Debunking the myth that a woman’s beauty equals a man’s money

The world is full of unchallenged, silly ideas. One is that it’s a (cynical) form of equality when women use their beauty to secure rich mates and men use their money to attract beautiful mates. There’s nothing equal about these two methods of securing mates; in fact, there’s a great deal of sexism involved. I’m going to start with the simple mechanics, then move into the deeper philosophical issues.

Beauty fades; money grows

The first major problem with believing these two tactics to be equal is: loads of women aren’t born conventionally beautiful. For some of us, there isn’t enough cosmetic surgery available to “fix” our “defects” – for example, doctors can’t make short legs long. Even if some cosmetic surgery is the only thing standing between you and conventional gorgeousness, guess what you’ll need for that surgery? Money. That’s right – for all but a tiny part of one percent of us, at least some money is required to achieve conventional beauty in order to marry money.

But any man has a shot in hell at becoming wealthy. So already, we’re seeing that this form of competition weeds out far more women than men. Therefore, the reasoning I’ve often heard – that few women may be beautiful enough to marry rich men, but that’s okay because few men are rich enough to marry beautiful women – is irrelevant. All men have at least some chance in this competition. Many women are weeded out from the get-go.

And what happens over time? Conventional beauty fades, because being thirty-five or older is automatically considered un-beautiful for a woman (though not for men). But wealth can grow forever. This is how you get wealthy ninety-year-old men marrying conventionally gorgeous twenty-two year old women, but never the reverse.

Equal, my ass.

What beauty and money actually signify

I don’t judge anyone for how they conduct their love life. If you want to marry for wealth or beauty, go right ahead. But be aware that you are actually marrying the money or the look itself, and not the person. Because being wealthy or beautiful indicates absolutely nothing of what someone is like, or what her values are, or whether he will make you miserable or contribute to your happiness.

Both beauty and wealth can be inherited, so un-beautiful people not infrequently outmatch the wealthy or gorgeous for being interesting, successful, effective personalities. If you want a mate who actually possesses those traits that are incorrectly associated with wealth (effectiveness, ambition) and beauty (sweetness and sexiness), you may do better to expand your search parameters.

The difference in importance

Beauty is trivial while wealth is important to survival. The argument that evolution has bred men to favor certain traits in women is completely unsound. Large breasts, perfectly straight teeth, creamy skin, long legs, Caucasian features, etc., do not lead to more or better offspring, or improve survival rates. Stop using evolution as an excuse for being shallow, and just own that you, personally, are shallow.

Women seeking wealth, however, is just as natural as men seeking wealth. Everyone needs some resources on hand to ensure survival. Wealth means survival, which has everything to do with evolution.

Perceptions of seeking beauty and wealth

Finally, let’s look at how four types of people are perceived:

  1. Women who seek wealthy men to date.
  2. Women who seek gorgeous men to date.
  3. Men who seek gorgeous women to date.
  4. Men who seek wealthy women to date.

If all things were equal, 1 and 3 would be viewed with the same level of appreciation, and 2 and 4 would both be viewed as odd. Instead, we have something very different. 1 and 2 are both viewed as shallow, materialistic and uppity – how dare women be “gold-diggers” or shallow “bitches” who refuse to put out for Nice (but not conventionally gorgeous) Guys. Number 3 is viewed as perfectly “natural”, since people buy into the faux-evolutionary excuses. Number 4 is viewed with scorn – a real man would earn his own wealth, not “mooch” off some woman.

So, in this beauty/wealth equation, the only way to be approved of by the patriarchy is to be a man seeking a “trophy wife.” No woman in this scenario can win social approval by any means, because she will be rejecting somebody, and that’s not okay. Strangely, it’s okay for men to reject all sorts of high-quality women in their rush to marry the best-looking buddy-impresser they can.

This is especially absurd when you consider that women have been prevented from acquiring wealth through any means other than heterosexual dating and marriage for thousands of years. If a woman buys into the idea that her best route to wealth and security is to marry a rich man, then it naturally follows she must reject any suitor who isn’t wealthy. The patriarchy should approve of her benchmark as much as it approves of that of the wealthy men pursuing her. But it doesn’t.

Because there’s just all sorts of unequal and sexist infusing this concept from every direction.

Comments

  1. Azzy says

    I remember a study some time ago that proved that had people score the attractiveness of different people’s pictures. It revealed that those with average looks (neither beautiful nor ugly, just people you’d see passing on the street) scored higher than those considered conventionally attractive. So yeah, if evolution wired us for anything, it’s to be attracted to the most common human features. Because that’s what the majority of us are, and that’s what the majority of us will end up choosing as mates. Which makes more sense than being attracted to whatever arbitrary standards of beauty are in fashion at any given point.

