The Analysis of Sugar Relationships Essay Example

Sugar dating has become increasingly popular throughout the years as it has become an alternative to conventional dating. It is characterized as a transactional relationship, often consisting of a younger female and an older male. The younger female or "sugar baby" offers some form of companionship and intimacy to a "sugar daddy" in exchange for some form of material compensation. The precise terms of this exchange are negotiated between the parties. As sugar relationships become increasingly popular, the gender norms associated with females become more entrenched — that females pursue wealthy individuals for their own benefit. While there are several factors why women will pursue these relationships, explanations that are most prominent are based upon the social construction of this norm rather than essentialism. This female gender norm is created often due to cultural expectations, a desire to fit into society, and a sense of empowerment from these relationships.

Polygamy in many African societies has given rise to sugar daddy relationships in certain cultures. In many African societies where polygamy is predominant, precocious unions between young girls and older men are not uncommon, such that "a large age gap between the husband and his wife is inherent" (22). This practice represents a way for African families to climb in status as "African societies have managed to see that children were a form of wealth" (ff). Men within these polygamous relationships tend to seek younger, more fertile women to take on as wives to further build his empire of children as his other wives age. In some practices of polygamous relationships where sugar daddies are involved, "girls reported that their motivation for choosing older male partners in marriage was because of the economic security these older men would provide in the marriage" (22) It is in the female's self-interest to pursue these types of relationships as it not only abides by her cultural gender norms – which include early marriage, polygamy and the role of domesticity – but it is a way for the female to secure a comfortable lifestyle with little to worry about.

The African culture helps to characterize the constructed norm of a younger female with an older male. During the apartheid and post-apartheid era of South Africa, economic factors gave rise to sugar culture in the country. Rising unemployment rates played a role in the decline of marriage since men were not able to afford the mandatory dowry for the bride's family (fhghjg). Because of the decline of employment for women, men were able to form polygamous relationships as women remained economically dependent on men. Instead of paying the mandatory dowry they could not afford, men gave gifts to women. (Hunter, 2002). The establishment of such a practice gave rise to its normality and "once a typification or practice becomes habitual others come to expect it, and mechanisms of social control are developed to perpetuate it" (Essentialism 14). One of the fundamental assumptions of the social constructionist paradigm is that "reality is socially constructed" (14). Given this assumption, culture as a manifestation of human interaction and discourse is also constructed since the human experience is influenced by social externalities. The economic environment of South Africa – because of the post-apartheid era – initiated a necessity for change in cultural practices if they were to be maintained in any way. The women partaking in these sugar relationships demonstrate the extent to which cultural traditions have pressured African women to uphold female gender roles to maintain one's status as their society has perpetuated this idea of children as a means to climbing social hierarchy. This is not only for themselves but for the husband and other wives within the polygamous relationship. She is, in a sense, fulfilling her dutiful role to society as well as others' expectations of herself.

Another example of females' attempts to uphold societal expectations is through their desire to attain materialistic resources. Women in their early to late teens are subject to the influences of peer pressures and mass media, both of which venerate material displays of status. Because of women's desire to further their own interests due to popular culture, sugar daddy relationships "are frequently pursued to acquire material items and are more of a consumerist nature" (Leclerc-Madlala 2004, Hunter 2002). Popular culture projects images of an ideal femininity in the context of materialism and an aesthetic that many young women seek to emulate because it sets a standard that many young women feel a need to attain. This femininity is often "interpreted as being indicative of a particular modernity which manifested in material items and conceptions of a glamorous lifestyle" (fhdidf). Young women make decisions to enter sugar daddy relationships with the intent to further their own interests in their "pursuit of modernity" (Leclerc-Madlala 2004). The social and symbolic meaning of the material women wishes to attain a draw from the constructs reality places upon the material world.

