The Double Bind of the Feminist Bride

Decisions, decisions

My father sat on the edge of my soon-to-be-in-laws’ sun-drenched patio looking pensive as the rest of us gathered round the wedding planner. We were in Yakima at the beautiful house where we were getting married in a month, nailing down the final details. Our wedding planner, Michelle, was running the show like the world’s nicest taskmaster.

“Andrea,” my dad summoned me—he’s a big man, a British-born entrepreneur who played rugby in his youth.

“Yeah, dad?”

“Listen,” he said, “I have some ideas about how we should make our arrival to the wedding.” Our arrival? My husband I were getting married at his parents’ house: I would spend the day prepping and drinking champagne with my bridesmaids in the house, while he had beers with his groomsmen in the loft about the barn. My father continued, “I was thinking we should come in a horse and carriage.”

At first, I thought he was joking. We were getting married at a home, I was thirty-four years old, and furthermore, I’m a feminist. I didn’t have a single princess-y fantasy about my wedding, but the same couldn’t be said, apparently, for my father.

“Dad…” Where to begin? “We’re not going to be arriving from anywhere… I’m getting ready here.”

“Well maybe you should get ready at the hotel instead.”

“Dad, that makes zero sense.” These conversations had already been had, there was even an itinerary.

“Well, maybe you could come meet the carriage at the end of the driveway when you’re ready and then we’ll make our entrance.”

“So…” I was trying to contain my laughter, because my typically jolly dad was deadly serious about this suggestion. “You want me to tromp down the driveway in my wedding dress in order to hop into a carriage with you to come back up the driveway?”

“We could get a limo to come pick you up and take you to meet the carriage. I always envisioned us arriving in a horse-drawn carriage.”

I’d finally gotten him to drop the idea of choreographing our father-daughter dance, and now this.

when feminists marry men

If you’re a feminist woman marrying a man, you quickly realize that nearly all Western wedding traditions come in two basic varieties. Those with a marketing agenda—such as pricey diamond engagement rings originally brought to us by De Beers—and those with bizarre, horrendously sexist roots. A few of my favorite examples: The “best man” is called that because in ye olden days, a groom would call upon the best swordsman in village to stand by him at the wedding in order to keep away jealous suitors and/or the bride’s disapproving family. Or, if he was practicing “marriage by capture” he might need the best man’s help getting the bride there in the first place. Ever wonder why brides wear a train and a veil? Partly to ward off evil spirits (much of the bridal dress traditions revolve around this) but additionally, to hinder the bride, should she decide to make a run for it. In short, a great number of the wedding traditions regularly incorporated into modern ceremonies come from trying to protect the bride from three things: evil spirits, jealous exes, and her own free will. Yikes.

I hadn’t been dreaming about my wedding day since I was a little girl, or really any time before I was in love with my now-husband. So I was surprised by some of the traditional things I was into. I wanted a wedding dress, and moreover, a veil. Seeing myself look so “bridal” helped me pause and reflect; it made the profound significance of the occasion sink in. Did wearing these traditional trappings make me a bad feminist?

What about the fact that I still wanted my dad to walk me down the aisle, despite the fact that the tradition signified a father transferring ownership of his daughter to his new son-in-law?

Would my feminist card be revoked as soon as we reached the other end of the aisle? Was I really supposed to invent all new gender-neutral traditions with no ties to the patriarchy whatsoever?

what we kept (and what we left out)

That seemed like a tall order for a bride who relished having her planner make all the decisions. When asked about flowers I managed, “Uh… neutral? With a little bit of color maybe and kind of… foresty?” With that my talented florist created something beautiful. And where did the florist come from? Michelle. And the DJ and the catering and the dress boutique and the photographer and the makeup artist? Michelle, Michelle, Michelle. My fiancé and I wanted friends and family to eat drink and be merry, but we were also overwhelmed and mostly wanted to just pick our outfits and show up.

