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Joe Millionaire: Blame it on Disney - In Defense of Women Who Seek Out Their Prince Charmingby Peggy Keller -- 01/08/2003
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Millions of men across the country watched Joe Millionaire's debut this week on Fox and I imagine they were chuckling an evil laugh and tapping their fingertips together ala Monty Burns, muttering "Excellent, Excellent."
Most adult men of reasonable looks and personality have met at least one woman in their dating lives who could be called an honest to goodness gold digger. We women have too. We see the girls with their boyfriend-bought implants and jewelry float into a room on the arms of the most eligible bachelor in town - the one whose blood is more blue than the sapphires in his cufflinks. We know she is "winning" the game.
Honestly though, can you blame us? Prior to WW I, women nearly universally relied on men for their survival. Women could hold jobs in domestic service and manufacturing, etc., but got paid half of what their male counterparts did. This continued even through the ratification of the 19th amendment which gave women greater rights. In many states, women were forced to choose - love or money. If a woman married, she would lose her job. Because of this, women knew they had to marry someone who could support them or they might lose their children. Fathers had the right to give their children away, send them to a poor house, etc., and a mother could do nothing. If she divorced her spouse, not only was it nearly impossible to find a reasonable job, but the husband kept all property and the kids.
Our mothers were raised by women who knew this to be the way of life. After the war, when the men came back, women, who everyone knew now could do the same kind of work that men could, were left jobless. If you did not marry a man with money, you faced possible starvation, the loss of your children, and homelessness.
Cinderella is a tale that was published over five hundred years ago and whose origins go back even farther than that. Nearly every culture has their own version. In fact, Joe Millionaire has its own roots in ancient history: Russia, China, and Byzantium had a "bride show custom" where emperors or kings would get a bunch of young single women together and the they would put them through tests, and the most desirable woman would be chosen to wed.
Enter Walt Disney in 1950, retelling a story we already know, and then stick it on collector's edition video; give it as a significant gift to millions of girls nationwide, and the tale continues on. By the time these young girls reach adulthood, have their own careers, and do not need to rely on a man for money, they have it stuck so deeply in their subconscious that this is the way it should be, that to defy it would be illogical.
These stories are so ingrained in our culture that they are nearly biblical as truth. Combine this with the facts that up until the generation of women previous to those alive today, marrying a man with money meant survival.
You hear the theory that men cannot be monogamous because evolutionarily speaking, they must spread their seed to propagate the species with their genetic code. Woman have their own version of this. In order to have their DNA continue on, they must find the man who is most likely to offer shelter, food, and good health for their offspring.
We are culturally and possibly biologically designed to seek out Joe Millionaire. So as we call these young women gold diggers, keep in mind that the only reason they are gold diggers is because up until the not so distant past, the entire path of a woman's life was determined by the men in that life. Considering it was that way for centuries, women have made enormous strides in the past fifty years. It might take a few more years to get to the point where we can tell Fox to take their pearl necklaces and stick them up their - oops, they might like that… or make another reality show out of it.
Peggy Keller is Mother and Behavior Therapist to her two autistic sons and teenage daughter. Click here to e-mail her.
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