On Engagement Rings

JC wrote me an email asking:

…inspired by the name change post, I’d really like to see how your readers feel about engagement rings. I’ve always found them to be quite repulsive.

Feministing has covered the engagement ring angle at least twice (here and here) and the comments in these posts are far more volatile that I would have expected. Amanda also wrote about the engagement rings phenomenon at her old blog Mousewords.

I, like JC, find them repulsive as a symbol of ownership, far more so than a name change upon marriage. Why? Simply because I feel the engagement and wedding ring ensemble is far more symbolic of ownership than what one is called. This may sound illogical, but the threads run deeper and are far more tangible in my mind.

When I see an engagement ring, especially of the diamond sort, I can’t help but think of diamond mines, land-stripping, and the countless people on the African continent who have died so we may carry on an old, largely unquestioned tradition that reeks of dowry. Exploitation of a continent isn’t something I find so romantic, nor do I want it to taint my marriage. I’d rather the future husband give my parents a goat upon engagement just so I could watch while they figure out what the hell to do with it.

I don’t wear much traditional jewelry in the first place. The most expensive jewelry on my body is made from amber or stainless steel. The man who buys me an engagement ring is a man who doesn’t know me. I’m not particularly interested and don’t want to wear one. Like the rest of the jewelry I wear, I don’t want a ring to be symbolic of anything. My jewelry is simply another extension of my feminist drag.

Further, a ring is the last thing I want when I choose a life partner. I don’t want the bragging rights, the status symbols, the competitiveness between partnered couples and their material wealth, to weigh down one of the most important decisions I will make in my lifetime. Does this mean I look down on women who partake in these romantic social norms? Of course not. But to me, the significance of the engagement rings is another version of keeping up with the Joneses, and one I am entirely uncomfortable with. And I opt out.


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45 comments for “On Engagement Rings

  1. May 19, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    Getting married is so weird! I never wanted a diamond either. And then when I decided to get married, here come my parents-in-law to be, offering up as a welcoming gift a beautiful diamond ring, several generations in the family (you know, which probably means the diamond was mined when DeBeers was doing the -really- bad stuff). And it was absolutely the sweetest, kindest, thing–such a gift from my mother in law–and now I wear a diamond I never would have wanted, and encounter all the time the ways in which my personal history with -this- ring does and does not trump the social history of rings in general.

    When you get married, you gain a lot of things–not only a different level of kinship, but a history, a vocabulary, infrastructural support for your decision to commit to loving another person. But those things aren’t free. You cannot have the personal growth that comes from participating in something bigger than yourself without being a little bit dwarfed by that something. For me, wearing a pretty and surprising ring often serves as a reminder for that.

  2. michelle
    May 19, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    Diamond engagement rings are a pet peeve of mine. Ignoring the issues of ownership for the moment, diamonds have too much horrible baggage for me to ever take one (yes, you can get non-blood-diamonds from your own country, but it’s still supporting the industry. Most people don’t even know what’s wrong about DeBeers.) Ever since I read The Meaning of Wife, I have been 100% against supporting the diamond engagement culture in any form. Diamonds are instrinsically worthless, their value artifically maintained (and increased every year) by the diamond industry. They have practically no resell value. If you’re buying me a ring because I’m “worth that much”, you damn well better not hand me a tiny chunk of worthless carbon – that’s insulting!

    Plus I never wear jewellery, and don’t want to start just because I feel obligated after my spouse dropped all that cash on it. I like the goat idea much better =)

  3. May 19, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    This is interesting. I was adamant about NOT changing my name, but I was equally adamant about HAVING an engagement ring! For me, the whole point of marriage is that it’s a public celebration of your commitment to one another (not being religious, I don’t see any other point in getting married) – it’s a social contract, and as such, I liked having a visible symbol of my agreement to that contract. (I also love wearing jewelry and have a ton of other rings.) BUT, I should add – I got my husband an engagement ring, too. What’s good for the goose …

    Do people feel the same way about wedding rings, or is it just engagement rings that are problematic?

