I'm all about women being on top. (I would insert some double entendre disclaimer, but I won't.) In fact, in college, I was accepted into an exclusive all-girls leadership program called Women and Power, a study of women's power from four key perspectives and the cultural and political implications of that authority in our present-day society. It was a two-year program that I thoroughly enjoyed. During the course of it, I participated in many riveting discussions about women's power, our 'place', our progress, and the areas in which we still struggle in the workforce and at home.
I went into the program with my highly extroverted mindset that the loudest, most overtly controlling person (read: me) was the automatic leader. But actually studying leadership hipped me to the reality that a true leader's power is often found in their ability to follow, and to correctly identify those times when they should sideline. That said, while I was on the 'feminazi' side of the fence in college, I've leveled out to a pretty even-tempered, moderately conventional girl, one who applauds all forms of girl power but holds a deep respect for traditional female roles.
You see, over time, I've learned that a woman's true power is in her femininity, not her ability to leverage her testosterone reserves. Being a woman is a woman's power, and I believe the essence of a woman's truest and highest happiness comes from celebrating and being celebrated as a female for things singular to us as a species.
All that said, NYMag.com is reporting that a new 'bridal' trend (if you can call it that) is women full-out paying for, or worse, going Dutch Treat, on their engagement ring.
*blank stare for an uncomfortable period of time*
There are many things that I want to scream in response to this, among them that this horrible 'trend' is a manifestation of the murky waters of gender roles these days, but I'll keep calm and carry on with a list of four reasons this is a terrible idea:
It's a tradition, duh.
Sadly, our society is slowing doing away with any tradition or practice that celebrates and edifies womanhood. I'm no Phyllis Schlafly--complete name changes aren't my thing because I love my last name, and while I love to cook, I'm so turned off by men who can't cook at all. So even while I'm not willing to be a party to every vintage act of wifery, I certainly appreciate the romanticism of some traditional aspects of partnering. Women today are all "don't change your name, don't make sandwiches". It's like there's a faction of the female race that wants us to stop bathing or speaking to our husbands after we've married.
Where's the romance?
Femininity is mystical. Love, romantic love, even moreso. And culturally speaking, part of the magic of falling in love, getting engaged, and deciding to get married as a girl is, in fact, the ring. It's not about jewelry--or the expense of said jewelry--as it is about how well a man knows his partner as he offers her a symbol that announces both their love and unavailability for other relationships. Where some women today are all 'why do we even do rings blah blah', I happen to think that while it's certainly not necessary, it is a lovely sentiment that should remain a part of the fabric of our culture.
To hear that some women are out there cutting the check for their own ring and flossing it is disturbing, and the primary issue I have with this phenomenon is the lie. We're all intelligent enough to connect the dots on the cognitive association between ring size and lifestyle. While it may be the dark, vulgar side of engagement ring-ism, there is a belief that the bigger or more ornate the ring, the larger the diamond or carat count, the classes of the 4 c's, the more successful or desirable the man who has proposed. So women buying themselves opulent baubles and swanning about in them is just plain old pretension. Because let's face it: If a woman wanted to just buy herself a big ring, she would have done that without the man. But with the man on board, it then positions a backdrop and a story behind the ring, assigning additional worth to the fianceé, which ultimately assigns additional value to the woman.
But why lie? Why not let a man with a small budget buy you a small ring, one that's indicative of his actual financial state? Are you not proud of it, of him? Because that, in and of itself, is a problem. Taking away a traditionally masculine duty and making it a joint effort confuses the reasoning behind the gesture. When a woman pitches in on the ring, isn't it then just a joint lie? Your first big hoax as a married couple? In other words, this practice contributes to a pretty sick cycle that celebrates posturing and removes the romance, and there's absolutely no upside to that.
It's not about the money, but it is.
I celebrate women's financial independence. I believe a smart wife keeps her own bank account and her own stash, and I congratulate women who enter a marriage with their own money. I'm not saying anything is wrong with a household where a woman is the breadwinner or makes as much or more than her husband/partner; kudos to the amazing women who live that truth. What I am saying is that regardless of how much a woman brings home, not one red cent of it should go towards an engagement ring. While a man shouldn't have to change his lifestyle to lace your digits, if he can't afford any kind of ring at all chances are it's a poor idea to marry him (no pun intended that time, seriously). A man that doesn't have any disposable income to sink into even a modest gesture might not be prepared to address actual necessities that arise after marriage. Not everyone weds a baller, but there is truth to the notion that you can do bad all by yourself. Piling the worries of a marriage and a relationship on top of your run-of-the-mill financial issues is not a good recipe for a happy union.
And one more thing-
You're supposed to be the neck.
I'm a firm believer in the importance of a man as head of the household because I think it's the best way a woman gets to exert real power. While I know this notion would blow the heads off of a great many women out there who battle against that tried-and-true power structure, there are biological imperatives in males and females that naturally assert themselves in relationships. Allowing a man to exercise his masculine desire to be respected gets a woman her feminine desire to be loved, treasured, and appreciated. Adopting traditionally masculine roles, in my opinion, creates an unnecessary imbalance in a situation that could be fluid if both parties simply respected their natural, biological, hormonal desires. Obviously, it's not cut-and-dry; I'm personally an Alpha woman and would never allow myself to be controlled or bossed around by anyone, least of all a man. But, structuring my home and my relationship in a way that respects my partner's role as top dog only reinforces my role as the neck, the absolute that supports the head and without which, the head is nothing.
Taking on a role so thoroughly masculine, that of providing 'the ring', not only changes the way he looks at our relationship and my position, but more importantly, changes the way I look at him. You're supposed to be able to reflect on the ring when things get rough as a symbol of why you got in in the first place and think of what it meant between you at that time. If I pitched in my own ducats on the ring, though, every time he got on my nerves or pissed me off, I would only be looking down at it and thinking how I want my money back. And that would be bad for all involved because, well.
Ultimately, every couple has their own story, and my way wouldn't work for everyone. But as a woman who truly enjoys possessing a God-given vagina and wants to enjoy possessing the accoutrements said vagina affords her in a romantic partnership, allowing a man to assert his inner Alpha and exercise his masculinity is key to my happiness. I would be truly offended if a man asked or allowed me to split the cost of an engagement ring.
My blood pressure rises just thinking about it.
When the time comes for me, no matter what our bank accounts reflect, I will let him be a man and buy the ring; and I will be a woman and accept it. This simple act will, I pray, set the tone for me to be celebrated as a partner who has the capability to lead, but also the ability to follow. Because as I've learned, that's the true essence of being in charge.