College sugar babies have a place in feminism

Tinu Thomas

As she scurried around her downtown apartment while tossing toiletries and clothing into a large red suitcase in preparation for her breast augmentation surgery, a recent UT graduate told me about the intricacies of being a sugar baby and a UT student.

The UT alumna who spoke about her college experience as a sugar baby requested she be referred to by a pseudonym. I’ll call her Ann.

Students who opt to become sugar babies often do so for financial reasons. The income is far more lucrative than a traditional college job and the hours are flexible. However, there is stigma surrounding sugar babies stemming from the idea that they perpetuate gender roles.

Ann said the sugar daddies she encounters are mostly businessmen over the age of 40, who are too busy to date. According to Ann, men objectify her regardless, especially on the internet. But now she says they pay for a range of services, from coffee dates to sexual encounters. Her first sugar daddy was a lawyer for Coca Cola who helped her pay rent.

“I think it’s important to realize that as a woman, the world will kind of always sexualize you, so you might as well do what you can with it,” Ann said. “Men have always objectified me as long as I’ve been online. Now at least they’re paying me to say this stuff.”

Students are a target demographic for leading sugar baby sites such as Seeking Arrangement, which operates as a dating website for sugar babies and daddies. Unlike most dating apps, the site also vets sugar daddies for safety reasons.

In 2015, UT-Austin was ranked first on a list of “Fastest Growing Sugar Baby Schools” by Seeking Arrangement. This year the site ranked UT in the top ten. Alexis Germany, a representative from Seeking Arrangement, said many sugar babies are motivated by the rising cost of education.

“Students can use Seeking Arrangement to find a mutually beneficial relationship,” Germany said. “(They can) get the extra money they need without dedicating the precious hours that they have to part-time jobs that aren’t going to pay them a lot of money anyways.”

Although many students resort to sex work or sugar-babying to make money, many argue the negatives outweigh the benefits. Shannon Cavanagh, an associate professor of sociology and family demographer, said these young girls shouldn’t mistake their choices for feminism. “It’s predicated on total inequality, the daddy or the mommy have the money,” Cavanagh said.

Cavanagh said young women should not actively submit to objectification. She has legitimate concerns. Ann admits the situations she experienced as a sugar baby could have yielded different results if she didn’t know how to handle herself.

Ann said before she became a sugar baby, she still felt a certain amount of vulnerability and objectification as a young woman on UT’s campus. The difference is that most college women don’t make $2,600 a month, which is what Germany said most sugar babies make.

“Whenever I’m out in the street with my friends I feel in just as much danger as when I go to meet up with a sugar daddy for the first time in a public bar,” Ann said. “What’s the real difference? You’re still in an open area with people you don’t know that well.”

Women — especially students who are sugar babies because of financial need — should not be shamed for their decisions. They are vulnerable and should be supported rather than outcast by feminist communities for doing what it takes to make a personally convenient living.

“Maya Angelou was a prostitute. What can you say to me?” Ann said. “If you judge a student for doing this on the side, you are the one who’s hurting them more than anything else.”

Thomas is a journalism senior from McAllen.