August
20th 2011
A ring-a-ding-ding: the awful oppression of wealthy heterosexualists never ends!

Posted under: class, Dolls, fluff, Gender, jobs

We have a new contender for the Oppression Olympics.

My favorite was this part:

“Please remove your giant diamond rings,” wrote one contributor to a community forum on Urbanbaby.com last week, billing her post as a public service announcement. “I work at a non-profit,” she continued, “and when I interview someone who is sporting a huge diamond, I immediately deduct points from that person. I talked about this with some of my colleagues today, and they feel the same way. It’s just an unnecessary risk.”

The poster later clarified that she has a specific reason for resenting when applicants bring their bling to an interview: She works for a non-profit that helps African women and children suffering from the effects of the conflict diamond trade.

Forget the engagement ring:  that woman should have lost the job purely for teh stoopid.  But I wish the interviewer had explained better her thought that huge diamonds are “an unncessary risk.”  Is it a risk to their fundraising abilities?  Is it a safety risk for the other employees?  I’m not wild about people who work with their hands who wear enormous rings of any kind–physicians who regularly have to glove up, for example.  It just seems obnoxious and inconvenient to have to ease the glove over the blingy-dingy.

Personally, I’m not moved by the claims that this represents discrimination against women, because lots of married women don’t wear diamond rings and yet remain legally married.  What do the rest of you think?

40 Comments »

40 Responses to “A ring-a-ding-ding: the awful oppression of wealthy heterosexualists never ends!”

  1. Teaspoon on 20 Aug 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Re: wearing diamonds to interview with an organization fighting the effects of the blood-diamond trade, holy tacky accessorizing, Batman.

    As for the discrimination claims, I suppose it depends on whether the same sort of standards are applied to men who wear expensive watches or other equivalent displays of wealth. I think the idea that women who work are somehow “taking jobs away” from men is still pervasive enough in enough industries that I’d be interested in finding out if that’s a motivating factor for those who penalize women who do wear such rings.

  2. Comrade PhysioProf on 20 Aug 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    One of my favorite things in Guy Fieri’s Big Bite cooking show is when he “de-blings” before using his hands in food.

  3. the15th on 20 Aug 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Yes, it’s sexist, unless she asks the applicant whether the stone is Canadian, moissanite, lab-created, etc., and also asks married male applicants whether they were involved in the purchase of diamonds. Also, “this person doesn’t really need this job”? Classic employment discrimination (married women are just working for “pin money.”)

  4. Historiann on 20 Aug 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    I don’t see this as a discrimination issue because people can choose whether or not to wear a piece of jewelry. They may not choose another sex, skin color, or other innate characteristic. At least, that’s what I’ve always assumed–but maybe the kind of men who buy giantic rings for their fiances/wives get shirty if the women don’t wear the sign of their ownership by an affluent man every day. In which case: file this one yet again under DON’T MARRY A DOUCHE.

    Personally, I think it’s shallow to make a big ring a key to a hiring decision, but there are shallower and more unfair reasons not to hire someone.

  5. koshembos on 20 Aug 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Why is “not liking” someone with a big diamond different from “not liking” a transvestite? Both have a choice.

  6. Teaspoon on 20 Aug 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Hm. I don’t know that we’re far enough away from the (fairly U.S. specific and definitely heteronormative) cultural expectations of Man Buys Ring, Man Proposes Marriage, Woman(‘s Father) Sells (Woman’s) Autonomy For Shiny Rock, Woman Wears Shiny Rock Forever Or Until Ugly Divorce to consider it an unfettered choice. It was certainly a big fuss among my relatives when Mr. Teaspoon and I decided against the shiny rock portion of our partnership.

    My mother wore her engagement ring until months into my parents’ separation, my sister wears hers, and my brother’s wife wears hers, and they all still think it’s weird that I don’t wear one, own one or want one. I remember being quite relieved when his family didn’t insist on it, so I think there’s still a lot of cultural pressure there.

