A Short History of the Gold Digger (and the feminist)

By Pickup Culture

The Gold Digger 1923

The ‘gold digger’ archetype popularised during the 1920s

Gold digging is the very ancient female ‘art’ of manipulating susceptible males, using sex and seduction to gain some form of material benefit – not just money, but also jewellery, travel and any other personal perks. Traditionally, society has looked down upon gold diggers.  But consider this quote from a self-confessed gold digger, to give you a sense of how the behavior might be rationalised:

Until I was old enough to vote I had a romantic attitude concerning the relationships between men and women.  I was, in other words, a feminist.

As a scornful victim of false idealism, I had scorned the very words ‘gold digger.’ I had thought the prostitute more brave and fair.  At least, she did her very best to give value.

And now I confess, without apology, without a sense of guilt that I, too, belong to that wise sisterhood who might be called gold diggers.

These are not the words from a Jezebel following activist, or even a sex traveling feminist from the dating site Miss Travel; but rather the words of the popular writer Betty Van Deventer – in 1928.

Her rationale for gold digging sets up an interesting false dichotomy that’s worth revisiting today.  Is feminism a socially useful movement, or is it really the same as whoring yourself for a few freebies?

Van Deventer was a writer for the popular series of magazines called The Little Blue Books, a forerunner to Reader’s Digest.  Her book Confessions of a Gold Digger discusses the new social fad of gold digging in the 1920s, when so much fake wealth was generated through booming stock prices and easy credit.

Gold digging – a ‘how-to guide’

The book is a how-to-guide for ‘liberated’ women of the 1920s, instructing them on the best methods for spinsters and younger women to make money by flirting with men.

The book describes a number of useful techniques for the modern gold digger, and what signs of weakness to look for in a man.  Simply asking for money is far too risky and obvious, but attracting rich stock brokers by feigning an interest in their investment philosophies is a trick every woman needs to try (before the market collapses, preferably).


Crystal Harris tried to cash in on TV fame before they were married – a strange marriage indeed in the Hefner gold mine.. umm Playboy Mansion

Other techniques are more underhanded, and involve some slight trickery during a lunch time date:

One old-fashioned way is to take a man for a window-shopping walk after luncheon or the matinee.  The stop in front of an alluring show.  Suddenly the woman remembers that she needs some silk hose, just the color of her gown.  She goes into the shop and the man follows.  She selects three or four pairs of hose and fumbles in her purse for money.  Of course, the man gallantly comes to the rescue.  She is surprised, insists that he must not pay for the hose.  The more she insists, the more the man declares that he will foot the bill.  The clerk in the shop smiles, for she has seen many similar incidents.  She knows that the woman is a more valuable customer, so she readily takes the man’s money.  Then the stockings are wrapped up, and the clerk does not smile sardonically until the door has shut, and the couple is out of the shop.

The gold digger knows, of course, that such a ploy works by inflating the man’s so-called ‘chivalrous’ instincts.  A sense of frivolity and forgetfulness go hand in hand, and match every Hollywood cliche of the damsel in distress – alluring to rescue, but illusive for romance.  Indeed it’s the man’s greatest folly to fall prey to the rescuer/victim script, set up to rob him of his resources and so-called noble intentions.

Prey on men’s weakness

The most interesting part of the book, and one that many men might benefit from reading, is the section on male psychology.  Gold digging is only really effective because of male insecurities, a man’s desire to feel ‘loved’ and be rewarded for the ‘sacrifices’ he makes.


Men need to remember that they’re only being played by the gold digger because of their susceptibility.

In her book Van Deventer often talks about using a man’s ego to get what she wants, by flattery and making him feel sexually attractive.  She realises that men feel a desperate need for recognition in their lives, as many work jobs that are quite boring and socially unrewarding.  This creates a sense of inferiority, if he believes he can achieve much more with his life:

The psychology of flattery relates to the knowledge of the inferiority complex.  Man feels inferior to other people for any number of reasons, and he is always searching for people who will bolster up his shattered ego.  Who can do this better than a handsome girl or woman?  The gold digger knows just how to do it, too!

For example, he may be suffering from an inferiority sense because he never went to college.  He feels that other men have better social backgrounds when they speak of their alma matters.  The clever woman will venture the opinion that self-made men appeal to her the most, and that education is a matter of intelligent experience rather than the perusal of text-books.

The effect of such flattery towards the man is potentially twofold – firstly it bolsters the man’s sense of importance, only in a superficial and temporary way.  He is able to virtue signal, much like the liberal politician or male feminist does today, by showing how much of a patron of women’s interests he has in his heart.

The second effect, which is not explored in the book, is more tangential –inflation of the woman’s ego.  This is perhaps where feminism comes into play, as some women develop this sense of false confidence that comes from acquiring resources through guile and manipulation rather than through hard work.

Today’s gold diggers

The emergence of the gold digger, as a popular cultural figure, emerged in a time of artificially generated wealth – the roaring twenties.  Such times of surplus capital eventually lead to the collapse of the stock market in 1929, leading rich men and women to be more prudent with their money.  No longer could the market, and their pockets, afford such extravagant indulgences of personal vanity.


The depression era film ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’

The post-crash film Gold Diggers of 1933, produced just 4 short years after De Venter’s book and in the midst of the Great Depression, showed a different side to being wealthy – and the virtues of concealing, rather than flaunting, wealth.  The comic gold diggers in the film do indeed exploit the weaknesses of the rich barons, but the heir of the family’s estate wins the admiration in the end by being humble and keeping quiet about his fortunes.

The film was much less about individual gain, but the coming together of different people in a time of adversity.  In the Great Depression the gold digger was less viable, and feminism was on the wane.

Today, perhaps as a mirror of the roaring twenties, the gold digger has made a return.  We are told that women can do anything, and we see vain male politicians bend over backwards to promise women everything they believe they deserve.  The rationale for that mindset is the same today as it was back in 1929 – that, if we give women more free things, the world will be a much better place:

If more girls of talent felt less guilt in doing a bit of honest gold digging, we might produce creative works of art in greater abundance.

This is the social justice rationale of the feminist sex travelers I wrote about in my previous post.  Gold digging isn’t, as it wasn’t back in the 1920s, a means of survival.  Back then it was about getting a nicer hand-bag, an expensive silk scarf and a profitable stock tip.  Those things weren’t essential, but if women didn’t have those things then the world would become dull and boring.  Today it is about traveling to Japan with geeky Hong Kong businessmen.  Such luxurious travel is not essential either, but we are told that it does help the young lady finish her liberal arts degree and to take care of her sick mum – according to the feminist travel bloggers out there.

With another potential stock market crash just around the corner, and the global economy awash with cheap credit, the temptations for an easy profit are everywhere.  But where is the long term sustainability in our economies, and the investment in a future where we produce rather than consume things of real value?  Like in the 1920s, the gold digger has re-emerged during a time when we care so little about what we produce but how much money we can make out of it.

1 comment
  1. Sucks that many girls have to go this route and be unhappy with themselves. This was a good read!


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