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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

By Pickup Culture

crying woman

Crying woman in China, the basis for the SK-II viral video.

This video has been around for a few months, but it’s still getting a lot of play on social media.  It came onto my Facebook feed just as I was writing up an article about the PUA phenomenon in China.  I couldn’t resist trying to change the tack of the conversation in the comments section, but I still got slammed by a lot of first- and developing-world feminists whilst doing so.

 

‘Sheng Nü’ is the name for the so-called ‘left-over’ generation of women in China – those who embody everything Western women are taught to be: modern, independent and happily single.  The main difference between the way spinsterhood is treated in China and in the West is evidenced by the comments on social media about the video, a selection of which are featured in the promotional pieces in news stories – they all characterise Chinese attitudes to marriage as backward and ‘patriarchal’.

Though I’m not overly supportive of the shaming tactics the parents use to cajole their daughters into marriage – clearly, they are not successful – I would say that this kind of campaign only works as part of a grand ‘feminist’ narrative in other parts of the world because it plays on the emotional susceptibility of women.

The film invites us to identify with the single, urban, educated women in the film.  They are not rural, poor or by any other means hard done by.  They have a particular freedom that their parents did not enjoy: the freedom to date and be single.  That’s all well and good, but the social pressure to marry is one that burdens them much more than it does the society or their families as a whole.

But seriously – they are not being forced to marry at gunpoint, as some women in other parts of the world tragically are.  It’s not the threat of ‘patriarchal’ violence that brings us into the film, but rather something more emotionally appealing – the tears of a young woman.  For a young woman’s tears evoke such sympathy from both men and women, in a way that the depiction of a man’s suffering simply cannot.

Guang Gun – ‘Bare Branches’

Anyone who knows anything about Chinese society, and can do some very basic maths, will know that the One Child Policy in China has produced far more ‘left over’ men than women.   Though it’s fair to say that their plight hasn’t been completely ignored by the Western media; the lives of these Chinese bachelors don’t make for such interesting social media campaigning.

These men are referred to as ‘Guang Gun’, which translates to English as ‘bare branches’ – a slight on their masculinity, not being able to add the fruit of a child to their deep-rooted family trees.  Though guang gun fall under different demographics, most of them live in poor ‘bachelor villages’ throughout China’s vast countryside.

Consider the following story about one such village in Hainan Island, and how the problem of bachelorhood is framed compared to the story of the more urbane Sheng Nü.

 

The video touches upon some of the reasons for the guang gun phenomenon, in particular the gender imbalance caused by the One Child Policy.  The ‘expert’ in the video correctly talks about the restrictive cultural stigma associated with being a 30-something bachelor.  But the farmer in the first part of the film also identifies a much stronger biological impetus for the change: women fleeing the countryside to work in the developing cities.

As these young women leave behind their rural menfolk, to pursue better paying jobs and husbands, the society as a whole is temporarily driven forward.  But such development in China comes at a longer term demographic cost, and that cost is one of population atrophy.  This is part of the worry that the parents in the first video share, that their daughters leave no lasting legacy for their families or communities.

Market distortions… emotional distortions?

But such personal stories are hard to contextualise within the much larger picture of national growth and decline – a multi-generational process.  Whilst the effects of China’s colossal labour market decline won’t be felt for some fifteen to twenty years from now, when it kicks in it will be just as devastating as it has been for Japan and Western Europe.

Though the bachelor of Hainan Island struggles to hold back his tears at the end of the film, all to the sorrowful sounds of the Chinese harp, his crying is not a match for the tears of the young Sheng Nü from uptown Shanghai.

Both of these films capture different emotions in post-One Child Policy China – male loneliness on the one hand, and female dejection on the other.  That sense of dejection is more powerfully felt than the blue-pill loneliness of the rural workers, particularly through our feminised social media.  The biological drive for material comfort is stronger in women, and that is perfectly natural.

