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Opinion: Sugar dating shows that we need a gendered strategy to tuition affordability

SeekingArrangement reports that U of T is top ranked for students using the website
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JOSEPH DONATO/THE VARSITY
JOSEPH DONATO/THE VARSITY

Tuition affordability is a focal point of student advocacy, especially during the pandemic. Students across the nation are frustrated to find themselves paying exorbitant fees for classes that are mostly online. In the case of students who are women, the solution to this problem may be sex work, such as sugar baby relationships. This is why we must take a gendered approach to tuition affordability.

The average amount, before tax, that a person needs to live in Toronto ranges from $55,500 to $61,000. These numbers released by Lowest Rates, a Canadian financial aid comparison company, don’t take into account shared expenses that could reduce the amount one needs to live in Toronto. However, it also doesn’t consider student expenses, such as university fees, school supplies, and so on.

The tuition fee for domestic students at the University of Toronto starts at $6,100 per year while it is between $21,650 to $64,810 for international students. With the high cost of tuition, it comes as no surprise that U of T was ranked first in the country for the number of students that use SeekingArrangement, a sugar baby dating website.

The term ‘sugar baby’ is often used to describe a younger woman who maintains a relationship with an older and wealthier man, a ‘sugar daddy,’ in exchange for gifts. SeekingArrangement revealed that the average sugar daddy is 38 years old and makes around $250,000 annually. Meanwhile, the average sugar baby is 25 years old and makes $2,800 monthly through this arrangement. However, each relationship differs not only in compensation but also in the amount of intimacy required. 

That being said, there are many factors that might drive women at U of T to become sugar babies: tuition, rent, living expenses, and for some, the desire to find a serious relationship. With this in mind, the recent SeekingArrangement report is understandable. The site even advertises itself as a way for students to “avoid student debt and secure a better future.”

The reality is that attending U of T is not cheap, and SeekingArrangement provides an alternative for women that find themselves with financial struggles. However, given the dangers associated with sex work, it is the responsibility of U of T to find other financial opportunities for students, specifically their students who are women, that are pushed toward sex work. 

Considering the gendered make up of sex work, the patriarchal influences cannot be ignored within this line of work. Men often treat women with gifts, thus making them financially dependent and subservient. Coupled with the objectification women face under the patriarchy, it must be recognized that women who need to utilize this objectification for currency — or, in this case, to afford tuition — must be supported by institutions like U of T that exacerbate their need to turn to these relationships.  

To begin to tackle this issue, it is necessary for campus advocacy groups to fight for gendered solutions to the cost of tuition. Scholarships that target low-income women are a great place to start. Providing access to free textbooks and school supplies is another way to help these women save money. 

Petitioning the Ontario government for a better funding system for students is another way through which various advocacy groups and student unions can help. There are a limited number of options for financial aid and scholarships provided by U of T itself, and that is something various organizations around campus need to look into. 

The high cost of tuition is a problem that affects students across the country. However, it’s reports such as the one from SeekingArrangement that highlight the different ways high tuition affects different groups of students, specifically women. U of T must address the affordability of tuition through a gendered lens in order to fully understand and solve this problem. 

Saman Saeed is a second-year human biology and psychology student at UTSC.