While we ultimately kept some traditions—white dress, coordinating bridal parties, traditional vows (minus the “obey” natch), first dance, toasts—others felt like no brainers to shun: bouquet toss (find me a grown-ass single lady that enjoys this part of a wedding, I’ll eat my veil), garter toss (in front of my father and my husband’s grandfather? Nope!). Bachelor/bachelorette parties to celebrate with our pals? Keep! Bridal shower where you get lingerie from your relatives? Nix! Cake? Sure! Four-tiered wedding cake that costs approximately ten times as much as a normal cake? Nah. Ultimately, these choices were less grounded in an adherence to any ideology and simply came down to what felt right.

Trying to pull off a wedding that met all of my feminist ideals felt like just another all-too familiar double-bind, an amplification of the ideological hoops we jump through on a daily basis: makeup yes or no? What about heels? Going dutch on dates?

there is no perfect feminist

As most of us know, being a perfect feminist is impossible, doubly so on your wedding day. And trying to be the perfect “chill” bride who eschews all traditions is just one more way to get stuck in the “cool girl” paradox that the author Gillian Flynn impeccably encapsulates in Gone Girl. Don’t be too girly, that’s not cool! But don’t be too feminist either, also not cool.

I chose to keep my name, but I also chose to wear white and have my dad walk me down the aisle. As for the horse and carriage debacle, thankfully, the only horses who ultimately attended the wedding were the ones who lived on the property. So, feminist brides: you do you. There are so many great and necessary ways to smash the patriarchy, but you don’t necessarily have to do it on your wedding day. Unless you want to. In which case, can I come?

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  • Jane

    I’m glad you didn’t do it, but the idea of the limo to the horse-drawn carriage is so perfectly over the top it makes me think of Rogelio from Jane the Virgin. And I just love that a non-fictional dad wants to do that!

    • MC

      OMG it is totally a Rogelio move! And I do consider him to be the best TV dad.

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    • Andrea Dunlop

      I cannot believe I’ve never noticed the similarities, but my dad is 100 percent the British Rogelio. This makes my day!

      • Jane

        Sounds like your dad is awesome!

  • Sara

    The fact that your dad wanted to do a horse and carriage entrance tickles me to no end. That’s so adorable. I’m with you on all of the issues on ‘how’ and ‘why’, but the fact it was spearheaded by dad amuses me.

    That being said, I full agree with this. I think being a feminist is owning who you are and not apologizing for wanting to be girly and princessy OR alternately, wanting nothing to do with those things. Being a woman is hard enough without feeling like you have to give up something you actually do want (like your dad walking you down the aisle). Do whatever makes you happy!

    • sofar

      YES. Do what makes you happy/do what you want. Are you a feminist? Great — all the decisions you make will be feminist and your wedding will be a feminist wedding. If other feminists criticize you for making those decisions, they are not actually feminists. The end.

      • A.

        Hm, I actually sort of disagree with this. For me, being a feminist does not necessarily make every choice you make “feminist.” I think it’s more that making a neutral/non-feminist choice does not negate you being a feminist or make you a “bad feminist.”

        • wannabee

          Yeah, not every choice a feminist makes is a feminist choice. This line of thinking drives me crazy.

      • CMT

        I think feminists can definitely make non-feminist choices, but that’s okay! It’s impossible and unrealistic to expect that somebody be a shining beacon of feminism 100% of the time. I think it’s okay especially when it comes to a super personal event like a wedding where you might just want to be a pretty princess or it might be less stressful for you to give in to an un-feminist tradition your family really wants.

      • Laura C

        Maybe in the context of wedding decisions like will I wear a veil or not. But more broadly I have to disagree.

        Recently there was a commenter defending the life goal of being a trophy wife as a feminist one. That’s an extreme example and it’s not clear that the trophy wife identified as a feminist, but there are all sorts of messed-up things that women can claim in the name of feminism that we have to be at least able to debate without losing our feminist cards for the sin of criticizing a woman who calls herself a feminist. Exploiting low-wage caregivers so we can go off and work at high-wage fancy jobs, for instance. Yeah, successful women are a goal of (a certain brand of) feminism, but if it’s happening on unacknowledged exploitation? We have to be able to talk about that.

