The Big Issues for Feminists Who Are Getting Married

back of bride's head

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.

Here is  short list of the big deal issues for women getting hitched:

The Engagement Ring: It starts on day one. Of course. Why is the tradition that you wear a ring that marks you as taken, while he wears nothing? Why do people act like the bigger the ring, the better a provider he’s going to be (or that it even matters)? Why in the face of all this unequal junk do many of us decide that we want a ring anyway? (The. Sparkles. Are. So. Pretty.) How can we learn to own our decision no matter what choice we make?

The Name Change: I’ve written reams about the name change issue, but in short form: it can be difficult no matter what your situation is. Some of us don’t change our names and deal with people who refuse to acknowledge our choice (not to mention the endless assumptions that we will). Others do change their names, but really mourn the loss of identity. And still others change their name without fuss and agonize over whatthat means. And through it all, most men remain blissfully unaware of how damn hard it is for women (red flag, there).

Who Pays: The tradition that the bride’s parents pay for the wedding, while the groom’s parents skate by relatively unscathed, has troubling roots in, say, dowries, and getting rid of that female kid that can’t earn any money, anyway. But the thing is, you may be in a situation where the bride’s parents are paying, and chances are that has nothing to do with a bride price. My parents (who contributed in an equal fashion to the wedding) actually pulled me aside to tell me that “it was very important to get to help pay for my wedding, and I needed to stop trying to take that away.” (Whoopsy.) Still, wrapping one’s head around this can be tough.

So what is a marrying feminist to do? Or say, a woman getting married who just realized she might be a feminist, since none of this is actually equal at all? In my book, I quote Clare, a Scottish theologian, on her thoughts on her own wedding. As she said, “The Latin origin of tradition, ‘traditio,’ means not only to hand on, but to hand over. The meanings of practices such as those within weddings are not rigid, but given on to us to value and interpret in our own contexts.” In other words, weddings come with baggage, their own history of inequality between the sexes. It’s up to us to claim the traditions we like (history be damned), and let go of the traditions that don’t work for us (and bother the relatives!). We have to use our wedding as our first opportunity to shape and claim our marriages and our family life: to balance our beliefs with custom.

As for me? Well, both parents walked me down the aisle, and I never even considered changing my name, but I wear my sparkly, sparkly engagement ring proudly (at least on most days). I am, at heart, ever the tiny bossy feminist on the playground, insisting women can do whatever they want, and wearing a pretty dress just to prove my point. That is what I hope for all of you: the ability to embrace who you are and what you want with zero guilt (and a really pretty dress, if you want it).

“So what is a marrying feminist to do?”

The women who came before us handed down this mish-mash of traditions, some of their choosing, some not. And since they also gave us the hard-fought right to vote and the ability to shape our own lives, they gave us the responsibility to choose. Not to choose exactly what they chose, not to complain that we have the right to choose, but to embrace the evolving nature of tradition and choose what’s right for us. But if we do our job, we’ll pass the next generation a slightly improved, slightly modified version of tradition. So choose without guilt, and choose for our future daughters. Maybe some of them will wear pants at their wedding, with no one even batting an eyelash. We can only hope.

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  • ElisabethJoanne

    “But if we do our job, we’ll pass the next generation a slightly improved, slightly modified version of tradition.”

    I think this was always the idea, even long before there was feminism. I think this is always the idea of tradition. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. We don’t carry on traditions for their own sake, but because they have meaning and purpose. When they lose their meaning, we have always changed or dropped them. That’s the case when it comes to whether-to-hold-Thanksgiving-at-Grandma’s and who-walks-down-the-aisle and must-I-wear-a-suit-to-court. Sometimes the traditions outlast their meaning for just a while, but I think the culture grows and changes, always.

  • Meg, I love this, and I’m so happy Etsy asked you to begin the conversation. I was scrolling through the comments there – how can we convince kathy klopfenstein to write a wedding graduate post!? no-nonsense dallas arboretum, texas common law, third marriage to a childhood friend, boardshorts and a day of the dead tee?

    seriously, the etsy comments section is full of women who i want to hear more from.