  4. May 19, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    I do happen to have an engagement ring. My now-husband totally surprised me with it – on top of Mt. Katahdin, no less – and I accepted it as an expression of his love. He wasn’t looking to own me, nor did I even expect an engagement ring, ever. He knew that about me.. and I know he didn’t feel pressure to get me one. We intended to get married anyway – the ring was never a big deal to me. Both of us are non-materialistic, and we consider ourselves partners in our relationship. Neither is subservient to the other. I think sometimes that people get themselves worked into a froth over something that is – in my case, anyway – simply an expression of love between two people. I’m not owned by my husband, he doesn’t believe he owns me, and I certainly wasn’t offended when he held it out to me on top of that mountain and asked me to marry him.

    I guess I disagree that engagement rings are necessarily repulsive.

    That’s just my opinion.

  5. May 19, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Excellent. Now I have an excuse not to spend obscene amounts of money on a future spouse. Sweet. I knew feminism would be good for something. ;)

    In all seriousness, I wouldn’t want a diamond, either. They’re…ugly. They have no color. I might as well have a cut piece of glass on my finger. At least glass doesn’t have the history of destroying entire civilizations because of exploitation. I would much rather have a plain band with no stones.

    Or a goat. A goat would be good, too.

  6. May 19, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    Mama, I wasn’t even thinking of heirlooms. I was thinking of the Debeers etc. advertising equating a woman’s romantic worth to the engagement gesture.

    I don’t think I would mind having something like an heirloom, as it symbolizes the loving entry into another, and a new, family. It is something I definitely don’t expect, but something I would not refuse.

    ***

    More abstractly, I am bothered by these heterocentric traditions in part because I know that several of my gay friends want to emulate them in order to get some sort of legitimacy in their partnerships while they remain socially unaccepted and legally unavailable. By the same token, I feel guilty bitching about engagement rings and name changes when I know that so many of my beloved friends don’t even have the privilege to decide.

  7. May 19, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    i’m with you, lauren. no diamonds for me, thanks, but that’s a very personal decision. the only jewelry i wear is a tiny silver nosering. i told my husband not to bother spending a wad of cash on a diamond or any other jewelry, for that matter. there are many, many more useful things i would prefer to use that money for!

    as a matter of fact, we don’t even have wedding rings yet. i plan to get some simple silver bands (i don’t care for gold). our first anniversary is coming up in july, so we’re planning to buy our wedding rings then. we basically eloped last year, and the rings were an afterthought. we bought a home that same summer, so we’ve had other financial priorities.

    so yeah, no diamonds or anything expensive. but i like the symbology of matching rings. simple, tasteful, affordable, meaningful. that suits me just fine:)

  8. May 19, 2005 at 2:45 pm

    “When I see an engagement ring, especially of the diamond sort, I can’t help but think of diamond mines, land-stripping, and the countless people on the African continent who have died…” I’m completely with you on this – and I too wear very little jewelry. Just my wedding ring, my watch when I take public transit and don’t want to look at my cell phone too often to find out the time, and my earrings if I’m going some place a little more spiffy. Never had a diamond engagement ring, never want to. Robin bought me a “Legion flight ring” (gold-plated sucker, about as heavy as a class ring) when we were dating, so that’s kind of my unofficial engagement ring.

  9. May 19, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    Your post is exactly the explanation i have given people, although less eloquently, of why i do not have an engagement ring. That i never wanted one doesn’t seems inconceivable to many people. I give my explanation and they say, “Oh, you’re both graduate students and don’t have much money…” The interesting thing that I discovered between the time that my partner and I decided to get married and set a date and the actual ceremony was what a conversation starter an engagement ring is. Whereas a ring allows people to say to you, “Oh you’re getting married,” not having one means that starting that conversation falls on you, which is why no one on my dissertation committee knew that i had gotten married. We both had/have really mixed emotions about the whole institution, but for practical reasons (read health insurance) we decided to get married. Telling people though, felt awkward to me. “You’re leaving for England next week. I didn’t realize it was so soon. By the way I’m getting married….”

