19 December 2005

By Raegan Johnson

Perhaps the style section of The New York Times is not the place to discuss the politicized aspects of sex abstinence teaching. However, Stephanie Rosenbloom’s article, “A Ring That Says No, Not Yet” about the growing use of chastity rings, points to a larger trend in American news media about covering these issues. Her piece centers on the young Christian youth that wear the thin silver rings as “placeholders” with hardly any discussion of the political religious right. The wearers of the ring are young cute and fashionable. These rings seem to be carrying on the fashion tradition that started a couple of years ago of young Christians wearing t-shirts sold by places like Urban Outfitters that say, “Jesus is my homeboy.” These shirts were supposed to be ironic but young Christians co-opted the irony and literally wore their faith on their sleeves.

Ostensibly, the rings are representing sexual chastity until marriage but what they also due is serve as a way to wear one’s religion in their accessories. Just like the t-shirts, the rings are a way to broadcast Christian way of life but as the BBC News points out, they are also a political weapon. The Times too easily dismisses the rings as a trend. A short BBC News article from January 2004 about one of the sellers of the rings, Silver Ring Thing titled, “Power of the Ring Thing” says, “it is clear that the conservative Christian morality of President Bush is finding its way into legislation that promotes abstinence. For some Republican members of the administration, the abstinence issue is a clear case of Christian conscience. For others, it is a way of boosting their conservative credentials via an issue that remains less contentious than abortion.” Rosenbloom stays clear of insinuating that right wing politics has much to do with this trend.

The Times does give voice to the negative aspects of sex abstinence teaching by quoting Planned Parenthood’s vice president, who arued that abstinence-only groups are putting “a generation of kids at risk by teaching them that condoms do not work.” Rosenbloom in just a few lines mentions the lawsuit filed against the federal government due to a million dollar grant given to the Silver Ring Thing. But she doesn’t connect wearing the rings to the political issue.

Rosenbloom ends her article with a quote from the 18-year-old Miss Massachusetts who vows to stay a virgin until marriage, “‘I think of it as the ultimate wedding present,’” she said. “‘It’s saying “you’re worth waiting my whole life for.”‘” BBC News, on the other hand ends their article on the same topic, “Underneath the cacophony can be heard the Silver Ring Thing’s very own rap — ‘Oh no, don’t give it away…’ — while in Washington, Congress prepares to vote more dollars into the abstinence purse.” It’s a shame that The New York Times only regards this issue so much as to give it over 1500 words in the style section while the BBC in less than half of the amount of words gets to the political heart of the matter. The Times article reads as not much more than advertisement for the rings.