Hong Kong’s part-time girlfriends and the Disneyfication of prostitution

Yonden Lhatoo says the phenomenon of part-time girlfriends in Hong Kong is just prostitution by another name, and another by-product of crass consumerism

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 7:18pm

Part-time girlfriends. So that’s what they’re calling them these days. Or PTGFs, for short and trendy.

Funny, this phenomenon used to be known as “prostitution” in the not-so-distant past, and then a nicer-sounding “compensated dating” until lately. It may seem more innocuous with every iteration of the term, but the song remains the same.

When a man (and seriously, what is wrong with us men that we have to perpetuate this?) basically rents a woman for company or companionship on the face of it but with coitus as the underlying intention, the world’s oldest profession comes into play. All the Disneyfication with soft-focus selfies and shy social messaging does not change the facts.

I can understand where they’re coming from when liberals say consenting adults have a right to choose how they make a living. It can quite rightly be seen as hypocritical to judge them when parallels to prostitution can be drawn from every facet of work and life among all of us.

“I wonder how many of you prostitute yourselves for your company and country, since you have such a perception of what a prostitute is. And a misogynist view also,” writes a reader in our comments section online.

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That’s in response to the debate on our forums over a widely read article the Post ran this week on PTGFs and their “no sex please, we’ll only keep you company” claims. A lot of it was quite hostile to one of the protagonists in the story, 16-year-old “Jo”, who opened an Instagram account just last month to offer her services. Jo is apparently trying to save HK$40,000, courtesy of her sugar daddies, to buy a clarinet.

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This is essentially enjo-kosai, Japanese for compensated dating, a practice that may have age and acceptability variations but mostly involves working stiffs paying for the company of young girls with designer goods and other luxury gifts. Younger men use their services, too.

In imitating yet another questionable Japanese trend, Hong Kong now has a problem with the involvement of underage girls, some as young as 12. Sexual exploitation can be just a wink and another LV handbag away.

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One reader has this in mind, writing: “In reality, these paid girlfriends will, by definition, attract insecure, emotionally-stunted, stalker-y, deeply misogynist males. The result is a breeding ground for every unhealthy fixation and obsession in the book. And from there on, it’s just a hop and a skip to abuse and, in some cases, murder. Sorry ladies, rationalise all you want, but no HK$40,000 ‘clarinet’ is worth this.”

I personally would not knock the clarinet, having seen what happens when you offend orchestral types in this city – the MTR found out the hard way when it banned musicians from carrying cello-sized instruments on trains.

But there’s a wider question of societal complicity here. If these girls are to be judged and shamed, how about the rest of us at large who are part and parcel of the reality in which a handbag and a pretty young girl’s body have been assigned similar worth? The price of crass consumerism.

When every billboard, every TV spot, is drilling into these young minds the importance of designer goods and overpriced bling in their lives, what else can we expect? The sacrifice of morals at the altar of Mammon is part of the process.

Perhaps a little off tangent, but worth sharing, here’s another reader’s take to wrap things up: “Anyway SCMP already have half-naked girls every day. Their front page. Good way to boost the online readers.”

Oh, lordy. And that,too, on the front page?

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post