  10. May 19, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    To add another viewpoint to this…..

    I proposed by my wonderful fiance a year ago. It was a traditional, bent knee proposal with a ring – the difference being that I’m the female. A month later, he bought me my engagement ring. We’re both wearing wedding bands as engagement rings, with the intention of having some alterations made to them at a local shop before the wedding next year.

    I have no objection to wearing a marker of possession – as long as he gets to wear one, too. *evil grin*

  11. May 19, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Poppy: What’s good for the goose, eh? Right on.

  12. May 19, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    I don’t mind the notion of engagement rings (or other present, such as watches for men), but I’m definitely there with everyone regarding the diamond’s lack of appeal. They are hard, ugly, and tainted with blood and violence, are a triumph of marketing over substance, and I’d snag them on everything. Let them be saved for useful things, like cutting implements and lasers and such.

  13. Thomas
    May 19, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    Poppy, the “marker possession” thing makes me laugh. My wife and I picked the inscriptions for each other’s rings. Hers has Proverbs 31:29 — from the parable of the vituous daughter:

    Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.

    The inside of my ring, on the other hand, reads, “MINE”.

  14. Quisp
    May 19, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Here’s a gross over-generalization to offend nearly everyone: when I was in my twenties (esp. early 20s), it was common/expected for me and my friends to talk of (more or less) how we didn’t believe in marriage or alternately that marriage itself was no different than living with your SO and also that signs of rampant materialism were disgusting and were also signs of selling out and also working for or serving “the man.” Anyone who thought otherwise (e.g. people who got married and had kids at 20 and appeared to be little pretend grown-ups instead of the kids we thought they obviously were) seemed to us to be insane or deluded. My over-generalization is simply that the attitude that a big rock is disgusting or evil is I think exactly what a healthy young adult should think. As one gets older and it becomes more sane to think of getting married, the whole rock thing starts to make sense, too, or at least more sense — not as a symbol of ownership, but as a symbol of intent. The commitment of marriage is obviously a huge one, and I have no problem with someone who — warning: crass ownership language that undercuts my point to follow: — requires a downpayment in order to enter into the emotional escrow of an engagement. I don’t know how I feel about the various possibly dopey rules about how much one should spend (two months’ salary, etc.), but I can see the benefit of the expectation that a prospective husband should spend enough for it to hurt a little, to separate the men from the boys, as it were. I have more to say about this, but a diaper beckons…

  15. Thomas
    May 19, 2005 at 6:00 pm

    Quisp, as a married guy with a child in diapers, I disagree totally, but my train home to my wife and son beckons.

  16. louise
    May 19, 2005 at 6:36 pm

    Being old enough to be the mother of some of you (which I am), brings me to wonder how you feel about wedding vows–oh, boy, I can hardly wait for this one!!

  17. May 19, 2005 at 8:11 pm

    I think it’s hard to generalize about marriage vows. It matters very much what the parties vow to do, no?

  18. Quisp
    May 19, 2005 at 11:35 pm

    what i’m trying to say about the engagement ring is, it makes sense as a gesture or symbol that has meaning for people. it also follows that disgusting showy people will want or get disgusting showy rings. that doesn’t invalidate the whole idea of the engagement ring. my wife and i picked out the stone and had a setting made and it was nice, a little artifact we built together that meant something to us.

  19. mythago
    May 20, 2005 at 1:48 am

    Diamonds are instrinsically worthless

    No, diamonds have many important industrial uses.

    Quisp, you realize that your analogy only works for men: the man is making a “down payment” in the form of a gem, and the woman is…paying nothing. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd? And don’t you wonder if the woman is, in fact, going to make a perhaps less obvious down payment too?

