Sugar daddies have existed for as long as I can remember. These sugar daddy-baby relationships have been described in various ways to depict the women and men involved in different lights. What has happened in South Africa recently is the spike in the trendiness of sugar daddies who have now been renamed “Blessers” as a result of the increase in the trend of young women on Instagram who share pictures of their luxurious lifestyles often captioned #blessed. I have seen numerous local documentaries which have sought to explain this phenomenon and give better insight to those who may not know the detailed dynamics of these relationships and these have been met with numerous responses.
- Holy-water throwers
The holy-water thrower response is the most common response to the blesser/blessee issue and often every other controversial topic in society. This response usually goes along the lines of “only God can truly save them” or “they are allowing the devil to use them” which as well-meaning as one can assume it is, it can – and often does – come across as condescending and ‘othering’. This response imposes a Christian-normative view of ethics which denounces everything that is forbidden in the Bible as evil and to be treated as such. When people are treated as evil in situations where there is explicit exploitation, this view fails to recognise the victimisation of people. Individual contexts and circumstances are either completely ignored or oversimplified, which makes offering help for those who need it impossible. Another problem with Christian-normative criticisms is the inconsistency of what people choose to view as downright evil. This refers to the hundreds if not thousands of sins listed as abominable in the Bible however, the Christians who are active shamers of others, engage in other sins of their own which they treat much differently or are more lenient with interpretation of rules which address them.
2. Sex-positive feminists
Before launching into the response of sex-positive feminists on this topic I’ll begin by outlining what exactly they are and how they differ from traditional feminists. Sex-positive feminists “believe that representations of women in sexual contexts do not always and/or necessarily connote the exploitation of women but are an example of their liberty and freedom to express themselves”. This response has shifted the focus of the question of morality and self-respect of those who choose to be in these relationships. Given the discriminatory culture towards women in the world, naturally, those who are shamed in blesser/blessee relationships are not the men who take advantage of vulnerable (where applicable) young women but rather the women, for their “lack of self-respect” and “low self-esteem”. Sex-positive feminists have highlighted the agency of women who choose the values they will uphold and base their relationships on their chosen values rather than those imposed by society. They also address generalisations such as women having to aspire to being “marriage material”, modest or having to prefer specific types of men. My interpretation of this response is that it does not deny the prevalent power-imbalance in these relationships which makes exploitation of women widespread but that it rejects the assumption that ALL women who receive money and luxurious gifts in exchange for sex are victims or “prostitutes”. For example young, educated women who view sex as a small price to pay for having one pay for their tuition and/or other expenses. A possible criticism to this approach, however, is where does one draw the line between owning one’s sexuality and letting others exploit it.
3. Traditional feminists
The response from traditional feminists is one which is perhaps the least discussed of the three in this matter. In this view, the relationship between blessers and blessees is centred on the 50/50 equality model and where there is a slight balance in the favour of the man (in whatever way) the relationship cannot be viewed as mutually beneficial. In the event where the recepient of the gifts and money feels that he/she is fully aware of the situation and its dynamics or simply “knows better” and still chooses to engage in the relationship, the consent is not really valid because there isn’t fair footing to begin with. Because the woman is in a position of needing money, or she would not otherwise view her relationship with the blesser in the same light, she is already in a vulnerable position. This response is based on the concession that these relationships are generally undesirable and were it not for the lack of financial means, women would not get into such relationships to begin with but the men obviously would because it is ideal for them. A criticism to this is that the lack of financial means drives people to do various things that, were it not for money, they wouldn’t do otherwise – such as a 9 to 5 job, and a sexual relationship with someone who isn’t one’s ideal type can be regarded similarly.The only difference is the stigma attached to the sexual autonomy of women, transactional relationships, and other value projections from society.