product: jewelry

While Americans began celebrating Valentine’s Day in the early 1700s, it wasn’t until the 1840s that it became a commercial holiday complete with mass-produced Valentine’s-themed goods.

Greeting cards, candy, flowers, and jewelry are Valentine’s-Day-Approved gifts and are among the most frequently gifted items (along with stuffed animals and perfume/cologne):

Contrary to stereotypes, the majority of men say they would love to receive flowers for Valentine’s Day:

Alas, 21% of them have never been so blessed:

This may upset primarily the young:

But, of course, they have the greatest chance of one day having their dreams come true.

What I’m saying is:  “Go ahead! Buy your man some daisies!”

For more on Valentine’s Day, visit this fun graphic (via Chart Porn).

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Sarah Haskins, always entertaining, mocks the imperative that men buy women jewelry to show them they love them:

I’ve always wondered how women who share bank accounts with their partners feel about this.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Andi M. sent in a video created by J.C. Penney called “The Doghouse.” The ad tells the story of men sent to the doghouse by their wives for various bad behaviors, but mostly for giving bad Christmas gifts. A bad gift is a non-romantic gift, or a gift that is related to housework, or that implies a woman needs to lose weight or change her appearance:

As Andi points out, the ad portrays men as idiots or even actively mean-spirited. But I’m also interested in the way we define what are appropriate gifts for women. We often see “practical” gifts as perfectly acceptable to give to men. But increasingly, gifts for women are supposed to be essentially romantic, a symbol of love, not usefulness, a cultural trend the jewelry industry, in particular, has encouraged and benefited from.

In this ad, we have several “bad” gifts — more computer memory, a vacuum cleaner, facial hair remover, and a work-out accessory. All are presented as equally idiotic choices for men to make. So getting a woman something that might significantly improve her computer is just the same as giving her something to work out with, while actively mocking her body and eating habits. Any non-romantic gift is risky, even if accompanied by an attempt to be sweet (see the poor computer memory guy).

I’ve discussed before research on low-income women who complain when they feel that men waste money on romantic but non-essential gifts rather than stuff they actually need. On the other hand, I asked one of my classes about what they would consider an acceptable gifts, and I was (probably stupidly) surprised that many of the women in the class were adamant that useful or helpful items were nice to get, but only in addition to a romantic gift, never as the “main” gift itself. A couple said they’d feel bad if their female friends were showing off jewelry they got for Valentine’s Day or Christmas and they didn’t have anything to show, because their friends would assume their boyfriends/husbands weren’t romantic or didn’t love them very much. So it was less about whether they wanted jewelry than that they knew other women did, and thus feared their friends would judge their relationships if they didn’t get the right gift to “prove” they had good partners.

I think ads like this both reflect and reinforce this social pressure to buy the “right” kind of gifts for women. J.C. Penney tapped into an existing cultural norm about what kinds of gifts women want, and then reinforces it by presenting jewelry as the only means available to men to get out of the doghouse, and shows all women as being in complete agreement about what an acceptable gift is.

UPDATE: Reader Josh Leo pointed out that the ad also portrays the doghouse as a place men are tortured by having to do feminine things:

…all they are fed in “the doghouse” is Quiche and Chai Latte’s. This is clearly a statement that these foods are feminine an almost a form of torture for “Real Men.”

In a fantastic example of the way being single is stigmatized, Rachel K. took a photo of this ad she saw at a bus stop in Toronto:

I’m afraid this is the last post you will get from me. You see, I’m single, and it’s just occurred to me how very much my life sucks, with no one to give me sparkly things. I am going to drop everything and dedicate myself full-time to finding a mate.

I mean, really. It’s an interesting assumption that being unmarried (I presume that’s an engagement ring) means you are “alone.” And I’d say that what sucks isn’t being “alone,” it’s being told constantly that you must be sad and miserable since you aren’t coupled up.

American school children learn all about the U.S. gold rush in the Western part of the country. Goldmining was a speculative, but potentially highly rewarding endeavor and attracted, almost exclusively, adult men. But the entrepreneurship of gold mining (though not mining as wage work) is long gone in the U.S.  Still, gold is in high demand:  “The price of gold, which stood at $271 an ounce on September 10, 2001, hit $1,023 in March 2008, and it may surpass that threshold again” (source).  Who are the gold entrepreneurs today?  Where?  Under what economic conditions do they work?  And with what environmental impact?

I found hints to answers in a recent slide show and a National Geographic article (thanks to Allison for her tip in the comments).  While there is still some gold mining in the U.S., there is gold mining, also, in developing countries and all kinds of people participate:

According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), there are between 10 million and 15 million so-called artisanal miners around the world, from Mongolia to Brazil. Employing crude methods that have hardly changed in centuries, they produce about 25 percent of the world’s gold and support a total of 100 million people…

Environmentally, gold is especially destructive.  The ratio of gold to earth moved is larger than in any other mining endeavor.

It makes me rethink whether I really want to buy gold (because, you know, I do that constantly, darling, constantly).  In fact, jewelry accounts for two-thirds of the demand.  In the comments, HP reminds me:

Gold (along with even more problematic metals) is found in pretty much all consumer electronics. It’s in your computer, your cellphone, your .mp3 player, your TV/stereo, etc. You’re buying gold all the time already, whether you know it or not.