    I suppose I’m considering it as possibly indicative of discrimination because an engagement ring is coded as a woman’s item, so it seems to me like the hiring authority is reacting less to the ring than the woman–particularly if an ostentatious watch on a man would be read by the same authority as “successful; motivated; potential asset” or even “neutral” instead of “arrogant; unserious; doesn’t need job/raise.” It would be an interesting study.

  7. Historiann on 20 Aug 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Those are good points, teaspoon. But I guess until women start buying their own engagement rings or paying for half, it’s always going to remain something that testifies in most other people’s minds to the success of the husband in question.

    I disagree, koshembos, that this is equivalent to transvestism. Presumably women with big rocks take off their rings sometimes–like if they’re making hamburgers, or water skiing, or performing a C-section. (Or maybe they have servants to do this–I don’t know.) I don’t see “wearing an engagement ring” as the same as sexuality issues. At least, I’m not familiar with the kind of women who see their identities as so dependent on the wearing of a particular item of jewelry that they could plausibly claim protected status.

    I think this is a story that’s more about heterosexual and class privilege than sex discrimination. And I think that anyone going to an interview has to think carefully about how they should present themselves. There are some fields in which fancy jewelry might be the right way to go–I have a sister-in-law who’s a consultant, and she’s continually amazed by the expensive jewels that are worn by the few women she works with.

    But at the very least, wearing blood diamonds to an interview with any non-profit (let alone a non-profit devoted to fighting blood diamonds) seems like a pretty unforced error. (And, I would think that wearing a big Rolex or Patek Phillippe–surrounded by diamonds or not–would be an equivalently and non-gender specific error.)

  8. Feminist Avatar on 21 Aug 2011 at 3:15 am #

    I agree that we have to take some account of who we are interviewing for, so wearing flashy diamonds in the context of interviewing for a non-profit working on blood diamonds is tactless, and so could be legitimately taken into account by the employer. And, I certainly think its legitimate for employers to ask employees to remove any type of jewellery when it is a health and safety or hygiene issue.

    But, even in jobs where that would be an issue, interviews are not the performance of the job themselves. People wear their best outfits to job interviews, but I doubt any of us expect them to deliver babies or prepare food in a suit. And, of course, everything we wear to an interview speaks to our social class and wealth – is that a designer suit or off the rack? Is it too tight, reflecting that it’s borrowed, or is it tailored etc? Jewellery is just another part of that performance.

    And, I actually think that as a general rule, employers shouldn’t look to deeply at the clothes, because employing on the basis of best dressed would inevitably discriminate against the poor who cannot afford to perform in particular ways (and then of course we can think about the gender and race implications due to the intersection of these social groups with poverty). And, while we may laugh at discrimination against the rich, I think the same should hold true for them too.

    Moreover, engagement and marriage rings hold a political significance that other forms of jewellery don’t. It was not so long ago that we had marriage bars for women and no doubt many employers still hold a bias against young women of marriageable age as they might have babies and need time off or want to leave work. And, the engagement ring signifies this potential – which is also why so many women choose to take off their rings when they interview! So, when I hear, I don’t employ women with big diamond engagement rings, I hear ‘I don’t employ women in or heading towards marriage’. And, that is discrimination. And, as Teaspoon says, it does hold all those tropes about rich married women and pin money, etc.

    I think ultimately, however, this is yet another person saying they want to control how we perform femininity and, while we are certainly responsible for our self-presentation, I think we should be wary of forms of policing that control women to a greater extent than men.

  9. Nicoleandmaggie on 21 Aug 2011 at 5:45 am #

    I agree with Feminist Avatar.

    This policy definitely has a disparate impact on women. You can talk about men having Rolexes, but in reality more women are going to be showing up with engagement rings than men with diamond encrusted watches. Whether or not it constitutes disparate treatment is another matter.

