For most of history men have married for political alliance, status, inheritance and dowry, but when women go out looking for rich husbands they are called gold-diggers. As a society, why can’t we stand a woman who wants to be rich?
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
I am always early. I have such a strong fear of being tardy that I am often the first person to arrive anywhere and waiting for others to arrive is just a regular part of my life. I was thirty-minutes early to our first date but it was okay because we were meeting at a place I frequented back then and I knew everyone in the market. I was sitting on the parapet in front of the coffee shop with my Vidhanshi. Vidhanshi was a little girl, she couldn’t have been older than eleven. She was always in the market. By our current social norms she would be qualified as a beggar, (I don’t know how else to put it even though that term in itself feels diminutive), I would call her a little con woman (and with the utmost respect too).
She was a well-spoken, neatly-dressed and imaginative young girl. She would often go from person-to-person in the various outdoor cafes and tell them stories about her life. Everyone loved seeing her. The stories were always made up and changed almost hourly. She never asked for money directly but she always added a pitiful aspect to her mostly colourful tales that would compel you to give her money. With each upcoming festival, she changed her religious orientation so she could maximally exploit the festive sentiment. That day it was 4-days before Eid, and she told me a long story about how much fun she had had on Eid the previous year and she couldn’t that year because her father had not brought any meat. I always gave her money, despite her blatant lies, and maybe because of them, the way I saw it, I was rewarding her storytelling. She seemed like a modern day rhapsode and I loved it.
My ex didn’t love it as much. Each time he would meet here there, he would screw up his nose and call her a gold-digger. Then he would launch into a tirade about women who just wanted men for money. It always bothered me to hear him say the term “gold-digger” but I could never articulate why. As a person I have always tended to financial self-sufficiency and independence but that doesn’t mean I harbour any judgement for women who don’t and when I put it like that, most people don’t. When they call the same women “gold-digger” though, it comes with judgement. I didn’t realise what my problem with the term was until very early into the lockdown when suddenly faced with the prospect of not getting on a bus, train or plane, or having to be in college, I turned to a vlogger by the name of Anna Bey. Anna Bey and I are not on the same page in many ways, she believes in something she calls traditional feminism and a lot of her life is about elegant appearances and classy handbags, but I respect Anna Bey because she wants what she wants (which is a rich husband and an elegant lifestyle), and she says it. I also respect her because she was the reason I understood why the term gold-digger is anti-woman.
By her rationale, women in the modern age, are expected to be masters of everything: work, education, household, childcare and appearance, and this is true, while the right to have a career is most important to me, I cannot discount the fact that most of the men in our society haven’t gotten to the point where they step up in the household or parenting as equal partners and most of all those responsibilities fall to women. Just look at how we as a society reacted to Virat Kohli’s decision to take paternity leave. In this environment, she says, it is only fair that a woman seek a man who can provide for her well enough that she can outsource some of these jobs especially since the man doesn’t want to contribute to them and women get paid less anyway. I don’t think she is wrong. I think her math adds up well and while personally I have no interest in the money of any man (or woman) who isn’t my boss, I don’t see why I couldn’t marry for it if I wanted to.
Besides, it’s not something men haven’t done for centuries. Kings married more often for political alliance and monetary benefit than anything. Ancient England had marriages performed for entailment which disallowed unmarried women from inheriting property. Men in India have married for dowry for as long as I know and even though we say we have come a long way, we haven’t. We just call dowry “shagun” now and that way it’s not a social evil, it’s auspicious. There is no pejorative term for these men though. No, when a man does it, it is just the way of the world. It’s also okay if a woman has it done for her. For instance, in arranged marriages in India, there are many points of evaluation but the one that matters most: How much money does the guy make? We say we want to marry “by caste” and yes that is serious to a lot of people, but add enough money to the equation, and it suddenly starts to matter less. I can guarantee that no process of arranged marriage ends with a female software engineer married to a male watchman of the same caste. So it’s okay when your parents do it. When your parents “look for a guy” for you, and evaluate his financial prospects then it’s about “security” for their daughter, but if a girl goes out herself looking for a rich guy, she’s a gold-digger.
If a woman isn’t “allowed” to work after marriage, that’s just her “new” family looking out for her and providing for her, but if a woman doesn’t want to work because she married a guy who can support them on one salary, then she’s immoral because clearly all she ever wanted was to find a rich guy so she could “sit at home”. Which brings me to an important point, we wouldn’t consider women “gold-diggers” if we were actually able to value what they bring to a relationship and the world as homemakers. Let’s get something clear, being unemployed is not what makes a homemaker (and of course, it is also annoying that it is an unpaid role that always falls to women but that’s neither here nor there). In reality, the concern, organisational skills, time management, physical labour, economic skills and compassion that go into keeping a home are a tall order. Most of us only struggle at keeping a home. I can buy a nice lamp every now and then, but if someone shows up unannanounced at my place, they will not be able to find me amid the laundry and clutter and moutains of sheets and books, and when they do find me, I will probably hope they will be kind enough to make me dinner, and also my family. That would never happen to my mother. Every damn person is constantly tended to, even when they are not there in her house and somehow even when she is not there in her house. That’s work. That’s not a hobby. Not “just what someone does because they don’t have a job”. If you hired someone to do exactly everything we just expect from “homemakers” you would be paying them a sizable amount of money (if domestic labour wasn’t notoriously underpaid because, you guessed it, it’s “women’s work”). So if in exchange for all this work, a woman wants to find a husband who can compensate her, I don’t think that’s wrong.
And I know what the argument here is: It may not be wrong, but it’s cold, how can you have a relationship like that? How can love be based on something as cold as money?
First of all, marriage has little to do with love as it exists in our world, but even if that wasn’t the case, almost all relationships maintain in some form a record of the “give-and-take”. Emotionally, this is a terrible idea, but we already have relationships based on reciprocity of task and emotional labour. For a want to seek a man who has money and be unable to love one who doesn’t, is the same as a man wanting a girl who is thin and being unable to love or marry one who isn’t. If that isn’t cold, this isn’t cold. Besides, men don’t want women who make more money than them. I’ve been with a lot of men and not only were most of them threatened by my ambition and salary, the social environment was also threatened and offended on their behalf. I refuse to view my income as supplementary and so do many other women but in the marital sphere that means we have to marry men who make more than us but at the same time if we seek out men who make more than us, then there is something wrong with us morally. Hell even if we seek it out at our jobs it is looked upon with disdain. We condemn it so vehemently, that my ex it was okay to call an 11-year old girl a gold-digger even as he lived on my money.
Society pushes women to turn marriages into retirement plans, but if a woman has wish to see it that way herself, we line up to abuse her. I don’t think our problem is with women who want money as much as it is with women who exercise choice without social shame. No one would have a problem Vidhanshi if she was a dirt-faced street child with a bowl (and you should have a problem with that on many levels), but because she combs her hair and spins her tales to evoke emotions in people, she’s condemnable. She’s an 11-year old con woman.