). Women with brains and beauty are not allowed to use both—to ‘walk on two legs’ as Chairman Mao put it.

I don't know - having read stuff from various cultures through the ages, (aren't there those books on 'uppity women'?) - I think this may be a very specific situation to a particular era and society. there's more to this thought but I want to poke around online first before composing a far more cogent argument.

my gut has always led me to never refer to myself as a "feminist" for this among other things...

I see it more like, here's what I do, here's who I am, I also happen to be a woman, so?
posted by infini at 4:36 AM on April 6, 2010


Good, interesting stuff, chavenet. Thank you for the post.
posted by Poppa Bear at 4:57 AM on April 6, 2010


How is this different, I wonder, from Robert Michael's 2004 article, Sexual capital: an extension of Grossman’s concept of health capital.
posted by scunning at 5:06 AM on April 6, 2010


This paper drives me a little bit crazy. On the one hand the existence of a sort of "erotic capital" is interesting. I'm willing to accept this and I think it can be useful for helping to understand late capitalism. But for me it really fails in its whole hearted acceptance of markets as a good. Which is where I think it diverges from a lot of feminist and queer theory.

Feminist theory erects a false dichotomy: either a woman is valued for her human capital (her brains, education, work experience, and dedication to her career) or she is valued for her erotic capital (her beauty, elegant figure, dress style, sexuality, grace, and charm). Women with brains and beauty are not allowed to use both—to ‘walk on two legs’ as Chairman Mao put it.


A great deal of that theory comes from a lineage that is very critical of markets in general. It would follow then that for those writers promoting any actor as a better player in an exploitative market isn't going to count as a win.

Which hilariously enough is brought to light in the Financial Times.

From the FT link:
Sexual “liberation” may not liberate people. It may just broaden the reach of sink-or- swim social structures. If there is erotic capital, then there is erotic capitalism.

The author can't see that there is an underlying or explicit desire for a more radical liberation at work in any a great deal of feminist or queer thought. No, those thinkers are just puritans.

And then there's pure facocta like this:

Another theoretical stream dismantles the concepts of sex and gender, so there are no fixed ‘opposites’ for mutual attraction anyway.

Because the author spends a great deal of time building out the preformance of sexual identity and gender but can't follow through to the end. The author talks about various gay subcultures etc... But after all that the idea of an attraction not built on staid binary opposites is just crazy!
posted by metsauce at 5:16 AM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not only is the academic piece remarkably thin, heavily reliant on overgenerazliations, misreadings of source material, and undocumented assertions of fact, this isn't anything new. Feminist theorists have been saying things like this for years, but they've been more interested in getting it right than getting headlines (and less committed to making the status quo feel all good about itself and all warm and fuzzy on the inside).

MacKinnon opens an article in 1982 with this: "Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away."1 There is nothing valuable in Hakim's piece that isn't encapsulated by that 28 year old article, but there's a whole lot in that old piece that Hakim might not like - such as analysis.


1Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State, 7 Signs 3 (1982).
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:18 AM on April 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


This reminds me of the chapter in Richard Feynman's Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! when he attends a symposium full of sociologists; at first he has difficulty trying to understand what they're talking about, so he breaks everything down line-by-line and it's full of the most elementary ideas, like "Some children like to think. Some children like to play." But it's so wrapped up in pretension that it looks important on first glance.

That's what this is. It's a bunch of "well, no shit" wrapped in a PhD.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:23 AM on April 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Does this mean that the Workers will someday rise up and seize the means of Erotic Production?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:29 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


This paper drives me a little bit crazy.

Because it's rubbish.

Consider the use of the analogy "walking on two legs" in the passage cited above referring to a woman being able to use body and brains at the same time.

Other than it sounding nice, it has nothing to do with the subject matter of the paper. The phrase was used by Mao during the so-called Great Leap Foward to emphasize that China must promote small-scale labour-intensive industries alongside a large-scale modern industrial sector. (A misguided policy that produced millions of tons of useless metal alloys made from scrap in back-yard furnaces.)

