Sadie Hawkins Day, Mangagement Rings, and Sexism

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Happy Leap Day. Today is a day that comes around only once every four years, and traditionally, because it was so shocking to imagine a woman ever proposing to a man, today would have been the day for that sort of funny business. If you're not that into commitment, you could also just ask a guy out without fearing the wrath of the whole town upon you for your harlot-like ways. Freedom and equality and acceptance on one day in every four-year set: That's what Sadie Hawkins Day is all about, except you had to wear a scarlet petticoat to warn any unsuspecting blokes of your intention to do what was considered aberrant. You can debate amongst yourselves whether the designation of such a day marks strides for women's lib (hm) or is really just a reinforcement of sexist tropes (you can be crazy for one day, ladies, then back to the conventional methods), but the point is, now that we're in the the techno-futuristic 2010s, even the mere acknowledgement of such a day seems rather quaint and ironic and harmless. Tee hee, how far we have come!

Yet, sexist tropes persist. People, for instance, were absolutely up in arms recently over the idea that women could decide not to take their husbands' last names in marriage and not be censured for it. People have been very angry that women might choose not to get married at all, if they didn't feel like it. And people -- especially men -- seem to have had very strong opinions about a woman's right to choose what she wants to do with her body in recent days. So when we laugh about Sadie Hawkins Day being such an old-fashioned concept, we should remember that we're not all the way there yet in terms of male-female equality. And it's questionable whether we ever truly will be. Social mores are deeply engrained, after all.

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Enter, more humorously, the "mangagement ring." This terrible portmanteau has been hanging around for a while, but certain marketers (and media professionals -- British papers seem positively in love to the mangagement ring, attributing it to wacky Americans and their progressive ways) have decided today would be a good day to attempt to revive it. Isn't it hilarious? An engagement ring, but for dudes! With its own cute name! Important, too, as it "embodies seismic changes going on in American courtship patterns and gender relations."

But, does it, really? 

On one hand (the hand wearing the mangagement ring) you could say that women have worn engagement rings for ages as a designation of their lack of single-hood. They'd been "claimed" by another, and therefore, should be treated as such. So why shouldn't guys get a ring, too, prior to the actual wedding, and therefore be off limits in the eyes of any Sadie-Hawkins-inclined ladies on the prowl? If guys want to wear rings, there's just more pretty shininess all around, right?

On the other hand, you could say that a mangagement ring is just another word for an engagement ring, and the designation that it must be for guys is silly, unnecessary, and sexist in its own way. Either we all wear them, or we don't, or some of us do and some of us don't, but to call it a mangagement ring kind of lowers the bar for everyone, belittling the importance of a ring as a symbol of something beyond gender. (Manziers and murses notwithstanding.) Further, this idea of staking your claim upon your chosen person so no one else can snag him or her is retrograde in itself, and not indicative of what you might call a healthy relationship. Of course, any man aggressively resistant to wearing an engagement ring, like the charming Paul Janka, who said, "To ask a man to surrender his last few months of relative freedom – his ability to flirt and cavort with the opposite sex – by forcing a digital manacle upon him is the utmost act of commercial emasculation, and a sure sign that the male reproductive organs have now beat a full and complete retreat,” is questionable in another way. 

Weddings and engagement rings are a huge industry, of course, and any strides in gender equality don't seem likely to change that in the short-or-medium-term. Jewelers want their piece of that cake just like everyone else does, and so, if the making and marketing of a "mangagement ring" to "give relationships a new sense of equality" helps them get that, so be it. If you're a guy and you want an engagement ring, go for it. Just don't buy it because they're telling you it's part of a feminist movement.

Now, we're off to employ our Sadie Hawkins Day right of doing whatever the heck we want. 

Image via Shutterstock by Konstantynov.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.