A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a post for Etsy about Feminism and Weddings. I knew I had a lot to say on the subject, but while I was writing it, I decided to do a quick poll on Facebook and Twitter, to find out what wedding decisions people were struggling with in the context of feminism. Well. I’ve never gotten that many responses to a question so quickly. Turns out we’re all struggling and not getting to discuss it near enough. So, given that, and how proud I am of the piece, I’m running an excerpt here… because I want to be sure that you go over to Etsy and read the whole story. We need to talk about this, clearly (both comment sections are yours for the discussion of struggles and joys).
I’ve considered myself a feminist for as long as I can remember. And I mean that literally. I used to lecture other little kids on the playground (in my dress, because I only ever wore dresses) about how girls could do anything. This sounds somewhere between pushy and adorable, until you realize that I didn’t grow up in some liberal enclave, but in a hyper-conservative part of inland California that is more or less part of the Bible Belt. My tiny outspoken feminism was met with raised eyebrows in elementary school, and with outright hostility by middle school. This, of course, never stopped me.
But I was never as keenly aware of my feminism as when I got engaged. Culturally, major life transitions have been set up so that the woman has the more visible role (see this excellent article from The Rumpus about the public implications of being a pregnant woman). Weddings are the kick-off. After the flurry of excitement when we announced we were getting hitched, things calmed down considerably for my (now) husband David. He got the traditional back slap and “Congrats, man” from friends and then conversation moved on to other things. For me, not so much. Now, mind you, I was pretty excited to talk about pretty wedding stuff with my girlfriends, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I would suddenly be in a very public spotlight.
When I got engaged, I happened to be at a very old-fashioned workplace. And suddenly, not only did I feel like public property, I felt like public property in the 1950s. Men routinely warned me not to spend all my my fiancé’s money on my dress (I was supporting both of us). When I showed my carefully selected small-for-my-small-hand estate ring, eyebrows were visibly raised at its size (wasn’t my fiance supposed to be a provider?). And then there were the endless questions (or really, assumptions with a question at the end) about my dad walking me down the aisle, my brides-”maids,” and my impending name change.
What I wouldn’t have given for a back slap and a “Congrats, lady.”
At the same time that I was uncomfortably standing in my new found lady-spotlight, I was trying to sort through my feelings on feminism and weddings. If there is one moment in our lives where we’re forced to confront how we feel about gender equality, it’s weddings. Let’s be frank: weddings don’t have the Very Best History when it comes to women. The issues range from the basic: women being traded from man to man as property, right up to women not being able to hold a credit card except in her husband’s name (true until the 1970s). So, when we decide to get married, we decide to reclaim and remake the institution of marriage, and shape it into something that works for us. And, of course, we have to deal with wedding traditions with problematic histories. The toughest part is, whatever decision we make on a given issue, our resulting choice is going to be very very public, and we’re going to have a lot of ‘splaining to do.
In case you were wondering if agonizing over feminist wedding choices is widespread, well, while working on this article, I did a snap poll on Twitter and Facebook, asking women which decisions were painful for them. The answers poured in faster than anything I’d ever seen (200 in an hour), with rather visible agony.
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