So when the author says "not allowed to walk on two legs" what she means is:

Women with brains and beauty are not allowed to use both— they are not allowed to develop small-scale labour-intensive skills along with large-scale modern industrial appeal.

The rest of her paper makes about as much sense to me.
posted by three blind mice at 5:36 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Genji, it's been done.
posted by condour75 at 5:38 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does this mean that the Workers will someday rise up and seize the means of Erotic Production?

I believe that most of the proletariat already has the means of erotic production in their hands.
posted by DU at 5:38 AM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh no! If erotic production and erotic consumption are concentrated in the hands of individual Workers, what will happen to Capitalism? (Or, Erotic Capitalism, if you prefer). This puts a new complexion on "The Bosses and their Screws."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:45 AM on April 6, 2010


Wow, I had no idea that, as a feminist scholar,

I cannot appreciate women as both sexual/beautiful beings and intelligent and productive as the same time.

I am unable to perceive heterosexuality as a source of pleasure and entertainment

I have an unwavering antipathy toward beauty and sexuality.

I believe that heterosexuality (and motherhood) [is] the root cause of women’s oppression, and that I recommend celibacy, autoeroticism, lesbianism, and andro-
gyny.

I believe that "golddiggers" and sex workers are evil and immoral rather than just individuals trying to make a living in an world with few other options open.

Totally! I forgot that I think all that.

[/sarcasm]

------------

Also, Hakim writes:


"Feminists insist that women’s position in society should depend exclusively on their economic and social capital. . . . It follows that women should invest in educational qualifications and employment careers in preference to developing their erotic capital and
investing in marriage careers."

(the above is a bad thing according her)

Uh, yeah, we should totally pin our financial well-being on men. Because marriages never end, and men are always reliable bread-winners, and erotic capital NEVER diminishes over time or through accident or injury. Living off the menz is the way to happiness.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:02 AM on April 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


I haven't read the whole paper, so don't construe this as a defense of the whole thesis. But it sound like the passage with the Mao line is being misinterpreted. The author isn't arguing that women cannot be or have not been valued for both brains and beauty, but that feminist theory sees that dichotomy as inherent, to its detriment. I also don't think the context of the Mao quote is relevant to the argument, as she's simply drawing a metaphor between one misguided dictum to choose between two forms of capital, and another.
posted by condour75 at 6:03 AM on April 6, 2010


chavenet: "If eroticism is indeed a kind of capital, then there is a market in it."

Is it really a market if all prices are uniform?

(Because I hear that it costs the same here as in town.)
posted by Rhaomi at 6:06 AM on April 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


What jfwlucy said, on the other hand, seems like a more productive line of criticism. I don't think feminist theory ever suggested women uglify themselves in an effort to subvert the patriarchal hegemon. On the other hand, it's a surefire way to win an Oscar.
posted by condour75 at 6:11 AM on April 6, 2010


New terms same old thing. When dowry went goodbye, marriage and couplings got based on other less tangible things. Darwinian fitness at work. But an academic must invent new terms
or unable to publish as new findings.
posted by Postroad at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2010


I don't know - having read stuff from various cultures through the ages, (aren't there those books on 'uppity women'?) - I think this may be a very specific situation to a particular era and society. there's more to this thought but I want to poke around online first before composing a far more cogent argument.
Of course. In the past it was beauty or nothing.

--

So what's she proposing, we somehow redistribute hotness or something? Or have a tax on beauty as a general form of Mankiw's Height tax?.
This reminds me of the chapter in Richard Feynman's Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! when he attends a symposium full of sociologists; at first he has difficulty trying to understand what they're talking about, so he breaks everything down line-by-line and it's full of the most elementary ideas, like "Some children like to think. Some children like to play." But it's so wrapped up in pretension that it looks important on first glance.
Feynman was pretty much an idiot when it came to other fields. For example, he complained about how biologists memorized things like "the bones of a cat". But if he knew anything, he'd know that all mammals have the same bones (indeed, there's very little variation in most vertebrates overall). So "The bones of the cat" are the same bones in humans and every other animal.

