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Sex-for-rent schemes have emerged on online sites as rental options. We analyzed advertisements that were posted on Craigslist in London and Los Angeles and interviewed 34 women who were or had been in these arrangements.
This research yielded four key tensions: 1 navigating innuendo mis interpretation versus preserving arranged ambiguity, 2 the guise of amateurism and romance versus persistent specificity, 3 calculated sacrifice versus narrative of a better life, and 4 consent versus consensual non-consent. Findings attest to the affordances online platforms offer by connecting geographically dispersed parties in a low risk, anonymous forum.
Furthermore, present research s discourses on the commercialization of intimacy and forms of precarious, gendered labor while asserting Internet features are pivotal in facilitating these arrangements. We propose gendered affordances to conceptualize how individual aspirational labor efforts, combined with platform affordances, commodify intimacy for sale on the moral marketplace.
Late usually, he worked long hours.
I was not allowed to say no. Even if I was tired. After that, she moved out and continued to secure acting roles:.
I look back at those months and wonder what I was thinking. But I really had no other choice. Just had to loan out my body … Is that really the end of the world?
We define sex-for-rent arrangements as when a landlord advertises housing in exchange for a sexual relationship with the tenant, although the terms of these arrangements vary widely. We borrow the term commercialized intimacy from Hochschild to refer to the market-like exchange for emotional, sexual, and domestic relationships. While such exchanges are not new, they highlight how social media platforms afford users different capacities for participating in them, what we term gendered affordances.
Scholars have not yet empirically studied sex-for-rent arrangements.
We aim to rectify this with an analysis of sex-for-rent posted on London and Los Angeles Craigslist sites and of 34 qualitative interviews conducted with current or former tenants in sex-for-rent arrangements in those two cities. Our analysis yielded four key tensions in sex-for-rent arrangements afforded by the platform. First, potential tenants must navigate innuendo, while platforms afford landlords the ability to preserve ambiguity in the offer terms. Second, the legal and governance structures of platforms encourage a guise of amateurism in thesewhile allowing landlords to specify desired physical traits, particular racial and gender characteristics, and behaviors required of their potential tenants.
In such, the arrangements lend flexibility to potential creative workers to pursue employment in the sector without immediate financial constraints.
Thus, platform affordances for sex-for-rent schemes provide continuity with the status quo of highly gendered social structures. While appearing to facilitate neutral bargaining between consenting adults, Craigslist preserves highly gendered unequal power in society, even as landlords and tenants alike in this arrangements exercise agency, albeit enabled in different ways by the platform affordances.
Sex-for-rent arrangements rely on the twinned platform affordances of anonymity and visibility to connect tenants and landlords in ways that give them the ability to assess their risks before revealing their identity or meeting in person. Sex-for-rent reproduce traditional, gendered economic and relational patterns, and Internet platforms play novel roles in facilitating these exchanges. Online platforms neither caused the commodification of intimate life nor gave rise to the conditions that shape their prevalence.
However, social media platforms enable actions that suggest some of behaviors to some users, replicating the social configurations that reproduce structures of sexual inequality and gendered divisions in society. In particular, we show how platforms enable tenant and landlord actions through sex-for-rent schemes that maintain gendered and sexualized power hierarchies.
Our article proceeds as follows. After we introduce the sex-for-rent phenomenon, we discuss the relationship between technological affordances and social structure. Next, we briefly review feminist literature on creative work and the commodification of intimacy to build out the social structural components of our argument.
Sex-for-rent operate in legal craigslist Louisiana sex moral gray areas. Formal legal policies have emerged to crack down on soliciting sex online via platforms like Craigslist. The UK Ministry of Justice has recently stated that offering accommodation in exchange for sex counts as inciting prostitution Jones, The regulatory environment in the United States and the United Kingdom creates ambiguous enforcement standards and challenges platforms that permit certain performances of gendered and sexualized behaviors.
Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, is on the record saying that the company cannot police every posting, even as it forbids that break the law NBC, Theory helps explain how social media affordances might be gendered Bucher and Helmond, ; Davis and Chouinard, ; Evans et al. Marwick has suggested examining social media as gendered to reveal patterns across particular environments.
These affordances deed into technology not only shape individual capacity to act but also have implications for structuring interactions and society. Building on this long tradition of feminist technology studies, we define gendered affordances as social affordances that enable different users to take different actions based on the gendered social and cultural repertories available to users and technology deers.
Might this commodification of intimacy also be afforded different scales of reach and scope with Internet technologies and platforms? While emotional and affective labor is central to the functioning of the economy and increasingly central to the economies of the Internet and Web 2.
As Gregg argues, the corporatization of intimacy has blurred lines between personal and professional aspiration, emotional and temporal investment, and even coerced versus freely chosen labor. The blurring of personal and professional boundaries is common in creative industries where compulsory nightlife becomes part of the requirements for new gigs McRobbie, ; Neff et al.
Several interviews described how they exercised agency in these arrangements and in their calculation of performing sexual favors in the present as an investment or hopeful penance for creative glory in the future.
The strategic ambiguity and gendered affordances of Craigslist advertisements for sex-for-rent arrangements afford landlords and tenants different things for these exchanges.
We selected London and Los Angeles for their prevalence of sex-for-rent ly identified in popular press articles and confirmed our selection through initial analysis. The sex-for-rent phenomenon, however, is apparent throughout Europe and North America, with emerging on nearly all metropolitan area Craigslist sites.
We interviewed 16 people in London and 18 in Los Angeles. Our recruitment posts stated the purpose of our research to understand the sex-for-rent phenomenon and required all participants to be years old or older, current or former tenants in arrangements procured through Craigslist, and willing to give a minute anonymous interview.
The interviews posed a series of deeply personal questions that could arouse discomfort, anxiety, or stress and re-identification of our participants could potentially cause ificant reputational harm. We conducted online audio, but not video, interviews and took detailed notes on each interview rather than fully transcribing our conversations.
We never had real names for our participants and we contacted them using anonymous methods.
We allowed participants to remain anonymous by not collecting names, by omitting demographic questions that could have elicited attributable responses, and by striking responses that could have lead to identification. In three interviews, we shared helpline s for local groups that address domestic violence.
Our calls for research participants were only answered by people identifying as women. We oversampled creative industries by posting for interview participation on casting call sites, and all interviewees were employed in creative industries or aspiring to be.
These factors are a limitation of our research de. Table 1 shows the current city, age, occupation, region or country of hometown, and status in a sex-for-rent arrangement. Geography plays a role in sex-for-rent arrangements, as almost all participants were far from their hometowns.
In many interviews, participants said that they had few or no personal connections in their new city. Table 1.
Summary of interview participants and their demographic characteristics. Our research shows four key tensions in how features and affordances of the platform seed ambiguities; provide a buffer that allows interpersonal interaction to evolve in a low risk, relatively anonymous forum; and helps both parties maintain a veneer of amateurism in sex-for-rent arrangements. Landlords skirt the scrutiny of flagging using vague language. This affords landlords the ability to preserve a wide breadth of interpretation about what they expect from tenants in exchange for housing.
The socio-technical norms and affordances of the practices on display in the sex-for-rent we analyzed afforded landlords more visibility for their requests. Tenants were afforded less power in their negotiations with prospective landlords as a result.
The feature of anonymity on Craigslist affords users the ability to test potentially risky interactions in a low-risk setting. Craigslist mail disguises identities behind alias addresses, and thus prospective tenants and landlords may start negotiations without disclosing their real-world identities.
Several interviewees indicated ing using this alias for weeks prior to revealing any personal data to landlords.