While watching a US series, a particular sentence uttered by the protagonist caught my attention and sparked a journey of research and discussion, leading to the writing of this article.
The sentence was: “The ring, referring to the wedding band, is a masculine tool designed to dominate women.” The impact of this statement struck me like lightning, prompting me to delve into the origins of the wedding band and how it became a symbol conflicting with feminism. So, what is the story behind it?
The concept of the wedding ring originated in ancient Egypt, where it was believed that a vein in the heart was connected to the ring finger. The circle symbolized eternal love, leading to the creation of a circular ring to be worn by married individuals. During that time, rings were made from natural materials rather than metals.
Later, the Romans adopted the same concept to symbolize love and obedience between spouses. However, this time, the rings were made from different metals such as bronze and copper, gradually evolving to gold and diamonds in Western countries. Major companies capitalized on this tradition for profit-driven reasons, encouraging its widespread adoption worldwide.
So far, everything sounds great, but why is this ring considered anti-feminist?
Feminism primarily advocates for women to have equal rights as men. However, upon examining the wedding band, we uncover a complex story filled with contradictions. First and foremost, it demonstrates that different women were treated differently, never the same.
Married women are treated differently than unmarried women. The former receive more protection because ‘they have a man to defend them,’ and men often back off upon seeing a wedding band. On the contrary, unmarried women are sometimes seen as easy targets by some men, as they perceive them as prey who can be harassed and exploited simply because they don’t wear a ring and lack a man to protect them.
On the other hand, some argue that the ring carries symbolism that implies belonging to someone else, thereby undermining a woman’s independence and individuality. In contrast, a man is seen as either single or married, and it is commonly understood that a woman belongs to a man, while a man does not belong to his wife to the same extent as he belongs to himself.
Meanwhile, objections have been raised regarding the form of the ring itself. This metallic circle implies a social and class status that also determines a woman’s value. A precious ring reflects the worth of its wearer and reduces her to a commodity with a price tag. It also signifies the wife’s affiliation with a wealthy man, thereby increasing her perceived value in society’s eyes.
For those who do not wear an expensive ring adorned with precious gemstones, their ring becomes an indicator of their social class. There is no need to elaborate on the treatment of poor women in our societies compared to the privileged ones who are feared by all.
This leads us to the broader institution of marriage. One perspective argues that marriage is not solely a romantic gesture but rather a mutual agreement with economic and social implications. Therefore, it should not entail the unnecessary extravagance of elaborate ceremonies and wedding receptions, which often result in wastefulness and financial loss.
However, beyond all these considerations, why must I constantly clarify my marital status to everyone? In other words, does a woman’s virginity make her an easier target, or does being in a committed relationship mean she has a man to protect her? What is the purpose of it all?
S.A., a 35-year-old physiotherapist who is married but has not worn her wedding ring since the beginning of her marriage due to her husband’s infrequent use of his own, desires the same freedom as him. She perceives the wedding ring as a symbol of ownership by the husband.
During our conversations, she expressed her view that women in our societies are seen as “property that transfers from the father to the husband, with the transfer and ownership formalized through the marriage certificate. The ring serves as a visible symbol of this, similar to the collar worn by pets to distinguish them from their peers.”
She added, “The [wedding] ring signifies ‘you belong to me,’ particularly those with the husband’s name engraved on them, similar to a dog wearing a collar with its owner’s name for everyone to see. Meanwhile, men are not obligated to wear the ring all the time, and no one monitors them if they take it off or forget it… In fact, some men wear a ring without being married because they are completely free to do so. But it is inconceivable for a woman to do that. It is considered very shameful for her to wear a ring if she is unmarried or to decide to take it off if she is married. These are matters that cannot be taken lightly.”
Reflecting on her personal experience, she mentioned that she started permanently removing her ring, which caught her husband’s attention and angered him. He even attempted to negotiate with her, promising to wear his ring if she would agree not to remove hers, but she did not give in.
She said, “I don’t appreciate being defined by a mere ring. Why am I forced to clarify my marital status to everyone? In other words, why should I disclose whether I am a virgin or non-virgin? What is the point of that? I want to be treated as a human being, nothing more!”
Some feminists argue that a man removing his ring might imply that he is available for a sexual adventure, while for a woman, it could suggest that she is unprotected or, worse, undesirable. It insinuates that no man has shown interest in her or taken her as his wife.
In contrast to S.A., there is a completely different story of an English language teacher, S.F., a 55-year-old widow. She has chosen not to remove her ring since her husband’s passing so that no one would know that he is no longer alive.
She said, “The husband represents protection and security for most women in our societies. That’s why I keep wearing the ring, even though my husband is no longer with me. I don’t like to reveal to people—especially men—that I am a widow. Even close acquaintances sometimes look at me strangely, or I sense pity in their eyes, and I feel vulnerable and without anyone to defend me.”
She concludes, “Unfortunately, having a man in a woman’s life is deemed necessary for her protection.”
This is how a simple sentence from a series led me to delve into the history of the wedding ring, its evolution, and its symbolism in our present time, from both men’s and women’s perspectives.
However, this article is not a call to remove wedding rings; rather, it is a step toward realizing that the ring symbolizes our lack of independence manifested in various aspects, small details, and age-old traditions. The ring is nothing more than evidence of our subordination as women, although, regrettably, it serves as a shield of protection in our Arab societies from men who may harass us or view us as easy targets.
Written by Wafa Khairy