  20. May 20, 2005 at 3:15 am

    I doubt I’ll ever get married (even though I’ve been partnered to a wonderful man for 9 years) and if I do I don’t want an engagement ring. I’m not sure that I want a ring at all. I operate a lot of small hand tools and I’m a klutz so I worry that wearing a ring would result in an accident. And I would only consider a smooth band since a diamond would risk me snagging fabric or yarn and that would annoy the hell out of me and cause me to have to remake purses.

    If my partner were to convince me that marriage would provide something necessary, and if it were severely important to him that I wear a ring I’d be willing to have the discussion and consider his opinions. But I’m not changing my name to his. Cinnamon Huff sounds like either a candy or an odd high.

  21. Quisp
    May 20, 2005 at 5:24 am

    mythago,

    well, i’m not (as I believe I indicated) embracing the ownership metaphor, except it now occurs to me that the whole issue of self-worth does have a tricky “commodity” element to it, i.e. “I have value and you will treat me as though I have value.” And look at our language: Dating is a “meat market,” we’re “shopping” for a husband, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.” Of course it is crass to reduce something as nuanced, sublime, intimate and powerful as marriage (or pick your own term that means marriage) to payment for goods or services. Obviously, it is a poor-quality spouse who buys off his/her mate with treats and prizes in lieu of respect and the utter and complete attention of his entire being. Just as obviously, any gesture that requires an actual payment of actual money is a hollow sham and an insult to mutual respect if the foundation of absolute mutual respect is not there first.

    But let me double back to my original comment. The engagement ring might be a disgusting show of wealth that implies a woman is a commodity to be bought. But it also might be a gesture of the intent.
    “I intend to be here forever. Let the light of the sun be magnified a million-fold in the magnificent facets of this most beautiful stone and blind those who might otherwise distract you with their gaudy false charms.” The engagement ring, in and of itself, is neither necessary nor sufficient, but that doesn’t make it a worthless gesture.

  22. Quisp
    May 20, 2005 at 5:34 am

    …if the gesture is made in the right spirit, I meant to say.

  23. Sina
    May 20, 2005 at 7:00 am

    I’ve been struggling (together with my partner) with this whole marriage stuff since my partner (of nine years) and I “got engaged” three years ago. We were graduating and maybe moving to England, where being married would be a requirement to get a work visa. But in the years since, and in the struggles with defining our relationship in terms of our families, in terms of the church (which said very kindly and helpfully, um, no, not until you x. y. z…), in terms of politics, in terms of materialism, etc. etc. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time (for reasons besides moving to London), and I can’t for the life of me remember why. I think that it’s just because it is what is done. Not that we were somehow hick rubes before, and now we’re enlightened city folk, but we were/are young and from a particular place and time where this is just what is done. Especially at a time when so many other things are changing radically.
    That said, I now sport a very lovely engagement ring. and when I look at it, sometimes I’m embarrassed by my own materialism, sometimes I’m embarrassed by my own willfull display of priviledge, sometimes I think god, when will my mother stop badgering me about a wedding I don’t really want, and sometimes I just think, wow, I love my partner so much, and I’m playing for keeps. But you know, in a cool, hip, blue-state, queer kind of way.
    One thing it does give me is an excuse to tell a kind of interesting story about marriage, priviledge, and the transformation of identities within a relationship.
    But man, I wish I had a goat instead.

  24. Thomas
    May 20, 2005 at 8:25 am

    Quisp, now that I’m not running for the train, here’s why I’m totally off the bus with what you said:

    but I can see the benefit of the expectation that a prospective husband should spend enough for it to hurt a little, to separate the men from the boys, as it were.

    Now, when I got engaged, it was not lost on me that I was making a life-long commitment. I know there are some people for whom the seriousness of the commitment doesn’t become apparent until right before the ceremony: that drives me nuts. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I do my due diligence before I sign the letter of intent.

    I don’t think financial suffering is a good way to “separate the men from the boys.” In fact, I think it reinforces the societal perception that men are the financial support, and at least implicitly this reinforces the property conception of marriage.

