In modern day society, wealthy men are constantly on the lookout for gold-diggers, a slang term used to describe women who care more about how fat a man’s wallet is than his actual well being. Especially in areas like the Silicon Valley where there is an exceptionally high ratio of males to females, women have the upper hand in the dating scene that allows them to have the pick of the litter, further explained in this article. This theme of female scarcity working in a woman’s favor when picking mates not only applies to the modern techie world, but can also be traced back to the Gold Rush.
Just as antisocial, awkward male techies in Silicon Valley fawn over the mere presence of a female (even a girl’s nose piercing can easily impress a techie), women were also heavily adored during the Gold Rush. As mentioned by Levy in her novel They Saw the Elephant: Women in the Gold Rush, society during the Gold Rush was heavily male-dominated with California’s 1850 census reporting an 8% female populace. Therefore, a woman’s face value, the price she assigned to herself, escalated with her rarity. Men even awaited women’s arrival by sea—in May of 1850, when a passenger ship full of women arrived in San Francisco, the Atla California noted that the “bay was dotted by flotillas of young men” who gave their amiable welcome to the “fairer sex in full bloom.”
The shortage of females also allowed for women, even prostitutes, to quickly improve their status as they basked in open admiration of men. Simply because of their gender, any woman who could carry herself respectably was treated with utmost esteem and enjoyed the luxury of freedoms that were previously unknown to women in Eastern society. On top of their scarcity, women were also admired because many Californians believed their presence had a civilizing influence on society that encouraged stability— introduce women into a frontier mining camp, and a community would emerge where women displayed acts of benevolence for the needy, attended church, and made schools a necessity for their children.
As women discovered their value in California, they also discovered the privileges that came along with being a diamond in the rough. Women began to abuse their value and take advantage of men during the Gold Rush, leading to a rapid shift from the early rush of their idolization to a common consensus amongst men that women were sly, untrustworthy, and unchaste. As men in the Tech Boom and the Gold Rush both suffered from disproportionate numbers, they were prone to cuckoldry as women could easily meet another man with higher reproductive potential. In a situation described by Levy, a woman named Mary Mahaffey tricked a wealthy rancher into a fake marriage after he spent thousands of dollars on the ceremony. She then threatened to shoot him if he didn’t leave the house and soon after got back together with her original lover. While evolutionary psychologists may attribute a woman’s devious acts to merely maximizing the opportunities to provide for her child, growing suspicions of women during the Gold Rush can be paralleled to a techie’s fear of gold diggers in Silicon Valley. Techies in the modern dating world were also reported as feeling like disposable commodities, similar to the way Gold Rush women portrayed men as literal commodities when picking their suitors through “Husband Wanted” advertisements in newspapers.
Although it may seem like men are cursed in California’s dating scene, in actuality this is, for the most part, a false pretense. While some women may take advantage of their new-found power and rarity, the majority of women, just like the majority of men, are loyal and moral. That being said, one bad apple really does ruin the barrel, for it is only natural for men to feel insecure because of outliers like Mary Mahaffey. Fortunately for men in the Silicon Valley, the ratio today is not quite as bad as during the Gold Rush. With enough effort and a little luck, I believe that anyone can find the love of their lives even under unideal circumstances.