A biologists wouldn't need to memorize that kind of thing, they'd just learn it, the same way a physicist would probably "learn" the properties of a lot of elements without ever needing to sit down an "memorize" the periodic table.
posted by delmoi at 6:27 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


FT: "Erotic capital helps explain why, according to Ms Hakim, "mail-order brides" who arrive in the US without money, contacts, or credentials quickly gain a position of equality in their marriages."

I don't get it. If equality in marriage were an automatic side effect of the mail-order brides' erotic capital, why would that particular business even exist? I thought the demand was for the opposite.
posted by The Mouthchew at 7:00 AM on April 6, 2010


Ah! Here's the Feynman quote:
There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read—something he had written ahead of time. I started to read the damned thing and my eyes were coming out—I couldn't make head nor tail of it.
I figured it was because I hadn't read any of the books on that list. I had this uneasy feeling of, "I'm not adequate," until finally I said to myself, "I'm going to stop, and read one sentence slowly so I can figure out what the hell it means."

So I stopped at random and read the next sentence very carefully. I can't remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: "The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels." I went back and forth over it and translated. You know what it means? "People read."

Then I went over the next sentence. And I realized that I could translate that one, also. Then it became a kind of empty business. "Sometimes people read. Sometimes people listen to the radio." And so on. But written in such a fancy way that I couldn't understand it at first. And when I finally deciphered it, there was nothing to it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:02 AM on April 6, 2010


Nobody who lacks erotic capital is skeptical of its existence.
posted by planet at 7:09 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is why modern academia is so noxiously stupid: because people are encouraged to build upon whatever inane theory suits their fancy so long as it attracts a lot of eyes.

The Smithian notion of capital is already a pretty strained idea that's rather distant from reality if you examine it closely. And yet in the last twenty or thirty years people have proposed not only cultural capital (using that wonderful word that means nothing, 'culture') but social capital (picking up another seemingly meaningless word along the way). This preponderance of silly bullshit doesn't help anybody.

Look, sex isn't capital. Capital is supposed to be some social-contract-grounded common idea of a rate of exchange that is fixed in terms of labor and goods, which might include food or shelter or services and which are termed commodities. I seem to recall Adam Smith mentioning prostitution in passing in Wealth of Nations; suffice it to say that he was aware of the possibility that sex might be exchanged for money.

So that's, what - like going to a bank and getting your cash exchanged for another type of currency? Which you can then use to purchase other products? No. Sex is not freely exchangeable, and that's that. You can have it, but if I give you a blowjob, you can't trade that same blowjob in for a car, as much as it probably would be worth one.
posted by koeselitz at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


planet: “Nobody who lacks erotic capital is skeptical of its existence.”

What's interesting is that here 'capital' is just a word for 'social inequality.' Erotic appeal isn't at all like capital in any of the other ways that matter. If it were, the solution might be for us to seize the means of production, take away the erotic appeal of those who are more erotically appealing than ourselves, and redistribute it in a fairer, more just way.
posted by koeselitz at 7:31 AM on April 6, 2010


MacKinnon opens an article in 1982 with this: "Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away."1 There is nothing valuable in Hakim's piece that isn't encapsulated by that 28 year old article, but there's a whole lot in that old piece that Hakim might not like - such as analysis.

Of course you're right, but surely this is kind of a good thing for people to think about. The problem with old MacKinnon articles are that they're old: people forget, decide feminism is useless, and need to be reminded that it's still relevant and we haven't repaired our broken world yet. Certainly I could have done without the veneer of an "academic article" (really?) but I find it impressive how often people who are otherwise thinking full time about race, sex and class privilege ignore the benefits of symmetry or certain body types.