        How about: all feminists make choices that are not necessarily themselves feminist choices, and that’s ok. My choice to give our son my husband’s last name? Not a feminist choice — actually exactly the choice the patriarchy would have made for us. But we had considered reasons for it and I’m not apologizing even as I completely deny it as a feminist choice. My feminism is tough enough to withstand acknowledging my non-feminist choices.

        • honeycomehome

          This, exactly. Not every choice a feminist makes is a feminist choice. That’s fine. It’s impossible to live a life free from Patriarchy Approved choices.

          • CMT

            Oh man, it would be exhausting to live that life! And probably lonely and isolated, as well.

          • Jess

            And my make-up bag would contain fewer lipsticks, which would make me sad.

            It may be patriarchy approved, but that stuff is my emotional armor.

          • Katharine Parker

            And a patriarchy-approved appearance can go either way! Policing women’s appearance is not a goal.

          • Jess

            That’s the truth!

        • K. is skittish about disqus

          This comment is golden. And also want to especially highlight that I agree that debate over feminist choices is crucial! There are so many schools of thought (Chimamanda Adichie, for example, believes that it’s misogynistic to criticize expressions of femininity, and yet others tend to believe that most expressions of femininity are themselves misogynistic etc). If we can’t talk and debate and, yeah, criticize (without crueltry), how can we move forward in the movement?

          Are you absolutely a total jerk if you tell someone that having their beloved father walk them down the aisle makes them a Patriarchy Robot? Duh. Of course. But speaking in a general context about how that isn’t always a feminist choice shouldn’t revoke anyone’s feminist card, it should just open up the floor to respectful debate.

        • Jess

          “all feminists make choices that are not necessarily themselves feminist choices, and that’s ok.”

          I have never agreed with the concept of “any choice a woman/feminist makes is inherently a feminist choice because she had the freedom to make it” thing.

          I fully agree that no feminist can make a feminist choice in every decision of his/her life, and that does not immediately revoke his/her right to be a feminist.

        • Sara

          I agree – the ability to create the life you want with the choices you make, feminist or no, is the goal. I think where the non-feminist/feminist choice comes in is the fact that you recognize and discuss what that choice means for you. Blindly doing it because ‘everyone does’ or ‘tradition’ is different than saying “I know why the whole giving a daughter away think is icky, but I love my dad and I really want that moment with him”
          (Also, writing the word choice is beginning to look weird)

        • Abs

          This. And while we’re at it, I would like more scrutiny of whether my husband’s life choices are feminist ones (not just his behavior toward me–also his clothing and decision to keep his last name).

          • BSM


        • Katharine Parker

          I find it useful to think about feminism as being about rights rather than about choices. Like with giving a child the father’s surname–is that a feminist choice? No. But within my feminism do I continue to validate a woman’s right to choose how to name her children, in which that choice is not predetermined and women’s agency and legal standing as equal parents to a father is protected? Yes. Is feminism about giving women options? Not directly, it’s about giving and protecting women’s rights. The rights we’re fighting for have changed over the various waves of feminism, but I think it becomes problematic when we divorce feminism from rights.

          And within that, recognizing the ways that women’s rights are threatened by the workings of misogyny with racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia… intersectionality is essential.

          • Jess

            That is a really useful framing and a good way to contextualize intersectionality, especially where the ability to work/not work, or keep/change a surname upon marriage, or marry at all was not a given throughout history.

          • BSM

            I appreciate this framing and feel like it’s really useful.

            I also think we shouldn’t diminish the role that making feminist choices plays in preserving and expanding the rights of women.

          • K. is skittish about disqus

            Always an upvote for an intersectionality shout out. That’s probably my one hard line in all of this – feminism without intersectionality is not feminism.

