I’ve been watching Downton Abbey along with much of the rest of the country, obsessed with the World War 1 era story of class, heartbreak, and romance. The servants, of course, are a lot more interesting than the aristocrats. But in the end it’s all about whether or not Mary, the eldest daughter, will pick a suitably wealthy man. For a while she was matched off with a newspaper baron who was plenty wealthy, but in a new and flashy kind of way. Her destiny is with Matthew, who is a twist caused by the sinking of the Titanic, is the heir to her father’s fortune.
Yeah, its about the romance. But it’s also about the money. Her parents are trying to push, plod, and cover-up (a little indiscretion with a Turk that both took Mary’s virginity and the handsome young man’s life all in one bedtime romp) in order to get their daughter matched off properly. And save the family.
Watching all courtship for money I had to reflect on 2012 and how many couples I know where a woman clearly married a much older man at least in part because of significant wealth. I can remember a time when that kind of thing was frowned upon but honestly I can’t remember anyone so much as mentioning it even in situations where it’s painfully obvious.
Am I totally out of my mind?
“1848 during the California gold rush era, the term Gold Digger is historical as well. Men during this era would go out digging for gold, and once they struck it big, they would go into the nearby bars and celebrate by spreading the wealth around. When they got to these bars, beautiful women all dolled up to perfection, dressed in skimpy little outfits, would line up around the bar area, looking ever so available and waiting for the men who stuck it big to roll in. The men dug for the gold, and the women lived off the men and helped them spend it, giving birth to the most popular term gold digger.”
Obviously it should be added that prior to the concept of the gold digger there was the concept of a “dowry” in which a wife came with money to compensate a husband for taking on the burden of supporting his bride (an equally insane and sexists practice IMO).
It seems to me that at one time women’s liberation meant that there was a certain amount of equality of expectation in terms of economic support being provided by both spouses. And in that context, marrying for money was frowned upon as selling out. Better to go to graduate school, get a real job, and come to family responsibilities equally equipped make a buck, write a book, or change a diaper.
Obviously many, many women work their asses off. In fact more women than men are in the work force according to Hanna Rosin of End of Men fame. And more women are in college too. Which makes the gold digger phenomenon even stranger to me.
It seems that if you are young and beautiful and smart as a woman, it is totally acceptable–in fact almost expected–that you marry a guy a generation older than you with a boat load of cash. In a weird way it’s become a sign of liberation to use your sexuality to command the highest bidder.
Of course in each one of these equations there is a flip side. The much older, rich guy looking to settle down with a woman the age of his daughter, if he has any.
I’m not passing judgement on either side, only noticing that when it comes to mating practices at the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum we really haven’t progressed much beyond Downton Abbey, as much as we’d like to pretend that we have.