Most women who want an engagement ring think of it as a symbol of their love and their commitment to their partner. It’s a milestone, a marker, and a celebration. But it turns out some women are slipping on an engagement ring for a very different reason. There’s a worrying new trend of women wearing fake engagement ring at work—not as a way to proclaim their love and commitment, but rather as a way to deal with customers and coworkers who won’t leave them alone. And it’s happening a lot.
Though it’s been going on for a while, it became clear how common it is after a Facebook post from Mackenzi Guptill went viral. Because she dealt with men harassing her and her coworkers so frequently at the hotel she worked at, she started wearing an engagement ring. When she posted her story, it was shared over 12,000 times, with hundreds of women commenting that they had been through exactly the same thing. It’s scary to see how far the harassment goes—and how far women have to go to stop it. Faking an engagement may be pretty extreme, but many see no other way out.
“My point is more to the ridiculous lengths women must go to for protection,” Guptill wrote. “I am not preaching the fake ring tactic. I am trying to raise awareness that women have to go out of their way in their day to day life to ensure safety. I should not have to carry a gun, knife, mace, learn hand-to-hand combat to go to work and check people in and out of a hotel. I should not have to do any of those things. Period.” And yet so many women have to go to these length just to make sure that they can live and work in safety.
The worst part? Wearing the ring works. "I haven't had any harassment since I started wearing the ring, actually," she told Refinery29. "And I have noticed that older men do look at the ring. I catch a lot of glances when I'm handing them their room key or taking money.”
On one hand, it’s obviously good that Guptill has found a way to stop being harassed. But it’s a problematic one. What’s most worrying is that it uses the exact the same logic that makes men back off when you say you have a boyfriend. Most women have encountered a guy at a club or a bar who, no matter how many times you politely decline or say you’re not interested, won’t leave you alone. But then you invoke a boyfriend—whether real or fictional—and he suddenly backs off. He can’t handle you just not being into him, but he can respect another man’s claim on you.
And this ring technique feels like that problem on a grander scale. By implying a man is involved, it seems to erode the idea of marriage being something a modern woman chooses. Instead, it plays into the dated (and damaging) idea that marriage is a man claiming his property. The emphasis is on a woman being taken rather than just not being interested. Why do we need to play up the idea that another man has a "claim" on us? Why isn’t just saying "No thanks" enough?
It feels like we shouldn’t do this, that we should hold our ground and just say “no” until the message finally gets through—that if all women would stare the unwanted men down, refuse to compromise, and decline them on our own terms, that maybe we could get somewhere. But what would you do if you felt your safety was at risk? Or your job? If a white lie or a fake ring makes you feel safe, then it’s really hard to tell someone she shouldn’t do it.
What it boils down to is a need to educate men that women are not off-limits to advances only if they "belong" to another man; unwanted advances are off-limits no matter what. It’s telling men that women are autonomous beings who can say no—something that must be respected; that women don’t owe you an explanation or need to wrap up the refusal in cellophane with a bow to stop it from hurting your feelings. Women are allowed not to be interested. They are allowed to say no. We need to teach and raise men to understand and respect that choice, to understand and respect women. It’s the only way we can move beyond calling on a fiancé to help us out of an unwelcome situation. Especially when it’s a fiancé who doesn’t exist.