Much work is done in political theory on unearned privilege, but outside of the feminist blogosphere there's a real resistance to putting in-group attractiveness on equal par with the big three and disability. Yet more benefits accrue to physical beauty than even to whiteness or maleness (only citizenship/nationality trumps appearance/height in income.) Somehow, we're systematically incapable of reminding ourselves of the ways we treat physical appearance as the inherent attributes of a subject. If anything, the academic discourses around embodiment just cement this blindness to a privilege that only accrues to certain bodies who more often than not also contain the minds doing the emancipatory theorizing.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:34 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Delmoi, I think she is laying the foundation for further "scholarship" on pro-sexwork concepts and theories, and for establishing courtesans and mistresses and prostitutes as legitimate and admirable deployers of erotic capital.

I don't have a problem with women doing any of those jobs -- the problem IS when they are the only or best options available. Very few women want to be, or want their daughters to grow up to be prostitutes. To claim otherwise is sheer ignorance.
posted by jfwlucy at 7:39 AM on April 6, 2010


Of course. In the past it was beauty or nothing.

Perhaps. We see and we remember only that which we have been told - after all history is always written by someone and their PoV - mostly men. That's not to deny that beauty wasn't used as 'capital' to catch the attention of a king or historian...

There's a whole swathe of "womanhood" missing from current day thinking, that of the "wise woman" or even "hag" or the "matriarchal elders" - a heritage of wisdom, learning and teaching, that's simply lost from most but very "out of the way" regions and cultures. I wonder if its western civ that might have lost it all the more. I'm not yet going into the gender divide/patriarchy yet... that's a different aspect than what I'm talking about here. There's more here to ponder yet before I write again but here are a couple of data points:

1. For her own good - the rise of male doctors and the "witchification" of the "wise women" and "herbal healers/midwives" of yore


2. Harriet Rubin's The Princessa - for me, the most essential take away from this book was the author's insight that women ended up competing with men and not succeeding because they were using the "rules of hte game" which were based on men's strengths, not womens. whereas were one to step back from that and instead evaluate one's strengths and abilities in the context of being a woman (rather than being "not a man") and then enhancing and applying those innate strengths native to women, they had a far more grounded and centered position on which to stand. I'm not saying that I digested her entire book without critical appraisal but there are some very valid points on leading with love rather than fear.

Here's the blurb

Can a woman become more powerful without becoming a man?

Yes!

Women who triumph don't follow the rules; they flaunt them.

While women have been socialized to avoid conflict, to be peacemakers, caretakers, and nurturers, Rubin shows how those very skills--sensitivity, emotional depth, and selflessness--can be codified into a new strategy of power. The Princessa imparts inspiration and wisdom from history's great divas, poets, saints, sinners, and artists, as well as from leaders of the most important social movements in our time--women who, with the Furies inside them, in a spirit of justice and outrageousness, established their own rules of power.

Just as Machiavelli showed the prince how to use conflict in order to establish control, Rubin shows why women must act more like women. "Think of mothers risking everything to defend their young," writes Rubin. "Think of women overcoming all odds for love." She shows how women, playing by men's rules, have only reinforced their own weakness. So long as the gender wars are waged on male turf, women will always be fighting a losing battle.

posted by infini at 8:00 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I stopped at random and read the next sentence very carefully. I can't remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: "The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels." I went back and forth over it and translated. You know what it means? "People read."

Thing is, to an academic, this sort of sentence is not the interesting part of an article. Yes, the portentous-sounding jargon might make a layperson think that the sentence is trying to look like it's saying something really significant. But that jargon is just the language in which academic papers are written. It's only a slight simplification to say that, to someone trained in the field, "The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels" just means "People read" in the same way that, to a speaker of German, "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I'm a jelly doughnut." Feynman has made the amazing discovery that academic fields use jargon. Learning the jargon is part of learning how to participate in the field. Yes, the jargon erects a barrier that keeps lay readers out--and this exclusion is part (but only part) of its reason for existing. But that doesn't mean that jargon itself, even jargon used to express thoughts that could be expressed in ordinary language, is a sign of intellectual bankruptcy.