UPDATE! A reader, Heather Leila, linked to a picture she took of gold prospecting in Suriname (at her own blog).  She writes:

The gold mines aren’t what you are thinking. They aren’t underground, you don’t carry a pick axe and a helmet. The garimpos are where the miners have dammed a creek and created large mud pits. The mud is pumped through a long pipe lined with mercury. The mercury attaches itself to the specks of gold and gets filtered out as the mud is poured into a different pit. The mercury is then burned off, while the gold remains. This is how it was explained to me. From the plane, they are exposed patches of yellow earth dotting the endless forest.

See also our posts on post-oil boom life and gorgeous photos of resource extraction by Edward Burtynsky.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Bern K. and Megan P. sent us another example of androcentrism (see herehere, here, and here), one that is nicely combined with the representation of women as annoying naggers, and the social construction of diamonds as men’s best friend.  Bern writes:

It starts off with promise, showing that it’s ridiculous for a man to buy his wife a vacuum cleaner for their anniversary. It finishes, unfortunately, by suggesting that the only way to get out of the doghouse is to buy his wife diamonds.

In the 5-minute commercial, men are punished by their wives for being insensitive or insulting by being sent to the “doghouse.”  In this five minute advertisement for JC Penney, men who have been sent to the doghouse are punished by being forced to do feminine tasks: fold laundry, eat quiche, and drink chai lattes.  There is some irony in that the main dude was sent to the doghouse for buying his wife a vacuum for their anniversary.  Apparently he wouldn’t want to be caught dead vacuuming… which is exactly why the gift might be considered insulting.  After all, when you give a woman a cleaning product for a gift, it means you think it’s HER JOB.

The video:

The website include the sound of a woman nagging and giving inconsistent orders (“speak less,” “talk more”).

How to get out of the doghouse? Buy your wife diamonds (at JC Penney):

I like how it says that she’ll be “screaming and jumping for joy.”  Gah, women are so shallow and annoying.

There’s more!  The website is interactive.  You can actually put people in the doghouse.  If you are on Facebook, you can upload someone’s profile picture and have it show up on the website.  A fascinating new way to merge advertising and social networking sites.

NEW (Jan. ’10)!  JC Penney apparently thought this campaign was so delightful that they updated it. Joel P. sent us the link. It’s really quite obnoxious (for all the reasons discussed above):


Jezebel also has a nice analysis.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

I found this ad for the De Beers diamond company in the New Yorker:

It uses the fascinating strategy of selling diamonds, an unnecessary luxury item made very expensive because the De Beers company has a monopoly on diamond mines and makes sure to keep supply artificially low, by criticizing consumerism based on buying unnecessary items. The message here is that we should stop buying so much unnecessary stuff…but that diamonds don’t fall into the category of unnecessary. Rather, diamonds are “better” things you should cherish “forever.” Of course, this anti-consumerist, buy-less-stuff message is also useful for De Beers because buying fewer things might be the only way, in a struggling economy, for people to save up to buy one or two more expensive items that can become family heirlooms to be “passed down for generations”…such as, say, diamonds.

Honestly, this is one of the most interesting ads I’ve seen in a while. I mean, it takes some nerve to sell luxury jewelry by telling people to stop wasting money on unimportant things.

UPDATE: Commenter Barbar pointed me to this interesting article in The Atlantic about the history of the diamond market.

I recently came upon these two ads in magazines and noticed how they both evoke old-money wealth and luxury.

I found this Rolex ad in The New Yorker. Notice the ivy-colored background and the connection to Wimbledon, an event (for a sport) often associated with the upper class.

The text says,

Defined by unparalleled grace, manicured courts, pressed tennis whites and achievement that’s second to none, Wimbledon stands alone. Timeless in its tradition, endless in its list of legends, history is no stranger to Wimbledon. Nor is the world’s appreciation of it. Rolex proudly celebrates its 30th anniversary as official timekeeper.

“Manicured courts” and “pressed tennis whites” bring up images of aristocratic lifestyles, and the ad connects Wimbledon (and, therefore, Rolex) to “tradition” and “history.”

I can’t remember for sure where I found this ad for the Toyota Corolla, but I think in Glamour (don’t ask).

The text, which is clearly to be taken less seriously than the Rolex ad:

Ascots, tiaras, and sway bars, oh my! Once you purchase the 2009 Corolla, you’ll start living the dream. To ensure a smooth transition into high society, we’ve equipped the Corolla with revised suspension, springs, and sway bars, which will keep any recently acquired tiara firm upon your brow. If you’re more of the fetching ascot type, consider the comfortable ride an accessory to your necktie. Whatever flourishes you fancy, the Electronically Controlled Transmission and Vehicle Stability Control will distinguish your dominion over the road. Live the dream for less coin.

I thought it was interesting that the second ad (for a car not generally associated with the upper class) is trying to evoke the idea of luxury, but in a joking wink-wink way, whereas the Rolex ad clearly has no element of parody about it–the connection to “tradition” and “pressed tennis whites” is completely serious.