There are a few things to consider when contemplating a relationship. Do you have anything in common? Does she turn you on and make you laugh? Is he an axe-murderer? You know, the usual. Sometimes, however, you get the odd spanner thrown in the works. A very expensive gold-plated and diamond-encrusted spanner which raises the sensitive question: “Can this person afford to be in a relationship with me?” Skirting all the obvious patriarchal and traditional implications of the issue, this week Perdeby explores relationships built on the “gold-digger” model.
It is easy to imagine how a century ago a woman would aspire to a life of living off her significant other’s pay cheques. But bras have been burned, rocks have been stricken and the rules have changed. Gender roles are almost non-existent in today’s society, so why are women still comfortable with men taking care of them?
The Guardian’s Sarah Churchwell argues in her article “Material girls: why gold diggers are back in fashion” that pop culture and Hollywood carry a lot of the blame. She claims that movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and television shows like Sex and the City cast women as fashion-obsessed romantics who rely on men to finance their expensive sartorial proclivities. “The modern gold-digger tale takes the metaphor and reduces it to its most crassly literal level. For all that the series Sex and the City insisted it was about women trying to juggle careers with romance, its opening voice-over was a string of longing references to stories about women who use sex to get ahead.”
Amanda Kuluta, a first-year BCom Accounting student, says that she doesn’t respect women who are gold-diggers and finds them dangerous to the reputation of all women. “A man should support you emotionally and spiritually but not always financially. If we want to be treated as equals, we should act that way,” she begins. Kuluta peddles back a little to suggest a reason why some women would resort to gold-digging: “I guess if you were raised a certain way then you can’t really help the way you think, but you should know that you’re ruining the image of all girls.”
For some women, gold-digging isn’t just a side effect of centuries of patriarchal reinforcement, but a well thought-out career plan. Remember that old joke about varsity being every girl’s last shot at finding a decent husband? Well, it turns out that it isn’t simply a story our grandparents tell us to scare adolescent girls into betting their entire futures on the first man they encounter at university. There are websites dedicated entirely to romantically linking up women with partners who can provide financial support. SeekingArrangement.com is one such website. Two months ago, Business Insider, a US business and technology news website, reported that 44% of the website’s members were varsity students in the USA. Young girls at university often find themselves overwhelmed by the cost of being a student and SeekingArrangement.com provides them the opportunity to find older successful men to furnish their entire varsity careers in exchange for romantic relationships.
This, however, is not only an American phenomenon. In fact, on this very campus (and probably somewhere in your calculus class) are the same sort of girls.
Kate* admits that ever since she was seventeen years old she has only dated men with jobs and she has always expected them to look after her. “When I was in second year, my ex-boyfriend was paying my rent. My parents didn’t know about it so they would still send me money for rent and groceries and I’d just put that money in my savings account.” Even though Kate withholds her real identity, she does disclose that most of her close friends know about the sort of men she dates and some of them are actually proud to call themselves gold-diggers. “If Khanyi Mbau can do it and not be ashamed of it, why can’t the rest of us?” she asks.
In all our favourite fairytales, how many times does the poor beautiful village girl get rescued by the wealthy prince? Rags-to-riches tales are the best ones to hear about and from a very young age girls are nudged into dreaming of their knight in shining armour (read: corporate tycoon in a Hugo Boss suit) who rides up on his trusty horse (read: Bentley) to rescue a young damsel from a fire-breathing dragon (read: student loan) and whisks her off to his palace on a hill (read: mansion in Dainfern). One could argue that gold-diggers are anti-feminist for throwing away their career ambitions for a life at the feet of a man. But then again, isn’t exchanging intimate favours for money the oldest profession in the world?
*Name has been changed.
Illustration: Simon-Kai Garvie