Great Expectations: The “Gold-Digging Whore Epidemic,” the Economic Proposition of Marriage, and How Expectations Form Behaviours That Harm Us All

I thought about incorporating two scenes into this piece, but with some further consideration it seems best to present them both up front.

I’m afraid of getting married, man. Why, why would – what man wouldn’t be afraid of getting married at this point? Look at, look at Kobe. Look at the shit he’s going through right now. Alright? Guy’s getting a divorce. His wife’s going to get 70 million bucks. Never hit a lay-up in her life. You know? Can anybody explain these divorce settlements? Can anybody make sense of these fucking things? Tiger Woods’ wife – $250 million! She’s a babysitter worth a quarter of a billion fucking dollars! Somebody, go ahead. Somebody. Explain- justify it. Justify it. What, what, he cheated on her? I don’t give a fuck. Yeah, I don’t give a fuck. He cheated on her, great, the relationship’s over right then. Kobe cheated, right? Shouldn’t that relationship have been over right then? Why did she hang around like some jaded cop for three years trying to get her fuckin’ pension? Right? Get that ten years in? I don’t know, maybe that’s too harsh? This shit bothers me, man. Dude, there is an epidemic of gold-digging whores in this country.

~Bill Burr, Paper Tiger, 2019

I’m not having a go at Bill. I think he gets a bad rep sometimes because of the subjects of his jokes. Often he likes to have a go at sensitivity itself, and the subject of his joke tends to be something inflammatory like identity questions or sexual assault. From an intellectual perspective, I think reducing Bill to “sexist” would be like reducing Mel Brooks to racist for the “Up yours, n—” line in Blazing Saddles.

There is a difference between a comedian sharing their opinion as a person and using a subject as the framework for a joke. Many of Bill’s bits end with him as the punchline with someone else (his girlfriend, the audience) pointing out his ignorance on the subject.

In the quoted bit, he goes on to say that he’s not calling all women whores but that they do exist as a problem that requires attention. “They’re the wife-beaters for men,” he jests.

As I watched his stand-up unfold I found my mind wandering to a recent film scene:

Amy: Well, I believe we have some power over who we love. It isn’t something that just happens to a person.

Laurie: I think the poets might disagree.

Amy: Well, I’m not a poet. I’m just a woman. And as a woman I have no way to make money – not enough to earn a living and support my family. Even if I had my own money, which I don’t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children they would belong to him, not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it certainly is for me.

Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” (2019)

Yes, there is something of a time gap between Burr’s routine in 2019 and a story set in the 19th century. I’ll get to that.

First, we need to address any inclination that this is apples and oranges because of the time difference. I reference the two scenes not because I view them as diametrically opposed but rather because I see them as confirmation of one another. Little Women was set in the 19th century but Gerwig directed her adaptation in 2019 because it is immutable.

All too often the discussion of equality, equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice divides into camps and the parties argue one or the other. Many of the issues discussed, on the other hand, are two sides of the same coin. Even where one camp can point to the other as the direct cause for their class’ struggles, the other camp will point to another cause for that.

The inequality is not equal. We do have to be clear about that. This is the uncomfortable topic of ‘privilege’ that sends people running from conversations. If life were a round of golf, most of us would be playing with a handicap. When it comes to the matter of privilege, some look at the presence of a handicap for members of their group as evidence of a lack of privilege when the issue at hand is the comparative handicap of the two groups.

There is the “norm” and there is the outside. Men have privilege, women do not. That does not mean that women do not enjoy advantages simply by being women (something else requiring further discussion – there’s often a reason why it’s an advantage for them). When we look back through history we see a decidedly male-oriented society. Women had a place in the home taking care of a family that belonged to the man. The man worked, voted, held office. We built society around men. Time changed, but the foundations do not (this is why considering only the present in these discussions is wrong).

White people have privilege. CIS-gendered people have privilege. Neurotypical people have privilege. Within the confines of any characteristic, one has privilege within the society and the others do not because society, at its core, served that one group and “tolerated” the others (the definition of “tolerated” varies wildly here).

We have progressed as a society on all fronts. That sometimes obscures the point as well. One will point to a half-century ago and ask, “What more could a person want? Things are so much better now.” True, but still not to where they ought to be, and generations of inequity have left systemic damage still unaddressed.

Which takes us to this back example of the “gold-digging whore epidemic of 2019” and the 19th century notion of marriage as mercenary. In the realm of gender equality, we still have not addressed fully the inequities between men and women.

It took a massive step forward with the suffrage movement and further efforts towards liberation, but society remains plagued by ideas that women can/cannot/must only/should never/will/won’t and so forth because they are women. That is the core of all of these discussions. Someone (society in a general way or an individual as proxy for that generalisation) sees another person, identifies them as possessing a particular characteristic (that’s a woman, that’s a white person, that is someone with a mental health issue…), assigns an expectation to them based on that identification, and then polices their behaviour accordingly.

That’s the beauty of feminism (among other examples) to me. Feminism does not mean an end to “barefoot and pregnant”. It means an end to the expectation that because someone is a woman she should be “barefoot and pregnant”. If a woman chooses to stay at home and raise a family of her own volition, great. If she wants to fly fighter jets, so be it. Gender enters into countless discussions where it has no actual place solely because of social conditioning to expect it there.

