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The Plight of Universities: The Gold-Digger VS. The Feminine Scholar

By Charles Moffat - July 18th, 2002

I would like to thank my friend Angela Tarango of Harvard University in Boston. She is the inspiration for this essay. She attended Wellesley University in Boston from 1998 until 2001 and received her Bachelors degree. She is currently attending Harvard and studying her Masters Degree with a full scholarship. When she is done she intends to study her Ph.D, become a professor, get married and have children. I have known Angela since high school and I am very proud to be her friend. Congratulations Angela! I know you will be a great inspiration to the people you teach.

Whether they are being trained in a convent to be either devoted, virtuous wives or become scholarly nuns, many of the women portrayed in I, the Worst of All, Madame Bovary, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and a multitude of other examples in our culture are metaphors of a contemporary problem. Particularly in our modern university setting: The Gold-Digger. Feminine scholars, women, and the whole of society suffer due to this perpetuation of a modern stereotype of the woman whose sole goal in gaining an education is to find a wealthy husband. Indeed, even the gold-diggers themselves suffer in the end.

After the announcement that I was attending York University, my Aunt Edna (the only person on my father’s side of family over the age of 40 who ever attended university) sent me two things: A sizable cheque towards my education and a letter advising me to “Beware of Gold-Diggers!” At the time of receiving this, I was dumbfounded on the basis of my sheer naiveté: I did not know what a gold-digger was. My mother explained the matter, and I recall responding by saying “But I don’t have any money in the first place!” Although admittedly, at the time Edna thought I was intending to study law.

Since arriving at York University my interaction with so-called “gold-diggers” has been limited. I really had not cared about such a shallow and superficial person, and they cared even less about me because I lacked the only thing they wanted: Wealth. To some extent however, it makes me an ideal person to objectively criticize and analyze this stereotype and compare it perhaps to the stereotype of the modern feminine scholar (if such a stereotype can be believed to exist).

To prove this latter statement, it is best to look at what scholarly stereotypes we can already identify. The “Nerd” is usually applied to a male figure that is intelligent, but socially awkward with possible physical weakness and unattractiveness. It is perhaps the best example of society using a scapegoat to hide their intellectual weaknesses. Being socially awkward the “nerd” is unable to refute statements about him/her and thus is a silent scapegoat upon which insults can be hurled and they rarely rebound.

The socially affluent female however, whose social skills are generally more well developed by college age cares more about what others think about them. Becoming trapped in a socially difficult position is more difficult for women because of a fear of becoming ostracized. While males cope with ostracization easier due to being less socially adept in the first place, females are faced with a double ostracization in which both females and males ostracize them. Females who do not want the bad social stigma attached to being seen with someone who is socially unacceptable, but they are also ostracized by specific groups of men who find the female either unattractive or intellectually intimidating.

The earning power of educated women is not amazingly higher on a percentage basis when compared to men who work the same amount of time. For example, a full-time female employee with only a high-school diploma on average makes only 79.6% of what a man with the same education does. A female with a degree and a full time job makes only 80.4% of what a man with a degree and a full time job does. The difference of 0.8% more payment equity is amazingly small.

It can perhaps be best explained by the occupation that the female ends up with after graduation. Not many females in Canada graduate with technology, science or math degrees at present. The jobs available for such a degree pay a great percentage more than a degree in art history or English. Technology, science and math degrees are the intellectually “Nerd” programs of study. If we were to make an estimate of the percentage of female students who avoided such programs because they fear the social stigmas attached, we could invert the 80.4% above and come up with a total of at least 19.6%.

Mathematically, it can therefore be argued that there is statistically a wide margin of females attending university “bird courses” in Canada. They attend perhaps with the intent to be a “Gold-Digger” or perhaps because they are avoiding the programs that are socially frowned upon for females to attend, or perhaps both for there certainly could be overlapping reasons.

In 1995 only 30% of Canada’s 57,700 lawyers were women. 1995 is special because it is the first year that young (25 to 29 years) female lawyers exceeded the number of young male lawyers in Canada. 54% of lawyers in that age margin were female and they seemed to be gaining ground by 10 to 20% every ten years. The percentage of women in the 35-39 age group was 40% and the 45-49 age group was 18%. This suggests that there will be a massive shift in female participation in law during the next 40 years. Law therefore seems to have avoided the bad social stigma that is attached to intellectual study, but its ability to intimidate people cannot be properly gauged.

