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BLOOMFIELD: Trading Sex for Success, the Economics of Everything Nice

Women trade endowments, like beauty and fertility, while men trade accomplishments, like wealth or status. In most cases, it’s a perfectly fair trade.

If the Harvey Weinstein debacle has made anything clear, it’s that the inner machinations of Hollywood resemble a bordello more than a boardroom, and the political inclinations of the players tell us nothing about the game or how it’s played.

Unsurprisingly, many women complain that one of the unintended consequences of feminism and the sexual revolution is the cheapening of sex. Traditionally, women used sex as a bargaining tool to access men’s resources, more or less permanently, through the institution of marriage. The loosening of social mores around sex has resulted in sex being traded more freely, for less in return, yet women’s traditional expectations of men have not changed. In 2017, women still overwhelmingly expect to marry men with greater access to resources than themselves.

Modern men find the prospect of turning their resources over to women for none of the traditional benefits, such as sex, children, compliance and respect, somewhat unappealing, prompting Milo Yiannopoulos to write of the Sexodus, whereby men simply wash their hands of the whole messy, feminine affair, and retreat into the joys and predictability of Oculus Rift.

Women can’t wash their hands quite so easily. While men can satisfy their primal drives with first person shooter games, women require rather particular relationships to meet their happiness requirements. Slate writer Mark Regnerus spells it out clearly, ‘[i]f women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.’

Translation: women want men who will spend money and effort to seduce them, men who commit to long relationships, men who will sleep with only a few women, men who will marry them.  If women were more fully in charge, men would need money and influence to access women.

What do women have to offer in exchange for that?

Well, sex. Politely, we call it ‘beauty’, but beauty is nothing more than a shorthand marker for reproductive fitness.

Beauty, of course, is largely an endowment. And despite the best efforts of plastic surgeons, beauty expires. Cashing in on beauty requires quick actions and techniques of expediency. Sexual favors are one of those techniques. Power, by way of contrast, is an accomplishment, and one that takes many decades to acquire. That men tend to barter accomplishments, and women endowments speaks to larger evolutionary forces that have long exemplified the state of affairs between men and women. The Economist estimates the current beauty premium, measured in lifetime earnings, for both men and women to be $230 000.  But beauty is a fickle mistress. Beauty expires, which places the trader of endowments in a precarious position that grows more precarious over time.

Ask any professional athlete.

Accomplishments tend not to expire, but rather to increase in value over time.

Ask any owner of a professional athletic team.

In Hollywood the old standards reign. Women trade beauty and men trade power, but some decidedly unhappy marriages have been made. The happy traders are curiously silent, but we can be quite certain they exist. To believe otherwise is to believe Harvey Weinstein had 100% of his offers rejected. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, perhaps sexual harassment hath no rage like an actress disappointed?

Harvey Weinstein films have collectively reaped hundreds of awards, including highly coveted Oscars and Golden Globes, for actresses who have little beyond good looks and sex appeal to recommend them. Weinstein has clearly fallen into a habit of trading access to his power, influence and star-making vehicles, and it’s a rare habit that forms without a clear, predictable pattern of success. Weinstein’s ability to trade is not synonymous with a right to trade, but clearly, Weinstein and the other men who stand accused of impropriety had many successful transactions on which to build.

Hollywood, Big Media, Capitol Hill – they are all anachronisms that operate on an old economic standard in which accomplishments, like power and status, are traded for highly valued endowments, like youth and beauty. The purveyors of highly perishable endowments are essentially complaining that those with accomplishments to trade are in stronger bargaining positions.

This, of course, is true.

The alternative to trading an endowment like beauty takes considerably more effort, but remains well within the realm of possibility: trade accomplishments instead.

Or try to convince the other peddlers of beauty not to make the trades accomplished men like Weinstein and countless others offer.

Janet Bloomfield is a shield maiden in the culture wars. Her book FeminISN’T is available on Amazon

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Lenny Schafer

    December 9, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    The conclusion solution offered here, trade accomplishments or don’t trade at all, is facile. It is highly unlikely that young women will in any great numbers who do now, will give up using their sexual powers in trade. Young women do not have yet “accomplishments” to trade with instead. It is within only the last 50 years that the workplace has merged with the mating grounds. The assertion that the sex-for-power dynamic in an anachronism is unsupported and wishful thinking. You can count on another explosion of #MeToo damsels in distress when the next cohort of women reaches menopause and are shocked to find their worth minus faded sexuality. Feminism has falsely promised women that power and status is a better replacement over family. But feminism cannot reorder the biological reproductive time lines of the sexes to be equal. The working world is accomplishment driven by testosterone and women are at a biological disadvantage.

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