  • Kerry

    Meg, thanks so much for sharing that link to the Pregnancy and Privacy essay. I’m not pregnant but I *am* private, and it was a great read.

    • Liz F

      It’s funny, I don’t consider myself a terribly private person but I’m increasingly feeling rather exposed, especially sharing news on the internet. I feel much more comfortable over-sharing with friends than with god-knows-who on facebook.

      I enjoyed the pregnancy and privacy essay as well.

    • meg

      Right? Allison, my Etsy editor passed the link along to me when we were discussing this piece, and I just wanted to exactly everything about it. Get’s to the heart of being a modern woman, vs. being a man.

    • Ana Maria

      The article from Rumpus was amazing, thank you for sharing. Just as pertinant for pregnancy as for weddings (and life): “Sometimes it feels like everything will be a fight from this point forward, but I know that it will also be an honor, a privilege, an experience of sheer and near-constant joy.”

  • KatieBeth

    So. Many. SPARKLES!!!!

    So true that getting engaged/married all of the sudden puts the spotlight on you as An Adult Woman. I find it disturbing that so many people in conversations will be talking to both of us about something and then turn to me and say “So, when’s the date? Where are you having it?”

    This post also made me think of the ways that wedding planning forces us to confront feminism and the role of fiances in wedding planning. In the beginning, my fiance was like “Whew, I’m glad you’re all into this” but then once I started buying magazines, looking at websites, talking to people, he’d start to poke me and be like “Can I see?” I’ve been knee-deep in So Much Shiny that I haven’t realized that my fiance feels kind of left out! It wasn’t until reading this post that I realized that it’s not just the cultural narrative that makes wedding planning a woman’s domain – I’m totally doing it to because I assume that, as The Man, he wouldn’t want to be involved. I should get a set of business cards made that say “It’s His Wedding, Too” and give them out as reminders (even to myself).

    • SarahToo

      Very good point (about the fiancee potentially getting side-lined the other partner’s enthusiasm)! I found myself frequently wrestling with my tendency to take charge/ leave little room for him in the process. Even when talking, I sometimes found myself referring to it as “my wedding” instead of “our wedding” or saying “I” instead of “we”. Luckily for me, he was very into the whole thing, and participated so much in the decision-making (and the getting-er-done). I’ve often thought about the fact that this site has very few male voices… is anyone else interested in hearing more from guys on APW?

      • HH

        YES I would love to hear from other APW guys!

        Also, my favorite line to give to people who knock my fiance for caring about wedding planning (and they do- grr!) is from the comments here (sorry I can’t recall who said it): “The wedding is not a surprise party for the groom!”

        It’s worked very well for me. :)

    • Marisa-Andrea

      People asking me endless questions about our wedding when my husband-then-fiance was right there drove me insane. The implication, of course, is that it’s the bride who is overly excited and wants to talk about the wedding. It was the exact opposite for me. The last thing I wanted to talk about were color themes and the centerpieces and my dress. In fact, I detested the entire planning process, which was very frustrating because my husband bought into that whole “it’s the bride’s day” and insisted that I really wanted to do something (have a huge ceremony, etc) when I didn’t. It was difficult making decisions about things I really didn’t care about when my non opinion having husband protested the choices I did make (e.g., I’d ask if he had preferences for colors for the tablecloths because I had to tell the rental company, he said no and then complained about the colors I chose on a whim. Arrggg)

      Of course, in the end, I loved the simple and quaint wedding we HAD but wow…getting there was akin to pulling teeth for me.

      • Jashshea

        I’m living your situation right now. Example: He’s southern, I have no etiquette skills. I asked if I could print labels for Save the Dates, he said handwriting would be better and he would help. At envelope 75/175 (I’ve done them all to this point) he asks me “why don’t you just print labels?”

        TL;DR Justifiable homicide.

