Coverage too short and sweet

  • Kim Johnson - 19 March 2013

Superficial coverage of sugar daddies reinforces the victim-vector divide and fails to hold men accountable and empower girls and women.

“Sugar daddies” is a topic often tackled by the media but the bulk of reports covering these relationships barely scratch the surface of what policy-makers constantly cite as a serious threat to the health of girls and young women.

In fact it could be argued that the combination of repetitive superficial reports with little in-depth engagement has resulted in the sugar daddy becoming a somewhat one-dimensional being, unconnected to any person living in the real world. A legion of unscrupulous fat wallets who only care about their own salacious desires to the detriment of (equally one-dimensional) helpless doe-eyed young women.

Except for a The New Age article dated January of last year, reporting on sugar daddy relationships rarely features the voices of young women involved. As for the men who pull their strings, they are never held accountable for their actions because they too remain conspicuously silent.

Last week saw a string of media reports that continued in this trend. Various publications picked up Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s comments on sugar daddies at a meeting of the Gauteng Aids Council (GAC) but failed to dig any deeper.

Tacked onto the end of reports that led with other topics addressed at the meeting (for example, the soaring price of HIV treatment and the withdrawal of foreign donor funding) were Mokonyane’s statements, which (again) blamed sugar daddies for the high HIV prevalence among young women.

The brief reports did quote Mokonyane as framing sugar daddy relationships within the broader context of gender inequality but that was as insightful and contextual as the coverage managed to get.

This is the all-too-common scene created by current coverage-an outraged politician, lambasting sugar daddies for their “immoral” behavior.

It could be argued that this has an alienating effect on the reading public and makes them less likely to take the issue seriously. But alienation is not the only potential ill effect.

As we have argued in a previous blog, the one-dimensional representation of girls and young women in sugar-daddy relationships locks them into the role of victim and robs them of what little agency they might exercise.

So, really what is a sugar daddy? What does he look like? How does he explain his own behaviour? Does he care about his partner/s? Providing a platform for the voices of the human players in this drama would help to inject the humanity back into this politicised husk of an issue.

There is no denying that the sugar daddy relationship is a threat to the health of girls and young women. In fact the need to address this issue is heightened considering the current spotlight on gender-based violence and by extension gender inequality.

However in-depth media engagement is what is required to lay bare the mechanics of the issue to facilitate understanding and formulate resolutions.

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“Superficial media coverage has created a legion of unscrupulous fat wallets who only care about their own salacious desires”