Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"THE" Ring

I feel like i've been lying to you. Something big happened in my life a few weeks ago and i haven't yet shared it here. Dave and I have been together for 6 years and for the past 3 or so we've been debating the pros and cons of marriage. The pros included benefits like insurance, adoption, tax breaks, status as "next of kin," and the other 1,400+ legal rights given to heterosexual married couples in the United States. The cons included the inequity of marriage and feeling like we didn't need to prove anything to anyone about our relationship. We've often felt like, though we've been dating and living together longer than many married couples we knew, people didn't take our relationship as seriously since we weren't married. That's bullshit. But c'est la vie. Then in October the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled to equalize same sex marriage. Within minutes of reading the news my not-at-all-political mother called and said, "so does this mean you and David will finally get engaged?!" At the time i laughed it off, but i knew she was right, our families were jonsin for a wedding, and for babies. The wedding part we can handle, the babies they'd have to wait on. Though my brother and sister-in-law bought us some time by giving birth the the sweetest bundle of joy in the world, Judah, over the summer.

Dave and I got engaged January 1st. Besides being wonderfully happy to spend the rest of my life with the man i love, I am also excited to have a whole new world of wedding hoopla to explore, analyze, and write about! Discussing weddings from a feminist perspective will prove challenging. So here i'll start, at a good place as any, with the ever so important engagement ring... dun dun dunnnnnn

I think i figured out the formula to true marital happiness. The size of the ring = the size of his love for you. Right? Yea, i didn't think so either... but it's what they want us to believe.

The diamond industry is evil. But my dad is a jeweler. It's how he has made a living ever since we immigrated here from Russia in the 90's. Also, my great grandmother and grandmother both passed away and left me beautiful antique stones. I had little choice in the matter of a ring. I was getting one no matter how much i protest the symbolism.

Still, i need to be honest here. Though i wanted to show off my dad's talents and craft, i was very reluctant to wear a ring. I thought it would make me a hypocrite and all my feminist friends would disown me for it. I hate what engagement rings symbolize. The ownership, the "insurance" so he doesn't leave, the conflict diamonds, and everything else Feminist Finance mentions. Instead, i wanted a massage chair. This has been an ongoing conversation and i thought it unfair that i have to wear a symbol of ownership while Dave got his dream guitar as an engagement present from me. (See, now that you realize Dave got a kick-ass guitar all you couples that mocked our egalitarian relationship wish you'd changed your tune). I have always known i would get him his dream guitar when we decided to get hitched, because we should each get something substantial, not just me. So i wanted a massage chair. I wanted something expensive, that i wouldn't buy for myself, that i would love and use and appreciate. Something i couldn't wear on my finger, something that didn't symbolize ownership, something important to me. I realize my economic-privilege is showing here, i apologize for this.

A massage chair was out of the question. Like i said, my father is a jeweler. An amazingly talented, high fashion, well respected jeweler. I had to have a ring. Not just A ring but THE ring. Not having one was out of the question, so was the massage chair (couldn't we just gem-stone the hell out of the chair???) So if me wearing a ring was a nonnegotiable, i would have a say in this ring.

My ring is absolutely gorgeous. It's sparkly, it's unique, and most importantly it's meaningful. The center stone was my great grandmother's and the work is that of my father. I couldn't have asked for more from an engagement ring. Also, Dave is planning on wearing a wedding band throughout our engagement because my ring shouldn't represent i am "taken" while he is still "not." More the reason i love my feminist fiance.

But here's the catch: my ring was a size too big! So i am currently not wearing it while it is getting resized! Oh the horror!!! The first words out of everyone mouth as soon as D and I told them we are getting married were, "Congratulations! Let me see your ring." Or they'd automatically grab my left hand and pull it towards them. Or they stick out their hand, presenting their ring finger, expecting me to do the same as if i'm now a part of this exclusive girl's club. At first, before i can understand what was happening, i would stick out my hand too! When no ring was apparent their face would shift from excitement to disappointment, and then to pity. "Oh you poor thing," they'd think, "he doesn't love you enough to buy you a ring?" I never meant to offend anyone by not wearing my ring so i would quickly blurt out an apology, and that it's getting resized. They would let out a sigh of relief! "Thank god!" They'd think, "Thank god he loves you as much as that ring cost him!" But they never said that to me. Instead they demanded, "Send me pictures then!" I didn't. To be completely forthright, I only sent K a photo because she wouldn't let it go ;)

