ManServants is billing itself as an Uber-like service for cabana boys. In a better world, it would work even more like Uber, and it would work for sex.
If the response on Twitter is any indication, then ManServants is going to make someone millions of dollars. Billions of dollars. All of the dollars.
For the uninitiated, ManServants is a new startup launching in San Francisco this fall. It is a service, more or less, designed to improve the bachelorette party experience. ManServants is grounded in a familiar complaint that strippers don't really do the same thing for bachelorette parties that they do for bachelor parties. Women don't want to see men strip, these innovators explain; in place of floppy man parts bouncing in their faces, women would rather see well-appointed butlers catering to their whims. The ManServants promotional video illustrates their case pretty clearly.
"It’s not a stripper who gets naked and rubs his greasy body all over you. It's a ManServant: a gentleman who treats you like a queen," the website advertises. "Book one for a bachelorette party or any gathering to be your personal photographer, bartender, bodyguard, and butler all in one."
Women who hire ManServants may want one to serve as a cabana boy for a pool party, or as a body man during a night out. ("Send him as a gift to a ladyfriend's cubicle and she'll have a personal assistant for the day to do her bidding.") ManServants is currently soliciting Mans to serve as Servants, promising compensation at $80 an hour or $300 a day—and absolutely no sex.
There are a few problems with the ManServants model. First and foremost: Why shouldn't women want to pay a ManServant for sex?
After all, there is already a service for purchasing the company of talented, handsome, or otherwise desirable men: escort agencies. To the extent it disrupts anything, ManServants innovates on the gigolo model, not the stripper model. Sandra Tsing Loh's story in the June issue of The Atlantic about ordering the services of high-profile escort Vin Armani with some girlfriends reads more or less like the longform version of the ManServants promo vid.
That story hints, but does not claim, that Armani has sex with clients, a demographic he describes as "successful divorcées." ("Believe me, women do not pay me $400 an hour to go to the farmers’ market," he says. "What I do is more in the vein of a masseuse or a therapist.") Maybe women would pay a ManServant $80 an hour to go to the farmers' market. (And if that is the case then I have got to hit the gym.)
If there is any sector deserving of disruption, it's sex work, which is virtually invisible in America. And among existing disruptive services, Airbnb appears to benefit prostitutes the most. Which is not to say that what sex workers need is an app, or that men are the workers who need changes in this industry. While the sharing economy can't deliver the legal protections that sex workers absolutely need, perhaps improving the visibility of this market could help people to understand it is a labor market where change is badly needed.
And while the market for gentlemen escorts is nowhere near as large or visible as the rest of the sex industry, that demand is still real. A true, um, ride-sharing service could bring gains in efficiency and an expanded, safer market for sex workers and their patrons.