[intro]“We should all be feminists”, encourages the celebrated African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. But how does this fit with a reality in which young South African girls say they want their boyfriends to pay them allowances. When the state and parents are paying huge fees to educate the youth, society expects them to embrace progressive notions. A young University of the Free State writer explores a campus reality that challenges this assumption with a practice that one academic slams as prostitution.[/intro]
It’s Vat ‘n Sit 21st Century style. The slang term for couples who live together without getting married has taken on a whole new meaning. Young girls are saying: “We want allowances!”
So I went in search of these students who say their boyfriends should pay them for their time and efforts.
Susan says: “It’s money that you are getting every month, from someone you are dating or sometimes you not even dating but someone you might have a sort of relationship with.”
Susan receives an amount that varies from month to month. But her boyfriend always pays her something.
“If you are dating someone, the person that you are dating has to see or realise that you have needs and especially wants, because your parents can’t provide for all your needs.”
This informal ‘Girlfriend Society’ – like a Stokvel tradition with a new twist – has been gaining momentum. Girlfriends feel that because they perform “wifely duties” there should be a form of remuneration for their efforts.
These wifely duties include cooking, cleaning, washing, and yes sex is part of the deal.
“You serve a purpose in your relationship. You deserve some form of remuneration,” says Susan.
Joe Serekoane, an anthropology lecturer at the University of the Free State (UFS) asks: “Why would you be a 21st century woman and still subscribe to this submission?”
Serekoane says that we live in a society where a man provides and a woman nurtures. Therefore women are expected to give. He questions whether the concept of a girlfriend allowance, is not mimicking the model of mom and dad, in a societal structure that maintains a patriarchal approach.
“Society has an obsession with material things,” says Serekoane, “It becomes centre stage in a relationship, because provision or giving by a man is in the form of money. In a way the 21st Century woman feeds the monster. You actually say you are such a man and you can dictate terms and I’m such a women and I’ll submit.”
He says that this exercises some form of control over the girlfriend. Because the man pays he can dictate whom you can meet, when and why.
“Your no becomes a yes.”
Serekoane says that this is prostitution because as a women it’s no longer about the attention or caresses you receive from your boyfriend but how much you can earn.
Back to the well maintained Susan…
“Before it wasn’t a set thing. I would just tell him when I wanted something and he would make it happen. But as time went on we basically fell into the whole girlfriend allowance category,” she says.
She now receives a set amount every month. However, even though Susan receives a monthly allowance, if she exceeds her budget her boyfriend will give her more money.
“It has never been anything less than R2 000,” says Susan adding that she does not see anything less than R2 000 as a suitable girlfriend allowance.
Susan uses her allowance to buy clothes and other ‘nice things’ or she blows it on going out with her friends, weekends away and booze. Things that make her happy, she claims.
“I personally believe that within a relationship the boyfriend should spoil her however he wants, but beware of making her get so enticed by materialistic things,” says Kovsie student Nkulu Ngalo.
Susan states that if her boyfriend doesn’t send the allowance on time she throws, “a young tantrum.” She says proudly that the money is mostly on time or is paid within two or three days of asking for it.
“It’s a guy’s way of taking care of his woman, making sure she gets the things that she wants,” says Diego Young, a Kovsie postgraduate student. Young says that in his experience girls are now demanding to be given money. But he thinks that the boyfriend should decide whether or not to give his girlfriend money.
“I wouldn’t take it in that manner,” says Susan when asked if a girlfriend allowance can be viewed as propping up a patriarchal society. “My dad spoils my mom. It doesn’t mean that he’s maintaining dominance.”
Susan says it’s a way for her boyfriend to keep her happy, because he knew what he was getting himself into when they started.
“It just so happens that you’re dating a guy and he spoils you and it happens to be a fixed thing every month,” she says.
When I ask her about girlfriend allowances being associated with prostitution Susan responds that prostitutes do their job without love or emotions. What she does, she claims, is because of the feelings and love for her boyfriend and therefore it is not prostitution.
“I care about the guy, I don’t do it for money,” says Susan.
“It’s understandable that someone wants something out of an arrangement, its human nature,” says Kali Nena, a UFS sociology lecturer.
However he adds: “ It does maintain a patriarchal society, in terms of you are a man and you provide. But in terms of the Functionalist Theory one would say it serves a purpose.”
According to Nena, this concept maintains a balance, however personally he does not support it.