Similar statistics in 1995 of physicians showed that the number of female doctors in the age group of 25-29 was 48%. The rate of increase was also considerably smaller. 40% in the 35-39 age group and 25% in the 45-49 age group were female. This shows that female physicians have a longer standing percentage in the field, but the rate of increase is much slower perhaps due to the science courses that are required for getting a doctorate of medicine.

The number of doctors in Canada in 1995 was 59,200, but the rate of retirement is roughly 4000 to 5000+ every 5 years. The increased medical demands of Canada’s aging population and the sparse 8000 new doctors that are introduced every 5 years are not keeping up with increasing demand. The hesitancy of female students to consider a career in medicine and science could become a major issue in the future when doctors become increasingly more scarce.

The belief that one should marry a lawyer or doctor if possible is one that society instills in their female children. Our television shows and movies only confirm it more so, but it also poses another standard for males: That the best career a male can hope for is to become a doctor or a lawyer, or possibly an engineer. This is a goal that is oftentimes considered unattainable simply for money reasons and thus it is a career goal that is sometimes pushed upon the sons of the wealthy elite and ignored as an option for the daughters of the elite.

Society expects young women to marry doctors, lawyers or engineers, not become them. Hence Emma Bovary, in contrast to Elsie McGill.

Our choice of education for women is perhaps the most to blame. Like the characters that were raised in a convent, we have been giving our female students the wrong things to learn and setting bad examples at the same time. It is not the schools’ fault either, it is the mass media’s use of the female body and of female celebrities.

We see them in the examples of Pamela Anderson who became the only reason Baywatch stayed on television for several extra years when it should have been canceled due to a drop in viewers. The producers brought in the former beer commercial model and managed to make the show last several more seasons until they could no longer afford her salary.

Britney Spears, another example of silicon at work, promotes nihilism, male chasing and a self-indulgent lifestyle. Since she does not write her own songs, she is simply a pawn of the music industry as much as the boy-band N’Sync. Together they personify what their music company thinks should be the perfect teenage role-models, both male and female. Their pictures in teen and fashion magazines end up plastering the insides of teenage secondary school lockers, and perpetuating a gossip culture that is oriented towards selling magazines and CDs.

The list of bad celebrity role models is long, but to take the above two in context it might explain why breast implants and incidents of breast cancer due to breast implants are rising in proportional numbers. I cannot blame celebrities or the media for breast implants and implant-related cancer rates, but due to the exposure of the mass media and its incredible influence over our culture we cannot ignore.

The issue of breast cancer is two sided for feminists. On one hand there are women who get breast implants so they can appear more attractive to men, causing mutilation and risking their health in the effort. On the other hand is the assumption that career women that do not have children have a higher rate of breast cancer when compared to housewives and mothers. This latter aspect is unfounded and I found no statistical evidence to back it up. It is possible this is simply an “old wives tale” that is being perpetuated by male-dominated media in an effort to support women being nothing more than housewives and mothers.

A seemingly popular stereotype in movies and television is the ‘millionaire old man with the young breast-implant wife who wants to kill him and take his money’. The plot is so old now and has been used in countless movies. This however is one of the most narrowly defined versions of a “gold-digger”. And by media standards, the above example of the “gold-digger” is infinitely more popular than the feminine scholar.

How many television shows, or movies, feature intelligent women as the main character? The list is relatively short. There is MTV’s Daria, which is amazingly produced by the same people that produced Beavis and Butthead (a pair of sexist males who have the reputation of having very small brains). Daria Morgendorfer was introduced as a character with a cynical feminist attitude in order to counter-act the sexist jokes. Her character was so popular she was later reintroduced into her own show in which the starting episode she and her family were moving to a new town because the old town had lead in the water (which explains Beavis and Butthead’s intelligence). Her show has since gone on for seven years now, dwarfing the previous show and even making a movie.

Albeit the show perpetuates a stereotype that some feminists are inherently cynical, it does make attempts to reverse this action by introducing other characters as positive feminist role models. Daria’s mother (Helen) is a lawyer who is highly concerned with her home-life, and her science teacher is a divorcee who hates males but has fallen in love with the sensitive english teacher. The latter is a rare usage and breaking of a stereotype concerning ‘male-haters’, but it is important to note that the show seems to make a point by constantly breaking stereotypes in an effort to stress issues of education, self-esteem, confidence, social values and a sense of humour.

Daria’s younger sister Quinn however is a special issue: Scarcely 16, Quinn is the vice-president of the high school fashion club, and sisterly rivalry takes a special tone as they are frequently at odds with regards to issues usually concerning Quinn’s popularity. While not a “gold-digger” yet, Quinn does have the potential to become one and has already begun a sophisticated point system for rating boyfriends in which she rates what kind of car the boyfriend drives, whether his credit card is a gold card and also how popular the boy is.