        PS: I hand-wrote all the envelopes myself. I will hire someone for the invites.

  • SarahToo

    Throughout the engagement-wedding planning process, I was very uncomfortable with the “spotlight” that getting engaged brought to bear on me, as well as the unsolicited opinions/advice about weddings that it triggered from family and acquaintances alike. In the end, I managed this discomfort by becoming pretty private about my impending marriage. I hardly ever mentioned my engagement to people, and never brought up the wedding planning stuff except to good friends and close family. My engagement ring (a very modest one inherited from my great-grandmother) often passed unnoticed. This made it so much easier for my fiancee and I to work through our own ideas about what the wedding/ our marriage should look like without an avalanche of well-intended pressure from our more conventional acquaintances.

  • MadGastronomer

    When I told my mother I was planning to get engaged to another woman, she said, “I don’t know how that works in a same-sex relationship. Does it matter who asks?”

    Uh, no. It doesn’t matter who asks in a straight relationship, either. (Unless it matters to the people involved. But seriously, waaaaaaay too much weight on that aspect.)

    Then it was, “Well, you know you can’t afford a diamond right now, right?”

    Pretty sure I know that better than you, mom. Also pretty damn sure neither of us wants one — we talked about it. We had pretty little braided silver rings with small cabochon gems in our favorite colors — mine’s an amethyst, hers is a sapphire — picked out already, and I showed her the pictures on the Etsy store. And we love them.

    The gendered expectations around weddings and marriages make me absolutely crazy. And they’re kind of scary for my partner, who’s a trans woman, and to whom it is important to never, ever be seen to take the male role. But I’m the one who has the time and energy to do wedding planning, and while she doesn’t actually want to do much of that, she’s not entirely comfortable with that, either. *sigh*

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Yes, yes and YES.

  • Class of 1980

    Well, consider the recent wedding of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

    The WHOLE WORLD was miffed and took it personally that the bride received a simple band with a small ruby in it … because he is a billionaire and it did not match the world’s template of a billionaire ring. Hundreds of articles were generated over this critically important issue (sarcasm).

    The world is a silly place and even a Zuckerberg can’t escape it’s expectations.

    • Karen

      It is amazing how many people care about stuff like this. I get so tired of people not being grown ups. Surely Mark Zuckerberg and his wife talked about what kind of ring they wanted. Perhaps that is not how they wanted to spend their money, imagine that! When will we see what is really important?

    • Ambi

      God, I hope Priscilla Chan reads APW!!!!!

      • Amy March

        And if she does- welcome! Your wedding sounded lovely, you two looked happy, and there’s nothing more practical than joy.

    • Emily

      Her ‘small’ ruby is estimated to be valued at $25,000. For many, that’s nothing to sneeze at!

      • Class of 1980

        Lordy. Some “expert” estimated it at $25,000 and another estimated it up to $100,000 because it might be a Burmese ruby. All this from a blurry blurry photo.

        • Alexandra

          It might be “worth” $25,000 or $100,000 simply because she’s Mrs Mark Zuckerberg. You never know, those experts might just not be willing to say “Oh, you could get it for $100 at a chain jewelry store.” And if they’re checking it out from a picture, they can’t be doing that good of a job.

      • meg

        But WHATEVER you guys. How much do I respect that when you’re worth BILLIONS OF DOLLARS, you get your wife a 25K simple band (or less, no one knows what it’s worth because they’re private, which I also respect) because that’s what she wants.

        And yet. And yet. The world thinks it’s their business to judge her ring.

        • Class of 1980

          EXACTLY. Sometimes the collective mind is very stupid.

          People think she somehow got ripped off, which is quite ridiculous. After NINE years together, I’m sure he knew her tastes. Rubies are symbolic in Asian culture, and she is a pediatrician and probably wanted a ring she could easily wear day-to-day.

    • meg

      I read articles about how FANCY the wedding was because they had it in the backyard of their $7 million dollar house. The point: one of the richest people in the world got married in their backyard. I LOVE THAT.