    Additionally, this rule is a secret rule. It’s one thing to say in the advertisement, “long haired freaky people need not apply,” because then men and women know they should cut their hair short for the interview if they want the job. It’s another to have this secret criteria that applies largely separately to men as to women. How can they change their behavior if they don’t know what they’re going to be judged on?

    Now, in this specific case, it should be obvious that you shouldn’t be wearing a blood diamond to an interview for a nonprofit that fights against blood diamonds. One wouldn’t wear a fur coat to a PETA interview. To do so would be showing a large ignorance about the company. (Though, how does the interviewer know it’s a blood diamond and not cubic zirconium?) But that’s a separate specialized instance and most companies aren’t fighting the blood diamond trade.

    On a separate note, in my (combination SES and Midwestern) culture, we don’t wear the engagement rings, just the bands.

  10. New Kid on the Hallway on 21 Aug 2011 at 6:37 am #

    I agree that it’s stupid to wear a big diamond to an interview for a job with an non-profit fighting blood diamonds (although I suppose if yours is in fact blood-free, you might intend to start a conversation about it? But I realize that’s reaching). But it’s still crappy to discriminate against someone for having/owning a big diamond – which in this case seems to me clearly to be about being a married woman, and therefore about gender. (It’s also class-related, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s *not* also about gender.)

    Is it necessarily *as bad* as discrimination on the basis of race or disability, something you *can’t* easily hide/change for an interview? It is not as bad because it’s discrimination against a group (wealthy heterosexual women) who are usually pretty privileged? I don’t know, but 1) hierarchies of oppression are stupid, and 2) just because it’s not *as* bad doesn’t make it okay.

    Myself, I see discriminating against a woman wearing a diamond ring as similar to discriminating against a woman applicant because she does/doesn’t wear makeup or a traditionally feminine haircut or a bra or traditionally feminine clothes. After all, the woman can change her hairstyle, wear/stop wearing makeup, put on a bra, wear a skirt. Maybe it’s not as “bad” as discrimination based on more immutable characteristics, but it’s still gender discrimination – it’s discrimination on the basis of stereotypes about gender (which the Supreme Court has held to be actionable discrimination).

  11. Historiann on 21 Aug 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Why do you all assume that engagement rings must be worn at all times and in every social and work situation imaginable? That’s what I don’t get. It seems to me to be the exercise of a privilege, not a shackle that one can’t escape. Especially when we still live in an era in which most gay people don’t out themselves on job interviews, and many take pains to conceal a large part of themselves and their lives sometimes for months or years (or forever) at work–doesn’t it strike you as a little obnoxious to insist on such a gaudy, open display of heterosexuality?

    If people want to get married, that’s okay with me–so long as they don’t flaunt it.

    Like I said, I think dismissing someone’s candidacy merely because of a ring in most situations is pretty stupid and shallow. But as New Kid points out, there are all kinds of ways in which women (moreso than men) suffer discrimination in interviews because of their superficial appearance judged against the norms of the interviewer and the company (too much/too little makeup, too feminine/not femmy enough clothing, too long/too short hair, etc.)

  12. shaz on 21 Aug 2011 at 8:35 am #

    I’m surprised by commenters coding of this as discriminatory. CHOOSING to publicly display a traditional heterosexist/classist representation of marital status is a choice – and choices provide information about candidates.

    I don’t think there is a protected category for the way you display marital status — discriminating against all married women/people is one thing; drawing conclusions (even if erroneous) based on one’s self-presentation of that status seems to me to be something else.

  13. Wini on 21 Aug 2011 at 10:38 am #

    It has never occured to me to take off my ring. I would lose it/them. My whole life I have kept rings on. The difference now is that they do not tarnish or turn green. Outside of huge stones, I would never notice someone else’s rings. Hereditary jewelry/accessory blindness?

  14. rustonite on 21 Aug 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I enjoy women who wear their engagement rings in bars/clubs/etc., specifically so they can act indignant when guys buy them drinks. *SO* sorry I didn’t see that fleck of mica on your finger, didn’t realize someone else had dibs. does he share at all?

