Wedding Rings and Gender Roles, Pt. 1

wedding ring

The practice of wearing wedding rings has roots in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians might have believed that circles represent eternity, fitting for a marriage vow. Wearing the rings on our left hand dates to the Roman era: Romans apparently believed that the fourth finger on our left hands had a vein that went directly to the heart.

While women have worn wedding (and engagement) rings for centuries, the practice of men donning the former only dates to the 20th century. Some sources speculate that it had to do with World War II: men started wearing the rings while deployed, as mementos of their families and homes.

These are the only tidbits I could find on the origin of the wedding ring, at least without much more comprehensive research. One interesting idea did keep popping up as I was searching: men wearing wedding rings.

Apparently Prince William doesn’t do it; neither does his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, or David Cameron, current Prime Minister. Opinions on the topic seemed divided: many thought it was shameful, possibly even sketchy, that these men don’t wear their rings.

Others tried to explain the practice, saying that it has to do with older traditions: in older English (particularly upper class) styles, men don’t wear any adornments, even watches (David Cameron says he doesn’t). The people claiming this defended the relevant men, saying that while they understand the importance of the wedding ring as a symbol, it’s still just a symbol. Cameron is known for being particularly devoted to his wife, so why should we get so caught up in equating one little object with the state of one’s marriage?

We do so because it’s such a common thing now, and has been the standard for women for centuries. An interesting thing that I noted, however, was that all of these articles were from the male perspective: not even just that most of the authors were men, but that they all only considered reasons why men might not wear their rings. It was a foregone assumption that women would automatically want to wear a ring; the idea that some women might choose or at least want not to wasn’t even considered.

That rankled, not just because I see feminist commentary in nearly everything, but because I’m not a fan of my wedding ring. There’s nothing wrong with it, I just don’t like jewelry. I never have: I’ve never worn it and don’t have an engagement ring. On my honeymoon, attempting to adjust to the feel of it on my finger, I called it “the manacle.” It fit perfectly; I just wasn’t used to the feeling and didn’t particularly want to become so.

I hate, hate, hate, how I found tons of articles defending men not wanting to wear rings and saying that it didn’t necessarily indicate anything about how they felt about their marriages, but no one thought to bring up that some women might be in the same boat. No, we ladies are distracted by shiny objects, or are at least accustomed to and have no problem with wearing jewelry.

Poor men, they’ve only just had to learn to have to wear it after centuries of not doing so, but any women who might not want to for anything other than a practical reason (could become messy or lost depending on her work) are abnormal; the articles didn’t come out and say so, but the fact that it wasn’t even mentioned implied that it’s not a common thought.

I’ve run out of space, but next week I’ll look at my own experiences with a wedding ring, and its function as a marriage symbol.

Related Articles:

When Your Wedding Ring No Longer Fits

Evil Spirits and Sword Fights: More Wedding Tradition Origins

Where Is My Wedding Ring?

Why We Wear White

*(The above image by vichie81 is from