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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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