  15. Liz2 on 21 Aug 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    As a historian of Africa, I don’t know too many of us who will wear diamonds period. Whether the diamonds are conflict-free or not is pretty darn hard to prove. And more than that – even the “conflict-free” diamonds from places like South Africa were pulled from the ground through a racist system that continues to brutalize people, I don’t really see that as “conflict-free” myself, but what do I know.

    I get the concerns about discrimination against women, etc in interviews, I do get it (especially the point that the men who buy diamond rings for their partners would not be discriminated against in the interview – that is a terrific point). But honestly, when you really consider what diamonds represent, anyone wearing a diamond to a job interview for an organization like that is kind of slapping the interviewers in the face.

  16. DickensReader on 21 Aug 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    I wouldn’t give her the job over other women candidates. I also would not lose a drop of sleep. Lately, I tossed a grant proposal to the side because a school was asking for money for yoga and Pilates. In my subjective opinion, it reeks of privilege. If having to choose just one school, there is no way yoga and Pilates beat out the need for smart boards and band equipment.

  17. undine on 21 Aug 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    The giant-diamond applicant in the article violated the first principle of job hunting: research the organization. If she didn’t know that the giant ring was a violation of the blood diamond principles, she hadn’t done her homework.
    Wearing the diamond is a slap in the face, as Liz2 says.

    But doesn’t anyone else worry that in other situations, passing judgment on what jewelry applicants choose to wear/not wear may result in discrimination against those with lots of piercings or tattoos?

  18. Janice on 21 Aug 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    For a couple of years when I struggled with baby weight, I couldn’t get my wedding ring or engagement ring off without a lot of work. Of course, neither ring features honking big diamonds, so I guess I’m safe. But, honestly, I’d never think to take them off for an interview nor would I have removed the turquoise ring that I wore constantly for twenty years. These adornments are a part of my identity: if they really put someone off? That’s too bad.

    The sad truth is, you can’t tell for sure what will be a signal to someone else that you don’t get it right. Sure, if you’re interviewing for a job that involves the fight against conflict diamonds, you would probably be wise to think about any such jewellery that you might sport.

    Nicoleandmaggie evoked one of my favourite old songs with the line “long-haired freaky people need not apply.” Sometimes these expectations are clearly articulated. Often, they aren’t. That’s where things get messy.

    Some people have a thing against leather. Others don’t want anything to do with people who wear perfume or clothing with logos or who knows what. As New Kid and Historiann have pointed out, these unspoken expectations also fall heavily on women.

    If a prospective employer is so affected as to discount a candidate just on one such element of personal presentation, there’s no way that you would have fit in well in that workplace but that’s cold comfort to the job seeker who probably will never know what ruled them out, in any case.

  19. Flavia on 21 Aug 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    I agree totally with New Kid, especially her last paragraph.

    Not every woman who wears a diamond ring — even a huge rock — is wealthy. I have a (fairly small) diamond ring because it had been in my future spouse’s (working class, immigrant) family for generations, and because it was free. I’d specifically said that I did not want a diamond. . . but in the end it was pretty and had a history and we discovered we were just too lazy to make a production out of finding THE PERFECT funky, cheap, unique non-diamond ring that I’d thought I’d wanted. I have a professional acquaintance whose noticeably big rock was acquired the same way — a free hand-me-down — and is slightly embarrassed about what it signals, but who similarly decided that she had bigger things to worry about than whether she was undermining her own feminist credentials, or whatever, by wearing this ring.

    In this specific case, I agree that the potential hire demonstrated her ignorance of the organization she was interviewing with, and I have no problem with her being denied the job on those grounds. However, I think the interviewer’s other arguments are indeed discriminatory: not everyone lives by the same political codes or demonstrates them in the same external ways, and the interviewer (and some of the comments here) strikes me as making an unwarranted assumption that any woman who wears an engagement ring is buying into the patriarchy lock, stock, and barrel.

