With the recent tirade of a very confused and disturbed college student in Santa Barbara, I reflected on what I've done to send a message to the world that treating women as an object that can be owned is not okay.
I don't volunteer for women's marches or work with troubled youth to change their perception of women.
What can I do? I looked down at my ring finger and I changed my question: "What have I done?" My boyfriend respected my wishes and proposed to me without an engagement ring. While most of my family and friends felt having an ring-less engagement meant I was letting him off easy, I looked at it in another light. My love, my attention, my companionship does not have a price. I don't want to judge my friends for toting their price tags on their left hands, because as individuals they are not hurting anyone. Collectively, they send a message of how a successful man -- a "real man" -- attracts women. Money.
I don't expect an award for living 16 months as an engaged female without a ring. I survived the glances from wedding dress saleswomen who secretly questioned if I could really afford the dress I was trying on if I was marrying a man who couldn't even "afford" an engagement ring. Part of their quiet questioning was right. I was marrying a man that couldn't afford something. He couldn't afford to live without a happy spouse, and he put my happiness first, even before society's standards.
How else do we say to society, "You cannot put a tag on me"? My favorite question of my recently married life is, "So, what is your new name?" My first responses were to gently explain that I'm not changing my name as I watched the interrogator's face curl in horror and dig for a backhanded compliment like, "You must one of those modern women." I chose not to change my name because my husband fell in love with who I am. I see changing my name as a change of self identity, as well as ownership from one family to another. Don't get me wrong, my family doesn't own me either, but I choose to have a relationship with them. My new response to the name-tag question is to ask why they don't ask my husband what his new name is. Most people laugh in response, but it fills me with hope to see the spark in their eyes that realizes how sexist a question they just asked me.
While violent movies can be detrimental to one's perception of reality, let us question if romantic comedies may be doing a disservice as well. There will always be a beautifully thought out, expensive proposal and engagement rings more rare than moon rocks on Earth. The picture-"perfect" wedding where her dad "gives her away" is another example of a change in possession of women (side note: at my wedding both my parents walked me down the isle as a symbol of our family ties and roots, and my husband also walked with both of his parents down the isle too). Even the commercials where the man "gets the girl" by giving her something sparkly to wear imprints a message that women can be purchased.
As a society, the message that women can be bought and owned is not okay. This message not only lead to the death of smart collegiate women in a senseless tragedy, but is why one in five American women will be raped in her lifetime.
So I ask you, what can you do to change this message? At every life stage there is a calling. Maybe you are a married house wife who has the giant engagement ring you still wear and your husband's last name. Do I call on you to change your name back? No, that is a ton of paperwork and you are probably comfortable in your new name by now. What I ask of you is to find warmth in your words and expressions when meeting women who are paving the path. I ask you to tell your daughters they are wonderful people who are equal to men and to censor how many jewelry commercials they watch with a kiss at the end. And most importantly, I ask you to empower your sons with the same self-confidence and self-worth that you are empowering your daughters.