      • Class of 1980

        That’s funny. I’ve read articles saying they didn’t have a “fancy” venue simply because it was in their backyard … as if a backyard is somehow down scale.

        How is their backyard considered down scale in the first place?

        • Marisa-Andrea

          I had no idea they got flack for her ring. I can’t. I just can’t.

          • Class of 1980

            I can’t either. ;)

  • Yes! Eight months after saying “I do” and these issues have only just begun to make my head spin. I’m so glad I have this community of wise, clever, feminist women with whom I can process (and often challenge) the cultural narratives we hear. I’m so glad APW is about the wedding part AND the marriage part. I feel like the support I received here during the wedding planning days was only the beginning!

  • I get the opposite reaction to my chosen for my big-for-a-girl-hands ring. I asked for a wide band because something dainty was going to look silly on me. He bought a fairly big diamond because he can afford it and because that’s who he is. Seriously, I call him Go Big or Go Home on a regular basis. This characteristic can be a real pain for me (You invited HOW MANY people to our apartment for Thanksgiving?!? And how are we fitting a TWENTY-FOUR POUND TURKEY in our fridge?!?) but it’s part of who he is. And yet, I feel like I’m being asked to apologize to people for the ring he bought me.

    • Marissa

      Me too! I feel your pain on this. My fiance bought me a BEAUTIFUL ring that I absolutely adore, and it’s sparkly. I mean it’s really sparkly. Sparklier than I thought it would be, but it’s just perfect for us. Yet whenever people remark about what a catch he must be or how sparkly it is, I apologize or try to show them how it’s not as sparkly as it looks, it’s just a good jeweler’s touch.

      Why do we try to justify ourselves to these strangers?! And why do they assume that just because it’s sparkly means that he has tons of money (or, even worse, that’s why I’m marrying him!)?! I like classy/romantic styles, he likes large, traditional gestures, we ended up with a 3/4 karat that sparkles like a disco ball, so what? Why do we feel the need to apologize or explain that?

      It’s almost like inverse-boasting syndrome. Meg has touched on this before, about how people kept justifying or trying to lower their wedding budgets in some kind of weird competition (ex. “our budget is $15K, but that includes the rings and the honeymoon!”). Or maybe we feel guilty or anti-feminist about enjoying traditional things like large, sparkly rings. I’m not sure what it is, but I know I’ll try to bite my tongue more often and just accept the compliments.

      • Alexandra

        I know what you mean about inverse-boasting syndrome. I keep trying to justify the size of our budget (Especially when I read about those “Did everything for $100” weddings) or why my (absolutely gorgeous) ring features a fairly large diamond in an “optimally sparkly” setting.

        Perhaps it’s just a self confidence thing, where someone tells you how good you look and you try to downplay it. Perhaps I need to bite my tongue a little more too.

    • BarryMayor

      The man being expected to unilaterally buy an engagement ring without a reciprocal gift of equal cost in return is abjectly anti-feminist. If she expects that, I definitely expect her to take my name.

  • Ashley P

    I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it made me feel that suddenly, because I was getting married, people felt they could ask me questions about when and how many children I planned to have. It felt so wrong at my bridal shower when guests were making conversation about how many/how few bows I had broken. I hated that engagement/impending-marriage gave people the idea that I was suddenly an open book for all of their nosy questions!

    • Another Meg

      Ugh. Bridal showers. Don’t even get me started. Did they also write down everything you said in reaction to your gifts then list it off as “what you’ll say on your wedding night” as they did to me? Bridal showers are a perfect example of a weird (made-up?) tradition about preparing a bride for a *shiny new kitchen!* and making her feel super uncomfortable. Is there an APW article about surviving bridal showers? I would kind of love that.

      • Ashley P

        Yes, they did! Thankfully not at a shower with my mother/aunts/grandmothers present… You know, until I was actually present at my own showers, I didn’t realize how awful and uncomfortable they really are. Are they just fun for everyone but the guest of honor? Please, APW, do an article on surviving bridal showers!