  20. New Kid on the Hallway on 21 Aug 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Of course engagement rings don’t need to be worn all the time. But saying a woman should have to take off her engagement ring for an interview (especially given that many women never do take off their engagement rings) or be judged for wearing it is exactly the same as saying that women should wear skirts to interviews or be judged for wearing pants. I mean, they don’t have to wear pants all the time, so why shouldn’t we ding women who wear pants to an interview?

    There are lots of reasons why individual women have and wear the rings that they do, and as I understand it, they don’t generally have anything to do with the candidate’s ability to do the job. (I’ll grant that the one exception is if you’re applying for a non-profit working to end blood diamonds!)

  21. thefrogprincess on 21 Aug 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Yes, setting aside the problems inherent to this specific situation (i.e. why did she apply to this job in the first place?), I think it is discriminatory in that I think most married women (at least most women I know) never take their rings off, and they shouldn’t be punished for it. It would never occur to them to take them off, nor would they feel that they were flaunting their privilege. This is especially true, given the loaded significance of taking off wedding/engagement rings in popular culture. (And here I’m not talking about baking or surgery, but about taking rings off when there is no reason to.) Here I think we have a situation in which a small group of women, generally on the left, have an opinion about what rings signify that the vast majority of Americans either don’t share or don’t think about. And while an engagement ring is a symbol of heterosexual marriage, it isn’t inherently a sign that someone isn’t feminist or progressive.

  22. Flavia on 21 Aug 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Here I think we have a situation in which a small group of women, generally on the left, have an opinion about what rings signify that the vast majority of Americans either don’t share or don’t think about. And while an engagement ring is a symbol of heterosexual marriage, it isn’t inherently a sign that someone isn’t feminist or progressive.

    Word to Frog Princess.

    In fact, I suspect that it’s a pretty elite group of women who hold non-engagement-ring-wearing as a necessary sign of feminist or liberal credentials; it overlaps with a kind of class snobbery that understands not showing off, and not being flashy, as a sign of good taste and good breeding — and that sees any kind of bling as tacky.

    Those are not necessarily the values of the working and lower middle classes, or of immigrants and non-whites. For many women I’ve known (and taught), a nice piece of jewelry, or fur coat, or whatever, are tangible and reassuring signs of security: they’re moving up or at least holding steady in the class hierarchy; they’ve been able to save up enough money for a non-necessity; they can hold their heads high.

  23. Mamie on 21 Aug 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    The diamond engagement ring has a pretty brief and sordid past as an invented tradition. Since this is a history blog, here’s some history: Margaret Brinig, “Rings and Promises,” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization (1990).

  24. Historiann on 22 Aug 2011 at 6:19 am #

    In fact, I suspect that it’s a pretty elite group of women who hold non-engagement-ring-wearing as a necessary sign of feminist or liberal credentials; it overlaps with a kind of class snobbery that understands not showing off, and not being flashy, as a sign of good taste and good breeding — and that sees any kind of bling as tacky.

    Seriously? NOT having an engagement ring is a sign of “class snobbery?” So wearing diamonds and fur is a sign of solidarity with the working class?

    I don’t care if most of you disagree with me on this, but I think this is over the top.

