Monetising what their mamas gave them. For these ladies, it seems that the party never stops as they enjoy fancy holiday trips and drive luxury cars as well as show off the latest fashion trends.
By Siyabonga Hadebe
A KENYAN commentator remarked that “slay queens are a very specific and logical response of young women. They are monetising what their mamas gave them, using the marketing skills they paid for privately in school.” Although there is no definite definition of the word “slay queen”, the word is widely used in social circles. It is nonetheless quite difficult to give a definite description since the slay queen phenomenon remains least studied by social scholars even though it could be a defined social class with its form of culture, rules and other traits.
The term is used widely across the continent to a identify special group of women who roam social media and share pictures of their lavish lifestyle. For these ladies, it seems that the party never stop as they enjoy fancy holiday trips and drive luxury cars as well as show off the latest fashion trends. The ladies have no definite careers – “social media careerists” – but if they do they live above their pay grade. They are often seen in the company of the wealthy and the famous. They are role models of many young women who also wish to escape poverty and join the world of fame.
In her book “Bare: The Blesser’s Game” (2018), which is based on her own experiences as a “slay-queen”, Jackie Phamotse opened up about transactional sex and the way society covers it up. Phamotse’s book pierced the veil that covers the underworld of “blessers” (rich men) and “blessees” (young women, also called slay queens). The novel went on to expose famous people and their involvement in such things as rimming, abuse and other woeful acts.
Even though Phamotse’s allegations were never proven even after threats of legal suits, one thing became apparent: There is another world out there that is concealed to mere mortals. This world is dominated by fast-paced life, fancy cars, luxury, hotels, sodomy and drugs. In 2017, Congolese and blesser Serge Cabonge appeared in a television documentary called “MTV Shuga: In Real Life” where he explained that he targets students. He categorised women into different levels, from those who deserve cellphone airtime to those who get taken to Dubai, Paris or Los Angeles.
Violence and human trafficking
The reality is that some of the bad things that happen to women including violence, human trafficking, rape and diseases will never be sorted because it is likely the people who are involved in these horrendous acts are the ones who are supposed to solve them. Nonetheless, the world of transactional sex and its rigours remain unexplored, and society is not ready to deal with its hidden side. Slay queens are, therefore, a social phenomenon. Nigeria’s television sitcom, Professor Johnbull, gives a glimpse into the life of a slay queen in humorous fashion.
Writing for Malawi’s biggest newspaper Nyasaland Times, Mike Fiko calls the slay queens a “movement” and estimates that they are “mostly aged between 23 and 25, often with a child or two with other people’s husbands”. In his study on the involvement of women in transactional sex, Unisa academic Johannes N Mampane looked at the reasons that force young women aged 18 to 30 years to engage in transactional sex to earn a living.
Nevertheless, Fiko attempts to provide an explanation of what the term “slay queen” means. He says that a slay queen is “a woman who wants to choke everyone else with how beautiful they feel they are and how they do their ‘cool stuff’…” This characterisation may seem too simplistic but it helps to build an image of a slay queen in one’s mind. Ademola Olonilua describes a slay queen as “slang used to describe a young lady who hinges her social acceptability on falsehood and vainglory”.
Apparently, these girls have no education although they speak “crisp” English. They also have no income but they live large. In addition, they have no business ventures but they always flash flight tickets while seated in business class. Mampane argues that socio-cultural, socio-behavioural and socioeconomic factors such as poverty and social pressures are behind transactional sex involving younger women. Whereas many people need to survive and earn some income, others want to be seen.
A new phenomenon
Ghanaian writer Francisca Kakra Forson writes that “the era of social media has highlighted a new phenomenon of ‘slay queens’, a phrase whose meaning has varied over time from the positive – women ‘killing it’ in their careers and lifestyles to the negative – women dating rich, often married, men to fund their lavish lifestyles”. Forson’s observation appears to suggest that the term slay queen has both positive and negative connotations. Thus, it depends on the circumstances and context it is used but the fact is that it exists and, therefore, is difficult to ignore.
Slay queens are often accused of engaging in subtle prostitution but they fight back. They raise one fundamental question “as to why one gender [male] irrespective of the level of their wealth can acquire sexual and domestic services from the other gender [women] who for the lack of capital must exchange these services for capital or its benefits”. The point is that men can easily splash money to be laid yet they do not face condemnation like women. Why shouldn’t a woman volunteer sex in order to get money? More daring women get on with their business despite the rebuke from society, which still treats them as second class humans.
In an interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour, a Ghanaian actress named Moesha Boduong admitted to dating a married man who took care of her because of the harsh economic conditions in her country. As in elsewhere, many well-to-do South African men are also not really interested in making investments in high-yield sectors of the economy, but they are rather invested in the unfruitful sectors. This includes entertaining scores of women in expensive places and giving them money.