        • Class of 1980

          I have never been to a fun shower. I don’t know anyone who has been to a fun shower. Not even when the people are fun people.

          I’m sure there are fun showers happening somewhere, but it’s the equivalent of sighting a unicorn. Oh wait. There are no unicorns.


          • K

            I’ve been to one. There were both males and females in attendance and there was drinking.

          • Louise

            I’m looking forward to a fun shower! My little brother is hosting a coed BBQ shower with the help of my cousin. I have been very firm/honest about what I’m comfortable with, and a lot of my “no way”s have been a reaction to some weirdly sexist bridal showers I’ve been to, where the conversations focused on how dumb men are. A perk to being proudly feminist is that no one is surprised by my vetos.

      • meg

        That might be a little too close to home for me to write an article on, but I’ll work on it!

    • Alyssa

      While I get annoyed with everything listed in this article, the asking about kids is the worst for me. Why should my reproductive choices now be a matter for unprovoked conversation?

      • KEA1

        If I ever get asked about mine, I think I’ll use your rhetorical question as an actual question. And then smile. And hopefully walk away. %)

  • I felt like when we got engaged I got the slap on the back, “Congratulations Lady” response Meg was looking for. Which sort of left me wondering who I could gush about wedding planning with. We deliberately wanted our wedding to be low key but beautiful and somewhere in my insistence on “playing it cool” I gave my friends and relatives the sense that I don’t WANT to gush about our photographer, the location, and how freaking excited I am to get married.

    I’m not sure if this was my attitude, my lack of engagement ring, our rejection of WIC requirements or that I’m the first of my college friends to get married. Even if we’re feminists getting married, it doesn’t mean we’ve erased excitement over weddings. I think I messed that one up.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’m in the middle of our engagement and feel the same way. I doubt you really “messed up.” I bet you never found the happy medium between the always-gushing-obnoxious-bride and the cool-headed-analytical bride.

      I don’t know your story, Beth, but for us, one good thing about a 15 month engagement is it’s long enough to learn how to be engaged. How to talk about the wedding, and how to talk about other things. I’m not sure it’s a factor I’d tell other people to consider when deciding how long their engagements will be, but it has been a nice bonus.

      • ha. The way I wrote that makes it sound like I’m already married. We’ve got another four months left in a 14 month engagement. And I HAVEN’T found that medium. We’ve got it in our house…I can do other things and then occasionally get wayyy excited about the wedding but I haven’t found that balance with my mom-friends-other family-etc.

        (Thinking about this more, I think it has A LOT to do with the fact that we’re having a destination wedding EVERYONE was invited to but few either could come or decided to make the effort to…)

    • I hate this that no matter what we do, we also end up feeling like we messed up the engagement period. We really need to let ourselves off the hook and get it in our heads that engagement periods are only fun for very few people.

  • Christina

    Thank you so much for this. I just got married this past weekend, and while I had fun planning more than not, did have to wrestle with which aspects of tradition to keep and which to jettison. Add to that sorting through the stuff the wedding industry tells you that you NEED, and it could be exhausting. We finally crafted a celebration that honored tradition but reflected us in a very personal way–something which I think the WIC actually s an obstacle to.

    My fiance thinks I should start a no-nonsense wedding planning business. :P

    • Catherine B


  • Stacy

    Oh my gosh, THANK YOU for this. It makes me feel like my crazy frustrations are not so crazy.

    When I was a little girl, I would ask the boys WHY girls were expected to change their names when they got married but boys weren’t. Their only answer was, “But it’s been my name my whole life!” Uh, yeah, mine, too! Try again! At your urging, Meg, I’ve started that conversation with my boyfriend, and it definitely rattled him. Men just don’t even think about these things, and no matter what we end up doing, I’m going to make sure that it’s been thoughtfully considered and not just auto-pilot.

