Tag Archives: Barbara Risman

Mengagement Rings

Yes, I know this is not newsworthy, but this New York Times story was popular enough to show up in my Google News feed.

So here’s the scoop: more men are wearing engagement rings.  Why is this interesting?  Because I love gender history.  See, men obviously haven’t always worn engagement rings.  In fact, it wasn’t until about 50, 60 years ago that men even started wearing wedding rings.  Women wore rings.  Why, you ask?  To mark that they were taken or “bought” when marriage used to equate more of a purchase than a union (which actually wasn’t that long ago).

Now, more men are wearing engagement rings, partly because their female fiancees require them to, and also because they are increasingly choosing to do so.

The article also interviewed two incredibly important sociologists of gender, Stephanie Coontz and Barbara Risman, yet their significance is barely mentioned.  Here’s what they say about this move towards gender equality:

While the arrival of men’s engagement rings may not be the next step in gender equality, it is another sign that male infidelity is becoming less and less acceptable, said Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

[I’d like to add that Coontz has written several other fascinating sociological texts, one of which is “The Way We Never Were” about how the happy, white, nuclear family never really existed – we just idealized it on Leave it to Beaver.]

“It’s a logical extension of our increasing rejection of the double standard of sexuality,” she said. “We talk a lot about infidelity, but actually infidelity was much more highly approved of among men in the past than it is today. The double standard was so extreme that in the late 18th century we have letters from men bragging to their wife’s brother about activities outside the marriage.”

Leading up to her first marriage, in 1974, Barbara Risman didn’t wear an engagement ring.

“I was a very serious second-wave feminist, and at that moment in history any marital tradition that seemed gender-specific seemed prima facie oppressive,” said Ms. Risman, 54, who is the head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [And also the author of Gender Vertigo in which she examines the normality of non-traditional families.]

That was then.

Ms. Risman, who was divorced in 1998, is set to marry Randall Liss, 56, an options trader, next spring. Not only does she want to wear an engagement ring, she expects her fiancé to wear one, too…

“We both made this commitment, and to be quite frank, it’s just fair,” Mr. Liss said. “And it makes me feel good…”

“The feminist movement and I have matured,” she said. “Now there’s a sense that we should look carefully at what the traditions are and reinvent them so that we keep the good part of it and share it…”

Why wear rings at all,  I’m not sure.  Probably because we love shiny things, but at least it’s a move towards gender equality.

Either way, we need to shake up some of these outdated traditions, like a man proposing to a woman.  Shouldn’t we discuss this, rather than being swept up in the romance?  It’s kind of a big decision.

But, then again, more than half of all marriages end in divorce anyway.  And you know what the leading cause of divorce is, right?  Marriage.

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