Tuesday, July 07, 2009

It is a truth universally acknowledged

Some frivolous feminism to get me back into blogging. Last week, Feministe had a post and lengthy discussion about an awful new book about marrying for money (some books, I'm prepared to judge by their covers). Hat tip to Hoyden about Town.

I've said before that, in matters of the heart (and the goolies), people are entitled to their prejudice. If a person's age, looks, an impairment or the colour of their skin means you cannot find them sexually attractive, then you cannot be expected to act against this. So if you need someone to be wealthy before you can get with them, that's fine. But don't imagine there is a logical argument in there; it's a personal preference and may well be something – rather like possessing a boxset of Will & Grace – that doesn't reflect altogether well on you.

Feminist Jessica Wakeman defends the book and admits to such a preference;
"I know of great guys out there—journalists, teachers, non-profit dudes—who will probably make great dads. But I personally wouldn’t pair up with them because, realistically, our two salaries together just wouldn’t be enough to cut it for what I want out of life"
Now before I get onto the ideological stuff, I should say that I have every hope for Jessica's future happiness. Maybe she'll meet and marry a wonderful man who happens to be loaded. But I know a thing or two about love - I have white hairs and everything - and I reckon there's a distinct possibility she may well find herself in love with some red hot scholarly piece with an enormous vocabulary, at which point what she wants out of life will shift accordingly. Not completely, but perhaps significantly. Just as his dreams of building a time-machine and traveling back to marry Emily Dickinson may fall by the wayside when he meets her.

But like I say, we're all entitled to our prejudices in this area. It's the trend that's depressing. One commenter to Jessica's piece even said;
“I don’t say one should only marry for money but make sure you LIKE him and will learn to love him and he will at least be there for you financially.”
I have to admit that everything else this commenter wrote was sound, which is why I'm not attributing it - these sentiments are not unheard of. We've all known a few women who have been quite explicit in their preference for a partner who is much more wealthy than they are. Worse, I have had women who state such a preference go on to chide me for suggesting that looks actually matter in a sexual partner. Presumably, a lady is supposed to close her eyes and calculate her interest. Or perhaps do it with the lights off to save on the electric - every penny counts!

Wealth is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for happiness or even security. All the time, feminists are objecting to advertising messages which try to make us feel we need to spend vast quantities of money before we are fit to be seen in public, before our homes reach a minimal standard of hygiene and decency, before our children are safe from disease or shame or malnutrition or injuring their bottoms on cheap toilet paper. The idea that being rich keeps you safe is part of the same myth. Even in purely economic terms, money comes and goes and often goes a lot quicker than it came. In this regard, only politics can actually keep us safe - a decent welfare state and universal healthcare is a good start.

Feminism and materialism are incompatible. The idea that every human being is of equal worth is obviously incompatible with the idea that money has a bearing on a person's worth. Being a high-earner does not indicate that a person is happy, intelligent, educated, hard-working or conscientious - merely that they happen to have attained a job that pays well. Such a person is most likely to be white, non-disabled and to have been born into a wealthy family.

Earning less or being unemployed does not make a person feckless or lazy. If someone has several thousand pounds of debt and still finds the resources to expand his already extensive collection of celebrity toenail-clippings, this does not bode well. But in general, the best and worst people are fairly evenly distributed throughout the pay-scale. Women should know this better than anyone, since we generally do more work for less pay than men (I don't, but other women do).

Some people have argued that evolution has programmed women to seek out a provider for herself and her children, which manifests in a feminine preference for wealthy men. However, one has to have a very naive picture of how primitive family life worked and totally ignore the survival instinct, which is what has really driven the feminine preference for wealthy men for much of our recent history (by which I mean the last several hundred years).

If you have no hope of providing for yourself, because society won't let you work independently or won't pay you enough to live on, then it is not only sensible, but imperative that you find someone else to cover your cost of living in exchange for sex and other services - whatever it takes! Even if you are surviving, if the only possible way in which you might improve your situation is through an economically fortunate marriage, many people would consider it worth a punt. In studies looking at Lonely Hearts throughout the world, the frequency with which women mention a prospective partner's income or wealth indicators in their ads correlates with varying levels of sexual inequality in different cultures. If you have the means of providing for yourself - or even if you simply live in a culture that expects you to - you have far more sexual, reproductive and romantic freedom.

Not that I'm arguing that both women and men need to be locked in an equally ambitious and life-wasting pursuit of material wealth. I'm poor and likely to remain economically vulnerable for the rest of my life, but I have never considered compromising my love life in the hope of getting richer - not because I'm a sensible or virtuous person, but because I was brought up to regard my fate to be in my own hands. And of course, if we all worked less, earnt less and bought less frippery, the world would be a much better place. Feminism and materialism are incompatible. And it is easier for a camel to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle. But there is some hope for us all when it comes to love.

For one thing, the idea that people choose their partners according to a set of criteria is a little ludicrous. A person might think she has a checklist or a "type", but love doesn't work like that. In fact, the only people I've known to actually have had a checklist are unhappily single - they're engaged in a desperate search for something very specific whilst other equally good opportunities may be passing them by. One such friend spent some years looking for a Christian dentist who looked like George Clooney before realising that something very different but equally appealing was on offer. As I said earlier, I have my doubts that Jessica or anyone else would reject Mr or Ms Right if they showed up short of cash.

Even so, compatible people usually end up together by default. If you are very sporty and spend all your time running about or jiggling on the spot, my guess is the sort of person you could fall in love with will be a sporty type. You don't need to rule out prospective partners who aren't sporty because they're unlikely to fall into your path - or indeed find you attractive, you track-suited blue-bottle!

We tend attracted to the kind of people who might be attracted to us. We can sometimes feel demoralised by people whose romantic criteria would exclude us but we probably wouldn't want them anyway. Some people say being disabled narrows the spectrum of potential partners, I prefer the verb refines. Women who truly need a man to be rich before he is even a prospect are unlikely to be very easy-going or self-reliant and they are likely to be an unwitting source of pressure when the going gets tough. I daresay there are wealthy men who want to be wanted for their money - and are happy to run the gauntlet of losing their attractions if the money runs out - but I'm not sure kind of man that would be.

What a ramble! Still, more than I've managed for a good few weeks. Expect more sensible topics soon!


Stephen said...

But I know a thing or two about love - I have white hairs and everything

Not another white hair?? You really are getting on, aren't you?

Who on earth wants to be wanted for their money? Presumably this means that anyone with more money would have to be more attractive. And unless you're the sultan of brunei, you're never going to be top of the young lady's list. I'd rather be wanted for the things that I do better than anyone else in the world - my disdainful attitude towards poorly scripted films, for instance. My fetishistic knowledge of engines. And my great skill at cleaning mobile telephones. At these things no one can beat me...and hopefully are the things that keep my other half grateful, bored and irritated in equal measure. No credit crunch, stock dive etc will change those things.

What lasts longer under the heavy gaze of time - a penny or a £20 note?

ecobunni said...

Very sensible post.

I doubt gold diggers would be honest enough to tell the 'lucky' chosen man why they really wanted to be with him, so from the start the relationship would be built on a lie.

Any men not wealthy enough to meet the criteria should definitely consider themselves fortunate.

Lindsay said...

"Some people say being disabled narrows the spectrum of potential partners, I prefer the verb refines."

Me, too!

Also, amen to everything you say in this post. (And, as a Jane Austen fan, I love your title!)