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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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5 Ways to Make Your Wedding More Feminist

5 Ways to Make Your Wedding More Feminist

| On 08, Jul 2013

For the past few weeks we have been living in the midst of what is known in certain circles as “wedding season,” the time of the summer where we are take off every Saturday from work to share in celebration with our friends, family, and colleagues as they begin a life with their partner(s).

The institution of marriage has had a tumultuous past with feminism. From the often blatant sexism that traditional marriage can be filled with, to the exclusion of entire groups of people from the institution all together, some feminists do not want to engage with the institution at all. The relationship between marriage and feminism is one that is often examined, but people do not often consider weddings from a feminist point of view. Now, as wedding season is winding down, I believe it is an appropriate time to consider the relationship between weddings and feminism. I believe that marriage and weddings are not mutually exclusive with feminism. I think that most feminists would agree that many feminist marriages do exist and provide many people with the solid foundation on which they build their lives. In that sense, feminist weddings must exist.

But if feminist weddings do exist, I’ve never been a guest at one. Every wedding that I’ve been to in recent memory has been full of patriarchal bullshit. As someone who loves parties and party planning, I would love to enjoy attending weddings, but I can’t because there is no time to enjoy anything in between my frequent eye-rolling. Weddings should be wonderful, fun celebrations of people committing themselves to each other in order to live more fulfilling lives, but the only thing that I see is a woman promising to “submit” to her husband (I’ve only been to heteronormative weddings.)

So now, in the spirit of many a wedding magazine past, I will compile a list of ways to make your wedding fun and feminist friendly.

1. Avoid referring to yourself or anyone else as “Mrs. John Smith.”

I cannot think of many things that happen during a heteronormative wedding that are more problematic than the erasure of a woman’s name in favor of her partner’s.

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Do not feel like you HAVE to send invitations to your friends that read “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith;” in my opinion, you may as well tell friends that the bride doesn’t matter. Do not let your wedding officiant introduce you and your partner for the first time after your marriage without including your actual name, first, last or both; you matter, and you shouldn’t let yourself be erased.

2. Do not let your officiant or anyone else speak about the traditional gender roles that are often related to a heteronormative marriage.

Just because you are entering into a marriage does not mean that it is your duty to be submissive to your partner.

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You have a voice in your relationship, and your wedding should reflect that reality. Make sure you have some say in the wording of your wedding vows that reflects your personal feminist identity.

3. Do not let yourself be “given away.”

If you have a good relationship with your father (or any other important parental/guardian presence in your life) and you want them to be a part of your wedding, having them walk you down the aisle can be a good way to include them and to recognize how important they have been to you. However, do not list this in the program as the “giving away” of the bride (or groom, or whatever pronoun the individual you marry uses).

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You are not owned by your parents, or anyone else. Therefore, you cannot be given away. In our culture, we (generally) marry for love and not for the acquirement of property. The function of your marriage is probably not to further your partner’s name or property; don’t act as if it is.

4. Do not feel like you have to wear white.

I once read an article where a woman was recounting how she confessed to her family that she was not a virgin, so when she was planning her wedding they “would not let her” wear white. This is one of the most heart-wrenching and cruel instances of slut shaming that I have heard. The convention of wearing white to your wedding is one of the most outdated “rules” people must follow.

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Your worth is not tied up in your virginity or lack-thereof. You are not worth less to your partner if you are not a virgin, so there is no need to reflect this in your choice of clothing. If you want to wear white to your wedding, then wear white. Just don’t let conventions force you to do anything one way or the other.

5. Do not let your wedding be the epoch of your life.

Your wedding should be a wonderful and memorable day, but it does not have to be the defining day of your life. Too often in weddings, people use language or slide shows of baby pictures to imply that the wedding is the culmination of the individuals’ lives. Almost all romantic comedies end with a wedding, because that is seen to be the end of the journey; you have accomplished the goal of life, and therefore there is nothing about your life left to tell. Marriage is simply the opening of a new chapter of life; it does not completely redefine your life before or after.

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You had important life experiences before marriage and you will continue to have them after marriage, both with and apart from your partner(s). Your life goes on.