What is not natural, and what is much harder to convey in a short film, is how these distortions in the marriage market emerged in the first place.  In China that distortion occurred through the One Child Policy, a policy that itself was enacted to deal with decades of disastrous population planning under communist rule.  The distortions in the West, of excessive welfare spending and broke governments, create a very receptive audience that can sympathise with the emotions of this new breed of modern, and very single, independent women.

The origins of emotions

Whist we feel emotions in intensely personal ways, it’s interesting to note just how contextual those emotions are – created through historical, government and economic realities.  The mothers of the Sheng Nü acted on the same emotions that their daughters do today, but were compelled to marry out of necessity and be happy with that decision.  Let’s not forget that their tears also come from a place of deep self-interest.

Understanding this, and knowing how these greater forces interact with our very basic biological selves, is a useful place to start when engaging in any Facebook debate about teary-eyed single women in China.  Sometimes you can’t argue with biology.

By Pickup Culture

Travel guides and PUA advice in the 1970s

youngguide

Very few travel guides today will tell you how to pick up girls, let alone the best lines and approaches to help get into their pants.  That’s what the internet is for, after all.  You can do no worse than buying Roosh V’s travel guides, for instance, but you won’t discover the best pick up venues and customs of the local womenfolk from books in your local Borders or from reading magazines at the airport.

But if you were going on holiday back in the 1970s you might encounter advice on picking up girls in more ‘respectable’ travel guides, alongside information on holiday resorts, cheap places to eat and even how to get a job.  As I mentioned in my last post on the history of pick up and seduction, the practice of picking up women for casual sex became ‘a thing’ in itself – a cultural practice – in the 1970s.  Without the influence of feminism in the early part of the decade, there was considerably less judgement about how men and women could seduce each other at singles bars, swingers clubs or through chance encounters on the street.

Even a place like Detroit, now a shadow of a city made famous through motown and the once thriving automobile industry, was seen as a place where attractive women were abundant, and waiting to be picked up.  Sheldon Annis’ Detroit: A Young Guide to the City (1970) does a great job in selling Detroit as a destination full of culture, interesting places to go, societies and organisations to join, people to meet and women to seduce.

It’s an excellent example of the growing acceptability of pick up culture in the 1970s, an acceptability that developed with women’s liberation but without the moralising that later came with feminism.

The demographics and ‘The Ritual’

As a bustling destination on the rise, the book covers so many different facets of the city – the history, famous buildings, places to eat, and the many different migrant groups scattered across the suburbs.  These places and cultures are intended to appeal to an important ‘breed of cat’: the ‘young professionals’ such as engineers, managers, accountants, lawyers and the like, all ‘coming to the clutches of automobile land by the promise of a job with a “future” (spelled M-O-N-E-Y).’

 

No matter how middle-class, educated or uneducated these people were, The Guide tells us that they all had one thing in common – they liked to meet people of the opposite sex.  But where does the traveler find these people?  Bars are the obvious place to start:

You are […] a lean, hungry, horny, prowling bachelor of either sex.  Well, you’re not alone – unless you choose to be.  Every weekend thousands and thousands of young unpaired Detroiters celebrate en masse.  They come home from work about five o’clock, eat supper, and cleanse themselves.  They sprinkle oils, liquids, lotions, potions, salves, scents, and ointments on their bodies and then carefully select robes, scarves, banners, and ribbons to drape across their properly anointed limbs.  Then they cast themselves into the current that flows through the myriad of singles bars.

Pick up is more of a philosophy in the book, treated with the reverence and good humor it deserves.  Advice on meeting women is just a small section covered by The Guide, and if you already have good skills and a sense of style it’s a section you can just skip through:

Some people don’t need guidebooks.  They arrive on the scene with looks, manners, connections, and letters of credit augmented by a wardrobe tailored in European capitals.  They don’t practice one-liners or walk up to absolute strangers saying, “Pardon me, haven’t we met before.”  If that is you, you’ll have a good time in Detroit.

