The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride: What No One Tells You Before You Say

The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride: What No One Tells You Before You Say "I Do"

by Katrina Majkut


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684330119
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Publication date: 02/22/2018
Pages: 214
Sales rank: 954,751
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

About the Author

Katrina Majkut, a visual artist and writer, is dedicated to exploring how social practices affect civil rights. Her writing has appeared in Bust, Bitch and Bustle. Majkut exhibits her artwork nationally. Mic Media listed her as an artist starting a new chapter in feminist art. Her art catalogs are in several library collections including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C. A proud Bostonian, Majkut currently lives in New York City.

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The Engagement Ring: The One Ring to Rule Her

The wedding. It all starts with the smallest of trinkets: the diamond engagement ring. And yet this tiny metallic thingamabob wields a powerhouse of symbolism and capitalism unseen since Monopoly's Top Hat. Well before I even had someone to spend my life with, I, like many women, ferociously lusted after the diamond engagement ring. My unfulfilled desire made Gollum from The Lord of the Rings seem like a regular chap with a reasonable, if oddly singular, hoarding fetish. "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the 'Precious.'" Luckily, feminism pulled an intervention, and the mesmerizing allure of the diamond engagement ring was broken, but not before I found myself wearing one. For me it was too late. However, I realized I could help break the spell on other women by revealing why the diamond engagement ring is the One Ring to rule her, and in its sexist darkness, bind her.

It's best to start with when and how this unspoken desire came about. I can personally trace it back to my mullet-sporting glory days of the 1980s. All the Disney princesses were getting a ring, and dammit, I wanted to be just like them: underage, married, and with a diamond to show for it. Ring Pop candies abetted this fantasy. I would prance and preen showing off my raspberry blue flavored crystal as I practiced for the fateful day when the plastic disc setting would be replaced by a platinum one.

My predilection for a diamond engagement ring didn't stop after puberty; in fact, it only increased as media and my friends pushed it like a drug. Unfortunately, there was no Nancy Reagan to teach you how to "say no" to it in the '90s. Now I had teen magazines and rom-coms to spur my bling cravings. Sixteen years old and on a Julia Roberts movie binge, a friend and I ripped and pasted pictures of our dream diamond into a scrapbook. As each other's best friend, our mission was to store away the booklet and, when the time was right, reveal it to each other's spouse-to-be. Theoretically, we'd get the ring we wanted without having to drop hints. It was a stealthy, premeditative move, but at sixteen, we should have been playing in the sun and running through the woods. Instead we were worrying about receiving an unattractive ring.

A decade later when the booklet was needed, my inherently messy friend couldn't find it. While the story was fun to recall, the fact that we exerted so much energy on such a trivial object from adolescence to adulthood is just, well, depressing to me now. While we grew up understanding that we could be anything we wanted from president to working CEO and mom, from a young age we were also taught that "diamonds are a girl's best friend" and frankly, who doesn't want friends?

Despite my youthful obsession, I didn't grow up to be a jewelry-person. Moments before my engagement proposal, I felt carefree walking clothed along the boardwalk of the nude beach in Barcelona, Spain. And apparently so did my soon-to-be fiancé, who seemed to think a nude beach was a good place to propose. None of that mattered the moment I became engaged, though. Suddenly I was that hip-popping, six-year-old nose-picker again. Once the overwhelming joy of the moment subsided and reality set back in (the nude people walking by also brought me back down to earth), the rock attached to my finger started to feel very heavy and I very anxious.

I knew without a doubt that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person, but this small traditional bauble of affection didn't fit right. It's a strange phenomenon, the engagement ring. It holds so much symbolic and financial power over an individual, whether male or female, and over a relationship. I spent most of my life bowing to the One Ring, but now that it was in my possession, I was suspicious of its power and meaning and, naturally, I sought answers.