    Further, when I got engaged, I was just out of law school and paid competetive with Legal Aid. My wife was making more than me, and we had commingled our finances. So the cost of the rock came out of the common fund — she paid for it as much as, or more than, I did.

    The part that I put my heart into was not paying for the ring, but finding the right one. We went shopping together a lot, but I kept misdirecting her about what I liked. We looked at estate jewelry, we looked at big chains, we looked in the diamond district. I had an idea of her aesthetic. In the end, I saw a gold fancy garnet ring that we both liked the design of in a neighborhood store. I slipped my business card to the proprietor while my wife’s back was turned, and ended up designing a custom engagement ring with some delicate white gold metal-work around a bezel setting based on the garnet ring I had seen. It’s completely unique, and my wife gets remarks on it every week.

    My wife has pretty specific taste in jewelry, and she loves surprises. I managed to deliver a custom ring that she loves, without blowing the surprise. That separates the men from the boys far more than the willingness to part with some arbitrary portion of disposable income.

    (Yes, I’m bragging. I’m not above it.)

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  26. May 20, 2005 at 9:00 am

    Conservative in the house here…found this site through Jill.

    Normally I find writing associated with Jill to be pretty level headed, but this just made me mad, I’m sorry. Here’s why:

    Whenever I hear feminist sites like this generalizing about people who wear rings, people who change their names, people who do this, etc., I feel like turning to them and saying, “Whenever I see a woman with a career, I think of children languishing in day care,” or “Whenever I see a woman without an engagement ring, I see a feminazi who hates her husband.” How would that feel?

    I don’t think those things of course, but it’s just another example of seeing the worst stereotype about people just by looking at some superficial aspect.

    If you don’t want to be judged, please do not judge. My engagement ring was custom-made and mined in India by close relatives. None of it was done in Africa, and none of them were slaves. We know exactly who they were. I’m sorry you would assume “property” or “slavery supporter” if you saw it on my finger, but I am rather proud of it, thanks.

    Second, a ring does not have to symbolize ownership or be “repulsive.” My husband and i both wear rings–is there a problem with that too, or is it okay if I own him as long as he doesn’t own me?

    It is fine if you don’t want a ring. It is fine if you don’t like the symbolism. But once you admitted that you find it “repulsive” and that you assume everyone wearing one is wearing a slave-made diamond from Africa, you teed me off.

  27. May 20, 2005 at 9:28 am

    Marian, I don’t assume that everyone who wears one is wearing a slave-made diamond, I said that is what it reminds of.

    Further, I think it’s sweet that your family and friends went to such great lengths to add to your rings — ethically and responsibly. The likelihood of the average American getting a diamond that isn’t tied to an exploitative diamond trade is not good, and I think one should be aware of where one’s gems come from and whether or not their engagement ring, a symbol that should speak to love and family, comes from an exploitative environment. Most Americans are largely unaware of the diamond trading practices and this is a soapbox I won’t step down from. This is, in particular, what I find “repulsive” because the symbolism of ownership is twofold.

    Perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough.

    Additionally, I am made uncomfortable that in certain circles, one’s worth is tied to whether or not they can afford a fancy ring or be afforded a fancy ring. It creates class competition between friends and acquaintances that doesn’t belong.

    I don’t judge others for maintaining traditional romantic norms, but these are the things that I think about when presented with a flashy ring by a friend or acquaintance.

    I hope you’ll stick around, Marian, and not be turned off by one post. I’m sure we have other things we may agree on, and a friend of Jill’s is a welcome addition around here.

  28. May 20, 2005 at 10:12 am

    Nope, not turned off by one post. Thanks for clarifying, Lauren. Unfortunately, you replied after I commented on my own blog, so I just updated. :)

  29. mac
    May 20, 2005 at 11:14 am

    Mr. Fish insisted that I have an engagement ring. A diamond engagement ring. I love jewelry, but I don’t particularly care for diamonds and I really didn’t want or need an engagement ring. So we compromised — I agreed to it, but I got to design the ring. I picked a small-ish diamond and an unusual setting that it suits me and doesn’t look like a lot of the tacky ass gargantuan diamond mini-wedding cakes.

