At first glance, the new book Smart Girls Marry Money: How Women Have Been Duped into the Romantic Dream—and How They’re Paying for It by Elizabeth Ford and Daniela Drake appears to be a throwback to a paleolithic era in which women, smart or not, didn’t make their own money. (Its chick-lit hot-pink cover has Cupid’s arrow bisecting the “s” in “Girls,” lest anyone miss the avaricious point.) Indeed, its retrograde title seems calculated to repel actual “smart girls”—women who sail by the “self-help” aisle and who would kneecap anyone who called them “girls.”
But skim more deeply—through the real-life anecdotes and beyond lines like “Mr. Rich can be Mr. Right”—and it’s apparent this isn’t a 21st-century How to Marry a Millionaire. Rather, Ford, a 41-year-old Emmy-winning television producer divorced from Harrison Ford’s son, and Drake, a 44-year-old medical doctor with an M.B.A. from Stanford who has been divorced and is remarried, adopt a satiric tone to deliver a surprisingly subversive self-help manifesto: imagine, if you can, Dorothy Parker writing for Cosmo. Many of their observations have been well-aired, to wit—women have a shelf life in terms of fertility and attractiveness; taking time out to raise children reduces women’s workplace value; women have more difficulty bouncing back from divorce. And even after decades of women graduating from professional schools in greater numbers than men, men remain the power players.
Instead of bitching about these inequities, they counsel women to bring about change strategically. Females have bought into a fairy tale, they observe, in which “having it all” has translated into “doing it all.” They decry the modern notion that marriage be based in romantic love—a heady hormonal cocktail destined to fade. Marriage is an economic trade-off, so women should exploit the currency of youth, they write. “A man is not a financial plan,” they allow, adding: “but he can be part of one.” At times, they push it: “Earnings power is a reflection of his values and character. Big blue eyes? Not so much,” they write, ignoring the fact many high earners are shadier than a cyprus grove. Still, many women buy into it, says Jemima Slade, who runs golddiggers.uk.com, a U.K. website with 6,000 members, most of them women. She’s looking for a rich man herself: “It’s about him being powerful and ambitious and opinionated like me.”
But the book’s message, ultimately, is not to mine for gold but to remove the blinkers and take charge. An entire chapter is devoted to the importance of masturbation in building sexual confidence. They also advise women to get a grip on their finances; because they live longer, they need to save, budget and invest even more aggressively than men.
The idea to write the book evolved after Drake and Ford met at their children’s school. Drake was having difficulty re-entering the workforce despite her impressive CV. “We used to joke: ‘We thought we were the smart ones but the smart ones married money.’” The thesis would have been outrageous to her 10 years ago, Drake admits. “I would have been: ‘Of course I’m going to be making my own money. I don’t have to choose a guy based on money.’ But I never expected a non-linear career path.”
Financial counsellor Gail Vaz-Oxlade, host of the TV show Til Debt Do Us Part, applauds the message. “They’re telling women: ‘Wake up. Anything you exchange your independence for, you need to negotiate a price on.’ ” But she’s skeptical: “Good luck convincing people of that. All of life is based on romantic dreams.” People can overstate their wealth during courtship, she notes, citing a couple she’s working with. “Her expectation of what life would be like after marriage is based on his courtship of her. And his courtship of her was based on knowing she’d never accept him if she knew what he was about.”
Neither Drake nor Ford married for money: “Never, never, never, to my great regret,” Drake laughs. Yet they’ve been called immoral gold diggers by critics, a charge she deflects. “Isn’t the better moral choice to have a friendship where love can evolve and your family are going to be taken care of in case he decides to walk? Or he gets hit by a bus?” She describes her own not-monied husband with affection: “He’s an incredible father and great husband. I’m really, really lucky.” But she’s not starry-eyed. “I’m not checking my texts every second to make sure he texted me. It has evolved into something more stable and luxurious.”