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home : readerswrite : readerswrite April 25, 2015

Diamonds
They are probably not your best friend
What does it say about our social atmosphere when we show more concern over a ring than a relationship?

by Jen Kaltveit


The words "Long term wife insurance" in a poster about a diamond ring in a window of a jewelry store at Rosedale Mall caught my attention.

I did not appreciate the ad. Think about the central message: Buy your wife (heteronormativity alert!) a diamond ring and she will stick around.

I saw the same ad again the next day and took even more issue with it. We are studying the wedding industry in my Sociology of Gender class and talking about typical reactions to engagement announcements. Most people react with intense excitement and congratulations followed by an inquiry about the ring. But what about the relationship?

It would make sense to inquire into the nature of a relationship after someone tells you they have made a commitment to spend the rest of their life with another person. We are socialized to believe engagements, weddings, love and the like are what everyone wants and have little to no negative consequence.

What does it say about our social atmosphere when we show more concern over a ring than a relationship?

Capitalism teaches us to be materially driven consumers in most aspects of our lives. That includes romantic relationships. Think about how much money is spent on weddings-couples are showing their guests how much they love each other based on how much money they spend. Did you know an engagement ring is supposed to cost the equivalent of two months of the groom's (heteronormativity alert!) salary?

Let us return to the idea that society does not consciously encourage problem relationships just because we want people to be married. The key word is consciously. It is unlikely anyone would actively encourage people to stay in an abusive relationship. But what about relationships that just are not that great?

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Society encourages people to marry; think about tax breaks for married versus single individuals. On the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) you are required to claim your parents' income until you are 25, unless you are married. And that is even if your parents do not financially contribute to your education! For some people, getting married makes more economic sense because they get tax breaks and more financial aid for their education. The government favors married over single individuals even if the marriage is unproductive (for example, emotionally and/or mentally) for those involved.

Marriage is a social expectation. It is the norm, and if you do not subscribe to that norm, you are deviant. This attitude gives married couples social privilege because, in our minds, marriage is almost always better than single life. Why would it not be?

People marry because of government and social benefits the status of marriage gives them. And if you do not think marriage is tied to status, then answer me this: Why are same-sex couples denied the right to legally marry?

So what does all this mean? What really is "long term wife insurance"? The point is society has distorted attitudes about marriage. We see marriage as an abstract, romanticized institution rather than a real part of people's lives. We focus on the symbols of marriage (such as diamonds) rather than actual marriage.

And "long term wife insurance"? That is fairly self-explanatory: Women love diamonds, so give them diamonds and they will love you. Or at least pretend they do.

Jen Kaltveit graduated with a B.A. in Women's Studies from Hamline University in May 2012. She works at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and lives in St. Paul.

Editor's Note: This essay appeared in a longer format on the Minnesota Women's Consortium blog, equalityquilt.typepad.com. Used with permission.

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