So what's with that? What if i don't want to be part of this exclusive girl's engagement ring club? What if my ring is incredibly special to me for so many reasons that have nothing to do with what the "engagement ring" symbolizes in America? What if i want to show my ring off, for what it means to me, but don't know how because of so much that is tied to it? What if engagement rings weren't linked to the amount of love = the amount spent on the ring? That's the exclusive girl's club i want to be a part of. The one where love is judged by commitment, honesty, and mutual respect. I've found some of that on OffBeatBride where i'm meeting more and more women in my position. Sick of what weddings have become and ready to reclaim what truly matters. Ready to be as unconventional, off-beat, non-traditional, and "tacky" as they want to be because it suits them and their relationships. Tip of the hat to you, ladies and gents, you're a pretty cool bunch :)

I apologize for the extremely heteronormative and classist post, i'm sure there will be more to come while we plan our wedding :/

EDIT: I read Feministing everyday, but somehow (and i have no idea how) i missed Jessica's engagement announcement! Check out her post and comment section, lot's of good stuff that i am struggling with as well.


bee listy said...

You say "This site is not only gay friendly but avidly supports gay rights."

How can you say that when you are willingly participating in an institution that excludes gay people?

Radical Reminders said...

Hi bee listy,
I'm not sure if you read my post but one of the things i mentioned as a reason to get married now, as apposed to years ago, is because in Connecticut (where i live) the CT Supreme Court passed a law in Oct that equalized marriage. However, i won't lie and say that this was the only thing stopping me from getting married before, because it's not. To be completely frank, when i spoke with my gay and lesbian friends about not marrying as a statement of unity and a protest to the institution, they urged that was a terrible idea. Each and every one of them told me not to give up MY rights as a means of protest because they would gain nothing by me doing so.

But i do, wholeheartedly, understand where you are coming from, because for a long long time, i felt the same way. It's a personal choice each of us gets to make.

PersonalFailure said...

I wish you happy!

PersonalFailure said...

I wish you happy!

bee listy said...

So your solidarity only extends to lgbt people in CT?

It's not a personal choice we each get to make-- I've been with my partner for almost 3 years, and the choice is not available to us, or to most of our friends.

This struck a chord with me for a couple of reasons; yours is the second post in a few weeks that i've read where a self-identified feminist person "comes out" about deciding to get married.

i view heterosexist marriage akin to white people deciding to buy a house in a development that doesn't allow people of color-- that's a choice that privileges whiteness over color, as your choice to get married privileges heterosexuality. choosing not to get married and telling people WHY does have an impact.

Anonymous said...

First, congratulations!

Second, I hope your family is more chill than mine was. My wedding turned out to be painfully unpleasant for me because my family turned it into a heteronormative horse-and-pony pimp-the-bride-out-for-gifts show. It was, without a doubt, the single most unpleasant day of my life. I love my partner. I do not regret marrying him. But I regret that I didn't insist on eloping.

My advice is to insist on paying for every single thing yourseleves so they can't go "I'm paying for it so we're doing it my way."

Radical Reminders said...

bee listy,
I agree with you, in many many ways. My solidarity, of course, does not only extend to CT. However, CT is the state in which i live and chose to get married in. I should have qualified my "it's a personal choice each of us gets to make" - i wrote that in reference to hetero-couples who chose how to and whether to protest the institution of marriage.

Personally, i don't feel that giving up my rights to marry will help anyone gain rights. I have come to feel this way from many conversations with hetero and gay friends. Trust me, it is something i have put a lot of thought into.

Yes, education helps, and not getting married as protest and making it known that that's the reason makes an impact by showing others what you're willing to give up for someone else's rights. I agree. However, there are also other ways to fight for equality: by working to change legislation, electing officials that have gay rights in mind, changing marriage itself by making it a less heteronormative system, etc.

I am sorry if my choice to marry makes you feel like i am not showing solidarity to same sex couples, i truly do apologize for that. But i've never thought that giving up privilege was the best way to gain rights for others. Sometimes, maybe, but most of the time I believe it's best to use privilege in a way where you can creat a more equal playing field.

For example, if a male employee becomes promoted rather than a female that should have been, and him not accepting the position would not give it to her, i would encourage him to take the position and work to better her position while he's in a place of power and able to do so. I realize this is very different. And i also recognize there are many circumstances where if giving up privilege helps bring equality, without a doubt, we should. I don't feel like same-sex marriage is one of those cases because, like many many people have said to me, giving up my rights does not gain rights for anyone else.

sally said...

