Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine

Ruffling feminist feathers in the blogosphere is Catherine Hakim, senior research fellow in sociology at London School of Economics.

Trailing her report to be published in the new year by the Centre for Policy Studies, the centre-right think tank, she argues that not only can women not have it all, but that those who choose careers have only “nominal families”.

“In Britain half of all women in senior positions are child-free; and a lot more of them have nominal families with a single child and they subcontract out the work of caring for them to other women,” she said.

Since the report is unpublished, we have no way of checking Hakim’s data sources. But the vast majority (more than 80 per cent) of the FT’s Top 50 Women in Business have two children or more, with a significant number having raised four children while ascending to the highest echelons of corporate life. I doubt whether they would agree that their families are “nominal”.

Hakim’s argument is that it isn’t flexible working or corporate culture that is keeping women out of boardrooms, but women’s active and free choice to concentrate less time and energy on career and more on family.

In an interview with Fast Company a few years ago Hakim said: “When you try to explain why men chase prestige, honour, money, glory, authority, and status more than women, some would argue that testosterone comes into it. People with high testosterone are power hungry and aggressive and dominant and apparently also sexually attractive to the opposite sex. That sort of biological difference may explain why men are more driven to public recognition of success than women. Women, on the other hand, find they can get recognition in the private sphere at home with children, and that may make them less interested in chasing success in the public sphere. You could argue these differences both socially and biologically.”

This begs a chicken and egg question: do women choose to concentrate less on career because they get recognition in the private sphere, assuming this is true, or do women seek recognition in the private sphere because they find they do not receive such recognition at work?

There is one area in which women have an innate advantage according to Hakim. Earlier this year in Erotic Capital, published in the European Sociological Review, she finds that women have the edge over men in exploiting erotic capital, partly because women work harder at being physically and socially attractive, and at dressing well.

“People who possess an above-average amount of erotic capital are more persuasive, are more often perceived as honest and competent. They find it easier to make friends, get jobs, get married, and tend to earn 15 per cent more on average as well,” she writes.

Yet Hakim’s vision seems to take us back to the 1950s, where women looked great while keeping house and tending for their children, while their testosterone-fuelled men fulfill their need for power in the corporate arena.

What do you think – is this a true reflection of women’s choices as we enter a new decade?

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