You can’t be selling when people aren’t buying
Broadsheet has a post up about the marketing push to sell “singles” diamond rings to presumably very silly ladies. According to the website, you wear it when you’re not one of the fortunate ones with an engagement or wedding ring, to show that you’re happy with who you are, and to “signify the attraction to others.” Diamond companies have been trying to push this sort of thing for awhile, and as far as I can tell, they’re not doing so great.
What’s funny about being a feminist critic of pop culture is that whenever you point to something in the media or advertising that is sexist, you inevitably get a dude come to explain to the little ladies how The World Works. Invariably, the mansplaination goes something like this: “They sell that item/put that image in the media for one reason and one reason only. To make money. This isn’t sexism or the patriarchy out to get you ladies. It’s just capitalism.” Mansplainers bringing up this point hail from the right, of course, but also from the left. Right leaning mansplainers are just dismissing you. Left leaning ones are dismissing you and explaining that feminism isn’t real politics like the kind that his anarchist/socialist/patchouli club engages in.
Indeed, the first comment at Salon was a dude mansplaining this.
1) Create a “need”.
2) Sell stuff to fulfill that “need”.
But either way, what I find interesting is the assumption that is held across the political spectrum that marketers can sell bacon to vegetarians if the ad is shiny enough. After all, if you’re saying that it’s not sexism that sells when sexism is being used to sell, then it’s only selling because marketers are wizards who can turn otherwise cheerfully unsexist people into raving materialists by just using enough white space in their ads. I’m suspicious. I think that marketing is far from foolproof, and that good marketing taps into pre-existing human desires, prejudices, and emotions, and that it’s not “just” the magic of marketing when some consumer product takes off.
I bring this up, because feminist analysis of engagement rings and the entire wedding-industrial complex is often waved off as irrelevant, because the only real reason that people feel it’s necessary to spend incredible amounts of money on rings and dresses and place settings has nothing to do with patriarchy, but is just more magic-of-capitalism. And certainly, capitalism is why the spending on wedding stuff has blown up so dramatically, but wedding-industrials don’t make a ton of money selling shit to people that they don’t want. I think without the patriarchy, and particularly the pressure on women to prove that they’re full human beings because someone wants to marry them, the wedding industry wouldn’t make shit. (The expensiveness of gay weddings isn’t really an argument against this. Gay couples are under similar pressures to prove that they’re good enough, and the wedding industry is poised to take advantage.) The vulnerability of a woman when she’s about to embark on the socially approved display of her worthiness (and to a smaller degree, for the man, his adulthood) is what makes it so easy to get brides to buy and buy and buy.
And of course, the engagement ring is a big part of that. Sure, it rose to prominence because of a major marketing campaign by De Beers in the early part of the 20th century, but they couldn’t be selling if no one was buying. Engagement rings are popular because they speak to a lot of human desires: the desire to impress others, to signal that you’ve been validated by love, and for men, to signal that you’ve taken a woman off the market. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that engagement rings rose up as there was more pressure for men to wear wedding rings—the need for a social signal that a woman is more possessed than a man in marriage hasn’t gone away.
And that”s why I don’t think these stupid singles rings will sell. They’re not really tapping into a deeply felt desire. On the contrary, they provoke uneasiness. Women who aggressively market themselves as single are seen as a tad desperate in our society. You wouldn’t walk around with a T-shirt that says, “I’m single and while I put on a brave face about it, I’m just dying for some man—any man, really—to make an honorable woman out of me.” Or something that says something similar, but at T-shirt length. And that’s what this ring seems to scream, no matter how many cheeky pictures of women having fun with their friends they put up around it.