The road to understanding why this ring held so much power over me didn't lead me to Mount Doom in the land of Mordor, but it did lead me to ancient Rome in Italy. It's said that all roads lead to Rome; this is the case for the majority of wedding traditions too. Before becoming a multiple-billion-dollar industry and sparking at least one war (the Sierra Leone War), the engagement ring humbly began in ancient Rome when a man or his family sought a wife through a matchmaker. After his match was selected, the man presented his betrothed with a ring, making the engagement binding. Their neighbors to the southeast, the Egyptians, believed a vein on the left hand's fourth finger went straight to the heart. The Romans adopted this idea as the perfect place to rest a wedding band even if love was not part of the marriage bargain. A ring came to epitomize the commitment of marriage because it has no end or beginning; it is eternal. Aside from the fact the woman wearing this engagement ring probably had little to no say regarding who she married, the ring itself started with beautiful symbolism. Surely, knowing this would lighten the weight of my own engagement ring? Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The more I learned about the evolution of the engagement ring, my enthusiasm for it started to die like the great empire of Rome.

Unlike the simple bands in ancient Roman times, my contemporary ring sported diamonds, and I had to wonder whether it was the stone that drew me to it. The first recorded diamond engagement ring took place in Austria in the year 1477 with Archduke Maximillian's engagement to Mary of Burgundy. Upper class people started adding gems, like pearls and sapphires for fidelity and rubies for passion, to the traditional wedding band and created the gemmed engagement ring known today. Starting as early 1761 in England by King George III and Queen Charlotte, the simple metallic wedding band was reduced to a "buffer ring" to protect the more expensive jeweled engagement ring. However, it took another hundred years for diamond engagement rings to become a must-have.

In 1867, the De Beers brothers found massive diamond reserves on their farm in Africa. Cecil Rhodes bought the farm and established De Beers Consolidated Mines. Now in majority control of this mineral's world supply and demand, Rhodes, like a Bond villain, manipulated the markets and singlehandedly drove diamond prices up to private consumers. His actions were not enough to create diamond-thirsty people like me though; it took the company another seventy years to turn diamonds into a girl's best friend.

De Beers left Africa and reached out to N.W. Ayer Advertising in New York. "Sell this overpriced stone to lovesick puppies," they said (or something like that). And N.W. Ayer Advertising was like, "You got it. World domination through the Wedding Industrial Complex. Muhahaha." Just kidding, but the marketing strategy devised by the agency worked out that way by being genius and simple. They convinced men that buying a diamond ring for their bride-to-be was a masculine sign of leadership and a testament to their financial success, and they convinced women that the bigger the rock the greater the love. The strategy worked too well. What Americans often interpret as meaningful tradition is nothing more than cleverly implemented marketing strategy aimed to increase company profits. It never occurred to me that my desire for a diamond engagement ring wasn't born from a pure sense of love and commitment, but from the advertising genius of the Mad Men on Madison Avenue in the 1930s and '40s. And when I learned that, I felt like a sucker. This is when I started to feel that buyer's remorse; or more so, wearer's remorse, just like when I buy skinny jeans.

N.W. Ayer Advertising's impact on ring culture is significantly bigger than Beyoncé's push for lovers to "put a ring on it." And while you can't blame Becky with the good hair on this mess, a finger can be pointed at Frances Gerety. Gerety, a woman and copywriter just like Mad Men's Peggy Olsen, penned the fateful phrase in 1947: "A diamond is forever." (Ironically, she never married.) Those four words encapsulated a diamond ring's value and the lovers' hope for the future. It was so successful it was deemed the greatest advertising slogan of the 20th century. When I discovered this, I didn't feel as warm and fuzzy about this symbolism like when I learned about the Roman meaning because De Beers created it to make a profit off of my romantic gullibility.

I wasn't alone; N.W. Ayer Advertising's was extremely successful in driving diamond demand among couples. Even during World War II while everyone was making sacrifices in the home or on the field, Ayer managed to convince wartime couples that buying a diamond engagement ring was their civic duty. De Beers alleged that buying one kept mining costs low for industrial diamonds used in war manufacturing. I have no doubt that my fiancé presented my engagement ring with good, loving intentions, but there were hidden flaws in my engagement ring of which neither of us had bargained.