So when I hear 2019 Bill Burr joking about “an epidemic of gold-digging whores in this country,” my mind immediately turned to 2019 Florene Pugh explaining the “economic proposition” that is marriage to a woman. Two sides of the same coin. While a man, like Theodore Laurence in that particular scene, might feel put out by Amy March’s mercenary attitude towards marriage, what he fails to appreciate is his role in making it a mercenary enterprise for her.

The irony in 2019 is hearing the ongoing discussion of “an epidemic of gold-digging whores” with continued disregard for the gender inequality that caused it.

Let me cite another example of stereotype that fits this bill: Jewish people are cheap and control money. The irony here is that many Jews found themselves forced into banking because the Christians who dominated their society viewed handling money as a sin. Someone had to do it and groups precluded from holding other jobs, because they were not Christian, filled the demand.

You know how they say there is always some truth to a stereotype? There you are. Jewish people are disproportionately represented in banking. It’s not even strictly anti-Semitic. No one, as far as I can tell, forced Jewish people to be bankers, but they could be and it was one of the in-demand careers available to them. Their disproportionate representation then became fuel for the anti-Semites.

The best path to economic freedom, success, flexibility, whatever for a woman in some (many?) cases remains marriage because gender expectations still place irrational roadblocks to their success. Yes, everyone faces roadblocks and life requires a degree of determination and toughness to push passed them. It also requires luck. Also, some people face fewer and smaller roadblocks. Also, some people are in a position where they can afford to trip over or slam into a roadblock and recover where others get derailed completely.

On a case-by-case basis, this differs wildly. On a general basis, there are disproportionate trends and those trends link directly to the general characteristic that places the individual in that group.

Men have valid concerns. Emotion is not something acceptable among many men. I mean, it’s not something society seems to enjoy about anyone, but it’s expected from women (even if society then likes to joke about irrational and moody women are). Men have a narrow range of tolerated emotions and people have pointed out the harm this causes. In particular, some men like to highlight that women are the ones reinforcing this – an absolutely true and fair observation.

But this is often where the observation stops. “Feminists want men to be more vulnerable, but women tease and belittle men for being too vulnerable.” It ignores the role we as men play teasing and belittling one another or the role we play perpetrating the myth that women are hysterical hormone monsters.

The blame doesn’t fall to men or to women; it falls to men and women. That does not erase privilege or suggest that everyone suffers equally – it merely recognises that everyone has a role in addressing it. Measures designed to address half the problem, especially those that do so while casting the other half as the problem, only furthers the whole problem.

In the context of the “epidemic of gold-digging whores,” I consider that society’s treatment of women drove them into that situation just as it drove the men there. This is not about condemning or condoning the behaviour (Burr, in his routine, makes a point to denounce what the men did as shitty) but about addressing societal contributions to the behaviour.

Kobe’s ex-wife got $70 million despite having never “hit a lay-up” as the bit jabs. No woman earned $70 million for hitting a lay-up. The premier employer for women with a talent for hitting lay-ups are the teams of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) whose salary caps somewhere around $125 thousand.

To that end, why did Kobe Bryant earn so much for hitting lay-ups? The question is rhetorical as the answer is of course that the WNBA does not yield the profits that the NBA does, thus it does not warrant paying dividends to the players as much. Kobe was one of the all-time NBA stars and commanded a high salary, something unreachable by any measure in the current WNBA.

I do not argue the economics of the situation, but I do want to regard the social circumstances of it. Why should a man playing basketball command so much more money and attention than a woman? The simple response is that the man is better. I’d be hard-pressed to find a woman perform well against 6’6” professional of Kobe’s size and athleticism. There’s a reason we have weight classes in combat sports.

But the women of the WNBA do not compete against the NBA. They play amongst one another. They are the elite women basketballers of the world. Why would a basketball fan not be as excited about seeing them compete against one another? It cannot be the professional thing, because high school and college football do not seem to suffer in the shadow of the NFL.

No, I think it has more to do with our general attitude that sport is not a place for women with the exception of women’s sports. Cheerleading, gymnastics, field hockey – these are sports where society expects to see women and they thrive. Tennis is perhaps the most equitable, and women can command money equal to that of a man. Expectation.

Sure, one could say that the women objectively are not as entertaining. Watch the NBA and then watch the WNBA; one could argue that the former is more exciting, especially with the production value. I would point out how much all of that changes from generation to generation across all sports though.

I’m an ice hockey fan myself. No, I do not find NHWL games as exciting as NHL games (for the aforementioned reasons – it’s not as fast and the production value is not as good). Look at the NHL in the 1990s or 1980s compared with today though. That did not just happen. When my father was a boy the league consisted of six teams that had only seen it’s first television broadcast a few years earlier. Soon we’ll be watching Vegas (2017) play Seattle (2021) as the 31st and 32nd teams.

So, no, I do not consider the NWHL with its six teams an inferior league. I think it’s a competitive, entertaining professional league that is a century younger than its male counterpart, and when one considers what they have accomplished with introductory support I am quite excited to think about where they will be in a few years.

In a world where men still become multi-millionaires for hitting a ball, women still become multi-millionaires for marrying them. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for those women to receive half the assets in a divorce, but it also doesn’t make much sense for those men to receive that many assets for playing a game professionally. We as a society decided that it made sense when we decided to throw billions at men for playing sports and that it was necessary to define community property in marriage that would allow for the equitable division of that property in the event of divorce.

As with so much, the trouble is baseless, stereotyped expectations of people. Life is not something handed to people, but people constructing obstacles to others because they are (or merely appear to be) one of a group for whom an activity or behaviour is deemed unsuitable is a problem that we must transcend as a society.

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