Having a feminist wedding is possible. Do not let arbitrary conventions and traditions dictate the way you celebrate your love for another person or persons. A wedding should be a reflection of the people who are celebrating their love. If you are a feminist, then chances are that that love does not include belittling yourself or others. Let your wedding be an expression of your values and your value for yourself as you transition into your marriage.

Written by Abigail Sorensen 

  • Jennifer L.

    Great idea for an article! I definitely agree with all these, and would also add one more! I didn’t like the idea of the wedding officiant saying “You may now kiss the bride.” so I looked up different ways to say this and I like such alternatives as, “You may now seal the union with a kiss.” or “As a sign of your love and devotion, you may now kiss.” Or something like that.

    In weddings I have been to, there is usually the moment where the wedding officiant goes, “And who gives away this bride?” and then the father of the bride says, “Her mother and I.” That is definitely NOT something I want in the wedding. I still want my father to walk me down the aisle, but I have actually been thinking recently I want BOTH my parents to walk me down the aisle. After all, my mother is the one who carried me for nine months and then gave birth to me…so I want her to be there too!

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Hi Jennifer, thanks for the comment! I agree with your sentiment. At one wedding I went to this summer, instead of the saying “you may not kiss the bride” the officiant said “you may not claim your bride”. My eyes almost rolled out of my head.

      • Abigail Sorensen

        I just want to say that my pervious comment did come off as a little judgmental and I apologize for that. I should not use that kind of language, but my thoughts on the derogatory use of the term “claiming the bride” stay the same.

  • Corey Lee Wrenn

    Cool on #3, didn’t think of that!

  • http://twitter.com/lizbein Liz

    as someone who struggles often with reconciling my personal beliefs with the idea of getting married, this was a great article to read. half of why i am waiting to get married is because i’m still sorting out how exactly i would do it. it would definitely be feministy and secular as well and i just don’t know how either family is going to take that :-/

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Liz, I completely understand the struggle your going through. When I had my wedding last year a lot of it was “non-traditional”. So non-traditional that one of the readings for my ceremony was a Woody Allen quote, haha. But I think that with thoughtful planning you can absolutely have a wonderful, feminist wedding. And if your families have a problem with that then they do; it’s your wedding not theirs.

      • LL

        I find it pretty disingenuous that you counsel someone to go ahead and do what they want because other peoples opinions don’t matter after you just wrote an opinion piece on all the “patriarchal bullshit” you perceive to be present at recent weddings.

        It’s OK to go ahead and do what you want, as long as it’s Aigail Sorenson Feminist Approved? Or do the rest of us have to hide, worrying that our more “traditional” weddings, that we chose, of our own free will, are being shamed online?

        • Abigail Sorensen

          You don’t need anyone’s approval and I’m not looking to give people my stamp of approval. I’m critiquing trends that I have seen. People will critique people’s actions no matter what. Thoughtful criticism is a good thing and just because I do not agree with some elements of traditional weddings does not mean I am shaming peels who engage with them; I simply disagree and I am allowed to express that, just as you are allowed to express your disagreement with me.

        • Abigail Sorensen

          Would you prefer that I say to people “If you don’t agree with me then you cannot go forth and make choices that you think are right for you?”

  • T

    There’s something about this article that really rubbed me the wrong way. What if you WANT to be introduced as Mrs. John Smith. That doesn’t make you or your wedding less feminist. Wanting to honour and obey your husband doesn’t stop you being a feminist. Wanting your father or brother to give you away doesn’t make you less of a feminist. For a lot of people, their wedding is the most important day of their lives, and that’s okay. Feminists value different things, just as people value different things, and if they want to include feminism in their weddings then of course they should. But if they want to celebrate their weddings using customs and traditions, they should also be able to do so, without people berating them or judging them or telling them that they’re not feminist enough or that their wedding isn’t feminist enough.

    • Vivid Sammy

      Why would you want to be given away? It implies someone owns you, why would you want to be named Mrs. John Smith?, why would you want to be belittled and made less important? I think that’s not healthy!

      • T

        Because you like the tradition of it? Because you think that it symbolises you growing up? I’m not saying that all people should be given away, but just because you want to doesn’t make you less of a feminist and it doesn’t mean that you or your family are unhealthy.