This is why modern academia is so noxiously stupid: because people are encouraged to build upon whatever inane theory suits their fancy so long as it attracts a lot of eyes.

Sounds like a well-informed opinion to me!

The Smithian notion of capital is already a pretty strained idea that's rather distant from reality if you examine it closely. [. . .] Capital is supposed to be some social-contract-grounded common idea of a rate of exchange that is fixed in terms of labor and goods, which might include food or shelter or services and which are termed commodities.

Nah. Capital is just money that gets invested to produce more money. Here's Smith's definition:

"But when [a man] possesses stock sufficient to maintain him for months or years, he naturally endeavours to derive a revenue from the greater part of it; reserving only so much for his immediate consumption as may maintain him till this revenue begins to come in. His whole stock, therefore, is distinguished into two parts. That part which, he expects, is to afford him this revenue, is called his capital. The other is that which supplies his immediate consumption."


Not having read the article yet, I'm skeptical of the capital metaphor too; the defining feature of capital is its ability to augment itself through investment, and it's hard to see how this works in the case of "erotic capital." (Unless a face-lift or them new Louboutin heels would count as an "erotic investment"--but that seems like dumb terminology.)
posted by DaDaDaDave at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the abstract: Women generally have more erotic capital than men because they work harder at it.

No, women have more erotic capital because erotic capital has traditionally been the only arena they had in which to participate and compete, and because of scarcity, not because they "work harder at it." This is possibly the most stupid thing I've ever seen written.

Given the large imbalance between men and women in sexual interest over the life course, women are well placed to exploit their erotic capital.

Young women, I guess. What happens after you lose your "erotic capital" with age? It's illusory. It's a Ponzi scheme, you could say. Any woman would be extremely foolish to invest solely in her "erotic capital" (without a great prenup, I guess).

Feminist theory .... reinforces ‘moral’ prohibitions on women’s sexual, social, and economic activities and women’s exploitation of their erotic capital

I don't think most modern feminists have a problem with women exploiting their "erotic capital." The problem is over-investing in "erotic capital" and ignoring real work leaves women poor and disadvantaged. You may be able to levy your hotness into a financially great marriage and babies, but you sacrifice your career, and then you get divorced, and then what? Furthermore, it's well known that the gender gap in wages is attributable to women's failure to enter the stereotypically masculine careers (e.g., mechanic, construction, engineer), an environment where trading on your "erotic capital" would be a disaster. Choosing to conform to gender stereotypes in the workplace is a recipe for downward mobility for women, across all socio-economic ranges.
posted by yarly at 8:53 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah! Here's the Feynman quote:

God, I hate Feynman. He seems just fine as a physicist, but every time I read something by him about anything else it drips with so much casual disdain that it makes me want to scream. It's particularly telling to me that his most disdainful comments seem reserved for the spheres concerning human cultural production and attempts to understand human interaction. He seems to think that the formulas that serve him in physics will do just as well to explain society, and that if they won't, it's only because someone is running some sort of scam. I honestly don't understand it as a position because it's so obviously self-serving, and, as such, constitutes a sort of scam of its own.
posted by OmieWise at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Both social and cultural capital are useful concepts in that they help explain why certain people and certain societies thrive and don't thrive. If you are without cultural capital, you are going to have a very difficult time starting and running a business (even if you have real capital) because you aren't going to understand your customers or the regulations around business or your competitors, etc.

If a society doesn't have social capital, you don't have the connective tissue that allows trust and trust is a really important economic factor. Levels of trust of government, for example, help predict economic growth.

Erotic capital doesn't seem to add in the same way.
posted by Maias at 9:13 AM on April 6, 2010


OK, so this actually happened:

In high school, I was part of a political club that spanned most schools in the region. There was one girl, omnipresent at every event, an extraordinarily attractive tall blonde. She was overtly sexual, and pretty ditzy.

