'I paid my half in everything but I still get called a gold digger'
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'I paid my half in everything but I still get called a gold digger'

Jess Gately has sent herself broke trying to pay for half of everything in a relationship where her partner has more money.

Jess Gately has sent herself broke trying to pay for half of everything in a relationship where her partner has more money.

Photo: Jess Gately

We’re about to go out to lunch. My partner opens his wallet, pulls out some cash and I squash it into my purse self-consciously before shoving it away. When we arrive, I order as little as possible and try to pick the cheaper items on the menu. When the waiter brings the bill, I pull out the cash for both of us. It’s unlikely anyone even noticed me get my wallet out. Once home, I give him back the remaining cash. I know the gestures are pointless and feel even worse now that the money I’m paying with is no longer my own.

In the three years since my partner and I started dating, moments of discomfort like this have been a frequent reality. On this particular occasion, the people we were meeting had, only days earlier, confronted my partner and I with their accusations that I was "gold-digging" – an assumption I knew had been talked about behind our backs for years. We were both livid. So, we made sure I was the one seen to be paying. But this accusation had hung over us our entire relationship. By the third time I had met my partner’s family and friends, the word "prenup" had been mentioned more than once with very direct looks at me.

This label of gold-digger has haunted me ever since. I couldn’t believe how easily it was pinned to me. I had never said or done anything to prompt this judgment; my crime was simply that I was not as rich as my partner. I’m still not. And I probably never will be.

It seems ludicrous to judge a relationship based on the woman’s income when there is still a 15.3 per cent gender pay gap in Australia and women make up more than three out of five low-income earners. Even more absurd is that the term was first applied to women in the 1919 play The Gold Diggers in a time when women were paid half of what their male counterparts earnt. Since then, the term has been used almost exclusively to describe women. The gold-digger went on to become one of the most popular femme fatale archetypes in American cinema. The women portrayed were always scheming, vapid and predatory.

There’s been plenty written on the gold-digging phenomenon but what most of these musings fail to reflect is that the label of a gold-digger is applied liberally, publicly and painfully to women. The propagation of media articles around high-stakes payouts to wives in divorce cases and the running commentary around women who date well-known or wealthy men is toxic.

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Unlike men, it would appear that women are subject to greater scrutiny. While men who marry women of greater wealth are applauded for supporting their wives and making smart financial decisions, women are lauded as gold-diggers and money-grabbers.

When I realised what was being insinuated by the mentions of a prenup, I felt it was my job to prove them wrong. I paid my half in everything. Years later and I’m poorer now than I’ve ever been from trying to keep up with a lifestyle that is beyond my means. The poorer I got, the more debt I ran into, the more my status as a gold-digger was cemented. It’s a vicious cycle. And now not only am I being accused of gold-digging, but I no longer have the means to prove otherwise.

This is my label. I have to wear it. I can’t take it off myself. It was pinned to me by others and it can only be removed by others. I’m grateful to my partner: every time someone puts that label on me, he takes it off. He sees the value I bring to our relationship that isn’t measured by the money in my bank account.

But I am curious, when will those of us with less money be afforded the same benefit of the doubt as our richer counterparts?