This is the mark of a good city – how well people dress, how well they talk, and how well they … well … pick up.

‘If the music make you move…’

Back in 1971 Isaac Hayes sang these famous words: ‘If the music make you move, ‘cus you can really groove, then groove on’.  The Guide captures this ‘do your thing’ sentiment nicely, and all that that entailed in terms of lifestyle – and not just the sexual side either.  It was advice given to swingers, liberals and conservatives, young and old, male and female.  If you have faith, go to church; if its politics that you enjoy then go off and join the Young Dems or Republicans.

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Ever the lady’s man in the 70s, Isaac Hayes starring in the 1974 Blaxploitation film Truck Turner

The important thing was just getting out there and enjoying the city: ‘Go by yourself.  Go looking happy, interesting, friendly, mysterious alluring, rich, freaky, sensuous, your down-home self; but go.’  Pick up was a normal part of many young people’s lives, alongside politics, stamp collecting and any other hobby or pastime that interested the young:

Go to conferences.  Stop in any of the big hotels and see what’s conferring.  Detroit, in the throes of urban blight, is always conferring.  Become an expert.  Can you speak?  Give speeches.  Can you not speak?  Get on your feet and vigorously object to all that has been said.  It’s an outrage.  Someone will come over during the coffee hour to tell you how much (s)he (dis)agrees.

A great tongue-in-cheek swipe at the rising political activism of the day, going to a conference may have been the place to get your voice heard.  But it also could have been a place to pick up a hot, politically-minded young woman.  The two things weren’t mutually exclusive.

In the 1970s it was quite possible to meet women in a bar, just as much as it was (sometimes encouraged) to date a secretary from your work.  Sexual discrimination laws hadn’t come into such force then, but today any discussion of sexual opportunism outside of the sanctioned scripts of the nightclub one night stand or a Tinder hook-up might be considered dangerous to today’s single man.

Singles clubs, and ‘the rules’ of pick up

Singles clubs were a much more accepted part of public life, with The Guide advertising party lines and numbers for people to organise meet ups.  But this ‘pick up community’ did have its limitations, being that it was very white and middle class: ‘They live in suburbs or in downtown enclaves.  They tend to part their hair where they’re supposed to; they like to drink; and they take Hugh Hefner seriously.’

Not everyone fitted the bill for these discrete meet ups.  ‘But let’s say you’re not a joiner.  You don’t like classical music, you’re not a Maltese-American, you don’t like motorcycles, and political activity bores you’.  Whoever you were, as a traveler in Detroit, you could still meet, date and have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.  But to do so, you needed to know the rules.  This included not just understanding the best places to take your date, but also the more universal ‘principles’ of female attraction.  This includes knowing when to ask a girl out:

It is the rules that give the game its respectability.  For example: a girl, appropriately accompanied by a female friend would be considered perfectly within bounds of singles morality to give out her phone number to a young gentleman on a Friday night – but never on a Tuesday.  A good girl just wouldn’t. After all, NO ONE goes to singles bars on a Tuesday.  And certainly, for God sakes, not on a Monday.  Wednesday, however, is almost as good a night as Friday, which is the best.  Thursday is a so-so night, and no self-respecting girl would be caught out alone on a Saturday night.  She’ll watch television, write a letter to her mother, bite her nails, or order a pizza and talk to her room-mate; but she won’t go out without a date.