    Of course, I don’t see an engagement ring as tagging one’s property necessarily, either. From Mr. Fish’s perspective, he felt like he wasn’t worthy of me unless he gave me an expensive token of his love and affection. We’re not a super traditional couple, but he told me later that he had been thinking about asking me to marry him for three years but lacked the funds for a ring…and he felt like it wouldn’t be an official marriage proposal without it. I would have been just as happy if he had given me…I don’t know, an engagement beer.

    But we both wear our wedding rings without much thought about it. It’s not that we see them as the chains that bind me to thee or anything. It’s just a little token.

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  31. May 20, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Several years into the last time around I had a jeweler design a ring of a dragon eating his tail and had two of them cast in gold. When we split we merely changed the finger we wore the rings on.

    Never gave thought to a ring denoting ownership – only the symbol of a commitment.

  32. mythago
    May 20, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    I feel like turning to them and saying, “Whenever I see a woman with a career, I think of children languishing in day care,” or “Whenever I see a woman without an engagement ring, I see a feminazi who hates her husband.” How would that feel?

    Well, shit, women get those comments all the time, and not from anyone who feels put-upon because somebody questioned why they made a choice that just so happens to coincide exactly with patriarchal tradition, so why do you think you’d be shocking anyone?

  33. Quisp
    May 20, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    Thomas:

    I agree with everything you said. Regarding the quote of mine you objected to, I was merely acknowledging that I understand the logic and wouldn’t begrudge someone that rationale. And of course you’re so right about gifts that come from the pool of money shared by a couple; there’s a funny slight of hand occurring there (and we all experience it, I think, around the annual gift-giving holidays). My wife’s taste in jewelry is so specific and mine so horrible that I could not possibly have survived the engagement (which was after all the point) had I done it all myself. We had no co-mingled funds yet; I paid for the ring, because that particular tradition made sense to us. Others related to getting married did not. My wife kept her name. We paid for our wedding ourselves without parental help. We invited who we wanted to and didn’t invite who we didn’t want to (i.e. those who our parents would otherwise have foisted upon us). We got to have the wedding we wanted, in front of the people we wanted to be there.

  34. May 20, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    The thing about gifts in general, and engagement rings in particular is that they reveal something about the relationship between the giver and the receiver, right? Anthropologists have long argued that the entire hierarchical organization of societies can be mapped solely through gift exchanges. And to know what a gift means, presumes that we are working from the same script… a diamond ring means something in particular, just like a red rose does, just like a pink slip, or whatever… the silly point being that specific gifts signal specific things, deeply entrenched in cultural practices, right?

    I wonder if an important distinction at work here, however, is the difference between private and public gifts. The engagement ring is explicitly meant as a public gift exchange – there is no way around the fact that it performs something not just between the giver and receiver, but before an audience of some kind.

    My partner has already posted here with her thoughts on the ring I gave her 3 years ago… and I think she is totally right on… it seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought I was being sweet and romantic, and I took great care picking out something that was modest, simple, and elegant. Something that she would like, and would show the seriousness of my intentions. Today, I’m pretty embarrassed by the whole thing, and I feel a little like I duped myself into something that wasn’t nearly as important or meaningful as the conversations we have had since then, about what we wanted from each other, what we needed from each other, and a plan for a future together. All private exchanges between us.

    What I recognize only now is that the whole thing, like marriage in general, is that the engagement ring wasn’t really for her or even us. We already had made our agreement to be together for the rest of our lives months earlier while in Athens. It was about wanting to say something to other people, our parents, our friends, and importantly strangers. And I’m not exactly proud of what it explicitly says: our relationship is more legitimate than yours (if you haven’t read Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal, you really should – it’s like Foucault lite, but still good).