    • Jaynie says

      I read a similar study that had heterosexual men and women rate pictures of women in terms of which was more attractive. The women tended to pick the very glamorous, cosmo-cover-girl types with very striking makeup, etc, etc, whereas the men tended to pick the girl in the flannel shirt with the hasty ponytail and little makeup. I can’t find it at the moment, but I think the author’s general conclusion was that heterosexual women are crap judges of what makes women attractive *because* we aren’t attracted to women themselves, but rather the clothes and the lifestyle and so on (obviously that last bit varies from woman to woman). This is probably why so many fashion shows feature gay male hosts: we have the same taste in women as they do (ie. none at all). I don’t know quite what that says about the rich men marrying the playboy bunnies all the time, but I do suspect the old stereotype of “status symbol” comes into play. These are, after all, men who consider their status at least somewhat important (for the most part).

      • Nicky P says

        I’m thinking that just because you aren’t attracted to women doesn’t mean you therefore have no concept of what makes them attractive. Based on what you said, I’d say the study shows that heterosexual men and heterosexual women merely have different ideas of what makes a woman attractive. It seems erroneous to say that heterosexual women are crap judges of beauty because their opinions aren’t in line with heterosexual men’s.

        Maybe if they were being asked to rank the pictures in terms of who they thought men would find more attractive, as opposed to who they themselves found attractive, that would make more sense. But just going by what you said, that doesn’t seem like what was happening.

        • says

          Once upon a time, a customer came into where I was working. Two of my male co-workers started drooling and talking about how cute she was. Another woman and I were mystified: she was dressed very casually, with no makeup and hair scraped back in a pony tail, and her features were good, but nothing special. We started quizzing the guys on what exactly they found attractive, and they couldn’t pin it down.

          Then we figured it out: she had really big breasts which she’d done her best to disguise with a sweater.

          Maybe it’s that attraction can hone in on one feature, and you only get how it works when you’re the one experiencing the attraction. Who doesn’t have certain features that mean more to them than others? I know women who can meet a man who’s absolutely gorgeous to them in every possible way, but he’s got yellow crooked teeth, and they are SO REPULSED that it ruins the whole package. I wouldn’t expect a hetero man to get that.

          Similarly, men I would otherwise find repulsive-looking will get a big boost in my estimation if they have great shoulders or a nice ass or one of the features I hone in on.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Definitely. There are women that I’ve been intensely attracted to because they had a distinctive nose, or a lovely freckle pattern. There’s no universal standard of attractiveness.

  2. Maria says

    The other thing that I would add is that beauty is conditional — what makes you a beautiful woman can also be what makes you a slut or a whore if you deny the wrong men (or group of men) access to your body. Denying someone access to your bank account? Frugality.

  3. Sabrina says

    5 words: Ugly Guy Hot Wife Trope

    This shit is so omnipresent that people will find the most stupid excuses to justify their sexism. Though UGHW is more about hot women than rich guys it still plays a big part in this idea, Imho. Trophy wives have been around since… forever. The criteria for what counts as trophy just have changed and currently it’s the “Hot Wife”. 500 years ago it would have been (what we call) overweight women with small breasts if Rubens’ art is any indicator. So yeah, I don’t buy this “men are naturally attracted to hot* chicks because of procreation!” (*wherein hot = healthy thin, big tits, sometimes hips)

    Men are attracted or (more often than not) think they are or feel they have to be attracted to whatever ideal their culture is socializing them. Everything diverting from that norm is declared to be some kind of fetish or that she must have some really exceptional qualities to make up for the lack of good looks.
    As a man you’d better be prepared to justify why you are dating that ugly chick! And as a rich man you’d better find a good reason why you don’t just buy a hot chick instead! *snark*

  4. Elee says

    Though, if Jane Austens novels are any indicator in the mating and matching process, a rich woman marrying a man of considerably lesser wealth would at least be gossip-fodder, especially if she is average looking or attractive. So even in not rejecting the Nice Guy a woman is offending the society in going ahead with a mesalliance. (Since it is Jane Austen, it is not the case of Nr. 2 as her main heroines don’t marry for looks.) Because how dare a woman to seek her happiness, when there is a man who’s happiness she could cater to.

  5. says

    I always thought this was ridiculous. Wealth equals power. That’s why women have been fighting so hard through history to obtain it equally.

