Gentlemen Prefer… Malibu Barbie?

“Ladies, meet my MILLIONAIRES!” Patti Stanger shouts before a group of gussied up women in cocktail dresses. Then, in walk the 2 fellows who are millionaires and who now get to pick from the cleavage and hair extension smögåsbord. I find it revolting and yet I can’t look away. Yes, my name is Brenda and my guilty pleasure du jour is watching The Millionaire Matchmaker!

There’s so much going on with this show, but at the core it’s about dating capital. Millionaires are scarce and in high demand on the dating market; therefore, they are afforded the luxury of having the cutest, most appropriate women (according to matchmaker Patti) presented to them.

While the matchmaker has no trouble giving her mostly white, mostly male, mostly straight clients a talking-to if she thinks they’re too arrogant or not romantic enough, it’s the women who are evaluated most harshly. This happens during a kind of cattle/casting call. Women who’ve been “recruited” are brought in to be judged by a panel consisting of Patti and her 2 associates. And, in order to get a chance to impress the millionaires, they must pass a baseline attractiveness test that includes not being overweight, having long hair, looking feminine, and wearing form-fitting cocktail dresses. In addition, there are other must-haves depending on specific millionaire requests that could include things like wanting kids, having an exotic look, or being able to relocate.

Some women need Gucci, I just need love.

Some women need Gucci, I just need love.

Anyone with a half-brain can see how the power imbalance between men and women is reinforced by this set-up. Men have the money; they do the choosing. Women have the beauty; they must be won over and romanced on expensive dates (yet are passively chosen nonetheless). It reminds me of one of my favourite movies of all time: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. One of the final scenes involves Marilyn Monroe, as gold digger Lorelei, explaining to her rich boyfriend’s father that she doesn’t only love his son for his money, but that money is important: “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”

Of course, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was made in 1953 when women didn’t have very much opportunity for financial independence. Marrying rich, or at least getting lots of expensive gifts, probably was some of the best insurance against poverty available out there for a pretty lil’ gal. But this is 2013! So what’s going on over there in millionaire matchmaker land?

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Patti Stanger, The Millionaire Matchmaker, actually does have a talent for figuring out her clients’ weaknesses and why they haven’t been able to make relationships work. At times, she seems to have real insight (or the show’s producers do) but much of her advice falls within a fairly rigid gendered framework. I have mixed feelings about this; I often think she’s right while wishing she was wrong. Here are some examples of recurring themes —

Gender role no. 1: Men are strong and in charge/men plan the dates (even if the millionaire client is a woman). Of course women love men who can plan a romantic date. It makes us feel pampered and takes the decision-making pressure off of us. Plus, it’s a real antidote to the “uh, so you want to, I dunno, maybe hang out sometime?” type of vibe that a lot of women are used to encountering. Confidence is sexy in both genders and, by giving this directive, I think Patti is aiming for a particularly masculine strength that says “I’m in charge and I’ll take care of you.” As an independent woman, I’m conflicted… but she’s right about this. Guys, plan something nice.

Gender role no. 2: Women are nurturing and supportive/women do not compete with men. Patti has sometimes given this advice to women she thinks are too aggressive. But this should be gender-neutral advice! I think it’s positive if both people are supportive and not trying to best each other on a date, or in life. Just be kind, you don’t have to win at everything if you want to win at having a relationship.

Gender role no. 3: Men like to chase/women say “no” to sex until there’s a promise of monogamy. This is perfect advice in a capitalist society because it’s in line with the idea that things that are scarce have more value. Within the context of millionaires who are used to getting what they want, yes, sure, you want to be certain you’re exclusive before getting sexy. That said, readers of this blog know how I feel about keeping the cookies on the top shelf. In my world, finding a good cookie connoisseur is not easy and sometimes you’re both really really hungry for cookies. Besides, when it’s right, monogamy is pretty much implied from the start.

Patti Stanger (peacock dress) and her 2 rockabilly employees (ends) with Baldy Millionaire and Classic Rock Millionaire

Patti Stanger (peacock dress) and her 2 rockabilly employees (ends) with Baldy Millionaire and Classic Rock Millionaire

Gender role no. 4: Women should be traditionally feminine/women have long hair and wear cocktail dresses that show off curves. Again, I’m conflicted because I think everyone should express their femininity in a way that makes them feel good. Nevertheless, I can’t tell you how many times [attractive] men have complimented my long hair. And I definitely receive much appreciation when I wear short skirts or dresses with high heels. Oh, and cleavage gets the approval every time. Would that I could make it be otherwise… A lot of women look awesome with short hair and I admire those women! But unless you’re a punky girl looking for a punky guy, best not to shave your head (and even then, the punk dude will probably go for the girl with long purple hair).

All to say that, as horrifying as the transaction is and as much as I think everyone deserves what they get (women who agree to be paraded around and displayed deserve to end up with men who think money should buy them a hot wife), I’m still interested in the dynamic. I think I continue to be fascinated by dating because, now that I’m with someone, I have a profound urge to dig deep into the whole dating process in an effort to deal with my dating PTSD. And the question of what perceived “value” everyone brings to the table in a dating situation is one of the most bizarre and frightening aspects of the whole thing.

To end on a high note — in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Lorelei has a wise-cracking best chum in the form of Dorothy, played Jane Russell. She’s always been my favourite! In contrast to her friend, Dorothy just wants to find a hot sexy man to love, regardless of net worth. In one priceless scene, she sings Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love surrounded by athletic men in swim trunks. Ah yes, Dorothy knows what’s up.

Do share your thoughts on dating capital in the comments section.

Comments

  1. I thought the artist Ann Hirsch’s reflections on being in a reality tv show were pretty interesting, maybe you’ve read this already. She really likes to play with all these stereotypes.
    http://www.bust.com/boob-tube/shaming-famewhores-part-i-on-becoming-a-famewhore.html
    http://www.bust.com/boob-tube/shaming-famewhores-part-ii-on-being-a-failed-famewhore.html
    http://www.bust.com/boob-tube/shaming-famewhores-part-iii-and-the-winning-famewhore-is%E2%80%A6.html

    • I finally got a chance to read it. I always wonder how much is controlled by the producers but this contestant seems to say that, even when you’re inside it, you can’t really tell how you’re being manipulated! Interesting…

  2. I wouldn’t want to go with a millionaire anyways … Most of the time they are spoiled brats and only look at everything (even people) as material objects with a price tag—otherwise, they wouldn’t be millionaires. I like the simple life with just enough to pay the bills and have a roof over my head. It’s when you are truly happy with what you have (which might not be much), that you can appreciate love for what it is supposed to be. Do I make sense? People on those shows can be so fake and it actually looks very tiring to keep up with millionaires. Good luck to all the Malibu Barbies out there ….

Trackbacks

  1. […] Prefer Blondes (1953): Air-headed Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) likes a rich man and her wise-cracking sidekick Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) is a sucker for a good-looking penniless […]

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