          • MC

            Yep – like bell hooks says, feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, which of course is connected w/ ending all types of oppression. Does reducing/ending sexist oppression give women more choices in their day-to-day lives? Yes! But that isn’t the main goal.

            Judging feminism by how many choices women have also tends to gloss over the fact that our choices are shaped by patriarchy, racism, classism, etc. For example, all women in the US theoretically have the choice to keep their last name when they get married – but their choice can be influenced by patriarchal norms, their culture, race, etc. The “choice” to be a stay at home mom vs. a working mom? Almost always comes down to economics, and our economic standing is heavily influenced by our gender, race, class we were raised in, etc.

        • AP

          YES. I’ll leave this here for anyone interested:

        • Anna

          Really glad to see someone (many someones, including commenters below!) adding a little nuance to(/pushing back on) the choice-feminism aspect of this piece :-)

        • Andrea Dunlop

          This is such a good point. I think it’s about choosing your battles, because literally none of us have the energy, time, or resources to fight them all. At the end of the day, the details of a wedding felt pretty minor in terms of feminist v not-feminist choices.

        • Sunni

          Yup. Exactly. Feminists do make non-feminist choices and that’s OK, but there are definitely choices feminists make that are not feminist. Making a choice while feminist does not make the choice in itself feminist. (Who, that’s a lot of feminist and choice. :))

        • Lizzie

          YES just came here to say this exact thing! Preach it, preach it.

      • Amy March

        Not the end at all I don’t think.

    • Andrea Dunlop

      Oh it was utterly hilarious. My dad also took a “phone call from the Queen” during his speech at our reception and told her to let Prince Harry down easy.

      • S

        omg I love it

  • Rose

    Really? The train is supposed to keep her from running away? Trains have been a part of formal and court dress in a number of countries for centuries. Both day and evening dresses have had trains, depending on the decade. I’m pretty sure that the reason they’ve hung on for modern wedding dresses is because those are the only really super formal dresses that most people ever wear, and because weddings tend to keep more archaic fashions. I really don’t think that it was ever about keeping the bride from running away.

    I’m sympathetic to the dilemmas that the author is discussing, but I do also see a tendency (not just here) for people to believe something they’ve read in one article some place and decide that a tradition comes from X, with no other evidence, and contrary to common sense. I do think it’s something to watch out for.

    Also, we invited any non-married guests to join in our bouquet toss, and the ones who decided to participate had fun. Especially the two women (good friends) who were both really trying for the bouquet (not, I think, because they wanted to be the next to get married, but because they wanted to catch the bouquet). It’s a know-your-crowd thing, for sure, but not necessarily unwelcome.

    • Eh

      Both my family and my husband’s family love bouquet toss and garter toss (and we had no strong objections to it, but it’s ok to exclude it if you do). It’s more fun and less pressure (e.g., no one is forced to go up) – and it was cute watching my little nieces try to catch my bouquet. It was actually one of my favourite memories from my wedding. My bouquet almost hit a ceiling fan and then landed right in the arms of my husband’s uncle’s gf who didn’t really want it (at a family wedding the year before she pushed someone else in front of her because the bouquet was coming at her). Some of other girls/woman were actually attempting to catch the bouquet but my bouquet really wanted this woman. Then my husband “tossed” (more like rubber band shot) the garter right at his uncle (the one with the gf that just caught the bouquet). A year later (the day before our first anniversary) they got married.

      • Rose

        Yeah. I think it’s probably more fun (most of the time) if you don’t pressure people into doing it, or make it a BIG DEAL about all the SINGLE WOMEN WHO WANT TO GET MARRIED, but it can be fun.

        • CMT

          But sometimes it’s the guests who do the pressuring, not the couple themselves. And that can still be really uncomfortable for the people being pressured. (Ask me how I know.)

          • Jess


          • Rose

            Yeah, that doesn’t sound fun. It really is a know-your-people thing, I think. If our friends/family were people who were likely to do that, we probably would have skipped it.

