Life is not about getting engaged
Amidst the graduation pictures posted on social media these past few weeks, one in particular has received quite a bit of attention. Three smiling female students from a well-known Christian college, showing off their engagement-ringed left hands out to the camera, surround the only student in cap and gown. She’s clutching her degree, frowning in disappointment.
Paper doesn’t always beat rock.
As I see the picture getting posted again and again, I’m left to wonder: in the post-modern era, in the age of equality, freedom, and opportunities, how could a photo like this go semi-viral? Here’s what the photo communicates, and why it’s just not OK.
1. Getting married is the best goal to have in life — and a goal in the first place.
You can choose to make marriage part of your life. Some people do, some people don’t. Either way, we are called to be an example in this world, loving and serving the people in our lives. That is our purpose, our aim. Not to be someone’s wife. Because if you expect to find your fulfilment and purpose in marriage, you will be disappointed.
2. Academic pursuits are a fall-back option for women.
Learning is not just “something to do” because you don’t have a pretty ring on your finger. Earning a degree is an incredible accomplishment, regardless of your gender. With all of the ways women have fought and continue to fight to be considered equal to men, this photo communicates the opposite. If we consider it priority for women to get engaged above all else, or assume marriage cannot coincide with academics or career, then women are taking steps backward. Can you imagine four men taking a picture like this?
3. Getting engaged or married is an accomplishment.
Getting married is a choice, a decision hopefully made with time, careful consideration, and guidance from experienced people you trust. Your spouse is not a reward for your efforts; your spouse is another human being who has chosen to partner with you. Treating your spouse or your marital status like an accomplishment devalues them both.
4. All women at Christian colleges are there to find a husband.
As someone on Twitter pointed out, Wheaton College is a “notoriously Jesus-y” school. I replied, “As a graduate of another notoriously Jesus-y school, I would like to remind the world that Jesus was single.” Contrary to the family-centric mentality in the evangelical realm, marriage is not essential to Christian life. It’s also frustrating when Christian colleges and the students who attend them get lumped into that marriage-is-all category. I chose to attend a Christian college because of the integrity of the program for my chosen field. My professors were there to teach me and rigorously prepare me for a job when I graduate, not to babysit me while I was in a holding pattern waiting for a husband.
5. College is the time and place to find your spouse.
Colleges are academic institutions, and expensive ones to attend at that. Certainly, plenty of people meet their spouses in college, and many of those people build lasting marriages. But the further I get from my college experience, the more I realize how very young my friends and I were when we graduated. While each experience is unique, I have been grateful for the opportunity in these post-college years to learn about and define myself as an individual before I consider the lifelong commitment of marriage.
The young women who took the picture probably thought they were being cute and funny. And they most likely didn’t think much about what they were doing. But that’s exactly the problem. Very few people in Christian culture think about the messages they communicate about marriage, gender roles, and equality. But here’s the thing. These ideas are not cute, and they’re not funny. In fact, they’re offensive, sexist, and dangerous. So, let’s start to think critically about what kinds of messages we’re sending to the world around us. You know, I’ve heard college can help with that…
Photo (Flickr CC) by Lori L. Stalteri, of The Ring (Engagement) 1962, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Institute of Chicago