During one episode in which the father (Jake) had suffered a heart attack and Jake’s mother Ruth visits for a week. Quinn has abruptly decided to become a heart doctor, the only career aspiration that she has had asides from acting or modeling. The grandmother responds with the following statements on three separate occasions: “Quinn, girls as pretty as you don’t need to become doctors!” “Quinn, if you don’t take your nose out of that book from time to time you are going to get wrinkles!” “Wouldn’t it be easier to just marry a nice doctor and then you could stay home with your children and have dinner on the table for your husband every night!”

These are prime examples of how the older generation and their usually more conservative values are used to try to influence younger generations in decision making, such as deciding upon a career. The older generations always set the societal standard and status quo, while it the younger generation’s inherent duty to set new standards by ignoring certain aspects that they feel does not make sense. While Quinn eventually decides for other reasons not to become a doctor, Daria does stand up for her younger sister and her right to choose a career that might be more challenging and enjoyable.

It would be unfair to say that all feminists are treated like ‘man-haters’, but it would be fair that there is certainly a societal grudge that is common amongst both men and women against ‘feminists’. People will often say “I believe in equality, but I am not a feminist.” For these people, feminism is a bad word they equate with ‘man hating’. If they enter a profession dominated by men, the general belief is that they encounter a lot of sexism and they would have to invoke feminism as a defense for going into that career. Going into a male dominated career therefore is equated to ‘male hating’ and stealing a man’s job.

This last idea was used after both World War One and World War Two in order to encourage women to give up their jobs so a man could take their position. Refusing to give up the job might be considered to be a ‘selfish feminist thing to do’.

With such societal standards being forced upon younger generations, who in turn try to force them upon the next generation, it is not surprising that vast social change usually takes several generations. Even so, there is always a chance it could backfire, like the anti-feminist standards that plagued the mass media during the 1980s and which has left feminism with a bad name ever since.

Gold-digger-ism is a method that women employ as an attempt to empower themselves through gaining material wealth. Material wealth however rarely makes anyone happy. Intellectual wealth is not an absolute way to gain happiness either, but it increases a woman’s ability to be independent. We never hear sayings like: “Women as smart as you don’t need to use their looks.” “Eve, if you don’t stop eating that apple you’re going to get smarter!” “Eve, wouldn’t it be easier to just become a – insert profession here – and then your partner could stay home with the children and have supper ready when you come home?”

There might be a future (or even a past) in which such sayings were common, but regardless they may always be sayings that try to warp how people think and limit their options by creating glass barriers.

Going to university is supposed to be a meaningful event in a person’s life, any person’s life. If such a meaningful event such as educating oneself is limited by a desire to stay out of male-dominated fields and to search for a partner who will provide material wealth then the person in question has unwittingly limited their education and created barriers in their mind as to how successful they can become. This is a hurdle the university cannot overcome, only the student can.

If breast implants are seen as a cheaper route to empowering a woman in contrast to the high cost of an university education, then this is another hurdle that women in society must overcome in order to attain true empowerment. Every person needs a purpose. Having breast implants just to find a rich husband or partner should not be one of them.

If the mass media is pushing unrealistic role models in the media that create issues of self-doubt and by portraying feminists in a bad light, then the woman must push beyond these role models and find the something that will truly enlighten and inspire them.

If society and universities are ever to become institutions where knowledge, not wealth, is their goal then it will be up to people to choose a life and a lifestyle that will make them feel self-fulfilled and ensure happiness and well being. “Gold-diggers” only suffer in their attempts to find happiness, and they destroy the academic and social integrity of other women in the process. The whole of society needs to learn to jump hurdles and push against barriers if it is ever to find true happiness and enlightenment.


Statistics Canada:

Women’s Earnings / Men’s Earnings

Earnings of Lawyers

Earnings of Physicians

Conditions and Diseases, Section 64-77, Part B of Statistical Report on the Health of Canadians, 1999

Other Sources:

Daria: Season 3, Episode 9. “Jake of Hearts.”

Letter to Charles Moffat from Edna Moffat, August 1999.

“The Preppy Murders”: A group of fictional short stories by Angela Tarango, which analyzes social interactions of people in a California high school.

Final Note:

I could continue writing this essay but it is evident that society is filled with considerable numbers of “gold-digger” stereotypes, whereas the media vastly ignores the intellectual female and brushes them off as mere ‘feminist’ stereotypes rather than treating women on an individual basis for their own merits.

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