For our presentation, Chris, Sam, and I talked about marriage for Pamela of a way of securing economic stability, although Richardson obscures material motives a little by focusing instead on virtue and the heroine’s (infallible) character. In contrast to Pamela, who says (whether she’s believable is another question) she values moral ideals more than any material wealth, Mr. B’s offers in return for Pamela’s affection are largely materialistic. To gain favor, supposedly, Mr. B presents to Pamela fancy undergarments (stockings), commenting he knows what pretty girls like Pamela wears underneath layers of 18th century clothes that we looked at briefly in class. In page 227 of the Penguin edition, Mr. B even lays out in detail the financial advantages that he will give Pamela if she agrees to be his mistress. For example, “[he] will directly make you a present of five hundred guineas,” “make over to [Pamela] a purchase [he] lately made in Kent,” “allow [Pamela’s] father, besides, fifty pounds a-year, for his life, and for that of your mother, for his care and management of this [her] estate.” The language that describes B’s “proposal” is significantly legalistic, although one might expect a love letter to have a more personal tone.
In Anti-Pamela, we see resonances of exactly that. Syrena Trickster and her mother are very conscious of economic benefits of marrying a rich guy, and intend to make a careful choice so they might be set for life. I find it interesting to think of cultural implications of that, because we are reading texts from a society removed from ours by time and place. How would have the readers of the time received those texts, given their preconceived notions about marriage? How disturbed would they have been seeing a 13-year old girl selling her sexuality specifically for material returns, not necessarily returning the emotional attachment of her male partners? Even in modern-day America, THE capitalist nation with a big consumer society, the idea of making oneself a sexual commodity is something not everyone is comfortable with. Prostitution, for example, is still considered disgraceful by general public, although some do argue that it’s a form of empowerment for women: i.e. becoming a porn star = a way to gain rich and fame. (Tell me if you disagree)
In Korea before westernization, marriage was something that was agreed upon by two parents. Upon reaching a certain age, the girls would be sent to live with their respective partners. Often in marriage money was an important consideration, although they didn’t always ignore who their children preferred. Today, people tend to have much more agency in who they marry. People look for their own wives and husbands.
Unfortunately, in modern-day Korea there is a new breed of women who uses their sexuality to gain economic favors from men. They tend to be in their 20s, because they tend to lose their beauty and attraction past 30 so their value goes down (a widely agreed on opinion). It almost seems that the girl sex entrepreneurs are the norm, not exception. Younger generation of Korean guys even coined a derogatory term describing such women, combination of the word for “vagina” and the word for “government official.” The implication is that they exact money from us men like taxes because having vagina gives them that authority. There are a lot of stories that go around the web, although not all of them are likely to be true. For example, there are girls who wrote about how they dated multiple guys just to get expensive dinners, because dating custom in Korea says guys have to pay for everything (and fancier the restaurant more impressive the guys look). They decide whether or not to hit on a guy based on what car he has. If he has a Porsche or a Ferrari, apparently he’s worth going for even if he is ugly. Or someone with a respectable, high-paying job. They like luxury items, squandering money on Gucci bags, sunglasses, Starbucks coffee, etc. They spend money like Paris Hilton without doing any work themselves—all the money comes from the guys. Similarly, the dating sites score and rank candidates according to occupation, income, and height, which is unfortunate for me because I won’t be a doctor or a lawyer, and I have below average height. Some girls explicitly say (I heard them personally) they wouldn’t mind not seeing their husbands after marriage as long as they get money to spend on shopping.
Understandably, personal merit is difficult to measure and it takes time and effort to know someone, but I am angry and disturbed that the material aspect of relationship gets so much attention partly because I don’t have a fancy car but also because I believe in value of forming a special intimate bond with someone. Some say that marriage is an economic institution, a financial agreement between two people, but what happened to “love” regardless of how one defines that much debated word? How are they not disturbed by the ideas of having distant personal relationship with their spouses as long as the husbands give them money? Is “reality” of married life that bleak? How should we conceive marriage? Is it in fact wise to make decision based largely on material things because passion and beauty tend to fade with time?