    We’re getting engaged sometime this summer. (I suspect in July near my birthday.) I’m fiercely independent, but it really does make me feel loved when someone else takes care of some things for me, so I am happy that he’s taking care of the asking. I feel a little guilty that I want a sparkly, sparkly ring, but when I’ve brought up that feeling he just says, “You’re allowed to want a ring.” Meanwhile, I will not allow him to ask my dad for his blessing and I am about 95% certain that I will walk down the aisle by myself. These decisions are made easier because I don’t have a great relationship with my parents, I’ve been on my own since I was 18 (I’m 32 now) and I don’t want to have to act like things are otherwise on my wedding day. I’ve had loads of practice setting good boundaries with them, so it should be fine. Still, I have been feeling so torn about picking and choosing my feminist stands. Thanks for saying that’s okay.

    • meg

      It always made me a little happy when the name change discussion rattled David. Because you know what? It had been rattling me my whole life, so it’s about time it rattled the mens folk too. BECAUSE SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH IT. So it rattles anyone that has to look it in the face, I think.

  • This is wonderful. I’m an oversharer in general, and was certainly very excited about our wedding while engaged and planning it. But even so I felt really uncomfortable with a lot of the conversations I was engaged in about the process, and I think this nicely sums up why.

    As for the essay you linked to, thanks a million for including it. There is much food for thought there.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’ve posted about this before, but it’s worth repeating here: You want to know how much engaged women are treated as property? Well, the best indication is the wedding vendors who GRABBED MY LEFT HAND to look at the ring. Not friends, vendors – strangers. Not OK.

    • meg


    • They want to know how much they can wring out of you.

  • On the e-ring front, I always told my now-fiance that I didn’t need a ring. He wanted to propose with one anyway. Then after he did that we looked for a ring for him. Lucky for me, he didn’t see the sense in me having a “taken” symbol and him not. What’s tricky is getting him to explain this to others. He’s a lot more reserved with his friend and strangers so it’s a challenge to get him to really explain the “mangagement ring.” We’re getting there though!

  • Rachel

    When I got married two years ago, I had *no flippin’ idea* how to handle the name-changing decision. I signed our thank you cards with his last name, but I remember sitting on the bathroom floor while my new husband showered trying to discern all the things I was feeling and trying to help him understand my feelings. He wasn’t be insensitive–anything but, really–but I thought it was important that he had a visceral grasp on the concept instead of just a “I respect your decision but I’m okay with the fact that I don’t have to make it, too” grasp.

    And then, one day, I went to the Social Security office, marriage license in hand, and changed my name. Well, hyphenated, actually. In fact, I hyphenated two of the most distinctly German names known to American ears. I hyphenated two names that *separately* get the response “Gee, never heard that before…how is it spelled?” almost every time somebody hears it. Just put a dash in the middle and threw his on the end. Afterward, I called my husband at work and told him my decision.

    Just today, I was leaving a message at my auto dealership to make an appointment for an inspection. I said my whole name, then hung up the phone. For the briefest of moments, I thought, “gee, I wonder if they understood that,” and then I thought, “of course they’re going to recognize it. I’m the lady with the crazy name.” And I smiled. It wasn’t funny or sarcastic or snarky or anything. I just smiled, because that’s MY crazy name. No matter how many times people look at me sideways for hyphenating at all, let alone hyphenating the two names that I did, that’s fine. It’s still MY name.

  • Amanda

    My younger brother proudly selected a signet ring that he wore on his left ring finger after asking my sister in law to marry him. His reasoning? “I’m just as proud to be engaged as she is, why don’t I get to show it?”


    I loved that he did that.

  • Sunny

    I love the article and the discussion. I am rather surprised, however, to see a feminist article that forgets to think about women’s diversity of experience. I don’t mean the diverse approaches we take towards creating a feminist marriage today, but the diverse histories of marriage. What does it mean for a family whose ancestors were FORBIDDEN to marry to claim and create a healthy family, using marriage to do so ? For queer couples ? For couples who have no choice if they wish to stay in the same country?