While I was very concerned with the engagement ring's power over me, I hadn't stopped to consider how it affected my boyfriend. Finding the right ring, purchasing it, and then being expected to present it in a heart-stopping manner places a lot of financial and social pressure and responsibility on one person. This all fell on my boyfriend's shoulders because of Ayer's doing, but also because of the gender wage gap and benevolent sexism (a.k.a. chivalry).

 This is a perfect moment to explain benevolent sexism (B.S.) since it will pop up repeatedly. Chivalry is defined as benevolent sexism in social psychology. B.S. is the act that reinforces unequal gender roles through acts of kindness, and for this reason it is terribly deceiving. It offers protection, adoration, and affection to women who only fulfill traditional, subordinate, feminine gender roles, which puts them in the position of the weaker sex. For men, it gives them a sense of value in protecting, pampering, and worshipping women. It also conveniently puts men in the position of power and leadership over women with its, "let me take care of you," philosophy. A good example is the tradition of a man paying on a date. Chivalry is beguiling because its structure is interpreted as positive, but it is actually restricting to women.

Still not convinced it's bad? Well, what happens if a woman doesn't fit into this traditional gender role or doesn't want her door opened for her? It incites hostile sexism (benevolent and hostile sexism fall under the umbrella term "ambivalent sexism"). She's then seen as trying to usurp men's power because she's choosing to assume a "man's" role or nullify it. The negative response toward her doing so proves chivalry is about unequal power dynamics that favor men. If women, who accept and embrace chivalry, are positively regarded, then as a function of chivalry, women, who don't, are not. Think about how so many women are slut-shamed or rape-blamed for speaking out against the patriarchal establishment. Benevolent sexism is an extremely subtle form of prejudice because it is not obvious. The acts are perceived as kindnesses, and the adverse, long-term personal and social impacts on women are huge. First, it can perpetuate abusive relationships because it's an easy form of self-preservation and gives false apologies. Second, women who embrace and accept chivalry are statistically shown to have less ambitious careers and lower earning potential than men. They gradually relinquish their own independence as they become more dependent on men. A woman's acceptance of chivalry predisposes her to a self-fulfilling prophecy where she, herself, may unknowingly choose in favor of her own subordination. Most wedding traditions embrace some form of B.S.

And my fiancé and I embraced these chivalrous wedding traditions. We were taught to show respect by following time-honored traditions without question. So when the advertising agency made sure the prevailing practice was for a man to shop, buy, and present a ring to his would-be bride because he had the greater disposable income, my boyfriend obliged. And since the bride's job was to just wait on her pedestal for him to get down on one knee (i.e., benevolent sexism/B.S.), I obliged. In retrospect, it doesn't seem fair that my boyfriend should bear so much more responsibility than me in our first shared gesture as fiancés, but we were told this was the way engagements were properly performed.

N.W. Ayer Advertising also created stringent rules on how men should buy a diamond ring with the "Four C's: Cut, Color, Clarity and Carats" and the "two-months salary." It even implied that if a man couldn't turn a proposal into a Super Bowl halftime show, then he should just go home to his mom's basement where he can live out his days alone. These rules made it easy for consumers to judge a man's ability to be a good provider for his bride (i.e., more B.S.). A fat carat ring publically proved he was no scrub and had professional promise. Even the Jared Jewelers commercials coining the phrase, "He went to Jared!" asserts this idea that going to Jared is how a man gets a proposal done right. That's a lot of unfair stress.

Through the grapevine, I've heard more than a few stories of men caving into the pressure to give a ring that's a cut above the rest. In one case, a guy felt so pressured to buy a brand name ring that he bought a Tiffany's box off eBay and put a non-Tiffany's ring inside it. A friend secretly revealed that his wife's ring was a cubic zirconia, but he couldn't bring himself to admit the lie to her. Another friend took out $30,000 in debt for his fiancé's engagement ring. Now she gets her dream diamond engagement ring and her half share of the debt after they're married. (Word to the wise: no one likes to pay for their own gifts or start an engagement on a white lie.)