The human desire to fit in into society elucidates the pursuit of women to follow popular culture. Humans have evolved as a species through community and conformity as they were crucial to our species' survival. Without a natural instinct to flock together and copy each other's actions, humans may never have learned how to hunt or find drinkable water (fhdds). Basic survival skills are not as important today, but the pressure to conform is all too eminent within modern society. Fitting in is a part of conformity, so following the trends and standards that popular culture idolizes perpetuates this idea. Often, women will believe that their own self is inadequate due to the standards of desirability the media portrays as ideal, imbuing the fact that "Sociocultural standards of desirability will reflect cultural values, the economic and social structure, and the characteristic division of household labor in that culture" (15). These standards vary within each society and fluctuate as culture changes and people's perceptions differ, much like the construction of reality itself. Because material items are given specific meaning appropriated by young women, these resources serve as a tangible marker of the degree of their sugar daddy relationships. This reveals that young women associated degrees of intimacy with the number of resources given to them and the form that these resources took, constructing the progression of their sugar daddy relationships around its materiality. (fgjgjg)

Furthermore, the ability to attain capital from sugar relationships can be empowering to some women. Many aspects of transactional relationships provide a means for young women to assert themselves and negotiate power in ways that they could not readily do so in typical relationships due to gendered norms. Sugar dating marks a significant divergence from conventional dating by requiring the resources and expectations of money and intimacy to be articulated at the outset (fidfkd). This necessitates a frank and open discussion of the exchange of material compensation for companionship or intimacy in a way that violates the norms and rituals of conventional modern courtship. Because of these entrenched gender norms in society, partaking in sugar relationships can be a way where "Gaining access to material resources via one's sexuality can be said to ‘level the playing field' in societies" (brittany?) In a society where young women are expected to employ a status subordinate to their male counterparts, exercising power that disputes normative constructs of female sexuality and identity can be a source of empowerment.

This sense of empowerment manifests from female gender roles as a socially constructed act. Breaking the standard gender norms assigned to the female identity is seen as disrupting the system within which everyone plays within their own role. These socially dictated roles show that "anyone who knows the rules can play, boy or girl, man or woman" (268). In a sense, these women who are exercising the power to challenge such structures in place are letting themselves play by their own rules. Social constructionists view gender identity as a process external to the individual such that "gender is defined by interactions between people, by language, and by the discourse of a culture" (16). By taking a hold of the social constructions into their own hands, women can change the definition of what constitutes a female gender norm. These norms can be molded and formed into its existence through the very actions of people. Going against societal expectations and rebelling can make these women feel invigorated, free from the pressure to act a certain way and abide by the roles set in place. So, through the act of partaking in sugar relationships, women can take a stance against society, albeit a small one.

The idea of sugar relationships can be viewed as essentialist due to females' desire to be taken care of. Essentialists believe that "women value wealth, good financial prospects, and industriousness in a mate" (11). This essentialist belief stems from the idea that women look to these traits in order to secure resources in the rearing of their offspring. Essentialists would say that African women enter sugar relationships to attain the resources necessary to have a large family of children. However, the reason African women have the pressure to have numerous kids in the first place is that of the social and cultural pressures placed upon them. The belief that the number of children one has is directly related to social status is constructionist in and of itself. Without these social pressures, these women may not feel a need to pursue men with bountiful financial aspects to care for their large families.

The female norm of pursuing wealthy men has become amplified as sugar relationships tend to occur more often and further publicized by the public. By considering the underlying causes of why women pursue these relationships, this female norm as a social construction by society is discernible. Without the intervention of external social beliefs, this norm would probably not exist. Whether society has caused cultures to perpetuate this norm, the human desire to conform, or the inclination to break free from the societal expectations it imposes, it is eminent that this gender norm is constructed due to the discourse of sociocultural influences, beliefs, and interactions between one another.is a "performance, not a natural mode of being" and

A Sugar Baby's sense of power can correlate to how successful she is at breaking the traditional rules of gender normativity.

However, traditional power dynamics based on gender, age and economic status within transactional relationships have not been eradicated. In many ways, it appears that they become further entrenched.


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