As many a PUA knows, dating a girl – whether it is in New York, Dallas or Detroit – is all about timing.  Once the rituals of the workaday week are understood, the next important step in The Guide’s PUA advice is deciding on where to take her.  To avoid worrying about being mugged, avoid Saturday night first dates in the city:

Defuse the strain of the situation by going out during the day instead.  She’ll less likely be tired, have a headache, be frightened of crime in the streets, aggressive first dates, and drunk drivers.  Saturday morning is the best time.  You can get things rolling with a breakfast steak at Butcher’s Inn or fried matzoh at Samuel Brothers followed by shopping at Eastern Market.  You’d be surprised how fast you get to know someone while haggling with a farmer over a bushel of pomegranates.  And after you’ve packed all your pomegranates, cantaloupes, honeycombs, and cabbages into your car, drive over to the Taj Perfume Company, which is a bit to the right on Gratiot.  For about $2 apiece you can cover yourselves with enough lotions, scents, aphrodisiacs, oils, and body powders.

Bookstores in the city, going for a swim, betting on the horses, visiting the zoo or ice fishing on Anchor Bay are some more very creative suggestions for first dates in Detroit.

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The Eastern Market was the place to take your girl in the 1970s

It’s important to remember that Detroit: A Young Guide to the City was not a book about dating per se, but was a guide book that contained advice about picking up girls because that was a normal part of enjoying life in a big city.  Pick up advice was a way of promoting the city for the 1970s tour guide.  It’s difficult to imagine today’s lavishly-created booklets for Chinese tourists, backpackers and visitors on how to meet girls (and boys) from your local library.

Advice for boys, and girls

As I mentioned in my last post about sexual behavior in the 1970s, attitudes towards pick up culture were much more egalitarian in the 1970s than they are today.  Advice could be given to both men and women, and men weren’t demonised if they acted like playboys or PUAs.  The Guide rightly assumes that most of the picking up is done by the young men, but that doesn’t mean to say that young women are excluded from getting good pick up advice either.

Adams encourages them to go out and have a good time, even though they might face a different set of challenges than men in the sexual market place.  If women were to get used to the idea of getting picked up by a stranger, as they were increasingly asked to do in the 1970s, then they needed a little encouragement:

For women: If this is all unfamiliar to you but you’re game, it will still be tough.  In addition to the usual raking yourself over the coals in front of the mirror, there are a million What If? propositions that present themselves.  What if some sleazy creep starts talking to me?  A lech, a leech, or a leper?  What about a drunk or a kook or a clod?  What if Mr. Wonderful does walk in?  Is he sincere?  Is he really married?  Is he interested in the real me … or my body … or my money … or my friend who I came with?  Or what if NO ONE EVER TRIES TO PICK ME UP?

It is difficult.  But of course you always have the option of a firm but polite No.

And this is all very sensible advice, but not something that you’d read today’s mass market guides – for travel or lifestyle.   Despite how accurate that scenario might be portrayed in women’s magazines and rom-coms, of women’s hypergamous doubt when dating a man, it would be seen as patronising and sexist in the context of mainstream advice for women today.  From this example, it’s clear that by the early 1970s feminism hadn’t yet created a space for the Modern Independent Woman to strike out against the more feminine forms of power that some women still enjoyed.  The fact that women can just say ‘no’ is an irony lost on those Modern Independent Women we call feminists today.

Travel, pick up and self-growth

In many ways, narratives of travel entail an element of personal growth.  This is certainly conveyed through the Eat Pray Love paradigm for women, just as it might have been in the Western or action movies for men.

Separation from home is a defining part of masculinity – being separated from the maternal caregiver, exploring the world, whether it is through Aboriginal walkabout or business trips overseas, men grow through exploration, challenge and engagement with the world.

Sheldon Adams’ Detroit: A Young Guide to the City shows how travel and sex were an ordinary part of masculine identity in the 1970s.  Partly bathing in the baby boomer prosperity of the 1960s, the book is a great illustration of how pick up culture was just another part of society, a so-called ‘cultured’ society at that.

Alongside the joys of eating out, exploring the town and meeting women, the advice is simple and timeless: ‘Do the things you like, not the things you think you’re supposed to do on a date.  Detroit – at times – can be a joy.’

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Now that’s a philosophy worth taking anywhere, particularly when you consider what can happen to a place in just 40 years!

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