Subverting the wedding ring: How does the wedding ring reflect gender construction?

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Master's Programme in Collaborative and Industrial Design
This thesis focuses on the social construction of wedding ring culture. It discusses the changes in women’s perceptions in recent years, which leads to the reflection on the future wedding ring design. The study adopts an ethnographic research approach and a social constructionism perspective. The thesis consists of literature analysis and ethnographic research. Literature analysis includes several disciplines and fields such as jewelry research, jewelry history, and the intersection between gender study and jewelry. Then it investigates women’s stories and opinions through ethnographic interviews and interprets data from a social constructionism point of view. Based on the literature analysis and the findings from ethnographic research, the study's outcomes summarize the social construction of wedding ring culture and the changes among today’s women. The end of the thesis proposes a few questions on subverting the old wedding ring culture as the main learnings from the research. The wedding ring is a product of patriarchal society, symbolizing the marriage institution and the legalized partnership. It implies the male-centered relationship of marriage, in which women are portrayed to be passive and subordinate. Wedding ring history illustrates how people are influenced and manipulated by patriarchal ideology and consumerism, and how the wedding ring develops from a symbol of the marriage contract to an embodiment of the price of love, the masculinity of the man, as well as the body and social reputation of the woman. It is necessary to reexamine these traditions. Social constructionism provides a scope to interpret the meaning-making process when women interact with others and establish their own identity and personal perceptions. This thesis investigates the motivations and emotions behind women’s wedding ring stories through ethnographic research to understand the social construction of gender and how it influenced women. Besides, influenced by the momentum of feminist perspectives, women resist the submissive, passive female image depicted by the old patriarchal system in their ways. The stories from the interviewees also describe how they, as modern women, rewrite the meaning of the wedding ring, which post questions at the old wedding ring culture. Nine women aged 22-37 participated in the ethnographic research, three of whom are married, one is engaged, two are in relationships, and three are single. They come from Finland, China, France, Germany and live in five different countries now. The interviews were held in Finland and China. Three of them were online due to geographical limitations and the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, the subjectivity of the analysis is inevitable due to the choice of research methods and theoretical framework. However, to a certain extent, the study is a reflection of contemporary women’s views on wedding rings and is a record of their fresh interpretations. It provides evidence for future research on the material culture of wedding rings and wedding ring design.
Solsona, Nuria
Thesis advisor
Vänskä, Annamari
jewelry, the wedding ring, social constructionism, gender, feminism, ethnographic research
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