I Was Obsessed with Weddings Until I Realized My Favorite Traditions Are Sexist

My girlish wedding fantasies are now riddled with patriarchal symbols.
Publish date:
September 1, 2016
sexism, engagement, weddings, inequality

For someone who's in college, painfully single, and kind of a potato, I've got a wedding obsession that just won't quit. I've pinned an obscene amount of wedding content on Pinterest, have a fat stack of issues of The Knot on my coffee table, and care way too much about floral arrangements. The day my own wedding happens, I'll be quivering with barely contained joy — but I'll also probably be pissed and wanting to smash the patriarchy.

I recently took a Women's & Gender Studies course where we examined the romantic plots in Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Love in the Time of Cholera, and many other significant works of literature that, at some point, contain an engagement or wedding. I've considered myself a feminist since early high school, but this was the first time I was forced to look at weddings through a feminist lens, and I didn't like what I was seeing. Traditions in these novels where the man asks for the father's blessing or the father escorting the bride down the aisle suddenly seemed degrading to me, when before, as a thirsty, heterosexual woman, I would swoon and think, Oh, how romantic.

My girlish wedding fantasies were now riddled with patriarchal symbols. The white dress became my (nonexistent) virginity. The engagement ring became ownership. The throwing of the bouquet became a desperate scramble for my only shot at ever getting married myself.

When I look at the historical context to define the present, I see that these traditions aren't grounded in love or equality; they're based on wealth, politics, and economic standing — not mutual respect. Worse, I brought up this discussion with my coworkers at my college's gender equity center, and we all realized how well broadcasted certain traditions are.

Think about your favorite rom-coms. Movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner and so many more feature scenes where long-standing, traditional, Christianized wedding practices are part of the plot, so much so that it becomes what people know as stereotype — or at least that's how it was in my case.

Even on the latest season of The Bachelorette, there was a solid 40 minutes of airtime dedicated to the importance of the two finalists asking JoJo's father for his blessing. One of them didn't, and I swear JoJo almost kicked him off because she was so mad about it.

I've always imagined myself partaking in these traditions, too, before I realized that they put my gender down. I thought my engagement would begin with a question — and no, not "Will you marry me?" Like so many others, I assumed my husband needed to essentially propose to my father before he could propose to me. But when I reduce that practice down to what it really is, it's a man asking another man's permission for something I should be able to say myself. No, it's not like my dad would be auctioning off my virginity for livestock, but thinking about it makes me feel like a piece of property.

I imagined that after my father's approval and my terribly romantic engagement, I would flash-forward to a ceremony where I walk down the aisle arm in arm with my dad. I now realize that doing so would not be an independent step toward the next stage of my life. I would literally have to hold on to my father's arm and wait to be passed to my husband. Family and friends in attendance get to watch me be an object in an exchange of ownership between two men. A business transaction. I'd take my husband's name, designating him as the head of household, and erasing my identity as a separate individual.

I wouldn't have thought twice about any of this until other women opened my eyes to the fact that, as the feminist I claim to be, I can't be accepting of those traditions.

These practices may be a small segment of weddings in American culture, but they're what's been broadcast to me, and they're the traditions I know. I know that if I chose to follow those traditions, I could sneakily find ways to justify every aspect of my ceremony as a personal choice unrelated to what I've grown up with, but really, I can't.

I would be blindly following tradition just because it's tradition. It's not like I'm the person with the original thought that it would be super meaningful for my dad to walk me down the aisle. I would never think that — I'd be more apt to have my cat escort me to my husband.

Now, when I think about my far-in-the-future wedding, I imagine myself kicking tradition to the curb. I can do whatever is most meaningful to me outside of the white, heteronormative culture I grew up in. My husband doesn't need to ask my family for their blessing; he will know he already has it since they didn't flay him alive at all those Thanksgiving dinners. If I wanted, my mom and grandma could flank me down the aisle like the badass fleet of women we are. I won't take my husband's last name; I'll keep my own (even though it's hard for people to pronounce) because it's part of my identity and narrative as a woman.

When I finally greet my husband at the altar, I'll have gotten there by following my own new traditions, ones that plant me at his side as an equal.