I just read an article called “Keeping Up with Being Kept” by RUTH PADAWER in the New York Times Magazine and I am speechless…or maybe overwhelmed with things to say…not sure which. The article is about a website called SeekingArrangement, where essentially rich men can “sponsor” young women and become their sugar daddies. Yes, ladies, this would be the site you sign up for if you are in need of a sugar daddy.
Now, the existence of this site and the article is fascinating to me on many fronts. First of all, I have been thinking that the next big project that I am looking to tackle is one about sex and addressing all the different complication that is related to sex. But aside from the research possibility this article affords me, as a thinking women of this modern century,I can’t help but be aroused by the various points of interest this site brings up.
First and foremost is the question of prostitution. Is the site a “convenience store for adulterers and at worst a virtual brothel?” Well, “Legally, at least, since the 1970s, courts have ruled that as long as the woman is paid for some service besides sex — housecleaning, companionship — the arrangement is not the equivalent of prostitution. Ok, as a feminist, I have to say WHAT?! So if the prostitute eats a snack bar with her client before they have sex and while she was eating the said snack bar she exchanged pleasantry with her John, does that mean that its not prostitution cause she provided him with “companionship”? Does the legal definition of prostitution bother anyone else here besides me?!
Prostitution is a complicated topic to start with and we could have a very involved conversation regarding the legalization of prostitution, but that is not what we are talking about today. Within historical context “Heterosexual relationships, including marriage, have long involved economic transactions, but [Beth] Bailey, [a Temple University historian of courtship] points out that when men provided financial security, they traditionally did so in exchange for a woman’s sexual virtue (and potential to bear and rear children), not for sexual thrills. For that, they often turned to prostitutes and mistresses, involving a more frank money-for-sex exchange. It’s only in the last century that money has been traded — albeit indirectly — for sexual attention from “respectable” unmarried women. In the early 1900s, courtship shifted from girls’ porches or parlors to a commercial venture: a date. Etiquette manuals of the time were explicit — boys were to pay for meals, entertainment and transportation, and in return, girls were to provide well-groomed company, rapt attention and at least a certain amount of physical affection. His money bought not only companionship but also her indebtedness.“It made a lot of people uneasy, because if men’s money was central to the dating relationship, what distinguished it from prostitution?” Bailey says. Seen in this context, Bailey argues, Seeking Arrangement “is a piece of contemporary society. It’s simply more explicit and transparent about the bargains struck in the traditional model of dating.”
Ok, so we honor the fact that SeekingArrangement is more frank about the preexisting social model that currently exists, irrespective to the motives of all parties involved, whether be it the women want money for tuition, lavish dinners or Fendi purses and the men want sex, “intense connection without commitment” or to walk into a room with a beautiful woman on his arm and be the envy of all. What about the question of power dynamic that is involved when you are paying for sex? Fine, we are all consenting adults and if these are the types of arrangements that we choose to enter into, then YAY for freewill?
If the “Sugar Daddies” are essentially paying for an illusion and the “Sugar Babies” are simply trying to find a way to put themselves through school (lets not talk about the girls who are doing this for shoes, purses and etc) then what happens when the illusion becomes inseparable from reality? When the men falls in love with the women but the relationship is not set up to handle love? Or when the illusion is so convincing that the men can no longer distinguish it from reality?
One “Sugar Daddy,” Sam “has an almost mathematical approach to assessing relationships, and once even computed the costs for a girlfriend, mistress, prostitute and wife — mistresses turn out to be most expensive by the hour; wives, by the year; girlfriends are cheapest all around. But he’s not as calculating as he seems. In fact, he concluded there’s little correlation between cost and quality. Still, he is relentlessly searching for an algorithm that will predict relationships’ success.” Sam has even set up contracts with his “Sugar Babies…the contract specifies that the romance and sex are to end by the preset date, so there’s no break up, no rejection, no bruised ego. She’s not dumping him; the gig’s just over.” So Sam is still searching for love, for a soul mate, but is just too fragile to deal with rejections and have assessed the return on investment for a mistress, wife and girlfriend?
How has mankind ended up here? How have we made our lives so complicated that on the one hand we respect the honesty of the transaction and yet on the other we are still searching for love, or at least the illusion of love but can’t admit to it?
I am still baffled and speechless. But at this moment, I long for the day when a village boy likes the look of my raven hair, he give my father a flock of goats, and from then on, I am his women until I die and he will do everything he can to defend my honor and make me happy, even if that means taking out the trash.*
* Yes, as a feminist, I am a little ashamed.
Painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901)