Is She a Gold Digger, or is She Playing the Hand Patriarchy Dealt Her?

Men: I’m going to ask you to read with an open mind and trust the process. And as a matter of good faith, let me start by saying that I believe gold-digging does exist. I believe that anyone of any gender can use sex, romance, or even platonic attention to coerce emotionally vulnerable people for personal gain. And for reasons that will become clear in this blog, I do acknowledge that it is often men who are the victims of this. If such a thing has happened to you, I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that. But what I’d like to discuss today is something different. I propose here that the propensity for men to call any woman who pursues a relationship with a man of power and influence a “gold digger” is problematic and rooted deeply in patriarchy. There is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed—and addressing it would liberate us all. So, with that in mind, take my hand and let’s talk about it.

In a culture that still lives under patriarchy despite decades of feminist movement, women often find themselves playing a game they were intended, from its inception, to lose. And, unsurprisingly, when they find a way to play within the rules of this game and actually win (or at least not miserably lose), they are depicted as wicked, opportunistic, or greedy. This is where the term “gold digger” comes from. It’s actually a derivative of the word hypergamous. Hypergamy refers to the practice of marrying or forming relationships with individuals of a higher social or economic status. In this context, individuals, often women, seek partners who possess greater wealth, status, or power than themselves. But most people just call it gold digging.

Before hastily applying such labels, it’s important to examine the broader context within which these dynamics unfold.

The term “gold digger” carries a pejorative connotation, implying that a woman’s romantic interest is solely motivated by the financial or social status of her partner. While there undoubtedly exist cases of individuals engaging in malicious manipulation for personal gain, it’s important to recognize that such behavior is not representative of all women who pursue relationships with affluent men. Most women who seek such relationships are not out to deliberately “screw over” men. In fact, they are operating in a system established by men, for men.

In patriarchal societies, men historically held—and continue to hold—disproportionate control over wealth, power, and resources. Centuries of systemic oppression and gender-based discrimination have entrenched these disparities, perpetuating a societal framework where men occupy positions of privilege and authority. Consequently, women often face limited opportunities for economic and social advancement, with marriage serving as a primary means of securing financial stability and social status.

When women seek partners who possess wealth and influence, they are, in many cases, adhering to societal norms and expectations ingrained by centuries of patriarchal conditioning. In a system where men have monopolized economic and political power, women are implicitly encouraged to align themselves with those who hold such positions, often through marriage or romantic partnerships.

Furthermore, patriarchal ideologies perpetuate the notion that a woman’s value is intrinsically tied to her relationship with a man, particularly one who is affluent or successful. From an early age, girls are socialized to aspire to marriage and prioritize the acquisition of a suitable partner—a narrative reinforced by cultural norms, media representations, and societal expectations.

However, this narrative neglects to acknowledge the inherent power imbalances that underpin such relationships. While men amass wealth and power, women are relegated to subordinate roles, expected to fulfill traditional gender roles and prioritize their partner’s needs and desires. In this context, the pursuit of affluent partners can be viewed as a pragmatic response to societal constraints rather than a calculated act of exploitation.

Moreover, the vilification of women who seek financial security through relationships with wealthy men serves to deflect attention from the systemic inequalities caused by patriarchy. By attributing women’s actions to individual character flaws rather than addressing the root causes of economic disparity and gender-based oppression, society absolves itself of accountability and perpetuates harmful stereotypes and double standards.

It’s essential to recognize that women’s choices are shaped by the structural constraints imposed by patriarchal systems, and criticizing individual behavior without addressing systemic injustice only serves to uphold the status quo. Instead of condemning women for navigating a society rife with inequality, we must strive to dismantle the systems of oppression that limit their autonomy and agency.

In challenging patriarchal norms and expectations, we must also interrogate our own biases and assumptions about gender, power, and relationships. Rather than resorting to hasty labels and judgments, we should seek to create a more equitable and inclusive society where individuals are free to pursue genuine connections based on mutual respect, understanding, and consent.

Ultimately, the “gold digger” dilemma is not merely a matter of individual behavior, but a symptom of broader systemic injustices perpetuated by patriarchy. By acknowledging and addressing these inequalities, we can move towards a more just and equitable society where individuals of all genders are afforded the opportunity to thrive on their own terms, free from the constraints of outdated gender norms and expectations.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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