        • Vivid Sammy

          But what if these traditions are bad for women (I believe they are) keeping to tradition wont change anything, if we want a better world, we need to have some serious changes and seriously rethink our traditions.

    • tank54

      Maybe the conversation would be a little more productive if it was aimed more at the Wedding Industrial Complex which not only tells women that they are only valuable as brides, but that they should spend all their money because of that very harmful stereotype. Personally, I don’t know if it’s possible to have a feminist wedding because there is just so much economic and cultural privilege tied up in marriage. Why can’t single people receive the same value and respect as married people (women in particular).

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Hi T, thanks for your comment. If someone wants to be introduced as Mrs. John Smith than that is their decision. It is not a feminist choice, but not all people are striving to make feminist choices in their lives. I would argue expecting your wedding day to be the best day of your life is problematic and sets you up for disappointment. If you look back on your life and realize that your wedding day was the best day you had then I think thats a beautiful thing.

      If someone wants to have a traditional wedding that follows conventions, that is fine. I’m not going to try to stop them from doing what they want. I wrote this article as a tool that people who do want to have a feminist wedding could use.

      • T

        I personally think that the fact that it IS a choice makes it a feminist choice, like how you should wear heels if you want and you don’t have to feel like your bowing down to societies expectations (sort of bad example) . It’s okay if you don’t agree with me on that. So what if it sets you up for disappointment? I’d argue that most brides look upon their wedding days as happy anyway. The reason I made the comment was because the tone of the article seemed very judgemental. You can’t stop people from doing what they want, but you can make them feel bad and feel like they’re bad feminist.

        • Abigail Sorensen

          T, there is no one way to be a feminist, that is one thing that is so great about feminism, it is such a diverse group. Of course if you voluntarily chose to engage in any traditions that is entirely up to you. So long as you are aware you have the choice. It appears that many people have said the article came off as judgmental and I certainly did not mean it to sound that way. In the future I will reevaluate my choice of language so as not to shame anyone because I do not believe in shaming women. I appreciate your constructive criticism.

          • Phoebe

            Why on earth should a woman making a choice be conflated with making a ‘feminist’ choice???? I ‘choose’ to shave my legs when it’s hot outside but that doesn’t necessarily make it a ‘feminist’ choice (and yes, I’m aware that feminism is an umbrella term that includes many opposing ideologies). Marriage is a patriarchal heteronormative institution based upon the idea that women are commodities which can be passed from father to husband. For these reasons I don’t think I’ll bother with it. Whilst I would never say that a woman was less of a feminist than me because she is married, I think to suppress criticisms of such practices for fear of ‘shaming’ women is downright dangerous. Shaming occurs when a woman is singled out and made to feel shit because of her choices.This has nothing to do with addressing the political ideologies that underlie traditions, and if this causes offence, then so be it.

    • Emily B

      I think saying that these tactics aren’t feminist is unfair. Of course if a woman wants to be Mrs. John Smith, that’s her choice, as with being “given away,” etc. However, if a woman is presented as Mrs. John Smith, it is linguistically implied that her identity is being subsumed by her husband’s. If she is “given away,” it is implied that she was owned by her father who is now relinquishing authority over and responsibility for her to another patriarch. The ideas presented in this article combat these implications by asserting that the woman’s identity is her own. That sentiment is definitely feminist.

    • Saima

      Very good points. I agree.

  • Théo

    I was expecting something more radical for this article. But when I read this, I realize that some bases are well to be repeated. For me everything which is said there is plain evidence. I wouldn’t have imagined saying it because I wouldn’t have imagined that there could still possibly be such weddings, at least, in the western world.
    By the way, if you want some hopeful marriage with no trace of patriarchy, try to attend a same-sex marriage! All gender-roles are blown away so there is no “more feminist” marriage ^^

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Hi Theo, thanks for your comment. When I chose this topic I was originally going to write about how traditional weddings are anti-feminist, but I thought that that ground had already been well-covered. So I decided to write about how people CAN have feminist weddings in an attempt to not sound like a broken record. I share your sentiment that most of this seems like feminist common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to cover all the bases :) .
      I would love to go to a same-sex wedding! Hopefully I’m invited to one soon!