    We found, in trying to plan a marriage (and subsequently giving up and deciding not to get married) was that the terms of our relationship, the manner in which we might get married, changing our names or not, how we would dress, what we would spend, etc… well, all of these things were attempts to try and explain to the world that our relationship is different than a traditional marriage… but no matter what we did, the basic cultural performance underneath it would, by necessity, be the public one, and in that sense, out of our hands.

    The inescapable problem with the engagement ring is that it is a normalizing device, right? It is inherently a public expression about the status of your relationship… and as hard as I want to disown that kind of statement, as much as I don’t want to take part in a system of privilege that marriage is a part of, legally and culturally, it’s disingenuous for me make this claim.

    Because, at the end of the day, I’d probably be freaked out if she took the damned thing off, even if I wish it had never entered our lives.

    Otherwise, does anyone know where I can buy a goat?

  35. Quisp
    May 20, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    Goats are not nice. My son is obsessed with goats. Goats are mean and they have goat eyes.

    I think Andrew’s marriage rumination is nuanced and thoughtful. The public v. private issue looms so large and is so conflicted. Andrew’s comment about normalizing reminded me of my wife’s battle to find the right wedding dress, the problem for her being that she didn’t want to where what she referred to as “the bride uniform” (she also didn’t want, as she put it, to look like “a meringue”); it really bothered her that part of being a bride is that you’re supposed to look like every other bride and so in a way your own personality is beaten out of the event. (out of — i don’t know what, terror, momentum — she ended up buying a meringue only to have it be lost by the dress people a week before the wedding; everyone was horrified except my wife who was thrilled and proceeded to wear exactly what she wanted.) Your (andrew’s) public/private comment reminds me that so many things are in fact a battle between those two aspects of our lives. What compromises are we going to have to make to co-exist with our neighobors, our families, friends, etc.. What compromises will we refuse to make? Which culturally-loaded artifacts are we going to appropriate for our own purposes, even when what the thing means to us privately is manifestly different from how everyone else takes it?

    My last thought on Andrew’s thoughts is that even the most public displays, such as a wedding, the purchase of a house, where you send your children to school, can (must?) serve a wily, personal purpose. Wily, covert, secret…hey that’s just another way to say private, isn’t it? Forgive me for thinking out loud, and working this out on my feet. It’s too big and knotted a topic not to be suspcious of anyone who says they have the One Answer.

  36. Quisp
    May 20, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    uh, “where?” I mean, “wear.”

  37. May 20, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    To mythago:

    I feel like turning to them and saying, “Whenever I see a woman with a career, I think of children languishing in day care,” or “Whenever I see a woman without an engagement ring, I see a feminazi who hates her husband.” How would that feel?

    Well, shit, women get those comments all the time, and not from anyone who feels put-upon because somebody questioned why they made a choice that just so happens to coincide exactly with patriarchal tradition, so why do you think you’d be shocking anyone?

    –Not saying it doesn’t happen; just saying that I think it’s equally rude to say something like that as it is to insult a woman’s decision to remain traditional.

  38. May 20, 2005 at 8:22 pm

    quisp-

    I quite like the idea of there being something wily, covert, and personal (dare I say queer?) in public performances. If there isn’t this quality in our performances, I don’t really know why to even bother.

    Is this precisely the best way to resist domination in a world where power or force relations are inescapable? A path of strategic co-option, perhaps, that might try and accept the problematic complications of taking part in something you disapprove of, so long as you consciously work to redirect and reshape the very thing?

    But can this work? Or does it just change the boundaries of who gets to be a part of the in group without question the very existence of an inside and outside?

    I sure hope it can…

  39. mythago
    May 20, 2005 at 11:39 pm

    I wonder if an important distinction at work here, however, is the difference between private and public gifts. The engagement ring is explicitly meant as a public gift exchange – there is no way around the fact that it performs something not just between the giver and receiver, but before an audience of some kind.

    This is a really astute observation. Anyone who’s heard “Well, show me the rock!” in response to a woman’s engagement announcement should understand this. If the ring wasn’t meant as a public signal, nobody would care about the size of the diamond.

    as it is to insult a woman’s decision to remain traditional

    I guess I don’t see questioning traditions, even cherished traditions, as ‘insulting.’