  25. Perpetua on 22 Aug 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Putting aside the issue of job interviews and potential discrimination and just looking at the cultural phenomenon of engagement-ring-wearing, it’s interesting that it’s such a hot button issue here. Don’t you think it’s weird/strange/interesting/problematic that most women don’t take their rings off? I can understand fear of loss, or the sentimental value associated with certain kinds of jewelry. I might feel the same if I had a piece of my mother’s jewelry; it might make me feel close to her to wear it every day. But in some ways categorizing the engagement ring as merely sentimental or cultural – though it is obviously both in some respects – keeps us from talking about what’s going on here. We all know that culturally speaking in the U.S. one is given an engagement ring, diamond or not, though we know that in order to arouse envy in others it’s better to have a big one. The ring is the central feature of the engagement, it must be shown immediately, and every *must* oooh and aaaahhh over it. Furthermore, it must never be taken off, along with plain wedding bands. The cultural symbolism of taking off the ring is basically turning one’s back on the marriage. Rings generally and the engagement ring specifically are at the center, as Historiann argues here, heterosexualist/class privilege. Heterosexism requires performance, and engagement rings, like name-changing, are part of that performance. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean we can’t also acknowledge the complexity of meaning for individuals and groups surrounding the ring. In that way, not wearing a ring (especially no rings of any sort) is like not changing your name/not giving your child your husband’s last name – a political act as well as a personal one. If we’re interested, as feminists or social justice types in reducing the impact of heterosexism in society (for those who do not wish to be partnered or those who cannot legally), then I think it’s an issue worth thinking about. Like the name thing that we’ve discussed. It doesn’t mean it’s a betrayal of the sisterhood to take your husband’s name/ wear an engagement ring. I just think it’s something worth *thinking through.*

  26. Historiann on 22 Aug 2011 at 6:49 am #

    Thanks, Perpetua. Well said.

    To be clear: I’ve never said that I make assumptions about feminist politics based on the bling (or absence of bling), or on a name change or on a keeping of the name.

  27. thefrogprincess on 22 Aug 2011 at 7:08 am #

    The question we’re asking here isn’t about unpacking what it means to wear a ring, and the history behind it. The question on the table is whether it’s sexist discrimination to make hiring judgments about someone based off that information. But the problem is two-fold: is there sufficient enough chatter about the negative connotations of wearing an engagement ring for women who wear theirs as a default to be making a conscious statement? I’d say no, an engagement ring is not like wearing a Confederate flag pin. And then two: do women frequently take them off? No. (And for what it’s worth, the married men I know never take their wedding bands off either.) So you have a situation in which, as I said before, a small group of women think it’s fine to discriminate against a practice which the vast majority of Americans uphold. (And yes, I think the Americanness of this whole tradition can’t be underestimated, but the conversation isn’t about unpacking that, it’s about whether it’s fine to discriminate against the vast majority of married women based upon one piece of jewelry.)

  28. Tenured Radical on 22 Aug 2011 at 7:33 am #

    I got to say: as someone who has repeatedly been discriminated against because of my biological sex, sexuality and gender presentation, as well as my effing feminism and queer scholarship, the idea that women have the “right” to not be discriminated against for the bling they wear seems true (discrimination is wrong) and utter horse $hit.

    Who gives a crap whether it is from Canada or a blood diamond? The point is that the person who does that is utterly lacking in good sense and an appropriate recognition of where they are. I mean, yuck.

    There is a difference between discriminating and forming an opinion about someone for showing bad taste and insensitivity to the poor. If you need to have one for sentimental reasons, fine, but a tasteful wedding band while you are working with people who could eat for a year with what it costs to buy that ring? Please.

  29. Flavia on 22 Aug 2011 at 8:09 am #

    I’m merely saying that “taste” isn’t a neutral category, or one that’s independent of class. And there is a snobbery (one that I participate in, for what it’s worth) that’s based in valuing the understated, etc.

    What we categorize as “tacky” or “over the top” in clothing/jewelry/hair/makeup is not free from judgments about class. Is it okay to discriminate in hiring based on those things? Sure, sometimes; they can be a sign that a person really won’t fit in, won’t be a good face of the company, etc. (and obviously that’s true in the original case in question!) But we should proceed with real caution there.

    I didn’t say that NOT wearing an engagement ring was snobbish — or indeed signified anything to anyone. I was just pointing out, with FP, that a huge and diverse group of women do wear them, and that the wearing of rings doesn’t signify in a single coherent way.