  • tank54

    Personally, I find the bouquet toss to be very anti-feminist as it buys into that ‘your wedding is the culminating moment of your life, ladies!’ bs. Just because I want to celebrate your marriage doesn’t mean I’m dying to be next.

    • Abigail Sorensen

      I completely agree with this thought. At one recent wedding I went to, the couple not only threw the bouquet and garter, but also threw two stuffed animals dressed as a bride and groom to the young kids. It was sad to see that they (especially the girls) are being taught from such a young age to think of their potential wedding as the end all be all of their life.

      • tank54

        wow, that’s crazy. i’m thinking a table with some coloring books, a couple bottles of bubbles, and candy will be good enough for the kids if i have a wedding.

  • Katie Mae

    6. Visit http://apracticalwedding.com right now! This site has changed my life before AND after my wedding. It’s been 3 years and I still visit weekly. (I’m not affiliated, just a reader.)

    #1 is really important to me. I did change my last name, but I don’t accept the title Mrs. because to me it represents coverture, as you laid out.

    As an earlier commenter recommended, I compared our wedding plans to a same-sex wedding to uncover gender inequalities. We ended up hitting all 5 of these tips and more. I like how you (Abigail) generally emphasized that you can DO what you want, but you should understand why you’re doing it and what it might convey to your guests.

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Comparing your wedding to a same-sex wedding is a really good tip that I hadn’t thought of. I’ll have to recommend that to some friends!

  • Sully

    I found a wonderful wedding officiant who took all of our suggestions to make our wedding be a union of partners, not some vestige of the patriarchy that would not have represented either of us. It was a really special ceremony that included a lot of personal touches from stories we had shared with him, we both started crying less than halfway through. We walked in together, and the officiant asked our guests something along the lines of who is here to witness this couple’s union instead of asking who gives away the bride, and when we kissed we asked him to say “You may embrace.” I got married at a garden with just our immediate family there, and I cannot imagine a better wedding day for us.

  • Hmm

    This exact same topic with many of the same points was covered in a less-judgey way over at The Gloss over a month ago: http://www.thegloss.com/2013/06/04/sex-and-dating/bullish-life-de-gendering-weddings-and-marriage/

  • anna

    I think some of this article encourages looking at choices about rituals too simplistically, and while well meaning, doesn’t support, even shames women, for taking part in symbolic rituals that they may feel have a personal value for complex reasons. For instance, I plan on taking my fiance’s name when we are married, and although it is not explicitly mentioned in the article, many of my feminist friends are very vocal about telling me that I am making an anti-feminist choice in doing so. I disagree; I was raised by my mother but bear my father’s name, I don’t have any personal attachment to my last name, and like the symbolism of starting a new family, claiming a name for myself, and aligning myself with my husband and future children as a symbol of my new family. Likewise, I plan on being given away by my mother, I like the little ritual of being walked down the isle/given away, because I think it is highly symbolic of starting a phase in my life where my biggest support system is no longer my mother but my husband, I also think it symbolizes my mother’s approval of my husband, which is very important to me. If I had been closer with my father, and I know many many women who are, I would have no qualms being given away by my father for the same reasons I have no qualms being given away by my mother. I also am going to wear a big white dress because I look good in white and get few opportunities to wear big white dresses. I am highly educated and aware of the anti-feminist history of many of these traditions that take place in weddings, but I think that to go to a wedding and then tell the woman that her choices about how to symbolize her life-change are ‘anti-feminist’, as the author explicitly does in the comments, takes agency away from the woman, and assumes that she has not weighed the pros and cons of things herself. It could be that she wants to be introduced as ‘Mrs. John Smith’ at her wedding because her mother and grandmother etc did it and it makes her feel close to her family and makes her feel like she is taking part in the tradition of the women in her family, and because she knows that however she is introduced really doesn’t reflect anything at all about what her actual marriage to the man she loves is going to be like. I think shaming women’s choices in symbolic matters like this as ‘anti-feminist’ is really anti-feminist itself because it 1) assumes your personal feelings about feminism speak for all feminists and 2) assumes that the woman did not put time and thought into her own wedding, chosing for herself what feels right. Isn’t having the ability to chose what feels right for yourself, unimpeded by other’s judgements, at the center of feminism?