I joked about the latter. Once. The conversation went silent.

"Dan. What the hell are you talking about?"
"Huh?"
"This entire event we're hanging out at was organized by her."
"What?!"
"Yeah. Girl pulls near perfect SAT scores. It's all an act."

Interpret that as you will.
posted by effugas at 9:27 AM on April 6, 2010


Effugas - I think that's actually a pretty good example of why the idea of trading on "erotic capital" can harm women. Maybe the girl wasn't actually acting that flirty or ditzy on purpose, but because of her extraordinary beauty her conduct was interpreted that way. Instead of getting credit for her intelligence and hard work, she was being noticed only for her looks. What's worse, the idea that a beautiful woman could also be really smart and a great organizer is somehow shockingly incongruous.
posted by yarly at 9:31 AM on April 6, 2010


"Feminist theory" is a useless phrase unless you are specific. Which feminists? Radicals, 2nd wavers, young feminists, religious feminists, Marxist feminists, pagan feminists, which ones?

Referring to "feminists" as though there was one settled, agreed-upon group with a clearly defined platform (beyond "women are the equals of men", though of course there are fringe movements that hold women are actually superior and call themselves feminists) is sloppy.

And the "false dichotomy" of brains OR beauty is not the creation of feminists, but patriarchy. It's not feminists who decided that the most desirable woman is a beautiful, passive, and stupid one, or that women with brains are scary and dangerous and probably want to cut off your testicles.
posted by emjaybee at 9:34 AM on April 6, 2010


yarly--

Nah. I was surrounded by hyperperforming girls in high school -- girls who you had no doubt were both highly attractive and highly intelligent.

This girl was not playing their game. She was straight up ditz...

...except she was probably in the top 1% most intelligent.

Apparently it's a role that can be played to successful ends.
posted by effugas at 9:40 AM on April 6, 2010


Apparently it's a role that can be played to successful ends.

I guess that's what I'm questioning - what are the "successful ends" she was pursuing, if she was in fact putting on an act purposefully? At the end of the day, you thought she was a slutty ditz instead of the intelligent organizer she actually was. How could being underestimated and not getting credit for her work help her? And if it was her choice to trade on her "erotic capital," why was it at the expense of also being seen as intelligent and active? Why couldn't she be both, like the other hyperperforming girls?
posted by yarly at 9:45 AM on April 6, 2010


But that doesn't mean that jargon itself, even jargon used to express thoughts that could be expressed in ordinary language, is a sign of intellectual bankruptcy.

It does when the only purpose for the jargon is to hide the simplicity of one's premise.

As the sociologist would say, "Stilted diction obscures lack of substance."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2010


God, I hate Feynman.

Yeah, I went and read that whole chapter (available here). He starts out describing how he felt uninformed and out of place compared to the others at the conference, but he ultimately concludes that it's actually everyone else who is dumb and uninformed, and that he's smarter than all of them. He seems so caught up with the fact that everyone around him is stupid that he forgets to listen to what they're saying - every time he engages with them, it's only to prove that they're stupider than he is.

With regard to paraphrasing jargon-heavy writing in everyday language, I've seen the argument a couple of times that such-and-such an academic sentence only means so-and-so - for instance, "The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels" only means "people read." This kind of argument is repeatedly leveled at the humanities, but it's rare to see the same argument leveled at the sciences, even though it's just as applicable: "The force on a nucleus in an atomic system is shown to be just the classical electrostatic force that would be exerted on this nucleus by other nuclei and by the electrons' charge distribution," for instance, only means "particles push against each other." But the everyday-language translation misses the point of the original sentence in both cases, especially considering that the topic of the paper might be "symbolic channels of communication" in the former case, or "the calculation of electrostatic forces" in the latter. For people such as Feynman who are so proud of their logical prowess, how does this line of reasoning make any sense when it comes to critiquing someone's argument?
posted by Dr. Send at 10:30 AM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


It does when the only purpose for the jargon is to hide the simplicity of one's premise.