  30. Historiann on 22 Aug 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Flavia, I see what you’re getting at, and I agree with this: “a huge and diverse group of women do wear them, and that the wearing of rings doesn’t signify in a single coherent way.” I agree with your point that there’s no real consensus among women who wear rings about what the rings signify in their own heads, but I don’t think that we’re in control with the ways in which others read or interpret those signals. I agree with thefrogprincess that rings aren’t the equivalent of wearing a confederate flag pin (or t-shirt, or bumper sticker, etc.), but I don’t think that we can argue that they’re not a symbol of a very particular kind of heterosexual (and sometimes class) privilege.

    Just because you (or I as another married person) don’t *mean* to flaunt this privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that we’re not engaged in a kind of performance of our heterosexuality.

    Tenured Radical has a nice formulation I think when she writes, “[t]here is a difference between discriminating and forming an opinion about someone.”

  31. Tenured Radical on 22 Aug 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Well, let’s also be clear (since some of my best friends, my mother and my sister) wear whopping big engagement rings, taste is irrelevant to me, in terms of an aesthetic hierarchy. And of course, taste crosscuts in meaningful ways with class. But if you have a choice whether to flaunt your wealth in front of the poor or not, which choice would make sense — wearing the rock or leaving it home? I think it’s a question of sensitivity and having an awareness of your surroundings, not taste.

    Another way of thinking about what I would call the situational ethics of such decisions is: would it be appropriate to wear your mother’s hand me down fur coat to a PETA fund raiser, and when called on it, say that it was really cold out and your Northface was at the cleaners?

  32. thefrogprincess on 22 Aug 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Two points in response to TR: first, I think we’re all agreed on the situational ethics of this particular situation. Clearly if you wear a diamond ring that was recently purchased (i.e. not a family heirloom), the cause of blood diamonds isn’t sufficiently important to you for you to then try to get a job at a nonprofit for whom this is a core issue.

    Second, however, I’d say two things about the fur analogy. I think the very nature of the items in question are important. For better or for worse, people generally don’t view their engagement/wedding rings as an optional accessory in the same way they do a coat. (Again, the point here is not whether it’s legitimate to question this attachment, but I don’t think we can justify discrimination by expecting people to share a philosophy that the vast majority of the culture doesn’t share, or doesn’t think about.) Moreover, I think the arguments against fur are much more visible in mainstream culture than the arguments about blood diamonds. While there are people who wear fur, there are also as many, if not more, who don’t, either because they’re priced out, or they don’t care for the aesthetics of it, or they’re concerned about the ethics of it. That is, fur is a much more widely contested issue than an engagement ring, which frankly was never something I’d ever heard questioned until I got to graduate school, i.e., started running in circles that are generally far removed from the average American.

  33. Historiann on 22 Aug 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Just because a privilege isn’t widely questioned doesn’t make it NOT a privilege. (Most privileges aren’t widely questioned outside of graduate seminars, in my experience.)

    If a privilege *were* more widely questioned, it would be less of a privilege!

  34. Feminist Avatar on 22 Aug 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I agree that engagement/wedding rings are a sign of heterosexual privilege. And, that certainly brings many benefits- no question.

    But, it is also the case that for women, marriage not only confers particular privileges, but can remove others. In this case, the outward symbol of heteronormativity is being used to discriminate in hiring (as it does in many other instances). How is this a privilege? Or, should a woman just take solace in her big diamond and not bemoan being fucked over in her career?

    While I agree that we should all learn to question privilege in our own lives and in society more broadly, I tend to think that the goal should be ensuring that those who are not privileged are enabled to access the same benefits as those with privilege- ie making life better for everyone. But, supporting not hiring women on the grounds of their rings seems to be creating more barriers, more restrictions,- not less. I guess I wonder where is the equity here? Who gains from this sort of arbitrary decision? (Other than in the very particular instance of a anti-blood diamond charity), what legitimate reason is there not to hire a woman because she wears a diamond ring? And, if there isn’t one, why should it matter at all?

