In a scene from Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel (played by Constance Wu) walks into her room to find a gutted fish on her bed with a message calling her a ‘gold digger’ scrawled across the windows. The film attempted to make a point about elitism and misogyny.
The scene might have seemed unrealistic to some, but after news of Sushmita Sen and Lalit Modi dating became public, many on the Internet behaved the same way. After Modi told the world the news on social media, several people congratulated the couple but many also started making jokes about Sen ‘only dating him for his money’.
This isn’t an isolated incident of course, every time a woman dates someone rich (or god forbid, richer), the sexist idea that she’s in it for the money rears its ugly head.
Women Don't Spend Their Existence in Pursuit of (Wealthy) Men
Forget that this extent of trolling never comes up when a man dates a rich woman (as it rightfully shouldn’t, for anyone); the idea of a ‘gold digger’ is also rooted deeply in patriarchal conditioning- men are supposed to provide, women are supposed to receive.
Lalit Modi was the first Chairman and Commissioner (and founder) of the Indian Premier League (IPL), perhaps one of the most lucrative cricket ventures today, before his controversial exit after he was banned by the BCCI following allegations of financial misconduct.
Actor Sushmita Sen became the first Indian woman ever to be crowned Miss Universe in 1994. She went on to become an incredibly popular name in Bollywood and still continues to ride that wave with her web series Aarya. Why then, do trolls still think that she ‘needs’ a wealthy man?
Let’s consider for a second that Sen isn’t ‘THE Sushmita Sen’; even then, dating someone wealthy doesn’t automatically make her a gold digger. Trolls’ insistence on moral policing women (and absolute strangers that they know nothing about at that) hasn’t changed, but it’s high time it does.
Remember When Sen Chose to Become a Single Mother?
Even when Sen had announced, in her 20s, that she was going to become a single mother, she was asked (picked verbatim from her post):
“Why adoption? How will you raise a child without being married? Are you ready to be a single parent? You realise the impact this decision will have on your professional & personal life?”
Those questions might have died down from the mainstream when the news cycle moved on but the mindset remained. The same people who questioned Sen’s ability to raise a kid without a husband are now questioning her motives behind dating someone. Either way, every choice she makes is victim to scrutiny, especially when it comes to her private life.
Years later, when Sen was linked to model Rohman Shawl, their age gap had raised eyebrows (in the same country whose major film industry still has films with heroes romancing women half their age with barely an eyelid bat).
The conversations around age gaps are important but they become purely performative when a gendered bias takes front seat.
Remember when Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas announced they were dating? People took to their keyboards in hordes to call Chopra a ‘gold digger’ and worse too. Even as both celebrities continued their own pursuits in cinema and beyond, Chopra faced flak that Jonas didn't.
Now, Shawl was again dragged into the discourse surrounding Sen and Modi but not because of the age gap; but to criticise Modi’s physical appearance. It’s a grossly superficial way to look at human relationships; whether it be for celebrities or not.
Reacting to the trolls calling her a 'gold digger' Sen wrote in her post, “I dig deeper than Gold…and I’ve always (famously) preferred Diamonds! And yes I still buy them myself!”
The way people pry and judge women for their choices probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon but whether it’s Sushmita Sen or any other person, the world’s obsession with moral policing women got old decades ago.