Congratulations! As another (not-so-recently) engaged feminist, I am right there with you through this post. I was able to talk my fiance out of getting me the ring, but I don't have any jewelers in the family.

I've been avoiding planning this wedding like the plague, though, mostly b/c it's such a freaking hassle. I'm too stressed about money, balancing my life, and figuring out my long-term plans to pay attention to such an expensive (time- and money-wise) ordeal. Oy... I guess I need to get to it.

Radical Reminders said...

frau sally benz - check out both and feminist finance's archive of wedding posts for inspiration and assistance :) It'll at least motivate you to see that there are certainly other ways to do a wedding :) Offbeatbride. Seriously. Go there. :)

Feminist in the City said...

Congrats to you both!! Where did you find these feminist men worthy of marriage?

And thanks for the post FeministGal. I am no where near the alter (or a ring for that matter - hello, single!) but I appreciate the topic of a feminist wedding as I will most definitely need your advice when the time comes! I look forward to more posts!

Anonymous said...

"I apologize for the extremely heteronormative and classist post..."

Why? Does being a feminist mean you can't be happy about your life-partner and come from certain ethnic traditional backgrounds?

Congratulations on your life-choices! I hope it all turns out for the best!

Cherylin said...

Thanks for writing this. I (a hetero female, feminist and queer ally) am nowhere near the point of seriously considering marriage yet, but I often wonder how I might handle the sexist and heterosexist situation of it all if the time comes when I decide I want to officially be with my partner for all time. Also, I was recently asked to be a bridesmaid by two different friends, which boggled my brain - "Marriage? Already?" was my initial reaction. Then while helping one search for a dress, her friends went absolutely gaga over rings, and I didn't get it, at all. So yeah, thanks for another firsthand feminist perspective on marriage, and sorry I am too tired to edit this comment. :)

Radical Reminders said...

Cherylin, i can relate entirely! i two was in several very unfeminist weddings over the past few years. They were beautiful and wonderful and perfect for the couples in love but they made my partner and i realize what we want and don't want out of a wedding, and which wedding patriarchal traditions we'd cut out once the time came.

For example: the cake cutting ceremony etiquette is that the man's hand is over the woman's so he can guide as he will during their lives together. Puke. If Dave and i have a cake (we are big cup cake lovers...) then we will cut it together, hand to hand, no one guiding anyone but rather supporting one another as through life. Anyway, i'm sure this whole explanation will make it into a post to come :)

ANONY: I wrote "I apologize for the extremely heteronormative and classist post..." because though i am very much looking forward to marrying the person i love i have a hard time navigating between those feelings and feelings of how unjust our country is that not everyone can marry. I also recognize my class privilege because, again, not everyone can have a wedding for these reasons. Also, welcome to my blog, thanks for commenting :)

bee listy said...

Personally, i don't feel that giving up my rights to marry will help anyone gain rights.

You don't have a right to marry, you have a privilege. At least own that.

Radical Reminders said...

You're completely right. It is a privilege, a privilege that SHOULD be a right granted to ALL couples. I own that.

sally said...

Cupcakes all the way! That's the only thing my guy and I know about our wedding -- screw the cake, we're going with assorted cupcakes and maybe a homemade pie or two!

petpluto said...

Congratulations! I don't know about anyone else, but I'm interested in seeing your ring strictly because of the story behind it. And while I completely understand your hesitation over wearing an engagement ring, I think the mitigating circumstances - your grandmothers' stones, your father's livelihood - means that you are no way a hypocrite.

As for wanting to show off your ring because it is incredibly special to you, I'd suggest telling people that story. Don't let them assume that the ring symbolizes your fiance's love for you, and make sure they know that the ring is also about your family and your history as an individual as well as a symbol of your coupledom. And maybe throw in there that your fiance is wearing a ring as well.

That being said, I'm sorry you didn't get your massage chair and it would have been totally cool (though possibly painful) to just jewel-encrust the chair!

Radical Reminders said...

thanks petpluto! you touched on a couple things from my post that i really felt apprehensive about - i appreciate your thoughtful response :)

whatsername said...


An engagement ring, for me, never carried the baggage that troubled you. But I was happy that we bought a set out of the estate case, not only was it less expensive but it felt better to have something "used", instead of insisting on something new for myself. Like recycling. That's how I made my peace with that part of the puzzle, when I did start really digging into the discomforting aspects of the engagement ring industry. Very cool for you, that your dad is a jeweler and all, it's nice to have something that carries meaning that way.