          • Eh

            Oh I agree that it can be (frequently is) the guests that do the pressuring (I have seen guests drag women to the dance floor for the bouquet toss and MCs/DJs call people out). And I may have felt different if that was my experience with my family or my husband’s family.

      • Jess

        “Know your crowd” definitely applies to the tosses. I have been to many weddings with a bouquet resoundingly hitting the floor – fun for no one.

        • penguin

          That’s depressing. One of my aunts had a bouquet toss at her wedding and it was almost as bad. There were only maybe 4 or 5 single women there (I was one of them, and a surly teenager). None of us wanted to participate and we were physically dragged out onto the dance floor for the bouquet toss, and left the floor as soon as possible. I don’t remember what happened to the bouquet, but I do remember being cranky and embarrassed afterwards.

          • Jess

            Yup. Depressing and embarrassing for all. I have been guided to the floor by the elbow. I have been one of three women standing there. I have caught the bouquet by default of being the only grown person, and therefore the tallest, who was forced out there.

            We, to no one’s surprise, did not have a toss.

          • penguin

            Yep we’re skipping it as well. Not sure if I’ll do anything else with my bouquet, or just set it somewhere as decoration.

          • Jess

            We had a vase on the table where was sat – I put it in there! You could also put it next to a cake/the desserts for people to admire.

          • Jane

            Good idea. I was planning on giving mine to my grandmother because I’m getting married on her anniversary. But she’s not going to be healthy enough to come to my wedding. So I’m planning to do the plunking it in a vase route.

          • Jess

            It was a good way for people to kind of come visit during dinner, too. “oh I wanted to say hello, and congratulations, and now let me admire the bouquet so you can get a few bites of food in…” :)

          • Yael

            That’s what I want to do! It’s my damn bouquet, none of you can have it. Also, lingering bouquet toss trauma.

          • Eh

            I’ve heard of brides giving it to the woman who has been married the longest (that might not fly depending on your crowd either).

          • BSM

            I have no idea what I did with mine after the ceremony. I had no emotional attachment to it, which I guess is uncommon?

            My poor in-laws drove it 6 hours back to northern California where we all live (we got married in LA) because of course I wanted it, right? I felt bad that they went to all that effort, but I didn’t even know to clarify that it could just get tossed.

        • That’s exactly why we invited everyone (like literally everyone, regardless of marital status or gender) out for the bouquet/garter toss. The tosses are fun only when the crowd is into it and not singling out your singles (and offering a bottle of tequila to the catchers) definitely got everyone more excited.

          • Jess

            I’ve never been to a wedding where that happened, but I really like the concept of it! I would participate if everyone was there.

          • BSM

            That’s a great idea! I was just thinking that I’d totally be into participating in a bouquet toss for the competitive aspect of it.

          • Jessica

            If I was going to win something other than a bouquet, I would be all over the toss #competitiveweddingguest

          • Alexa

            I didn’t have a bouquet but tossed a plushie (of a bell curve, ’cause we’re nerds and it matched our invitations). The deal was that we’d take whoever caught it out to dinner. :)

          • Leah

            the bottle of tequila prize is such a good idea!

          • Andrea Dunlop

            The bottle of tequila idea is brilliant.

          • Eenie

            We didn’t have flowers, and I cannot stand the idea of a garter toss, so we tossed two stuffed cats that looked like our cats. It was super competitive – people were standing on chairs!! Our DJ mistakenly invited the single ladies out before I yelled “we’re tossing stuffed cats, anyone can come catch them!”

          • suchbrightlights

            Are you the sage who pioneered the idea of the Animal Toss somewhere in the comments here a few years ago? I mentally bookmarked that idea. “Everyone come up! The person who catches this stuffed animal will be the next to get a pet!”

          • Eenie

            Oh I don’t know! I really liked the idea of brides tossing cats, where the cat is photoshopped over the bouquet. We didn’t have flowers, so this solved my problem! A year out, we still haven’t done the photo shopping though…

          • NotMotherTheresa

            You are my new hero!