To hide it from whom? To stick with the subject of this FPP, Hakim's article was published in the European Sociological Review; I doubt that the readers of this journal are going to be bamboozled by her fancy words.

As the sociologist would say, "Stilted diction obscures lack of substance."

That's not jargon, it's just, precisely, "stilted diction." A person who can't understand that sentence needs a dictionary, not a Ph.D.

What makes jargon jargon is its field-specificity. As Dr. Send has already pointed out, the point of using jargon to express an idea is to show how that idea is related to the concepts and concerns of the field. In the case of the subject of this FPP, even if the boiled-down essence of Hakim's claim may not be surprising, stating and elaborating that claim in sociological terms could reveal connections and implications somewhat less obvious than "Hot people can use their hotness to their own advantage."

Having zipped through the article, it seems to me that one big problem with Hakim's argument (in addition to the ethical/political problems that others have addressed) is that she has an extremely shallow grasp of the history behind the practices and biases she's talking about. E.g., as part of her argument that the importance of erotic capital is growing in the modern age, she writes, "Now expectations for men are also rising, albeit more slowly, as women insist that partners look stylish and attractive rather than just dependable and pleasant good providers." The idea that it's only in recent years that men have been expected to be "stylish and attractive" is totally false; anyone familiar with elite European culture before ca. 1800 knows how important style and appearance were in the dynamics of male authority. The idea that men don't need to worry very much about their appearance is a historical aberration (John Carl Flugel has called it "the Great Masculine Renunciation"). One would expect a sociologist writing about the importance of erotic self-presentation to be at least somewhat cognizant of this history.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:53 AM on April 6, 2010


Why couldn't she be both, like the other hyperperforming girls?

To this day, I'm not sure. I can say that people tend to find niches. I wonder if being the apparent ditz who is really secretly smart is some kind of alternate universe version of the bad boy with a heart of gold (see: Han Solo).

(I bet you didn't think I could work a Star Wars reference in there. BUT WAIT.)
posted by effugas at 11:13 AM on April 6, 2010


not necessarily effugas, she might have had an old fashioned mother like mine, who told me not to show my intelligence too much around men. and has buried hers so deep it has hurt me until i was able to step away from the situation to see what it was with clarity.

more on this thread later, just wanted to share an inspiring story of brains that found beauty even amidst poverty
posted by infini at 11:30 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


not necessarily effugas, she might have had an old fashioned mother like mine, who told me not to show my intelligence too much around men. and has buried hers so deep it has hurt me until i was able to step away from the situation to see what it was with clarity.

Maybe. Or maybe she just decided it was better to have people underestimate her. I know plenty of people in the workforce who treat talents of theirs as aces up their sleeves.

I can tell you what I've become convinced of: Don't presume. Things are not always what they appear. Note that judging is a form of presuming -- oh, she's acting dumb? Problem at home, guilt, fear, etc. I never found out what her deal was, but I'm not going to presume it was necessarily an action of weakness.
posted by effugas at 12:06 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


God, I hate Feynman.

I fucking hate Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman (and this is a good example of erotic capital in action, lest you think I am digressing merely to deride Dick Feynman). The chapter "You just ask them?" is a disgusting piece of woman-hating drivel in which Dick lays out how to get some prime pussy without having to shell out a dime. The secret? You simply ask your date if she plans to put out at the beginning of the night. Be sure not to ruin your chances by stupidly paying for dinner. In fact (I shit you not) if you do wind up paying for something and she changes her mind about fucking you, just ask for your money back and she'll be be happy to comply with your repayment scheme.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by stinker at 12:18 PM on April 6, 2010


but I'm not going to presume it was necessarily an action of weakness.
posted by effugas


very good point.
posted by infini at 12:55 PM on April 6, 2010


« Older The World's Strangest Housing Communities....  |  UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments