Thursday, July 17, 2014

Feminism versus Diamonds

Referring back to the definition of objectify: "to present as an object, especially of sight, touch, or other physical sense; make objective; externalize", or "to represent concretely; present as an object," diamonds are clearly marketed with an eye on objectification.  As Vivian Becker writes for the De Beers corporation:
The diamond is the quintessential, universal symbol of love. Of all its many roles, the diamond as messenger of romantic love – beginning with the belief that Cupid’s arrows were tipped with diamonds – has resonated through the centuries to emerge today as powerful as ever.
While the ring itself, with no beginning or end, is an ancient symbol of eternal love, the story of the diamond engagement ring reaches back to the Middle Ages, when the invincible diamond, symbolising ”unquenchable” love, was considered ideal to seal a betrothal or marriage pledge, By the fifteenth century, the diamond ring was a feature of royal and noble weddings...
...When, in 1475, Constanzo Sforza presented his bride, Camilla d’Aragona, with a diamond ring on their wedding day, a poem, in an illuminated manuscript, documented the ceremony: ‘Two torches in one ring of burning fire / Two wills, two hearts, two passions, all bonded in marriage by a diamond.’ The fire in the diamond was likened to the constant flame of love. Then, in 1477, Archduke Maximilian gave a diamond ring – generally held to be the first recorded engagement ring – to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold....
...After the seventeenth century, when emphasis shifted onto the gemstone itself and onto lighter, naturalistic designs, the eighteenth century ushered in a great age of the diamond; with newly discovered deposits in Brazil, and improved cutting techniques, the fire and light of diamonds dazzled in candlelight....
....The Belle Époque, a time of enormous wealth and leisured luxury, bred the next great age of the diamond. New deposits had been discovered in South Africa, cutting had advanced in huge strides, and the engagement ring, an important status symbol, focused on the significant single stone, now in its classic open-prong setting, showing its new brilliance to perfection.
Today, perhaps more than ever, the diamond engagement ring remains the most powerful universal expression of true and everlasting love, and an essential part of the marriage ritual, across the globe. The divine diamond and the power of love.

"The diamond is the quintessential, universal symbol of love" mon cul.  You can't possibly get any more ridiculous in your objectification than that.  A ring, with a little gemstone, is "the most powerful universal expression of true and everlasting love?"  As P.T. Barnum famously said, "many people are gullible, and we expect this to continue."  From the television series Mad Men:

The reason you haven't felt it is because it doesn't exist. What you call "love" was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons...You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I'm living like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't one.
According to Julie Albright, a sociologist and marriage and family therapist at the University of Southern California, the engagement ring "does set a certain tone about whether a woman's expectations will be met by her husband or not."  As previously mentioned, women (particularly in America) have a tendency to be extremely competitive (especially against each other) and highly status-conscious.  Her reaction to your engagement ring may afford you some flavor of what her future demands might be in terms of supporting her lifestyle.  And, she will inevitably be comparing her ring against the engagement rings of her peers, as part of the ongoing competition between females.  Michael Scott reflects:
American males enter adulthood through a peculiar rite of passage - they spend most of their savings on a shiny piece of rock. They could invest the money in assets that will compound over time and someday provide a nest egg. Instead, they trade that money for a diamond ring, which isn’t much of an asset at all. As soon as you leave the jeweler with a diamond, it loses over 50% of its value.
Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to. Prior to a stunningly successful marketing campaign 1938, Americans occasionally exchanged engagement rings, but wasn’t a pervasive occurrence. Not only is the demand for diamonds a marketing invention, but diamonds aren’t actually that rare. Only by carefully restricting the supply has De Beers kept the price of a diamond high.
Countless American dudes will attest that the societal obligation to furnish a diamond engagement ring is both stressful and expensive. But here’s the thing - this obligation only exists because the company that stands to profit from it willed it into existence.
So here is a modest proposal: Let’s agree that diamonds are bullshit and reject their role in the marriage process. Let’s admit that as a society we got tricked for about century into coveting sparkling pieces of carbon, but it’s time to end the nonsense...
 Meghan O'Rourke writes: 
...Until the 1930s, a woman jilted by her fiance could sue for financial compensation for "damage" to her reputation under what was known as the "Breach of Promise to Marry" action. As courts began to abolish such actions, diamond ring sales rose in response to a need for a symbol of financial commitment from the groom, argues the legal scholar Margaret Brinig—noting, crucially, that ring sales began to rise a few years before the De Beers campaign. To be marriageable at the time you needed to be a virgin, but, Brinig points out, a large percentage of women lost their virginity while engaged. So some structure of commitment was necessary to assure betrothed women that men weren't just trying to get them into bed. The "Breach of Promise" action had helped prevent what society feared would be rampant seduce-and-abandon scenarios; in its lieu, the pricey engagement ring would do the same. (Implicitly, it would seem, a woman's virginity was worth the price of a ring, and varied according to the status of her groom-to-be.)... 
Women, by and large, are considerably less dependent upon men than they once were.  Indeed, in a prior post, I pointed out that women are beating the pants off of men, both academically and professionally.  Since women are largely destined to become the typical household's primary income earner, it is ridiculous for women to continue to demand that men spend huge sums of money on jewelry for them.  Even De Beers recognized this, and launched a campaign to persuade women to buy diamond rings for themselves.  As the advertisements were hugely effective, it seems that women (poor creatures) are quite vulnerable to social engineering.  It was the master propagandist, Edward Bernays, who set about, in the 1920s, to persuade young women that they ought to smoke, of all things.  And, the hijo de puta was highly successful.  Millions of women did as they were told, and smoked themselves into an early, painful death.  Sure, blame the Patriarchy.  It was their own damned fault.

Men certainly aren't immune to the pressures of propaganda and social engineering.  Neckties are profoundly silly.  But, at least we don't generally feel compelled to wear crippling high-heeled shoes designed to keep podiatrists in business.  

Among the Padaung of Burma, it is the women, and not the men, who believe themselves obliged to wear the cumbersome neck rings.

No Patriarchs are going to go to that extreme, just for the sake of appearances.

Miss O'Rourke points out further:
...For those who aren't bothered by the finer points of gender equity, an engagement ring clearly makes a claim about the status of a woman's sexual currency. It's a big, shiny NO TRESPASSING sign, stating that the woman wearing it has been bought and paid for, while her beau is out there sign-free and all too easily trespassable, until the wedding...In fact, many ads, including a recent series by Tiffany, imply that giving a ring results in a woman's sexual debt...
...It may seem curious that feminism has made inroads on many retrograde customs—name-changing, for example—but not on the practice of giving engagement rings. Part of the reason the ring has persisted and thrived is clearly its role in what Thorstein Veblen called the economy of "conspicuous consumption." Part of the reason could be that many young women, raised in a realm of relative equality, never think rigorously about the traditions handed down to them....
As far as I can tell, Miss O'Rourke is the only Feminist who takes issue with the artificial, sexually-objectifying custom of the diamond engagement ring.  You can search the National Organization for Women's website: they piss and moan about every other conceivable form of imagined sexual objectification, but nary a whimper about the diamond engagement ring.  As I hitherto remarked, many Feminists express disapproval of heterosexual monogamous marriage for a variety reasons, but never raise a stink about the jewelry business.  Rather than women never thinking "rigorously about the traditions handed down to them", I think that Feminists ignore this particular issue because it involves men foolishly spending a huge wad of money in order to impress and please women, as potential brides.  If a corporation had attempted to establish a similar custom that involved women spending three-months worth of their salary on some ludicrously-overpriced trinket for a man, then, boy would the Feminists be howling.  That custom would be doomed, and any woman who dared to comply with the rigors of the newly-manufactured convention would face an excruciating shaming from her fellow Feminists.

I certainly don't object to women buying and collecting jewelry, if they wish.  Nor to men buying jewelry as gifts for women, if they wish.  Life is short, and people should, by all means, buy whatever they think will bring them the greatest happiness.  But, the way that jewelry is marketed in America is ridiculous.

Many of the people who actually mine the diamonds work in rather appalling conditions.  Very little of what you pay the jeweler actually trickles down to their level.  In India and elsewhere, many people prefer to buy gold rather than to keep money in a savings account, because gold often tends to retain its value better than the local currency, which loses value over time due to inflation.  When they need money for some special reason, they would sell some of their gold (although, over recent years, the price of gold has become quite volatile).  In America, you might get something from a pawn shop for your diamond ring, but it will be nowhere near what you paid the retailer.

Although you may fully agree with the statement that "the diamond engagement ring remains the most powerful universal expression of true and everlasting love", it is important to dissociate the objectification from reality.  Yes, most women in America will receive a ridiculously overpriced ring from their fiancés.  But, most marriages in America will also end in divorce.  The overpriced ring doesn't really serve a damned thing.



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