University of Southern Indiana

Filth and Foulness 2021 - Stella Ress

“Will You Love Me in December as You Do in May?”: Gold Diggers, Sugar Daddies and Age-disparate relationships in the US

Abstract: Examining various case studies and their treatment in cultural sources, this paper investigates the wide-ranging public reaction to (in)famous age-disparate unions in America from 1890 through 1930. The paper explores how and why age-disparate relationships transformed from something not worth noting in the nineteenth century to something that kept newspapers and tabloids flying off the shelves in the twentieth. Ultimately, it links these changing attitudes toward such unions to young, male fears about the increasing public presence and consequent acceptance of female sexuality, and economic and political power; as well as to the growing generational conflict caused by the appearance of a youth culture that was constantly challenged by older generations. Thus, terms like “Gold Digger” (i.e. the young woman in an age-disparate relationship) emerged and was defined as a dangerous siren whose aggressive sexuality belied her true desire—to strip men of their money and manliness. On the other hand, the “Sugar Daddy,” (i.e. the older, male partner) was a harmless fool—an impotent sucker who used his wealth to hide his inadequacies. Such generalizations helped negate the power of women and older men at a time when it was unclear how young men, responding to both groups of people, would carve out a place for themselves in American society.

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