When I was 21 years old, I was in between jobs and struggling to finish my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have much direction on what I wanted to do in life and seemed to be taking classes and working jobs merely to pass time. All I knew was that I felt behind in life. Around this time, some friends were graduating from college and moving on to the next phase of their lives, and others were like me, trying to make sense of what their purpose was. This was during a time when jobs were few and money scarce, all while trying to figure out how I’d maintain a roof over my head without having to revert back to moving in with my parents.
Then, I found an ad for a hostess job at a gentlemen’s club.
Based on the job listing, this was no ordinary gentlemen’s club. It specifically served men of a certain age within an income bracket that was said to be well over a six-figure salary. I landed an interview for the position, went to the interview, and realized very quickly that it wasn’t something that would benefit my career in the long run. I wrote about the experience previously on my blog.
I recently watched an episode on the world of sugaring (sugar daddies/sugar babies) on Lisa Ling’s This is Life on CNN and was reminded again of my experience when I was desperate and looking for financial support in my early twenties. But what captivated me was not exactly this system of capitalism that is supporting these transactional relationships, because that was blatantly clear, but more specifically how the women interviewed in the episode were quite aware of the system and were using it to their benefit.
One interviewee talked about her experience in using the sugaring website, SeekingArrangement.com, and what struck me about her story was when she brought up that “Everyone does it, just in different ways” to which Lisa Ling asked her, “Does what?” And her response? “Use their resources.”
I have to admit, at twenty-one years old and as bright and intelligent as I was then, I was still also very naïve and self-centered. I wanted that instant gratification of being financially secure and if it meant using my physical assets, then why should I be judged for using my body as a weapon of choice? Isn’t that what feminism is all about, isn’t that what the women’s liberation fought for? Freedom to use our resources however we see fit?
Of course, this Luann that applied for a hostess job at a gentlemen’s club wearing a scantily clad black dress with high heels on to the interview, was a girl who acknowledged the system and saw what it could offer her. Given where I am at now in life with my politics and my career, I see the women on this show and think to myself, this could be any girl.
Lisa Ling says it a few times throughout the episode and even during interviews about this episode, that her stance on feminism and being a vocal one at that, led her into this piece with a critical eye. But she later says on an interview on CNN’s New Day, that after listening to the back stories of each woman and even the sugar daddies, that she felt compassion for those that get involved in this world of sugaring.
I echo Ling’s words on compassion; being that I was once in similar circumstances as the women in the episode, I know the feeling of hopelessness in working to make ends meet, and seeing potential success in using a problematic system, despite how oppressive it may be. I don’t want to justify the world of sugaring and say that it should be socially acceptable, but rather, point out that were it not for capitalism, or gender roles and resistance against the feminist movement, structures like sugaring would not thrive. But unfortunately, capitalism is alive and well, gender roles and expectations continue to exist, and though the feminist movement is becoming trendy and more accepted in mainstream pop culture, there is also a counter resistance movement that seeks to uphold the traditional model of womanhood and domesticity.
So, who is really at fault here? The women who choose to engage in sugaring, the sugar daddies, or the institutional structure that supports commodifying women’s bodies? I can’t answer that in this essay and there are tons of resources and books written on these topics already, but I will say that, that these oppressive systems aren’t going anyway any time soon.