Monday, June 11, 2007

A Warning to the Future Mrs. J-Continuum-Hyphen-Her-Name-Here

I find this article on diamonds/diamond engagement rings pretty convincing (and in line with what I already thought, more or less).

Not that this is a concern of the highest priority for the presently-single J Continuum, but it's an article that resonates personally, and represents an interesting challenge to the present gender status quo. What I've called 3rd Wave Feminism (and I have no idea if it's the academically correct use of the phrase) is the "Right to Be a Sex Object" feminism that seems to have reached its zenith a couple years ago. You know, the Girls Gone Wild version, where (it seems) my generation (or actually, the one a couple years younger than me) have reacted to the perceived anti-male anti-sex anti-sexy bent of feminism/radical feminism and the more real attempt of Baby Boom feminism to achieve equality by becoming like an "Ideal Male Worker" (see again Joan Williams' Unbending Gender) and the concomitant attempts to achieve in the work world through androgyny (see: shoulder pads). Reacting against this, "anything goes" sexuality seems to be the watchword, to be "liberated" by trying to emulate and best media portrayals of sexiness and promiscuity. This is based on the real point of the double standard -- guys sleeping around and flashing are just "boys being boys" and women doing so are sluts -- and, apparently, a serious marketing opportunity -- so there's a logic to it, for sure. But it isn't a very wholistic view of feminism, I'd say, neh?

So anyway, the question of a diamond engagement ring plays into this; is equality worth "giving up" the princess ideal (not in the general sense, but on an individual level)? Can you modify the princess ideal, where a woman partner is made to feel special, to generate equality and still have that specialness? (Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, as long as making both people feel special and both getting gifts, taking care of each other, and taking turns pampering each other doesn't ruin the specialness). Of course, this all goes sideways when talking about non-hetero relationships, but I'd not know to speak on that.

Of course, besides the equality considerations of the diamond ring, there's all those blood diamond, not to mention that, in the long term, digging up gems and being buried with them can't be sustainable (unless we start digging up gems that have been buried with people and putting them back on the market). And the whole conspicuous consumption angle. And the shady origins of engagement diamonds in the first place:

Even then, the real blingfest didn't get going until the 1930s, when—dim the lights, strike up the violins, and cue entrance—the De Beers diamond company decided it was time to take action against the American public.

In 1919, De Beers experienced a drop in diamond sales that lasted for two decades. So in the 1930s it turned to the firm N.W. Ayer to devise a national advertising campaign—still relatively rare at the time—to promote its diamonds...

[Legal scholar] Margaret Brinig [notes] crucially, that ring sales began to rise a few years before the De Beers campaign. To be marriageable at the time you needed to be a virgin, but, Brinig points out, a large percentage of women lost their virginity while engaged. So some structure of commitment was necessary to assure betrothed women that men weren't just trying to get them into bed. The "Breach of Promise" action had helped prevent what society feared would be rampant seduce-and-abandon scenarios; in its lieu, the pricey engagement ring would do the same. (Implicitly, it would seem, a woman's virginity was worth the price of a ring, and varied according to the status of her groom-to-be.)


--Meghan O'Rourke, Diamonds are a girl's worst friend, in today's Slate.

(*just for general reference, the J Continuum envisions taking the future Mrs. J Continuum's last name, too, though preferably with both partners' names done in a Latin America, non-hyphenated double last name type of way)

1 comment:

Katie said...

Interesting. You should definitely marry me as I have a fabulous last name.

It's funny how deeply ingrained the desire for a nice ring (and a pretty while dress while we're at it!) is inside me. I don't want to feel this way, and yet there it is. 28 years of marketing has done it's job on me I guess.