Monday, August 1, 2011

This ass is (not) money.

On my list of Things That Seriously Need To Stop, somewhere below "violence" and "hatred" but well above "having the Ducktales theme in my head, whooo-ooo," are conversations in which attractiveness is described as the female equivalent of wealth. It's a concept formally described as "erotic capital", the "economy of sex", and various other euphemisms for "whoreswhoreswhores."

For starters, the entire concept of a "female equivalent" gets my hackles up to begin with. I prefer to think that the female equivalent of a suit and tie is a suit and tie, the female equivalent of working on your car is working on your car, and the female equivalent of money is money. To say--about almost anything--"it's not the same, but it's the lady version!" is a cop-out, a way to assign fixed gender roles while pretending it's "fair." Equivalence is the enemy of actual equality.

This is a particularly evil equivalence, though. In fact, it's so evil that it contains almost all of sexism folded up inside it. Let's see, we've got:
-"Women are only useful for their bodies."
-"Women are only important as they relate to men."
-"Women don't need/deserve their own money."
-"Women's bodies are a product with monetary value."
-"Women are never really attracted to or aroused by men."
-"Women's beauty can be objectively judged."
-"Women are worthless if they're ugly."

and a bonus dish of:
-"Men's bodies can't be sexy, and men's personalities can't be lovable."
-"Men are all johns."
-"Men can't think straight when they're turned on."
-"Men are worthless if they're poor."

and an extra bonus dish of:
-"Everyone's heterosexual, right?"

and an extra extra extra bonus dish of:
-"Love? Attraction? Companionship? Do not confuse me with your strange Earth emotions!"

But the biggest problem is liquidity. Financial wealth almost always includes some very liquid assets--ones that you can turn into dollars, and then into groceries or rent or toy dinosaurs, today and at market value.

A woman's purported "assets," on the other hand, are extremely illiquid. (And, in many people's opinions, rapidly depreciating.) There may be a ready "market," but making the sale is... well, it's so unlike making a sale that the metaphor falls to complete pieces around here. The options are:

1) Prostitution. Illegal, stigmatized, sometimes dangerous, and not really that well-paying. To develop a prostitution business that brings in an amount comparable to a "successful" ordinary job, you have to be a pretty good businessperson, schmoozer, and self-promoter--at which point you're profiting from those skills more than you are from your raw attractiveness.

2) Dating or marrying a rich guy. This can get you money--but unless you divorce him and you do very well in court, it's not really your money. The nice house you live in isn't your house and ultimately you're only there at his pleasure. You have luxury, but not power.

3) Modeling or acting. These are both heavily skill-dependent and crapshoots, and there's only room for like a hundred women to be really successful in each field. Lots of extremely beautiful models and actresses are living on ramen.

If any of these sound as easy, straightforward, and reliable as going to the ATM, then I guess a woman's beauty really is her wealth.

Otherwise... sorry, sexists, but we do need money when we look like that, honey.


  1. I remember reading a study that said that conventionally attractive people tend to make more money than conventionally unattractive people, holding other major variables constant. Of course, this happens for both men and women, so.

  2. @Ozymandias

    Ditto with height. Tallness = more money. But no one ever claimed inches are dough (unless it's in da pants, amirite?).

  3. And seriously, how much money does it cost for a person to look conventionally beautiful by the standards established for North American women? In terms of both products and time invested in putting it all together, it's a pretty high cost.

    Even if 'assets' really could be taken to the ATM, they wouldn't be creating cash so much as paying back the vast quantity already put into the endeavor.

  4. I'm not comfortable with point #2. If you are married to someone then you are partners. It is your house, and it is your money. You might not be going to an office and bringing home the big paycheck but you do contribute to the household. We pay people to work as chefs, housekeepers, accountants, and child caretakers. Stay at home partners who provide these services. They are working.
    I agree that you do become somewhat financially dependent and thus "loose power". Legally money belongs to the person whose name is on the paycheck, and I know that. Anyone who is living on money paid to their partner needs to plan what they will do in the event of a breakup/divorce, which involve plans to become financially independent. I do not think that homemakers should be made to feel that their work is less important than work done outside of the home simply because it pays less, but I do agree that being paid less puts you in a dangerous and dependent position.

  5. Buried in the ickiness of that "erotic capital" article was a somewhat less whore-obsessed and more valid point, that being attractive to people can function like cultural capital (when you have some cultural knowledge or behavior that you can translate into status, like speaking officially correct English or playing golf well in an old-boys-club environment). In that sense, liquidity isn't an issue, because you're not really giving anyone anything - you don't get paid per fancy word at a law firm, you get promoted because you're skilled at appearing fancy. If those studies that Ozy is talking about are true, your ability to appear conventionally attractive helps you get ahead. That's unfair, but it's a different unfair thing.

    I think the worst thing about the women's pretty = men's money is that if you have money, you can just get stuff without negotiating it through someone who's pretty. If you're pretty, and want to get things out of it, you have to constantly negotiate with people who have money and want to treat you like a whore, and not in a "I think sex work is legitimate" way.