  35. Flavia on 22 Aug 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Just because you (or I as another married person) don’t *mean* to flaunt this privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that we’re not engaged in a kind of performance of our heterosexuality.

    Oh, definitely. I don’t think we really disagree — and I certainly don’t think that this is one of the great problems of our time or anything! Employment discrimination is much more real and pressing for racial minorities, members of the GLBT community, etc., than for married ladies with nice jewelry.

    I’m just sensitive to the ways that political/cultural values often overlap with what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call class snobbery. Some women may “know better” than to wear flashy jewelry — whether because they know that people will read it as tacky or because they’ve thought about the negative patriarchal symbolism involved — but pour an equal amount of money into an exquisitely understated home, or expensive, natural-seeming hair and makeup treatments. That’s totally fine, of course, and I’m not interested in passing judgment on how individual people spend their money. But if we wind up penalizing women who don’t “know better” (perhaps because they live in or grew up in communities where women are expected to display their heteronormativity, or take pride in material possessions — even or especially if they don’t have many), then that IS a problem.

  36. thefrogprincess on 22 Aug 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    But if we wind up penalizing women who don’t “know better” (perhaps because they live in or grew up in communities where women are expected to display their heteronormativity, or take pride in material possessions — even or especially if they don’t have many), then that IS a problem.

    Yes, this says it better than I did. There’s a much more powerful, countervailing and often invisible pressure for women to wear their rings at all times that it seems wrong for women in positions of power to punish women who have failed the test they didn’t know they were taking.

  37. LouMac on 22 Aug 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    @Historiann: “If people want to get married, that’s okay with me–so long as they don’t flaunt it.”

    I just fell a little bit in love with you.

  38. Historiann on 22 Aug 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    In this case, the outward symbol of heteronormativity is being used to discriminate in hiring (as it does in many other instances). How is this a privilege?

    The potential employer’s complaint in the case above was clearly restricted to the diamonds, not to the fact that the interviewee was a married woman. Of course it would be offensive and probably illegal in most places not to hire someone because she is heterosexual and/or married.

    But I think it’s *much* liklier that outward or presumed symbols of homosexuality are being used to discriminate in hiring every day, all of the time. (It’s even legal in the U.S. for some employers to refuse to hire gays, whereas I’m unfamiliar with laws that permit employment discrimination against married people. It was customary to discriminate against married women in the past, but I’m not sure it was ever specifically permitted by statute.)

    Given that marriage is a choice, and that wearing a ring or rings is a choice, why should these choices (among so many) bring the choosers *only* privileges and never a cost? I just don’t get it.

  39. Historiann on 22 Aug 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    LouMac–I think you’re the first person to get my joke! (I was pretty proud of it, I must say.)

    Hugs to you, too.

  40. Feminist Avatar on 23 Aug 2011 at 3:09 am #

    I guess since engagement rings are specifically worn by engaged or married women, I fail to see how we can distinguish between discriminating against rings and discriminating against married women. I mean, if this was someone in ethnic clothing, and not suit, and this was used as the grounds of discrimination – we would say that this had race implications, even if the company hired other people of the same ethnic background?

    I also think that the group being discriminated against here is ‘women’, and we all agree that they are a group that have a history of being oppressed. There is no similar penalty being doled out to the men who bought the rings – and surely the case for discrimination here should be against men of the same social group, and not against other social groups that have it worse. I am not sure that ‘your life doesn’t suck as much as someone further down the ladder’ is a legitimate grounds to ignore discrimination.

    Just as a point of interest: marriage bars were enshrined in law in the UK and Ireland; the civil service was the big offender in that regard. In Ireland, this law did not change until 1973! In the States, many educational authorities had marriage bars until the 1950s – whether you see this as legislation is more complex, as it was usually policy, rather than a decision made by the state legislatures.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply