Photo by Motortion

Bad influencers

The “girlfriend experience” is toxic, not empowering

Artillery Row

Last week, The Telegraph published an article titled: “Feminists, gold-diggers … or both? The women giving up work to live off their boyfriends”. It shed light on an alleged “growing online movement” in which women lure men into relationship arrangements in which they pay women loads of money in exchange for … what? The Guardian, The Times and UnHerd published similar pieces on the same phenomenon, yet none of them clarified what exactly the men are getting in return. It does not take great effort to figure it out.

All the authors wrote about SheraSeven (real name Leticia Padua) and TheWizardLiz (real name Lize Dzjabrailova) who dispense faux-empowerment advice to their millions of followers on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. What kind of advice? It boils down to: find a rich man and get him to bankroll your life. With videos titled “How to Get Your Man to Give you Money” and “How to Find and Date a Rich Man”, there is no room for subtlety.

In one of her videos, Padua is asked by a supporter: “A 60-year-old rich man asked me to marry him. I’m 22, should I?” She replied:

Yeah, of course. Duh. A 60-year-old man is less likely to leave his child, so your child will have a dad and he’ll probably have health insurance. You’ll have life insurance, a stable home, money to spend, and you’ll probably never have to work again. Go do it. You’ll be set for life and you’ll thank me later. I promise you.

On her video “How to Receive Princess Treatment”, Dzjabrailova advises women:

From the second date, you have to see if he is trying to gift (you) something like flowers or something small. If he isn’t, then why are you there? You are sitting there, showing everyone that you are with him. He gets to have this beautiful woman in front of him, but you’re sitting there and you don’t have anything. Why? What are you doing there? Go home.

If you are already in a relationship and your partner hasn’t spoilt you yet, just tell him: “hey, I would really appreciate it if you gave me some money, like an allowance. I’d appreciate it if you took more care of me.” Just say it in a subtle way.

And some say romance is dead …

These women get away with insane requests because they are mostly young and beautiful, and they are volunteering a dynamic in which men know their wallets grant them access to the women’s bodies. The media would have us believe that rich yet clueless men are being conned out of their finances by their savvy girlfriends, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The Telegraph author wrote:

SheraSeven and TheWizardLiz are at the forefront of a growing online movement that believes manipulating men for money is the answer to smashing the patriarchy. Thousands of women online — many of them British — are already putting these influencers’ advice into action.

Behind the glossy blowouts, the beautifully contoured makeup, and the brags about pretty bags and stylish shoes lies the blatantly obvious: narratives about girl power are merely a veneer of idealism in front of what amounts to glorified prostitution.

What these women are offering is known in prostitution as “the girlfriend experience”, and it is one of the most popular requests from sex buyers. I should know: for my Master’s Degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I conducted critical discourse analysis exploring the first online communities for men who pay for sex in the United Kingdom. Why do they do it? What drives them?

To my surprise, rather than specific sex acts or positions, most sex buyers I researched for my MA thesis demanded something called “the girlfriend experience”. A popular online forum describes it as:

An escort experience like being with a real girlfriend. There is no agreed list of services included, but you expect kissing or DFK (deep French kissing), oral sex and full sex (vaginal sex). It does not include the more adventurous services you would expect from a PSE (porn star experience) or fetish services.

The porn star experience includes rough sex and anal sex. In my research, very few men requested it, although many negotiated rough sex or anal sex as an addition to the Girlfriend Experience. The GFE includes “eye contact, soft kissing and tenderness”.

A sex buyer positively reviewed a woman he paid for a girlfriend experience by sharing, “She makes you welcome and relaxed. Nice to talk, cuddle and kiss at the start … She seems to enjoy the session and it actually feels like a true relationship, proper girlfriend rather than mechanical routine clock watch sex.”

On the flip side, a disappointed sex buyer who paid for a girlfriend experience provided a negative review by stating, “This is not a girlfriend experience. Not even close. Very robotic. No French kissing, let alone deep French kissing. No fingering, no conversation. Oral without a condom was ok, then cowgirl and missionary (but not) particularly enthusiastic.”

Enthusiasm is a must for men paying for sex. They want to be sold the illusion that the dynamics at play are organic, authentic and that women are there out of sheer excitement, not necessity.

If prostitution is sex work, then sex buyers are crystal clear they do not want women in their beds acting like doing the deed with them is graft and labour. The archaic vision that sex buyers pay for disparate sex acts, delivered in a colour-by-number manner, is false. More often than not, men who can afford it demand that women pretend to be their personal girlfriends for an hour, two hours or however long they are paying for, under the understanding that each woman is aware of how disposable she is.

Becoming a round-the-clock, purchasable girlfriend carries considerable costs for the women. The toll is far broader than the expectation to be perpetually available for sex — the sex acts he wants, how he likes them and when he wants them — on demand and without much room to complain.

This week, Crystal Harris, the quintessential icon of the more accurately called Girlfriend Experience Movement, spoke out about what it meant for her to be married to Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine. She met the tycoon with a history of rampant sexual exploitation when she was 21 and he was 81.

Women are forbidden from grouchy moods or unkempt hair

In exchange for a lavish lifestyle, she had to be home by 6pm, was only allowed to paint her nails in the same pale pink colour, followed relentless beauty regimes and endured the exact same chicken soup with crackers for dinners with her elderly husband. This was aside from the expectation to have sex both with him and with whoever else attended his group sex parties, which wasn’t massively fun either: “Unremarkable. Whatever you would like, whatever you would think, or however you would want a night to go, well, it wasn’t that,” she told the Daily Mail about sex with a man who took so much Viagra he became deaf (a known side effect).

Harris, with her millions of pounds as a widow, is what all female influencers encouraging women to manipulate men for money would aspire to be: wealthy for life. But at what cost?

If that was my daughter now — it wouldn’t happen. All I can say is that if you come from a happy, perfect, loving childhood, you don’t usually end up with someone who was already 60 years old by the time you are born.

The other day I found a picture of me with him at the very beginning. It’s just so sad. I look back and I feel sorry for that girl. There was going to be this Wizard of Oz moment where the fantasy fades, you draw back the curtain and see the reality of it. But he who has the money makes the rules, right?

Exactly. Crystal Harris decided to become the paid-for plaything of a rich man, just like other women now concocting #girlpower narratives to fantasise their way out of poverty, debt, the responsibilities of work and the heavy weight of adult life. The fantasy fades, though, the second a man reminds them of what he is paying for.

Without exception, articles written about this so-called trend present the men who enter these commitments as fairly stupid. In fact, they are shrewd negotiators convincing young and pretty women into delivering round-the-clock sexual access and emotional labour, presumably for a monthly cost.

Either inside or outside prostitution, when men pay for “the girlfriend experience”, women are forbidden from displaying genuine girlfriend behaviour such as grouchy moods, unkempt hair, likes and dislikes. The paying “boyfriends” do not want to know that the women are upset because maybe they were kind of a dick to her friends at a party, nor hear any complaints about the men’s toxic behaviours. Nothing is painful or feels uncomfortable, and the word “no” ceases to exist. In these arrangements, there is no space for anything other than bubbliness and sexual availability. The women are encapsulated at the most glamourous, perkiest and most compliant versions of themselves, for as long as a man pays.

Even when couched in the language of empowerment and feminism, there is nothing liberatory about encouraging young women to become permanent playthings for rich men. Both the influencers promoting this glossy form of prostitution and their avid supporters will come to realise this in due course, when their paying “boyfriend” replace them with a younger woman desperate enough to comply with his every demand, for a cheaper cost.

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