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Anna, I really appreciate your comment. I am noIt trying to be judgemental or shaming to any woman, if it comes across that way perhaps I should reevaluate my choice of words. In retrospect, my eye rolling comment does come off as judgemental. This is one thing i love about blogging, hearing other peoples opinions and taking that into account when reevaluating your own.
      Of course if someone wants to participate in any of these traditions, that is your choice and having the ability to chose is the most important thing. I tried to highlight in the article that you should have the wedding that you want, you simply don’t have to feel as if you must adhere to conventions if you feel they do not fall in line with your ideaology. Perhaps I did not emphasize that enough.

    • tank54

      I think part of the tension we are seeing in the context of weddings is that they are, inherently, communal events (unless you elope). So the individual choices we make as women, at least in terms of the wedding, are also choices that reflect upon our families and our communities; they are things we have chosen to make public. Otherwise, we would all just make private promises to our spouses and then fill out some forms at the county courthouse.

      So, in light of that, I think the author’s article is more justifiably aimed at the problematic communal resonances of some of these traditions, as opposed to judging individual women’s choices. Personally, if I have a wedding, I would like both of my parents’ to walk me down the aisle; I don’t want the officiant to ask who “gives” this woman in marriage, because of the historically possessive resonances of that word; asking who “presents” this woman seems to be a bit more neutral, or you could even just take the whole part out and have the officiant say something about how you’ve come here today with the support and love of your family. I don’t want a bouquet toss/garter toss because I think it’s demeaning to women — both to the bride and her guests.

      And, yes, I think these things when I go to other people’s weddings; I will view and even judge your wedding on a communal level because that’s exactly the level they have always operated at. I think there’s this really selfish idea that the wedding is the “bride’s day” and you can do whatever you want. You can make ridiculous demands of your bridal party (like my one friend, who wanted me to dye my hair a different shade to better compliment the color of my bridesmaid dress for her wedding photos), you can complain about the quality of gifts you receive, you can expect that guests will “cover their plate” for a party you can’t afford (as we can see in a couple of notable e-mails that have recently gone viral).

      No, it’s not your day. If anything, a wedding is a day about your family, about your friends, about honoring the community that raised your partner to be the person you fell in love with. So the traditions you choose don’t just reflect on you individually, they are supposed to be a reflection of your community. Does your community value women and their personal autonomy? Or does it continue to view women as most valuable when they are subservient to the men in your life?

      As far as “all of my choices are feminist by nature of being choices” argument…I don’t know. Sarah Palin had the choice to enter politics. Many of my female Republican representatives in Texas right now have the choice to end abortion in my state. So, no, a choice is not inherently feminist simply because you have it.

  • ATLWmn

    God I hate feminism.

    • Anna

      Why?

      • ATLWmn

        Because they constantly stick to this notion that women are still seen as chattel, property, and generally lesser beings. And that, to correct those “assumptions”, we as women need to go to the extreme opposite to prove our independence. It comes off as confrontational, contrary to the point of annoyance, and frankly, b*tchy. In their quest to give women choices, they actually want to take them away. They seem to want all women to choose THEIR way, and us traditional ladies are viewed upon as hurting the feminist cause and of setting the “movement” back 100 years. They get offended by the simplest things, it’s no wonder men nowadays are afraid to be gentlemen.

        It’s great to give tips in an article, and I truly was interesting in hearing her out. But this author was making demands based on how awful and disgusting it is to take your husband’s name, or be given away by your dad. She made her point by being condescending instead of helpful (“do not let them do ____” instead of “request ______ in lieu of”), which goes back to my original disdain for feminists.

        • Abigail Sorensen

          ATLWmn, I did not say anything about changing last names.
          I wrote this article for people who want to have feminist weddings, not to shame anyone for making different choices. Of course if you want to participate in aspects of traditional weddings that is fine. I’m simply critiquing the inherent sexism that I see in traditional weddings. I am not making demands of anyone, I was using the language of “do not let” etc. specifically because I was writing a guide for future brides or anyone else who was interested. This is just one persons opinion and I’m not trying to force it on anyone else.
          I’m sorry that you disdain feminism. I support women having choices in their lives, which is the point of feminism. It’s perfectly fine if the choices people make are not feminist, but I can critically evaluate the choices that society and individuals make, and I am not being judgmental or shaming by doing this.

