SP: “Marry a rich man. They all look the same in the dark.”
The informant is my grandmother. She is an 83-year-old woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who was raised in New York City and currently lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. SP said that her mother said this to her when she was a teenager or in her early twenties. She got married at 23. Her mother was sharp-tongued, outspoken, and funny. They had a very close relationship.
Proverbs tend to be didactic, often conveying their message through metaphor. In chapter eight of Elliot Oring’s ‘Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction,’ F. A. de Caro writes that, “Nonmetaphorical proverbs communicate through a direct statement of a presumed truth that supposedly applies to a situation, rather than by invoking a poetic image to which a situation is compared metaphorically” (de Caro 186). This proverb is blunt and probably hyperbolic, encouraging women to marry rich men because they’re ultimately the same. I think that this saying can be interpreted as cynical and sexist, neglecting women’s abilities to be self-sufficient and encouraging them to sacrifice their happiness for material wealth. It intends to dispel women of illusions about men and love. However, this proverb can also be read as subversive (especially considering that my grandmother heard it at a time when women occupied a lower social position than now), encouraging women to be cunning and look out for themselves and rejecting the idea that women should worship their husbands. It also is an example of how wisdom can be transferred from one generation of women to the next.
Proverbs are almost always concise and easy to remember. This one is memorable because it’s so blunt and it conveys a jaded point of view, but also because it alludes to sex. Because female sexuality was so taboo at this time, so I imagine that such an allusion—even if it’s euphemistic—would be shocking.