Hanging around Taboo
In 2018, billionaire businessman Johann Rupert remarked that his generation “didn’t go and buy BMWs and hang around at Taboo and The Sands all the time…” This was in reference to “nouveau riche” black middle classes that have created a sub-culture of reckless spending and conspicuous consumption. During major events, they pay unimaginable bills exceeding R100 000 a night on booze and food alone. The spenders include politicians, tenderpreneurs, socialites and their spoiled brats.
At the time, Rupert’s comments drew mixed reactions from mainly black people and he was accused of racism and arrogance. It may have been that Rupert was dismissed because he is white, or maybe most people did not expect him to comment on their lavish but highly unproductive lifestyles. Everybody knows that this life exists across South Africa, from Ayepyep in Pretoria and Eyadini in Umlazi to exclusive places in Umhlanga, Sandton and Cape Town. Large events such as the Durban July, political events, music concerts, et al are associated with shady life involving “blessers” and “blessees” as well as tons of money, drugs, unconventional sexual practices such as rimming and swinging.
This glamorous life runs parallel to slay queens. These are women who date sporadically with one or more men in exchange for being taken care of. Money and “soft life” motivate them to engage in what is increasingly becoming a vibrant trade involving millions of rand and movement of goods and services. The existence of slay queens is no longer a social occurrence but a parallel economy with its currency called the clitocurrency and also adheres to the basics of economics such as demand and supply. This vibrant economy is also cyclical and goes through booms and bursts like the mainstream economy.
At its base the slay queen economy is made up of opulent male clients who drive up the demand for the clitocurrency through their excessive spending and lifestyles. These men enjoy better standards of living than ordinary people. They thrive in an economy that hardly grows and hardly creates jobs. Poverty and inequality, which predominantly affect genders differently, heighten the command of these men. They have become a parallel stream for earning money for many destitute people who include males and females. Some of these men do not mind sleeping with boys as well.
Exploited for sex
On the supply side, young people feature in the slay queen economy as suppliers of their bodies that are exploited for sex. South Africa’s youth unemployment rate exceeds 75% and this means that cheap sex is available in abundance. It is not only socioeconomic hardships that attract young men and women to the slay queen economy but other social drivers push them to pursue easier routes to the top. There are newer fashionable trades like social media influencer which make young people to believe that can gain stardom overnight. As a result, many women unashamedly sell themselves on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.
In 2017, Wandile Ngcaweni wrote in The Times that slay queens on social media were pimping innocent girls. The reason Fiko calls slay queens a movement is because they know each other. They represent a growing class against their captive market of rich men who have the resources and knowledge on how to make things happen. The women experience hardships of the slay queen economy when the season is dry. For example, the emergence of the coronavirus and harsh lockdowns almost collapsed the slay queen economy and its currency. There are indications that the slay queen economy and its currency are on a path to recovery since most places of fun and event are now operational.
Tiisetso Maloma likens slay queens with cryptocurrency: “Slay queens meet the characteristic of ‘acceptability’ of a currency – although not acceptable to all members of society”. This simply means that slay queens exist in our midst like everybody else, yet society either pretends that they are not there or it treats them with scorn. There are many people who have made millions from Bitcoin as there are women who earn a good living from their not so conventional life. As for men, they fuel the growth of the slay queen economy like a central bank that pumps money into an economy.
Global Sex Exchange
Players meet in what Forson calls the “Global Sex Exchange”, which has no share indices or big screens, but only bartering between men and women. The exchange entails such things as prostitution, marriage, cohabitation or side relationships – sugar daddy, side chick and slay-queen affairs. The slay queen economy is, therefore, an extension of social structures. Therefore, it is entirely up to individuals to select which type of sexual engagement they prefer but based on the existing social realities many women cannot choose. “The imbalance of capital creates a relationship of negotiation and exchange between men who have the capital and women who have it not yet need it in the capitalist world,” argues Forson. The slay queen economy will continue to thrive amid this and other realities.
The clitocurrency has some notable features. It is based on the commodification of the female body and characterises an entirely new economy that has grown out of the exploitation of erotic capital. The currency is pegged to the South African rand like the currencies of Lesotho, Namibia and eSwatini. When the rand depreciates these currencies suffer. However, the clitocurrency is very difficult to predict since it is not regulated by the SA Reserve Bank. At times, it outperforms the rand and its users become instantly wealthy. It also crashes quite regularly due to certain events like December holidays when men are with their families, and slay queens go home in townships and rural areas as well as in the neighbouring countries.
In conclusion, poverty and hardship facing youths in South Africa and other countries will not go away for as long as older and wealthier men actively invest in the slay queen economy and its currency. There is a dangerous belief that “raising one’s sexual potency is a currency that can be translated into real material benefits”. Unfortunately, eroticism can never be an investment. Therefore, empowered youth are likely to withdraw their participation in this economy because they would have better things to do with their lives. But this is not that simple considering the power of capitalism, which is a rat race where individuals continuously search for a holy grail. Capitalism gives an illusion that everyone has a chance to be rich but this promise is like a mirage.
Siyayibanga le economy!
Based in Geneva, Siyabonga Hadebe is an independent commentator on socio-economics, politics and global matters.