feminists can’t have it both ways

The author of this article about surnames stopped by my little bog and commented on my post about hyphenated names, which was a nice surprise. As I was reading the comments on his article, this one stood out:

I understand that some women don’t want to change their name and at the end of the day it’s their choice. But what I find unfair is most of them still want an engagement ring, still want their men to wear a wedding band and still want to spend lots of money on things that men don’t give a crap about for the wedding day.

I agree with part of this comment. I think a lot of traditions surrounding marriage are sexist.

I am disgusted by the tradition of a man buying a woman an engagement ring. This tradition has a long history, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It re-surged in the early 20th century, and not just as a result of the infamous De Beers campaign. The engagement ring is symbolic of ownership. It lays claim to a man’s property. It is a contract for a woman’s virginity. This is its undeniable history; regardless of intent, this is what an engagement ring says.

What is the purpose of a man spending two months of his salary on an obligatory ‘gift’ that has the purpose of—what? Declaring his love for her? Declaring his intent to marry her? Can’t he just tell her these things without wasting so much money? Or give a more original gift—something some thought was put into? Why do men and not women have to buy this gift? Isn’t it just as important for a woman to declare her love and her intent to marry?

The tradition of exchanging wedding bands doesn’t have the romantic origins we imagine, either. From the Wikipedia page on wedding rings:

Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economical safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: ‘I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers’.

As for the commenter’s statement that women “still want to spend lots of money on things that men don’t give a crap about for the wedding day”… I think the assumption that women want huge, expensive weddings and men don’t is a stereotype that just isn’t often true in real life. I don’t know of any hard facts or research in the area—maybe someone can give me a link?—but most women that I know don’t want to spend a lot of money on their weddings. They want to decide together, with their spouse-to-be, what kind of wedding to have.

For the most part, though, I think the commenter makes a good point about wanting to have it both ways. I want equality in everything—more than I want a shiny diamond with a troubling history.


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