        • Emily B.

          Anyone who hates a movement that has tried to view women as people too rubs me the wrong way, but I’ll try to keep my response respectful.

          If women are not seen as chattel, then why does our culture still maintain traditions that visually, linguistically, and monetarily imply that they are such? If a woman wants to be “given away” by her father, that is fine, but do you realize that this tradition literally represents the passing on of property from one patriarch to another?

          If it comes off as confrontational or “bitchy” to establish that I am NOT property to be passed off, then so be it. It’s a very small price to pay for being seen as an independent being who is capable of being responsible for myself.

          Maintaining tradition for tradition’s sake has rarely made sense to me and it especially doesn’t make sense when those traditions are culturally irrelevant, as being “given away” is. Abbie is just pointing out these patriarchal traditions and providing alternatives for those who want alternatives. She is obviously not making demands.

    • Emily B.

      I would also question why the heck you are on a website called “Feminspire” or reading an article on why to make your wedding more feminist if you hate feminism so much…

    • AlyssaMoh

      I disagree, I think it’s been a good thing.
      It’s made my life easier, but my mom’s was probably less easy. Things change, they don’t necessarily have to have a name.
      I don’t call it feminism, i just call it change. History is made of changes.

  • K

    Because, T, /wanting/ to be “given away” and /wanting/ to obey your husband are examples of internalized misogyny.

    • E

      That doesn’t make the choice any less hers. We all take part in many forms of internalized misogyny, because we are all embedded in it. However, I think feminism is the power to choose without being shamed for your choices (ahem), and if she chooses to honor a tradition she enjoys, then I think that is her choice. I wear high heels and makeup because I enjoy it and I do it for myself. Some might say that is “not a very feminist choice” but I think feminism is about having the right to choose what you want to do.

  • blankk23

    I actually have a(n ex-)friend who doesn’t talk to me anymore because I refused to join in the bouquet toss. I told her I wasn’t interested in being “the best catch and next year’s bride” because I wasn’t single, but was in a committed relationship, and she told me “it doesn’t count until you’re married”.

    • emily

      at one wedding i was in, we all were bullied to get up and catch both the bouquet and the garter. the bouquet was first and it literally HIT THE GROUND because no woman wanted to catch it. the garter, actually, was caught more fervently.

  • Went Rogue

    Want a feminist wedding? Don’t have a wedding. Don’t buy into the bridal industrial complex. Don’t sweat it. Get married if you want to and forego all this crap.

  • maryb

    I think everyone is taking this too personally… the point is you don’t have to stick to tradition… these are just suggestions… they are not meant to shame you but to give women ideas about how to make their ceremony personal to them. You don’t have to take these suggestions… nor do you need to shame anyone for taking them… its a choose your own adventure… just like life

  • skyskysky

    What about having “attendants” rather than bridesmaids/groomsmen on your wedding program? I’m including two guys as one of my attendants in the wedding party instead of having all female bridesmaids.

  • E

    Feminism is about choice and being able to choose to your path without being shamed for it (ahem). If she likes the tradition, she should be able to take part in it. Maybe it is based in misogyny, but it is nonetheless a choice that she is free to make. I wear makeup on most days and sometimes I even wear heels. They may be the trappings of the patriarchal society we’re steeped in, but I choose to do it and I do it for me. I believe feminism is based on the fact that you can choose, and these are things that I choose. I choose many other things that are more nontraditional or anti patriarchal but those are also my choices.

  • friggindoc

    Thats why i would never marry a femenist.

    • AlyssaMoh

      I don’t think anything listed above is unreasonable. By not doing something doesn’t mean you’re forcing someone else to do something. Plus, I always wondered what would happen with two gay men getting married? Who gets given away? Neither? Both?
      Giving someone more choices regarding the wedding doesn’t mean you have to take someone else’s choices away. If anything its a reflection of compromise that is integral in a relationship.

      My dad came for the most traditional of backgrounds, and he was the one who pushed me to be a critical thinker. At his age, 65, he would probably say something like “I can barely walk myself down the aisle – go manage it yourself!”

      All in all, so long as a ceremony is respectful to the guests and the institution of marriage, why not?