A profoundly moving op-ed piece in today's New York Times, written by author Lindy West, is titled "Brave Enough to Be Angry." The piece centers around the surge in female anger around the way men have diminished, demeaned, and discredited women who have stood up for themselves against abuse, violence, and harassment. The piece contains the following brilliant observation:
I did not call myself a feminist until I was nearly 20 years old. My world had taught me that feminists were ugly and ridiculous, and I did not want to be ugly and ridiculous. I wanted to be cool and desired by men, because even as a teenager I knew implicitly that pandering for male approval was a woman’s most effective currency. It was my best shot at success, or at least safety, and I wasn’t sophisticated enough to see that success and safety, bestowed conditionally, aren’t success and safety at all. They are domestication and implied violence.I emphasized that part in bold to point out that it doesn't really matter where a woman is in her life. She could be a college student, an entry-level clerical worker, or a restaurant hostess, or a mid-level manager, or a state legislator, or even an entrepreneur/CEO. A woman's most effective means to gain traction in a male-dominated society is her looks and her sexuality. And, unfortunately, because of the fact that men dominate the landscape, looks and sexuality only go so far, and not even talent or wisdom or political or business connections are guaranteed to help. In fact, sometimes they can even hinder a woman's advancement because of the threats they pose to the male-dominated paradigm.
This dynamic doesn't disappear in the sugar dating environment, either. Plenty of women I've met and talked with over the years, including women with whom I've been intimate, have described instances where men took advantage of them by using their power and/or their money as tools. I had to go back and look at my own history as described in this blog to check my own behavior to make sure I'm not fully guilty of the same level of abuse. I'm happy to say that I've been pretty good about how I've treated women on my journey. I have definitely been angry with a number of women over the years, but I've never used my position (such as it is) to belittle any of them. Most of my anger has been in response to some perceived (or actual) disrespect I've received: Jade's lying, Leah's manipulation, or Red's handling of my financial counter-offer. I took advantage of a couple of women early on to sleep with them without an allowance (Lina, Katie). I slept with a few knowing I'd only see them once, rather than eventually discovering we weren't a good fit.
Where I see sugar dating as a validation of feminism is in how it democratizes the relationship. It "levels the playing field," as it were. Men and women in the sugar community know that there is a knowing exchange between parties that are of equal value. Sure, men (including me) do try to get away with as low an allowance as possible, but there is no manipulation involved if a woman consents to the allowance. It's presumed that she's deliberated her circumstances and decided to accept what the man is offering in a fully informed way. I won't deny that there are exceptions to this, but my take on it in general is that it's a very fair dynamic. Women feel empowered that they are in charge of defining their value and they have full agency over it. Men who try to violate that quickly discover that they're not going to get laid anymore, so the vast majority of the time, they behave themselves.
Of course, I don't deny the existence of the fakes and flakes who tend to clog up the sugar website. I remember porn star Kyra's sorry tale of being shorted her allowance. But again, those are exceptions, not the rules.
Far more often than not, I've heard stories from these women who say they felt like an equal, like a partner, and highly appreciated by their "daddies." I would say that the sugar dating world is one of the only places where a woman can use her most effective currency and be well rewarded for it. On reflection, I think it may even be one reason why I kind of dislike the "sugar" terminology -- "Daddy" and "Baby" absolutely convey a dominant/submissive vibe, but I think those terms are more about the predominant age difference between the parties, and are attempts to be playful rather than establishing some sort of gender-based hierarchy. In reality, the dynamic is much more egalitarian and respectful, and forward-thinking.
Brandon Wade, the founder of Seeking Arrangement who basically invented the modern sugar dating subculture, put it this way in an essay he wrote for CNN in September 2014 (I was with Audrey at the time, engaging in swinging with other couples):
Traditional relationships are based on possessiveness and selfishness. As I look at the future of traditional relationships, I see divorces, heartbreaks and broken families.Here's somewhere a woman can ask for and get what she wants with complete honesty about how and why she is asking. As a man, I find that disarming but also refreshing. I don't need to do the dance, I don't have to adhere to traditional norms about relationships, and I get to find a partner who feels the same. That partner, amazingly enough, is my wife. My DW and I nearly lost our marriage and our family because of adherence to tradition. Now that DW and I are beginning to explore sexuality in this new way, I am literally thrilled at the possibilities.
But it doesn't have to be that way. By encouraging people to find and negotiate an arrangement, we hope to create modern relationships based on open-mindedness, open communication, brutal honesty and transparent expectations.