    Each of those experiences comes with it’s own set of dilemmas when facing marriage as a feminist. Let’s not forget the structures of privilege that inform the histories of marriage, nor the tremendous diversity of forms of marriage and other kinds of family commitment.

    By the way, dowries in some traditions were money to be held by the bride’s parents for her in case she needed to leave the marriage.

    • meg

      Those are all really good points, and really important things to be discussed. But this was particularly a first person article about my experience (not, say, a more heavily researched piece…I didn’t have time on a quick piece like this). And that’s not part of my personal experience. That doesn’t make it any less worthy of discussion, however. But all of us need to write about our own truths and experience, doing that in no way takes away from other experiences.

      • Sunny

        Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the post. I love this site.

        It’s true that we speak from our position and experience. But if that position and experience is a place of privilege, it’s important to own that too. After all, white heterosexual cis-gendered women (and I am one too) are the ones that rarely HAVE to name or face that position when they are getting married.

        The section under “Here is a short list of the big deal issues for women getting hitched:” reads as if a claim is being made about all women, not just about your issues (and mine). It speaks much of “the history” and “the tradition”, but it is about one very specific history and tradition among many. On the one hand – it’s minor, and doesn’t matter so much. On the other – it’s all the minor instances that remain unquestioned, add up, and wield a great deal of power over time, allowing THIS specific kind of partnership, history, and tradition to become understood as THE normal partnership, history, and tradition.

  • Melissa

    I love this dialogue. My boy and I were actually discussing the concept of him asking my mother for permission to marry me; I grew so indignant to the point of being insulted and he was a bit surprised. I’d never considered that bit of tradition as something that might affect us: we’ve been together for five years, and our families are very comfortable around each other. For all intents and purposes, we are engaged, and his grandmother introduces me to her friends as his fiance (something that bothers me for entirely different reasons). But I feel that no one, especially my mother (with whom I have a very strained relationship), has the right to have a say in our relationship but the two of us. I am an adult, I am not property, and no one has the right to give someone permission to do something with my life.

    It was a learning moment for us, because typically I am a modern lady with old fashioned values. It never occurred to me that he would want to ask for my hand, because I have been fiercely independent since I was about four years old. It never occurred to him to even discuss it with me, because he has a very strong respect for family and traditional values (and I do too, most days). We learned things about each other and our respective philosophies that we might not have otherwise. It’s interesting where the traditions you forget about crop up and the growth moments they provide for your relationship.

  • Jessica

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I’m planning on getting married in a little over a year and am just about finished with your book. Reading chapter after chapter I feel relieved that I don’t have to do things one way and that it is my wedding and I can do what I feel comfortable with.
    I’m thrilled that you’ve continued on writing about practicality and weddings because I think people get way too far over their heads with the whole thing and you’re showing us that it can be done practically, simply, and gracefully. My fiance and I designed my sapphire engagement ring together and I paid for half of it. I’m not having bridesmaids because I’m asking people to fly across the country to come to my wedding and I don’t want to ask them to pay for a dress as well. I’m not wearing the garter because I think it’s silly. Both of my parents are walking me down the aisle because it’s Jewish “tradition” and it makes my mom happy to be able to do so. I’m still debating about the last name change, but will probably take his as it is easier for the children to have the same last name as their mom.

    • BarryMayor

      Brava on at least paying for half your ring.

  • Bethany

    When I told my boss I was engaged, the first thing he asked me was if I was going to quit and become a housewife… I had no words. Like I was just working until I could find a rich man to take care of me? I make way more money than my fiance, by the way.

    And I second the comments above about bridal shower anxiety. Mine is coming up next month and I’m terrified! Why do I have to be the “ambassador” of our relationship? Isn’t this a partnership? I know my finace would come with me if I asked, but it just feels weird to me that having him there would raise eyebrows among older generations when both of us will be using the blender/sheets/etc.