  6. Should have refreshed. I agree with Kitchenchemist - don't sign that pre-nup, Holly!

  7. "A woman's purported "assets," on the other hand, are extremely illiquid. (And, in many people's opinions, rapidly depreciating.) "

    if you want pussy to have no monetary value, isn't this a good thing?

  8. I used to work at a restaurant where they would circle a letter at the top of the application (the name of this restaurant had ten letters) when a female applied. The letter corresponded to how "hot" the person taking the application found the applicant to be. Not only illegal (because it certainly affected whether the female applicant got hired or not), but really quite impractical, too. As you say, it implies not only that beauty can be objectively judged, but that "hot" women have some preexisting qualification to be good at serving food.

    Also: dammit, now I have the Ducktales theme stuck in my head.

  9. conversations in which attractiveness is described as the female equivalent of wealth
    Are these taking place in person? Out here in vanilla land, I've virtually never heard anyone say something like that, and I've hung out with some very poorly trained apes.

  10. What's funny is that there are quite a few male models, actors and musicians hired for pretty instead of talent, and yet no one ever says a man's worth lies in his attractiveness.

  11. @Ozymandias and Violetjimjams: I've also read that successful people often have better "people skills." I think confidence and charisma can, a lot of the time, override any objective "ugliness."

    But I also think you are absolutely right, Holly.

    @Thekitchenchemist: Certainly when marrying we are partners, and if we agree that one partner is to stay home while the other works then that is fine, however, the insidious part is the implication that women can't, shouldn't or don't want to earn their own money; that the only option we ever NEED to consider is to marry a rich man. I heard this so often growing up it almost makes me never want to get married, just to spite everyone who ever said it to me. "Don't worry about trying to be successful, just marry a rich guy!" Pfft. NO THANKS. How about *I* be the rich one?? I like that scenario better.

  12. I have no argument whatsoever with your post ... but I still like that song (in the last line). :P

  13. I like the scenario where we're both the rich ones and are married because we like eachother not because we are financially dependent on eachother.

  14. Bruno - I've heard plenty of conversations in person about this. Maybe not put quite that bluntly, but definitely plenty of "she doesn't have to worry about money with those looks," "he's rich, he can have any woman he wants," and lots of equivalenting "rich husband" and "beautiful wife."

  15. If you marry someone because you enjoy their company and want to do stuff together, you can still be doing that when you're 90, health permitting. If you marry someone because you like their looks, what happens when they don't look like that anymore?

    This is such an obvious and predictable problem--so what are the people who say "just marry a rich guy" *thinking*? That he's older and will die before you lose your looks? That you'll get a good deal on the divorce? In other words, getting married with the end goal of not being married. Yucch.

  16. "...and the female equivalent of money is money."

    I asked for some of the pink, frilly lady money at the bank, but they just looked at me funny.

  17. A couple of points come to mind here...

    First, a personal experience on this topic. Among my other endeavours, I own and operate a DJ business along the Gulf Coast. On several occasions, I have been asked by a bride to submit a photo of myself along with my pricing information. When I asked one bride about her request, she stated flatly that she didn't want anyone too old or unsightly spinning at her wedding. "You know what I mean," she said, a little conspiratorially.

    No, I didn't actually. I wasn't sure how one's looks related to the ability to entertain at a party.

    Someone mentioned standards of attractiveness. I gave someone hell last night on FB because he made obnoxious comments about a woman who had posed semi-nude (the sand covering her bits) on the beach, simply because she didn't fit the crack-whore anorexic standard of most American media. There really can be no rational argument that there is a standard of some sort, and those who meet it achieve a certain advantage over those. We seem to walk a tightrope in modern society of chastising those who consider attractiveness "currency" and also wanting to consider alternative standards of beauty. To an outside observer, it must appear that we as a whole are saying, "We don't want you to objectify us, but why do you only objectify SOME of us? That's not right!"

    However, I think that both problems could be solved at the same time if both genders took the effort to take a stance against the aspects of culture that spotlight beauty over substance. Hooters comes to mind right off the bat...

  18. Oh Holly, please please tell me you are going to do some Cosmocking of this new "Cosmo" for men shit. I mean their ad contains this delightfully stupid sentence:

    "The reason for that is: it is the first magazine for men that is written by women, so for the first time women are letting guys in on what they think.”

    It's rife for mocking and it hasn't even been published yet.

  19. Anon, is this seriously going to exist, and is it actually going to be written by the team at Cosmo?

    Oh, this will be deliciously ridiculous...

  20. @Emma - It's unrealistic to assume that your marriage will last forever. Everyone should talk about what they want to do in the event of a divorce, and for some people that conversation needs to include a pre-nup. The important thing is not to sign an agreement that will screw you over later. Working out a contract that is fair to everyone will be a lot easier if you do it BEFORE you start fighting.