I echo Feminist Blog Project's hope, that you are able to put together the wedding you want to have, and don't have to oblige family interests that over ride what is meaningful for you on that day. I was really fortunate that we planned and paid for our wedding, so that wasn't much of an issue. It was good times though, and I am still happy with our choice.

I felt rather bad, when Prop 8 passed, that I was able to buy into an institution that generally excludes LGBTQI people, but I've been thinking recently that there are larger issues at play in that fight than simply who gets to get married. I really don't see why most of the rights of the marriage institution aren't simply rights in of themselves. Why should you have to be married to decide who you can adopt with, or who can visit your bedside in the hospital? I'm starting to wonder if those of us fighting for equal access to marriage aren't letting the interests of a society who demands we conform set the stage, when we should be challenging the issues surrounding marriage in a more comprehensive way. :\

Smirking Cat said...

I despise the advertisements for engagement rings, with the not-very-hidden message that the more money sunk into the ring, the more he loves you, and the more dazzled you should be, compatibility be damned. I don't like the concept of women being marked with engagement rings (why don't men wear them?)

It's like the focus of the wedding day being the dress and frivolous things like that instead of making sure you are forging a strong bond with someone you love and respect.

I wish you all the best and think it's great you have put so much thought into the symbolism and meaning of many customs and traditions (sexist through and through, aren't they?)

Anonymous said...

Hey, I again am so happy for you both. I too struggled with a lot of issues relating to equality, where do my diamonds come from, and why do I wear a ring and you don't. I bought my own engagement ring and our wedding bands (conflict free) because it's what I wanted. My husband, being from Brasil, was jealous of me getting to wear an engagement ring. Apparently there, both people wear rings on the right ring finger until marriage, when they switch to the left ring finger. Diamonds there are only for the very rich. So it was strange to have to explain American rituals to my future husband. I also have to say that I never thought I'd get married, and probably wouldn't have (at least so soon) if there was an easier way to a green card. But I love him very much, and I've decided not to let conventional ideas of marriage get in the way of our happiness. We've discussed various permutations of marriage, from traditional to open, but we both need to get comfortable in this new life stage before continuing the discussion. But I don't think that being a feminist or socially conscious should in any way alter your happiness about your engagement. It should enhance it, as the greatest feminist statement (in my opinion) is living a genuinely happy and authentic life. Anyway, congrats again!


valedeoro said...

I know I am late, but nonetheless: CONGRATULATIONS!!!! And a very interesting discussion about weddings and wedding rings. I would like to share my experiences, being in a German-Brazilian marriage (I am the German part). Both in Germany and Brazil you usually use your engagement ring as a wedding ring later. But you wear it on your right ring finger during engagement and on your left after the wedding (in Germany the other way round). We constantly switch finger when visiting family in each country ;-)

My husband insisted in paying for the ring, as Brazilian men are supposed to. However, I was the one to chose the rings (as German girls are supposed to), and taking into account that we were both still students it is a simple golden ring, with the important things on the inside. In different fonts. Because we engraved the names when buying the rings. But due to German laws concerning "you are marrying a non-Union-member" we only knew that we got our prefered date barely two weeks before. So the date was engraved a week before the wedding.

The short notice also made the wedding much easier. We simply did not have the time to worry to much. Until two weeks before we worried enough wheather the wedding-permission with a Non-Union-member would come through. Than we had a week to find a place, and to plan everything else. My parent´s place was the party location. The neighbouring restaurant delivered a simple buffet (soup, cheese, bred) and a very good friend (who´s grand father has a delicatesse bakery) surprised me with a wedding cake (three floors) that I had given up upon already, because nobody would be able to do one on 1 week notice.
We cut it together, no leading involved.

Oh, and we resolved the final location question through moving to Spain: European safety with Latin American flair so we both feel comfortable...

A great weekend to everybody,

Anonymous said...

Well, congratulations, I suppose.

Personally, I've been married and divorced already, and I find the very concept to be something to be avoided.

The divorce was met with more celebration than the marriage.

There's no way I'd ever personally touch the institution again, as I would rather not be institutionalized, as the old saying goes.

This isn't anything personal, every person I know that marries, I advise them not to. They're a miserable way to doom a relationship, and miserable to get out of.