The perils of the engagement ring
Steve Gilliard has jumped into the engagement ring debates. He hasn't offered an opinion on the advice column from Cary Tennis where Cary suggests that there might be multiple readings of the meaning of the ring, but you can imagine how some of his readers reacted. Yep--it's a symbol of patriarchal oppression, a throwback to the days when women were purchasable commodities, a way of reinforcing the notion that women's worth is measured by their men, but all most of his commenters can do is sputter around about what a bitch the woman in question is for wanting one.
Of course, my first inclination on reading that the woman in question was demanding a 3-months-salary ring was, "Why don't you just peddle that shit on South Congress?" But while my thought was rude, I don't think it was particularly sexist--in no way do I think that women have some inherent need to be bought out or that we are greedy bitches. I just don't think that the romanticizing the purchase of wives is such a great idea, even if we claim to just be clinging to the trappings while denying their meaning.
Cary struggles to find more pleasant, newer meanings to the engagement ring:
We all know that in spite of social progress men still make more money than women and thus wield more power. So requesting that he buy this ring, although it sounds old-fashioned, may also be her way of asking that he recognize this continuing social and economic inequality; the act of buying the ring is a symbolic giving up of his unfairly derived power, a laying himself bare.
Nice try, but no cigar. A symbolic gesture of female subservience and decorativeness is indeed and acknowledgement of their reality, but simply acknowledging it does nothing to fight against it. In fact, adamantly refusing to wear a ring is also a symbolic gesture that goes noticed and it speaks volumes about one's unwillingness to just give into social customs that offend you.
If you make more than your partner there are ways you can equal things out without spending the money on a gesture that carries the implication that your wife is a purchasable commodity. For instance, you can pay a higher percentage of the bills--a private decision that much more effectively conveys the belief that marriage is a partnership, not a transaction.
Of course, my hard stance that the engagement ring is a symbol of female subservience is challenged strongly by the fact that so many women push so hard for them. And as such, I feel sorry for the woman who writes this letter, because it's a pain in the ass to explain why just because it's a woman who wants something doesn't make it a feminist thing. But basically, pushing for an expensive ring from a man, even a man who makes a lot of money and pays for more of the bills, seems wrong-headed to me. The ring seems like a transaction whereas divvying up the bills is just partnership.