Diamonds’ Eternity Debatable

My girlfriend, Rose, passed this interesting article on slate.com on to me. I thought it was worth posting for some of you to read. It’s not exactly my cup of tea (I still am pro-marriage and even pro-mother-being-the-primary-child-rearing-parent, for reasons I suppose I could elaborate on at a later date…) but it certainly struck a chord on the financial end.

As far as the anti-institutional note goes, I think this article is actually not quite as bad as I feared it would be. I didn’t get the impression that they were trying to shoot down marriage so much as the tradition of the engagement ring, which is positive by me. The fact that it questions the validity of the ring itself in an age of “equitable marriage” is fair by me. I still like the idea of the symbolism, but the case is made that it could be taken as a sign that the woman is now sexually restricted while the man is still free, since only the woman receives it. I tend to think that the ring is a sign of commitment to the woman, as well, but since it’s not always present on his hand it could be seen in a more malicious light.

But the comments the author makes concerning the financial end are astounding, right from the get-go. The comment is made that “more than 80 percent of American brides receive a diamond engagement ring (at an average cost of around $3,200) before they get married.” Only one word can cover that figure: “Wow!” When I price a ring for my future fiancée, I look at $500, perhaps $800-1000 realistically, since it’s hard to get much cheaper than that if you want something with actual gold/silver/gems. I want something that will last a long time, but something that’s more subtle than a giant diamond. The fact that the average cost of one in America is $3200 strikes me as ridiculous. Are these diamonds the size of boulders? Presumably not (which makes me sweat, honestly, since that could mean my figures of $1000 are completely unrealistic!), but nonetheless there has to be some doubt as to the necessity of this price tag.

And the author makes a case that truly hits home for me:

“But behind every Madison Avenue victory lurks a deeper social reality. And as it happens there was another factor in the surge of engagement ring sales—one that makes the ring’s role as collateral in the premarital economy more evident. Until the 1930s, a woman jilted by her fiance could sue for financial compensation for “damage” to her reputation under what was known as the “Breach of Promise to Marry” action. As courts began to abolish such actions, diamond ring sales rose in response to a need for a symbol of financial commitment from the groom, argues the legal scholar Margaret Brinig—noting, 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.)

On the face of it, the engagement ring’s origins as a financial commitment should make modern brides-to-be wary. After all, virginity is no longer a prerequisite for marriage, nor do the majority of women consider marriageability their prime asset. Many women hope for a marriage in which housework, child-rearing, and breadwinning are equitably divided. The engagement ring doesn’t fit into this intellectual framework. Rather, its presence on a woman’s finger suggests that she needs to trap a man into “commitment” or be damaged if he leaves. (In most states today, if a groom abandons a bride, she is entitled to keep the ring, whereas if she leaves him, she must give it back.) Nor is it exactly “equitable” to demand that a partner shell out a sixth of a year’s salary, demonstrating that he can “provide” for you and a future family, before you agree to marry him.”

The notion that a ring that expensive is a way of suggesting that somehow the man is financially capable of providing seems pretty easy to accept. Once again, the whole equitable marriage thing is not what I am aiming at here — I think that it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to be the primary bread-winner while the woman cares for the children and — and this part is key, by me — continues to live a free life with time away from the house the same that the husband does not spend his entire time at work. But rather, the fact that it is a symbol of something other than the man’s emotional commitment strikes true, to me. If you are spending $3000+ on the ring, somehow it seems to me to be more of a statement that “real men are rich”, not “real men devote themselves to their partner.” It seems to go hand-in-hand with the notion of a trophy-wife covered in jewelery standing next to him. Money is the societal statement being made with this price tag; Money is the new commitment factor, not sex or children or living together. The man with the most money is the one who can best “provide” and thus the most worth “trapping.” That, to me, is what stood out about this excerpt.

Thanks, Rose, for a neat read. As I said, while I don’t agree with all of the notions therein, the fact that the price tag for engagement rings is outrageous gets full support from me, after reading those initial figures alone!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. blackberry guy
    Jun 28, 2007 @ 18:34:00

    As mores shift, traditions have to evolve with them. And of course, tradition resists change. I like the argument here, “The [traditional] engagement ring doesn’t fit into this [modern] intellectual framework.”

    Reply

  2. Web Designing Karachi
    Mar 17, 2010 @ 07:51:31

    Thanks for such a nice information, I can’t wait to get this episodes, your blog is nice and informative, will get this season.

    Reply

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