When the market-oriented housing system meets deregulated virtual space, opportunities open up for bypassing the regulations for equal access to housing. In the case of Craigslist, an online marketplace established in 1995 that has since spread to over 70 countries, the housing section “rooms & shares” features adverts offering free or heavily discounted accommodation in exchange for sexual favours.
Upon opening the room share section users are immediately confronted with titles such as: “Free accommodation for gorgeous female” or “Live rent-free in luxury – avail 4 cute female”. Such adverts make “sex for rent” schemes between a male seller and a female buyer seem not only obvious, but presumably socially accepted. In this instance, the assumption that it is acceptable to request “sex for rent” originates in patriarchy, a societal structure in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded. More specifically, it originates in the patriarchal claim of a man’s rights over female bodies in both the domestic and the public space.
As Carole Pateman describes it, through the marriage contract, the woman at home is expected to perform both sex and domestic work for economic support and protection. The public aspect of patriarchal right, through what Pateman names a “prostitution contract”, manifests through the demand for female bodies to be sold as commodities in the capitalist market. Sex for rent appears to be a compelling hybrid of the two contracts, which is helping to fuel a resurgence of oppressive relations in ostensibly socially liberal societies. And while these oppressive relations manifest differently based on the subject’s ethnicity, economic status, sexual orientation and physical ability, it’s worth exploring how the basic patriarchal dynamic plays out in some of the world’s most overheated housing markets.
Toronto is one of the least affordable cities in the world: its fast paced development significantly surpasses the housing supply. Although the 2017 Fair Housing Plan did stabilise the prices by introducing stricter rent controls and taxes to foreign investments and real estate speculation, affordable housing remains far-fetched for many. In this case, in a rather friendly and polite manner, the “sex for rent” arrangement is depicted as a reasonable solution to the burden of housing costs. A “professional, successful, respectful” man is offering a private room to young, financially unstable women in exchange for a “friends with benefits” relationship. This “mutual beneficial consensual living arrangement” can be seen as a form of transactional sex, where a well-off man, (aka a “sugar daddy”) repays an often younger partner with financial support. However, the crucial difference with other transactional deals, where the support consists of tuition fees, dinners or holidays, is that here the roof over one’s head is in question. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition for realising other human rights, such as the right to work, social security, health or privacy. Home is also the most intimate sphere of one’s being, deeply connected to our feelings and needs of security and identity. So, while the arrangement “friends with benefits” may suggest a level of equity in the domestic relationship, the position of the tenant is in essence a submissive and insecure one which denies the subject this fundamental human right.
A number of metropolitan areas in Australia and New Zealand have been experiencing a serious shortage of affordable housing. But while Australia’s property bubble is deflating rapidly, with a dramatic decline of 10% in 2018, the New Zealand’s housing market remains overpriced. In both countries, the homelessness rate remains extremely high, with many people living in cars and garages. In this example, one of the four fully furnished rooms with high speed internet is being offered in exchange for fulfilling a “wide array of arrangements”, with women invited to suggest themselves what their contribution could be. The man who is offering his mansion epitomises the model male consumer-capitalist subject: “fitness, eating good and looking as good as I can.” An early-middle aged Caucasian is calling for a fairly young, “promo model” type of woman who would be evaluated based on a photo and the sound of their voice. However, while claiming his primary motives to be socialising and philanthropy, he is preying on young and unstable students and travelers.