Boaz, Mr. Rochester, Colonel Brandon, Mr. Darcy—and heck, even Edward Cullen.  What is it about men with laden purses that make women swoon?*  Is it the promise of being well-taken care of–and an inclination to look for that promise, even in the Post Housewife Era?

Mr. Darcy, as portrayed by Colin Firth

Mr. Darcy, as portrayed by Colin Firth

Feminists certainly balk at this seemingly instinctual attraction.  It’s the most esurient and lazy form of greed, some say. Others  will contend that it’s simply foolish to rely on a man to support you.  They might  even call you a dependent, or worse, a “parasite” (Simone de Beauvoir’s word, not mine).1

I say, pshaw, Simone.  I might even throw in a valley-girl-esque whatEVER to the musings of Gloria Steinem.  

I get the gall to do this because men have a controversial  instinctual desire, too. It’s the instinct to snatch up pretty girls.  After all, if you really  think about it, that’s not fair of them, either, is it? But men do look for beauty, and frequently, with a kind of primitive urgency, just like women can sniff out a platinum credit card tucked snugly in an Italian leather wallet.

It’s just how the world is, and it’s how we’re wired.

 The Chinese have an ancient adage about matchmaking that goes like this: “Nán cái nü mào ma”—roughly translated, “The talented (upwardly mobile) man should have the pretty woman.”

That seductive bedroom-eyed sagette, Marilyn Monroe, defends the reason for this matchup  in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when she is confronted by a wealthy father who accuses her of gold-digging. I think her rebuttal is kind of clever:

“Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You might not marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but, my goodness, doesn’t it help?  And if you had a daughter, wouldn’t you rather she didn’t marry a poor man? No, you’d want her to have the most wonderful things in the world . . . . Well, why is it wrong for me to want those things?”2

I have to wonder if either desire is totally wrong, really.  They certainly seem natural enough. The male quest for the ideal, nubile female is on every football game advertising block.  A woman’s desire for a husband with a bit of cash has been recorded widely in literature, from Cosmo to Austen, and even celebrated in more ancient works, like –God forbid!–the Old Testament.

 Let’s take a look at my current primer (and the inspiration for this blog), the Book of Ruth. 

If you don’t know the story already, here are the Cliff’s Notes:  Ruth, her sister-in-law, and her mother-in-law Naomi are all widowed at the same time in a great tragic snare of fate that kills off all their husbands. Ruth alone stays and cares for the aged Naomi, while her sister-in-law returns to her own family.  Ruth and Naomi travel alone, penniless, into Bethlehem from Moab.  In the process, Ruth has to become the provider of the duo. She works hard, like a man, and independently, like a feminist, in the male-dominated threshing fields so she can bring home the bacon (er, wheat).   It’s backbreaking and exhausting work, but it enables Ruth and Naomi to survive, so Ruth does it gladly.  But old Naomi then makes the suggestion that maybe Ruth should try to get married to Boaz, a distant relative of her husband—and a wealthy landowner.    Naomi’s reason for this is explicit: 

Ruth 3:1- Then Naomi, her mother-in-law, said to [Ruth], “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?”

Naomi then convinces Ruth to put on a sexy dress and sneak her way into Boaz’s bed after a party—effectively forcing a marriage and claiming Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer (because he’s somehow a relative of her dead husband, and by Levirate law should have dibs on his widow).  Ruth somehow gets away with this without any loss of face.  I have yet to try it.

This is where this entry gets personal, and more importantly, back on topic.  For you see, my recently-widowed mother has been prodding me to monitor my eHarmony account much more closely than I have been. I got a bit testy with her for butting in and meddling and asking too many questions about my matches, and I practically snapped at her when she shoved my laptop into my hands.

Wiping surprised tears from her eyes at my uncharacteristic outburst, my mother admitted, “I just want you to be happy.  To be settled—to be taken care of.”

My mother is Naomi version 2.0.  Possibly Naomi XP.  Not sure.

I softened then, and I told her that her wishes reminded me of those of my friend Maggie, who, in the weeks counting down to my father’s passing, said something to me like, “You need someone to take care of you.  I wish a Mr. Darcy would come riding into your life.” 

At the time, I was so exhausted from caring for the sick and depressed while wearing a cheerful expression that I’d felt like I’d had a mask soldered to my face. I’d begun to think that nothing was real except for my new mask, and that my mind behind it couldn’t be trusted, and neither could any other minds behind the other masks walking around .  So I’d laughed and mused aloud that, for all my love for him, dearest Mr. Darcy was still fictitious—and so were any men like him.

But the fantasy of the romantic male redeemer (RMR) dug under my skin like a dogwood splinter. I itched. I flexed my muscles and slapped my face. I calmed myself and chided myself and put my nose back to the grindstone of work and class.  I told myself to stop being silly and selfish and to quit wishing away my problems.

Rich vamp Edward Cullen laughs at cancer.  And humanity in general.

Rich vamp Edward Cullen laughs at cancer. And humanity in general.

But at night, I read that damned addictive crack-literature known as the Twilight Saga, and a part of me dreamed of handsome, stock-market-predicting vampires who scoffed at monetary concerns and other petty, human things . . . like the cancer that was killing my father.

I got past it, though, when my escapist mood and the pages of Stephenie Meyer’s epic had run their course.  Now I’m back to footing the approved feminist path of careerism. I’m browsing job search sites and filling out applications like a good modern-day girl.  Truly, I am.  I haven’t had a date in weeks, either.  Pretty soon I’ll give up makeup and wear a lot of pants and low-heeled loafers so that I don’t cave in to The Beauty Myth (well, maybe not–I think I’ll die before I hand over my eyeliner). 

Aren’t you proud of me for being a good girl?

Don’t be.  I’ll fess up to this right now, just to clear the air:  Just now, when I was in my closet, I gave my Marilyn Monroe costume a wistful glance.

 

Sources:

  1. de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. 1949.  Trans. H.M. Parshley.  Penguin, 1972.
  2. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Dir. Howard Hawks. Perfs. Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell.  Twentieth Century Fox , 1953.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9glKchxU3I:  Start watching from 4:50 through 6:00 for the quote in context)
  3.  Meyer, Stephenie.  Twilight. New Moon. Eclipse. Breaking Dawn.  New York:  Little, Brown and Co.,  2004-2008.  (I’m too lazy to MLA every one of the novels, so just deal). 

Other random resources/allusions:

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth.  New York: Morrow, 1991.  (Also known as the textual argument that spawned the many jokes about ugly women using feminism to get the same power in society that pretty women have had for years.)

My Chinese class notes from winter term, 2008-9, Hanover College. Prof. A. Shen.  (See, Mom?  I told you I’d learn something useful in that class.)

Picture credits belong to the BBC/A&E (for the Firthness) and Summit Entertainment (for the Twilight screencap).

 

* Nota Bene:  Not all RMRs are loaded, per se. Some are just really hard working and like to keep their ladies happy, which is sexy, too.

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