Does the Ring Mean a Thing?

Emily Bridges

On Sunday's Real Housewives of Atlanta, the plot for "Tardy for the Party" singer and wig designer Kim Zolciak revolved around purchasing an "abstinence ring" for her 13 year old daughter Brielle.

This article is cross-posted with permission from AmplifyYourVoice.org.

On Sunday’s Real Housewives of Atlanta, the plot for “Tardy for the Party” singer and wig designer Kim Zolciak revolved around purchasing an “abstinence ring” for her 13 year old daughter Brielle.  Brielle requested the ring after learning about STDs and HIV in school.  Off to the jeweler they went, half-joking about whether Brielle would remain abstinent until 18 or 20.  (Eighteen, they determined:  “Because, you know, college.”)  With they jeweler they selected a $3k diamond ring which, the jeweler observed,  “really says abstinence.” Brielle proudly showed off the ring to family and friends, who all commended her decision to remain abstinent until college.

Kim is an easy, easy target for mockery, but I think there is some nuance that deserves discussion. 

The “purity ring” idea is pretty new, originating in the 1990s. It is a prominent part of some abstinence-only programs, especially Silver Ring Thing, a company which has received over $1 million in grants from the federal government. It goes with a “virginity pledge,” another aspect of many abstinence-only programs, including ones which have received funding under the President’s new teen pregnancy prevention initiative, like the “Choosing the Best” program. Pledgers promise to remain virgins until heterosexual marriage; their parents often co-sign their pledge; and then purity rings are distributed as a symbol of the promise. Some girls receive rings at a “Purity Ball” they attend with their father. 

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Of course, one noteworthy thing about virginity pledges is that they don’t work and lead to risky behavior among young people ; 88% of pledgers break the pledge.  Whether it is appropriate for a young person to pledge to a school official that they won’t have sex is another question often raised about virginity pledge programs. 

But Brielle Zolciak doesn’t seem to be in Silver Ring Thing, and there has been no mention of school or church involvement in her decision to ask for an “abstinence ring.” What has happened here is:  the idea of abstinence rings has simply trickled in from the culture. Between the Jonas Brothers, Jordin Sparks, and other now-semi-forgotten pop stars, the rings were getting a lot of attention there in 2008.   Jewelers and abstinence-peddlers alike saw the money-making potential as the rings gained fame. And now, 13-year-old Brielle Zoliciak has an “abstinence ring” of her very own.

Notably missing from the Zolciak abstinence ring project were:

1) Any mention of marriage
2) Any mention of purity, chastity, or 
3) Any mention of religion. 

Popular culture, time, and let’s say a certain lack of initiative for moralizing on Kim’s part mean that Brielle’s abstinence ring means “abstinence for the next five years, give or take.”

Frankly, I see this lackadaisical approach as a plus. Brielle isn’t getting that ring because parents, church or school told her sex is “immoral” outside marriage.  She’s getting it because she’s heard sex leads to pregnancy, HIV and STDs.  She’s asserting her own desire not to have sex until she’s older, both because she’s not ready, and to avoid these outcomes.  In her case the ring purchase is more like “And let’s get a ring to celebrate my smarts!” than a solemn promise to remain “pure.”  Surely that’s progress?

I’m not saying it’s ideal.  For one, announcing to everyone your intentions about such a private, personal, and situational decision still feels really strange to me.  For another, a simple “abstinence good/sex bad” approach is a barrier to open discussion about healthy sexuality. Finally, it’s not entirely clear what abstinence means to Kim or Brielle; do they have the same idea of what it means?  (One other finding about virginity pledgers was that they were MORE likely than non-pledgers to have oral and/or anal intercourse.)

But worst of all, it’s a huge missed opportunity for Kim to talk to Brielle about contraception and safer sex.  So many women experience unplanned pregnancy – including every one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta.  Every single one. In the first season of the show one cast member (Khandi) described teen pregnancy as a multi-generational plague that had affected everyone in her family.  And in Sunday’s episode, fellow Housewife Nene found the flaw in the abstinence-ring plan within seconds of walking in the house; she said:  “Congratulations!  You know, I waited until I was 19.  I was a freshman in college.”  Kim gaped, because Nene’s story of unintended pregnancy is well known. But Nene didn’t “start” at a very young age; she lost her virginity at the very life period when Brielle’s abstinence pledge expires.   Surely that should be the wake-up call Kim needs to have an honest talk with Brielle about abstinence AND contraception – as well as healthy relationships and the importance of good communication.

Research has shown that skills building is what teens need to help them prevent STDs, HIV, and pregnancy.  That includes giving them complete knowledge about protection options, including abstinence, AND the skills and confidence to discuss these options with potential partners, make mutual decisions, and stick to those decisions.  That ring was pretty enough, but it is not going to help Brielle make complex decisions within a sex-obsessed culture or grow into a sexually healthy woman.  

News Economic Justice

Colorado Voters Could Get a Chance to Boost the State’s Minimum Wage

Jason Salzman

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees "far above" the required minimum wage in their location.

Colorado’s minimum wage would increase from $8.31 to $12 by 2020 if Colorado voters approve a ballot initiative that could be headed to the November ballot.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage told reporters Monday that Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of groups, submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state, more than double the number required to make the ballot.

Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations collected signatures, Kupfer said.

“Raising the minimum wage is fair and it’s smart,” Kupfer said. “It’s fair because people working full time should earn enough to support their families. It’s smart because when working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it here in Colorado, boosting our economy and helping our community thrive.”

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Speaking at the news conference staged in front of stacked boxes of petitions, Marrisa Guerrero, identified as a certified nursing assistant, said she works seven days a week and still relies on subsidized housing.

“Making $300 a week is not enough to pay rent and buy groceries for a family like mine,” said Guerrero, adding that she’d “really like” to see an increase in the minimum immediately, but “2020 would work wonders.”

After 2020, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases under the initiative.

Tyler Sandberg, a spokesperson for Keep Colorado Working, an organization opposing the initiative, appeared at the news conference and told reporters that he was “especially” worried about the initiative’s impact on small businesses.

“The big corporations, the wealthy areas of Denver and Boulder, might be able to afford [it], but small businesses, rural and poor communities, cannot afford this,” Sandberg told reporters. “So you are going to put people out of work with this. You’re going to harm the same people you’re trying to help.”

“It’s one size that doesn’t fit all. It’s the same for a small business as it is for Pepsi Cola,” said Sandberg, whose organization includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Association of Independent Business.

Asked by Rewire to respond to Sandberg’s argument against a higher wage, Kupfer said, “Research shows small businesses support increasing the minimum wage. The truth is, when workers make more, that means more customers in local Colorado businesses. Both in rural and urban parts of the state, when working people do well, our communities thrive.”

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees “far above” the required minimum wage in their location.

“In my company, we have customer service representatives being paid $15 per hour,” Yoav Lurie, founder of Simple Energy, told reporters at the news conference. “While others might choose to pay customer service reps minimum wage, we have found that higher pay leads to improved performance and better retention and better customer satisfaction.”

Workers who rely on tips would see their minimum hourly wage increase by about 70 percent, from $5.29 to $8.98, while other workers would get a 44 percent increase by 2020. The initiative states that “no more than $3.02 in tip income may be used to offset the minimum wage of employees who regularly receive tips.”

Colorado passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that bumped the minimum wage to $6.85. It’s been raised according to inflation since then.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009.

Colorado’s Republican legislators killed legislation this year to allow cities to raise the minimum wage.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.