    Beauty is extremely temporary, constantly changes with the times and the only “power” it has isn’t really power at all when women are killed and raped and held to these dehumanising double standards.

    • Elee says

      I think beauty is a pretty ridiculous concept. Put a beautiful woman into a plain baggy overall and simple shirt/shoes, take away the makeup and “unstyle” the hair, put her into normal lighting – and what you get is actually not that far up the beauty ladder. OTOH put an average looking woman into designer clothes, let a hair-stylist, a make-up professional and a photographer work her over and she looks just as beautiful as any cover-girl. Maybe that is the real reason why women are “crap judges” of attractiveness, not because heterosexual women are not attracted to women. Because what we are actually judging are the trappings, the effort put into creating a look and its worth, so the more costly the appearance, the more beautiful must this person be.

        • Elee says

          I’m not agreeing completely. To a part, if men are traditionally linked with wealth as a descriptor of attractiveness rather than beauty, wealth wouldn’t be expressed overly through grooming habits and styling choices, though wasn’t there a link some time ago about dandies? So, in this you are right. But a man in a tailored suit, with groomed hair and fingernails and whitened teeth will almost certainly be judged as more attractive than one before his first coffee in the morning, in haphazard cheap clothes. (I am not even going into the whole sort-of-antifashion-subset of “the richer the man, the less he needs to look appropriately, hence the style choice for a distinguished billionaire is to look like a bum”, which in a way is just a somewhat different set of trappings to the same effect).The cues are there, they just are not very overt like with women. I hope, I managed to make myself clear, today is certainly not my language-skills-day.

          • says

            Not sure we’re talking about the same thing, because in response to Maria, I’d say, no, the trappings I’m talking about indicate gayness, or metrosexuality. I’m talking about men using makeup to cover their “flaws” or make their eyes look smoky, or exploring a wide range of sleek, glossy hairstyles, or showing off his legs with a skirt.

            Men have a uniform, and strict rules about appearance management. In some areas, even a really quality haircut is considered reason to suspect Teh Gay.

            And yet, without clues like makeup and hairstyle and (in many cases) designer clothes, women still manage to sort out which men they find attractive and which they don’t.

            And that’s what a lot of men are doing – those who haven’t allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the “trophy date” culture. They probably don’t even know what they’re reacting to in women they find attractive, but it ain’t makeup and stuff like that (in fact, I find for me the best way to avoid getting hit on is to wear makeup).

            But it’s no wonder women are confused about what hetero men find attractive.

            –Lots of men DO conform to the “glamor doll” standard on women’s looks, not because they necessarily find those women so attractive, but because it’s a status symbol.
            –We’re constantly being indoctrinated with the idea that makeup et al makes us more attractive, and we assume that means to men, but I think really it’s just more attractive to makeup companies, LOL.
            –Insert loads of other crap beauty myths here.

            • Maria says

              I guess I’m thinking of how when you read women’s erotica, like Zane, there’s as much talk of clothes, cars, and tats as there are of abs… but that might be more about fantasies of rescue and redemption, vs. straight up sexual attraction

  6. says

    This is very timely for me … I was thinking something sort of vague and unformed related to this when I saw an add for the 100k+ earner career site “The Ladders.” For folks who haven’t seen it, it features middle-aged men of slightly varied ethnicities and arguably below average attractiveness in traditional pin-up poses while wearing business clothes, followed by the tagline of “[make yourself attractive to big money employers]“.

    There’s a kneejerk humour to it but I think the underlying mechanics of what makes the joke are pretty disturbing. And they explicitly didn’t use any women in the one I saw.

    Hmm, can’t find the one I saw last night but I just found a different one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AddVfGmc7A0

    (Which I just watched with the sound off because I’m at work)

    The ideas in it are slightly varied, but the main joke relies on the fact that these people “couldn’t possibly” be considered sexy….super problematic.

    • sbg says

      Every time I see that commercial I get so confused, because part of me thinks it’s funny and another part of me finds it appalling.

      • Casey says

        I just watched that commercial, and the old me (from like maybe 6 months to a year ago) would’ve chuckled but the current me just thinks it’s super douche-baggy.

        Highest rated comment on the video:
        “If you hate this commercial you lack the ability to ‘think outside the box’ and wouldn’t qualify for Ladders.com any way ;)”
        OH GO FUCK RIGHT OFF

          • Casey says

            Yeah, it’s a part of why I like posing bishonen in traditionally sexy feminine poses, it serves a dual purpose, to arouse ME (I also like men in lingerie) and show others just how farcical the construction of gender roles really is/are

  7. says

    Women seeking wealth, however, is just as natural as men seeking wealth. Everyone needs some resources on hand to ensure survival. Wealth means survival, which has everything to do with evolution.

