POVERTY, unemployment, peer pressure and gender inequality are some of the major aspects that drive many young women to go into “blesser and blessee” relationships, while social media is an enabler of such transactional partnerships, a local (South African) study has revealed.
Blesser/blessee relationships are a social phenomenon which sees wealthy men and poorer women linked for material gain. In most cases, these older men are married and secretly engage in extramarital affairs with these young women. Lead researcher Nomazulu Singata explored the attitudes of students and other young women towards those relationships and their reasons for engaging in them, as well as the opportunities and constraints for changing such relationships.
Doing the study as part of her Masters of Arts degree at UKZN, Singata said the majority of these women indicated that poverty and unemployment drove them into such relationships, while a small number said peer pressure, mostly through social media, influenced them.
“Some of these women said they were not able to pay their fees and other expenses due to poverty. So having such relationships took the burden off their parents.
“Surprisingly those who got into such relationships due to peer pressure didn’t always know it was peer pressure. Some thought that they just liked the lifestyle, but in reality it’s because they were influenced by their peers, mostly via social media.
“Social media is a catalyst of such relationships. Seeing their friends shopping internationally and having the latest expensive wig or fashion entices young people, even if they won’t admit that it’s peer pressure.”
The research underlines the arrangements and relations between the two parties, which often result from female students’ personal circumstances such as poverty, unemployment, peer pressure and gender inequality.
“These structures have an impact on their (female students’) ability to make their own decisions. The relationships ultimately produce their own structures, which can be both positive (financial needs and education) and negative. The negative leads to gender-based violence, as well as health issues that impact on the blessee.”
While young women in such relationships are often viewed as “naive and ignorant partners who are in it just for the money, fashion and flashy lifestyle”, Singata found that often women in blesser/blessee relationships are “driven, career-focused women who aspire to even have their own businesses”.
Singata said one of the positives was the women’s ability to rise above their social circumstances. “Some end up opening their own businesses and acquiring their own property through such relationships. That is one of the positives, as such relationships facilitate their vision and dreams. But there are also negatives, and the negatives are often worsened by the unequal balance of power dynamics in such relationships.
“It is usually blessers and mostly men who tend to have more power and money, which sometimes makes women vulnerable to gender-based violence, as they are expected to be more submissive to their well-off and connected partners.”
Singata hopes society not only looks at the impacts of this issue, but also the causes embedded in these structures and the reasoning behind becoming a blessee. She believes that focusing on the reasons and finding solutions for the issues, could prevent blesser/blessee relationships developing.