And I needed to ask what put this unfair pressure on them, and how can couples fix it? Lingering, archaic gender roles, N.W Ayer Advertising and B.S. are to blame along with those damn Ring Pops, but the gender wage gap is culpable too. Historically when women married, they still didn't have the individual financial means to start a life with their beau or buy the trappings to start it. The custom of men buying engagement rings remains commonplace today for the same reasons a man paying on a date continues as well: men earn more. It's no coincidence that my boyfriend and I followed this gendered tradition; we were both victims of gendered wage discrepancies. Feminism is often accused of stealing power away from men, but ring culture is not a zero sum game. Today there's no reason partners can't share the financial burden of the engagement ring as a first act of togetherness, but to do so, both partners need to start advocating for wage equality. Perhaps if men expected women to contribute equally in social customs like the engagement ring or even on dates, men would be more concerned with achieving wage parity? Not to mention, it would alleviate the sexist monetary pressure the tradition singularly places on them. This is just one of many examples why men need feminism too. Sadly, there are plenty of other traditions where feminism needs to swoop in and rescue everyone from wedding culture's inherent sexism.

Sitting together on the nude Barcelona beach bench, it occurred to me that I would be the only one marked by our new, mutual promise during our engagement. It felt like a double standard and a lack of team unity in what should be a moment of complete togetherness. I know in our relationship we don't need to share everything, but this seemed like an obvious one to split. By receiving an engagement ring, I, as a woman, was socially expected to publicize that I was betrothed and "belonged" to someone else; yet my fiancé, a man, on the other hand (sorry for the pun), was not. Until our wedding day, my fiancé would look as available to single people as water to a fish despite fishing season being closed at sea and in his personal life. Symbolically and physically branding myself with an engagement ring sent a strong message about who I was. Just like the seventy-year-old nude dude we saw at the beach, who had tattooed an elephant face on his crotch (true story).

While my fiancé and I trust each other, the idea that I would now need my ring to fend off single people (and he didn't) seemed too ludicrous and codependent for me. I managed thwarting attention well as a girlfriend without a ring; I was confident I could handle myself as a fiancé with a ring or without one too. My friends would often refuse to leave the house without an emergency tampon and their engagement ring, but only one would protect their crotch. If cheating or being approached by a romantic prospector is a real concern, I always wondered why my friends weren't worried about their fiancé's complete lack of jewelry. Single women can't differentiate between an engaged man and a single one. How is that not a hypocritical double standard?


Excerpted from "The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Katrina Majkut.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Chapter 1 The Engagement Ring: The One Ring to Rule Her,
Chapter 2 The Romance, Respect, and Ridiculousness of Getting Your Parents' Permission to Marry as an Adult,
Chapter 3 The B.S. of the Patriarchal Proposal,
Chapter 4 The Herstory, Price, and Sex Politics of Wedding Planning,
Chapter 5 Exchanging Sexism in the Wedding Registry and Shower,
Chapter 6 Stripping Bare the Bachelorette Party,
Chapter 7 The Beleaguering of Bridesmaids,
Chapter 8 Vanity Affairs and the Other Revlon Revolution,
Chapter 9 Unveiling the Sheer Sexism of the Wedding Dress and Veil,
Chapter 10 The Love Shock of Elopements and Baby Mamas,
Chapter 11 Altar Endings for the Wedding Ceremony,
Chapter 12 The Wedding Reception: Cake in Your Face and Other Sexual Innuendos,
Chapter 13 The Sweetness and Sour Of the Honeymoon,
Chapter 14 The Language of Love and Equality,
Chapter 15 Uncovering the History and Practice of Patronymics,
Chapter 16 The State of the Union: A House Divided and in Disrepair,
Chapter 17 Final Words of Love from a Feminist Bride,
Works Cited,
About the Author,
Brw Info,

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