    Yes. I saw some irksome “study” or other about how women have historically married for wealth and men for looks, and how this proves blah blah blah women non-visual blah blah.

    My point at the time was:

    1. Yes, women have historically married for wealth, because that was historically how we kept doing silly feminine things like “eating” and “sleeping indoors.”

    2. Who women *marry* does not necessarily say a damn thing about who they’re attracted to or even who they sleep with. I’d bet money that half the young-and-gorgeous women who’ve married fugly-and-powerful men have had a hot young stablehand or tennis instructor on the side.

  8. Harrrison Murray says

    “Conventional beauty fades, because being thirty-five or older is automatically considered un-beautiful for a woman (though not for men).”

    I think there’s a somewhat deeper issue at play that you overlooked. I think the real issue is that men are never supposed to be considered beautiful, not in the way women are. They may be considered to be sexy, but this is usually couched in terms of some sort of sexual power, not in the more passive terms of female beauty. To declare a man beautiful is to enable men to be objectified, which dispels part of their dominating aura and thus part of their power over women. While aggressive, powerfully sexual men are admired, men who cultivate this “passive beauty” are no longer Real Men ™ but “pretty boys” (notice the different terminology–the pedomorphization as part of the symbolic destruction of manhood) worthy of scorn. The inherently unequal nature of the patriarchal culture’s depiction of men and women makes the converse impossible, as women are excluded from the “powerful” ideal and branded as “sluts” or “whores” or “dykes” or even more horrible things if they attempt to invoke it.

    Then again, I may be talking out of my ass. Just a thought I had.

    • says

      No, I think you’re definitely onto something there. There’s something else I keep wanting to tie in there: that “beautiful” actors and musicians are automatically dismissed by envious ordinary guys as “f*gs”. Envy could take a lot of forms, but by suggesting these celebs are gay, they are simultaneously (in their minds) removing the threat of any “manhood” being combined with such beauty AND convincing the women around them that such male beauty is not accessible to them (so they’d better settle for Mr. Ordinary).

  9. Sally says

    I tend to agree with your article, Jennifer, except for two points:
    • “…any man has a shot in hell at becoming wealthy.” — Theoretically yes, but… (Ah, the American Dream!)
    • “The argument that evolution has bred men to favor certain traits in women is completely unsound.” — True, but it doesn’t mean that men haven’t *learned* to select women (or vice versa) to meet certain criteria.

    • says

      I would say that becoming wealthy would be more theoretical. Like, *practically speaking*, most men won’t become wealthy, but *theoretically* they could (because of the American dream, freedom, whatnot.)

      “True, but it doesn’t mean that men haven’t *learned* to select women (or vice versa) to meet certain criteria”

      Yes, but that’s not evolution. That’s cultural learned behavior. I think you are actually in agreement here.

  10. Emily says

    I love this, as I do all your debunkings, and it’s totally in line with my thoughts lately. Laughed out loud at “very important ass.” But, like Sally above, I have a problem:

    “[A]ny man has a shot in hell at becoming wealthy.”
    1. By that logic, so does any woman, and the article fails to mention that. I see that you’re saying “this artificial form of competition ranking men by one standard and women by another is silly.” I’m with you there.

    2. More importantly, not all men are equally privileged in this respect. Perhaps I have my racism radar cranked up too high–”a shot in hell” just means “any possibility.” But women have the same chance in hell, and could presumably purchase beauty. Perhaps a whiff of whites-only thinking? I was surprised to see there was no mention of the different standards of beauty for non-white women and men.

  11. says

    Emily,

    Re-read the article – you’ve misplaced the context.

    It’s true that any woman has a shot at wealth, but what does that have to do with debunking the myth that it’s okay for men to get all the wealth because women can always use their beauty to get at men’s money? Women’s wealth doesn’t figure in because, as I clearly stated in the article, many of can’t buy enough cosmetic surgery to become conventionally beautiful. And even if we could, we’re over the hill at 30 anyway.

    I’m not sure where the race factor comes in. Are rich, middle aged men of color unable to attract women who want to marry rich men? Is that different for them than it is for white men?

    Because the point is that men have a lifelong chance to accrue enough wealth to attract a beautiful mate who wants to share it, while SOME women have just a few years during which they’re conventionally beautiful enough to attract a rich mate, and the one does not justify the other.

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