    • Have him come along! Then call it a “wedding shower” not a “bridal shower.” I went to one with the groom there and it was actually LESS awkward since the old biddies couldn’t do old biddy superstitious sexist nonsense without the groom hearing/getting up in arms.

    • Sarah

      I find it interesting that so many women on here, and in life in general now are the higher earners in the relationship.
      I am and so are most of my friends, it means that we will be paying for at least half of our own weddings.

      I wonder how many people don’t want their parents permission, but take their parents’ money as a big part of their budget? I also wonder if this is even the same issue or not?

      I don’t have money from anywhere, ours will be low budget and we will be planning and paying for it together. (Something which I’ve always done and been proud of)

      Also where I got an engagement ring, I am giving my partner the deposit to buy his own (very expensive) mountain bike.

      (please excuse the randomness and diverging ideas raised at surface level, wedding planning is a minefield and is thoroughly addling, my normally perfectly sane mind)

  • Jennifer

    I am a feminist, work for a feminist organisation, and generally live in a little feminist bubble. It was quite a shock when my boyfriend and I decided to get married.

    Visiting wedding venues burst my little bubble. The constant stream of….”Well, you’ll arrive through this door with your father and your bridesmaids. You walk down the aisle, you’ll do this, you’ll do that”. Will I indeed! Only two out of six venues asked us how we envisaged our day. Clearly we chose one of these!

    Next, the marriage certificate. This almost brought the wedding planning to a complete halt. In England, the marriage certificate states your name, your husband’s name (actually, I think it is the husband’s name and then your name!) followed by both our fathers’ names and occupations. Our mothers do not feature at all on the marriage certificate. I have been so outraged by this that I am no campaigning to have the whole marriage certificate changed. ABSOLUTELY disgraceful in this day and age that i) our parents’ name and occupation is of any relevance to our marriage, and 2) that actually it is only our fathers’ details that are of interest to anyone. Grrrr…

    My partner and I have differing views on engagement rings and changing names. I compromised on the ring (diamonds are so pretty, and it is only a few months until we are married and are both wearing rings, so I have squared my conscience on that one). The name conversation was brief. I’m not changing my name. Period. Nor am I taking the title ‘Mrs’ – why should everyone know my marital status when they don’t know his from his name? Heck, why don’t we just abandon titles and surnames altogether?!

    In all other respects, I feel myself to be very fortunate to be marrying someone who doesn’t really know about wedding traditions and approaches it all in a very logical fashion (a frequent question in our household is “but why are we supposed to do that? It makes no sense”). As such there will be no spending the last night apart (we have lived together for years), no grand unveiling of the bride, walking down the aisle and being passed between men. Instead we have chosen the very informal option of greeting our guests as they arrive at the venue and at a certain time, we will all take our places for the ceremony. No giving away, but our families and friends will be asked to bless our marriage. There will be three speeches – me and my by-then-husband together, his best friend and my best friend. And throughout it all I will be wearing a white wedding dress! I just can’t imagine wearing anything else, despite knowing the symbolism.

    So, a mish mash of traditional tradition and creating our own tradition. It’s a reflection of who we are and our relationship.

    We all have to work out what is right for us. There can be no right or wrong way to get married. Just the way you want. As is talked about a lot, feminism is about choice. I have made my choice, we have made our choices, and I am happy for it. Explaining it all to our family and friends and having to defend some of our decisions is another matter. But I’ll think leave that for another day. Today is for reflecting on all the wonderful things about marrying the person I love :-)

  • ErikJ

    From a feminist perspective, I of course don’t expect her to take my name and I am certainly not changing mine, even that combining names practice would rob me of my well established identity. She may feel the same way.

    I personally reject the concept of human ownership; hence, I will not wear a ring or any other symbol that brands me as being the property, in any sense, of someone else, nor will I purchase any rings for her as such a symbol.

    However, of course, as an independent adult who doesn’t need my permission or opinion to buy or wear whatever she wishes, if she wants a diamond or any other kind of ring, she can purchase and wear whatever she chooses.

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