    @Lain - I agree, which is why I was careful to use gender neutral wording in my post. Women are absolutely capable of being "the rich ones!" I'm a college student right now, and I'm working my butt off for a science degree because I want to be able to support myself. I'm considering being a stay at home mom because I think it would mesh well with my personality and make sense for me, not because I feel that I am unable to earn a living independently. I think everyone (including dads) should be encouraged to do what they want based on their own needs.

  21. The new "Cosmo for Guys" is going to be iPad only, and I don't have one.

    Which I think is okay. Honestly, the main Cosmo alone is enough for me.

  22. @kitchenchemist, I totally agree, I was trying to jokingly suggest that you don't need to accept "it's not really your money" as the terms of your married life, and I doubt Rowdy and/or Sprite has been trying to get Holly to sign anything. Did you know you can actually put anything you want in your pre-nup, because it's a contract between two individuals, and technically doesn't involve the state? But future courts are unlikely to enforce "he has to pay me a dollar every time he uses the word 'moist.'" Since they're so open ended, they can hardly be categorically bad.

  23. "Men can't think straight when they're turned on."

    Well, this is true to some degree. I mean, I don't become a tripping-over-myself dolt when there's an attractive woman passing me on the street. But if there's one in my bed, I lose higher brain function about the time the pants come off.

  24. EGE: I have a hard time thinking straight when I get turned on, too. Except, y'know, society doesn't acknowledge that this happens to women, so I'm still generally forced to do the thinking for myself and my (male) partners.

    Turns out if I apply myself, I can still make good decisions in the heat of the moment.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't object to the stereotype itself but I object to the way it's used to absolve men of bad behaviour and put more responsibility onto women.

  25. Fair enough. So, it can be true but with the corollaries of "women can be that way too" and "it doesn't excuse bad behavior," then?

  26. The EGE, in my experience women aren't much better at thinking when turned on than men are.

    Or at least, higher level of thinking than "ohh, wonder if that'll feel good.. it did.. lets do it again". Of course, both men and women can if they force themselves to it think through things a bit more throughout, make relevant decisions.

  27. EGE: nope! No corollaries or addendums. We have to change the whole thing to "people have a hard time thinking straight when they're turned on." Only then will I be happy. :)

  28. This might be a good moment to introduce Marx' notions about how the equivalence of commodity exchange creates the ideology of equality which then covers the fact how these commodities are produced: in antagonistic conditions.

    The slut works as the commodity model of women:, which means that capitalism systematically promotes this special form of objectification and this special encouragement for harrassment and assault.

    I know, Marx ain't exactly anyone's fave around here and most of his admirers make it easy to dismiss or dislike him - I just wonder if you'd consider this nonetheless.

  29. You've highlighted all the really skeevy stuff about that equivalence but one thing I wanted to note - it's also aggressively cynical. There's often a suggestion that anyone male who disagrees is not sufficiently manly or deluded and anyone female who disagrees is lying or deluded. It makes it difficult for anyone to disagree without being invalidated.

  30. (First time poster, tee-hee)

    I'm gonna hope that the article here was a case of a sciencey article filtering through the media all wrong. I've studied economy of sex and erotic capital and stuff like that, in anthropology journals that deal with such issues as straight married men in Central America who become male-servicing sex workers because it makes a ton more money than any of their others jobs. (A month of sex work equaling a good year's worth of factory work--but these aren't exact words from the article, blahblah.)

    Economy of sex IS studied, because especially in other countries it's friggin' important. It's probably also sexist and biased in practice, but the folks actually studying it try and do it scientifically.

  31. Re: Economy of sex

    All of these pop-sociology articles seem to follow the same track. Women can't secure a man with pussy anymore (assuming they could in Ye Olden Days), so sex is cheap, so woe be upon us all.

    What that entire analysis fails to consider is... economics. Even granting all of the sketchy assumptions, a rule of a commodity market (which they're also assuming) is that the price of a good falls to approximately its marginal cost.

    Upshot: If they're right that sex is both a commodity provided by women to men and cheap, then it is only so because the cost to women has also become negligible.

    This is a good thing. To the extent that the analysis is true, it means that contraception is working to reduce the physical costs of sex and feminism is working to reduce the social costs. I want more of this, not less.

  32. @Ozy Your comment made me remember something. Men who are hired for pretty (the boys from Supernatural, anime bishies probably count, that poor guy from Twilight, Orlando Bloom and holy fuck Titanic-era Leo) are just mocked. You get "manly men" wanting to beat the shit out of them, magazines openly say they'll never get anywhere once they're older and their fangirls are also treated like crap. Something to post about maybe?

  33. maxwellsilverhammerAugust 7, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    I think we should distinguish normative claims from descriptive ones.

    It is very possible that a "sex economy" in which men are expected to exchange money/power/social recognition for access to sex with women exists in some capacity. Whether it should exist or has to exist are other questions altogether.

  34. I love this post, but now I feel like a bad person because when I read #2 I was like "or you could kill them. That usually works."

    I watch too much tv.

  35. Totally epic article, keep up the good work!