  40. Mark
    May 21, 2005 at 12:33 am

    I can see your point about the ring being a symbol of domination, of ownership. I myself have a different view though, growing up here in Indiana where it seems customs are never questioned or changed. I am not married, and haven’t asked yet, but I see the ring as my commitment to her. I view the ring as just my symbol to the commitment. I have never saw women as “possessions,” but I do see the one I wish to marry as a grand gal, that I would like to show my caring through that small, golden ring. Diamonds are just pretty… and the travesties that bring them to us are wrong. I am just a weird romantic I guess, I would love to give my gal just the biggest diamond I could, just to say how much I cared. Does this make me wrong somehow?

  41. May 21, 2005 at 11:20 am

    as it is to insult a woman’s decision to remain traditional

    I guess I don’t see questioning traditions, even cherished traditions, as ‘insulting.’

    “That’s repulsive” is insulting.

  42. Creeping Jenny
    June 1, 2005 at 11:21 am

    Hey, just clicked back here from later post about awful woman who got fed up at her boyfriend for failing to buy her a big enough diamond. I never got around to commenting on this post the first time around, but I’m kind of ambivalent about the ownership myth.

    On the one hand, it’s a stupid meme, it’s degrading to men and women, and I really dislike it. On the other hand, it comes in darn useful sometimes. And I think that’s part of the reason why I decided in favor of the wedding bands in the first place.

    When guys hit on me and refuse to go away, I’ve found it’s really effective to wave the ring in their face and say, “My husband will be wondering where I am, so I’d better be running home.” For some reason, guys who won’t listen to “No, I’m not interested” are perfectly good at understanding “My husband (or earlier, boyfriend) is big and strong and knows kung-fu.” I know this is feeding into prejudices that I don’t want to perpetuate. But on the other hand, I just don’t have the time or the energy to give an intro feminism lecture to every jackass who requires one. Maybe it would be a nice public service to lecture every tenth jackass or so before breaking out the ring; I could handle that.

  43. Ann Bartow
    June 1, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    Diamond rings, and “real” jewelry in general, were once the only sorts of “property” that women could own and control. Rings and such were a hedge against starvation for owmen, and something valuable that could be passed down to female children. So, while they do not appeal to me personally, I try to to be too offended by large engagement rings, “anniversary” tennis bracelets and such, given the female empowerment (pale as it was) origin of the customs. What really flabergasts me are the $40,000 plus weddings…

  44. June 1, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    (whoops, forgot the link to Sivacracy in the previous message – sorry)

  45. June 1, 2005 at 9:49 pm

    My fiance had been planning to save up for a synthetic diamond for me, before he asked me to marry him. As it turns out, I ended up asking him, but he wanted to buy me a ring anyway, and I saw that as just a sweet gift.

    Neither of us wanted to support the diamond industry, and we both thought it was silly to spend a lot of money on something as frivolous as a piece of jewelry (I’d be worried that I’d lose it, anyway).

    We both really liked the idea of a synthetic diamond – flawless, cheap, and supporting companies who are standing up to DeBeers – but the clear synthetics weren’t on the market yet (they probably still aren’t). We found a beautiful titanium ring setting online, and the guy who makes the rings threw in a synthetic sapphire for free, suggesting that my fiance would want to have it replaced with a natural sapphire when he could afford to do so.

    We have no intention of doing that. It’s funny that people assume you want the *natural* stone because it’s more expensive, and if you don’t buy the most expensive thing you can afford, then she’s not “worth it” to you.

    Fortunately, we both agree that that’s a very silly perspective. My ring is beautiful and didn’t cost very much. I love it. (it’s also the only jewelry I wear).

    Some of his friends tried to talk him into re-proposing to me once he ordered the ring – that he should get down on one knee to give it to me. We both found that to be another silly idea – what, like my proposing to him didn’t count?

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