So­cial me­dia un­in­ten­tion­ally fur­thers the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of young, pow­er­less women

CityPress - - Voices - Bu­sani Ng­caweni voices@city­press.co.za

Do you agree that sex was less ca­sual be­fore so­cial me­dia be­came as pop­u­lar as it is now? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word HIV and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 So­cial me­dia is used by older men (and pae­dophiles) to lure vul­ner­a­ble girls into sex­ual re­la­tions. The phe­nom­e­non of sugar dad­dies is well known and its con­tri­bu­tion to the Aids epidemic can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated since most ado­les­cent girls and young women are in­fected by older men.

The pop­u­lar meet­ing point for these re­la­tion­ships is now so­cial me­dia, not some vil­lage river in Non­goma or pub­lic a square as was the case decades past. An­other extreme of this phe­nom­e­non is the emer­gence of mavuso stokvels (sex par­ties where strangers have ca­sual sex in ex­change for money) and blessers (ca­sual sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with rich men in ex­change for money, ex­pen­sive gifts and hol­i­days).

At the re­ceiv­ing end of these vi­ral sub­cul­tures are ado­les­cent girls and young women who are of­ten pow­er­less and can­not ne­go­ti­ate safe sex. They risk be­ing phys­i­cally abused or bul­lied into un­pro­tected sex.

So­cial me­dia is used to pro­mote trends such as sex or­gies and group sex. This is linked to the point made above re­gard­ing the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of pornog­ra­phy and mavuso stokvels. It is not un­usual to hear and read sto­ries about women having or­gies and group sex with men who have the “re­sources” (money and power).

For my part, I ex­per­i­mented a few times by or­gan­is­ing three­somes with younger women I knew as well as with strangers I met on so­cial me­dia.

Al­though these never ma­te­ri­alised, I never doubted the will­ing­ness of my li­aisons.

Again, in the so­cial-me­dia groups I used to ob­serve so­cial trends, most young women and men ex­pressed lib­eral views to­wards or­gies, group sex and un­pro­tected sex. Some un­con­sciously re­garded these as rites of pas­sage to adult­hood.

The main con­clu­sion is that so­cial me­dia un­in­ten­tion­ally fur­thers the ca­su­al­i­sa­tion of sex, sex across dis­parate age groups, mul­ti­ple con­cur­rent sex­ual re­la­tion­ships and the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of women who can be “bought” with money and gifts.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, the agency of women notwith­stand­ing, the re­al­ity is this is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of pa­tri­archy and per­sist­ing in­equal­ity in South Africa. Con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion does not em­power women. It leaves them open to ma­nip­u­la­tion and abuse in an HIV hy­per­en­demic coun­try.

The crass ma­te­ri­al­ism that is flaunted on so­cial net­works and re­al­ity TV shows such as the lo­cal Diski Di­vas and the Amer­i­can Keep­ing Up with the Kar­dashi­ans cul­ti­vates the no­tion that “beauty pays” more than hard work. The real ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this po­lit­i­cal econ­omy are ma­cho mo­bile men with money and the propen­sity to ob­jec­tify and abuse young women.

This is a pub­lic pol­icy co­nun­drum, the un­in­tended con­se­quences of open­ing wide the doors of cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion so that Bongi from Non­goma ar­guably co­ex­ists with Bey­oncé from New York, al­beit in a pre­car­i­ous so­cial-me­dia bub­ble which even­tu­ally bursts, as Bongi is more likely to have a near en­counter with HIV ow­ing to her so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus and preva­lence of gen­der-based vi­o­lence in her so­ci­ety. Ng­caweni is ed­i­tor of Si­zon­qoba! Out­liv­ing Aids in South­ern Africa, avail­able at the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil


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