Gender Socialization and Consumer Culture

An article “A ‘Real Man’s Ring’: Gender and the Invention Tradition” by Vicki Howard (2003) published in the Journal of Social History defined the role of gender stereotypes, their development and changes in forming consumer culture through describing the invention and adoption of double ring ceremony in twentieth century America.

Howard tells the history of grooms’ wedding bands and double ring ceremony, explaining the bonds between economical, cultural and social aspects of the first sixty years of the twentieth century.

The author explained that the double ring ceremony emerged because of the cultural tendency in family life Howard called “masculine domesticity”, when, in the middle of twentieth century, spending time with wife and kids, performing household chores became “synonymous with prosperity, capitalism, and national stability”. In fiftieth the new type of family became widespread,  a so called “companionate marriage”, where both spouses shared responsibility for psychological and emotional well-being of their family, and a double ring ceremony reflected these new type of relationship.

Howard adds that World War Two made double rings wedding custom even more popular, as than it had to do with “wartime sentiments”. Wedding ring symbolized ties a soldier had with his wife, with his family and kids; it was a sign for him that someone was waiting for him at home, a symbol of everything he defended.  And, according to Howard’s writing, while in 1940 two rings wedding hadn’t been a custom,  in yet in late fortieth-early fiftieth it appeared in the wedding ceremonies held by Catholic, Unitarian, Baptist, and Methodist churches, the most influential ones.

Getting man used to the thought that grooms wedding ring was a good idea took lots of time and efforts from the sellers. Howard described some of the techniques that were used by U.S jewelry stores, like establishing a separate “groom room” for men not to feel embarrassed when shopping for wedding rings; the other idea was to hide grooms rings in slide drawers beneath the feminine rings, and showing them only after bride’s rings had been already purchased. Meantime, years passed, and social apprehension of man wedding rings changed due to numerous advertising campaigns, Hollywood productions, marriages of public persons etc.

Of course there were other factors that played their role in popularization of double ring ceremony. One of the crucial ones was the “teenage marriage boom”, which began in fortieth, when the average age of marrying has lowered dramatically.

Howard supposed that having a double ring ceremony was important for young couples to differentiate them from their parents. Wearing a ring helped young girl to feel herself protected, not being afraid to become an old maid, while for man wedding ring was the proof of maturity, masculinity, ability to support his wife, and, what was also important, heterosexuality.

Howard noted that one more factor to conduce the popularity of double ring ceremony was emergence of middle class in the U.S. People moved to suburbs, where they could allow purchasing a house. As economy grew more, more people earned enough money to provide their families with all the middle-class attributes.

This period was characterized by “physical and psychological separation of public and private”, of work and family, and double ring ceremony became a symbol of the new family, built in that environment. The situation was different for working class. Men often were dissatisfied with the idea to wear a ring, as it symbolized the obligations they took, while for women grooms ring was a sign of claim bride has for her husband.