          • sofar

            I wanted to toss bouquets of scratch-off tickets, because that’s something my family would totally compete over. But my husband was like, “Please no, I could never make my family OK with that, and I don’t want to try.”

      • Katherine

        My bouquet was made of succulents and literally exploded in the hands of the person who caught it. It made for some great photos.

        • penguin

          That’s amazing.

        • Eh

          Hahaha – I was told that if she didn’t catch it it would have hit her in the face.

    • Yeah, the veil thing I’ll buy as Roman, but I’m pretty certain trains come less from a sexist tradition and more from a classist one – look how rich I am that I can afford to drag expensive material across the dirty ground / pay servants to carry it around for me. Cathedral veils sort of cross that boundary, but it’s still more about showing off the money than entrapping the woman.

      • rg223

        It’s amazing how many wedding traditions started as “look how rich I am” and then people attached other meaning. I bet there are lots more examples that aren’t commonly known. I need Mary Roach to write a book about the origins of wedding traditions.

        • I tried doing some casual research on traditions after I got engaged, and it very quickly became apparent that it was either go doctorate or go home levels of research required – 90% of the stuff you find online is unsourced and contradictory, while the other 10% is outright bollocks. Like having a chimney sweep being lucky being traced back to William the Conqueror’s era… before chimneys were invented (also, that one does have a very well documented started point with George II, though the actual events are likely made up). The thing is, weddings are generally pretty well documented, so it should be possible to trace a lot of traditions back to their starting points, but like a lot of ‘feminine’ history it’s woefully under explored.

          • K.K.

            This is one of those things I care way too deeply about (the history of various traditions, in this case, wedding traditions specifically), even though it’s way outside my nominal proffesional field. I’m super interested in what the best resources you’ve come across were. Certainly in the giant wedding industry, someone has done a well-researched book on the genealogy of various wedding traditions?!

          • Annie Lord

            I’m a traditionalist/fairly conservative so this is nothing against traditions or wedding traditions per se, but I imagine that if someone in the wedding industry compiled an accurate, well-researched book like this, it might undercut “The Industry” in a lot of ways! I imagine that many “traditions” that are currently used at weddings (and viewed as sacrosanct!) are not really that old, or they are particular to one culture, or they don’t really mean anything in particular!

            It is interesting, though, that several wedding traditions seem to have stemmed from multiple cultures and thus have multiple possible meanings! (e.g. the veil being used to “shield” the “property” during the “transaction,” which is very different from the Christian/Catholic view of things in which all women wore veils during liturgy/in church, including at weddings, which is I’m sure very different from the other meanings a veil might have.)

        • In Meg’s first book, she has a chapter on this and in it she mentions Carol McD. Wallace’s “excellent” history book, All Dressed in White. Could be a fun place to start…

      • Rose

        Yeah, I think so. I haven’t really researched it or anything, but my general sense is that trains started as part of Court Dress (which often was very formalized–I know I’ve seen something about rules on how wide the embroidered bands could be on a court train, if you weren’t part of the royal family, and I know that some courts have required trains to be worn), and then the upper classes started imitating court fashions in other contexts, and then that spread down into the middle classes too.

  • sofar

    The horse and carriage, OMG. It astounded me how many random, elaborate ideas our families had that they’d bring up AFTER all the plans had been made. Like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we did XYZ?” “I just had a thought — what if we did ABC?” “I just went to a wedding where they did such-and-such a thing, and it was so nice! You should do that too!”

    And then I would immediately explain how it would be another Thing To Plan, wouldn’t work with the schedule we’d already planned, and would just be an all-around pain in the ass. And they’d be stunned and asked, “How do you immediately think of all those things?” And I’d be like, “How do you just suggest an idea without thinking of the logistics???”

    • Sara

      Ha I am that member of the family too! Someone suggests something and I ask questions about logistics/details. Inevitably, they get annoyed and say “you’re overthinking this”.

      • idkmybffjill

        Ha! That’s gonna be on my tombstone.


      • NotMotherTheresa


        Yes. Yes it is. But you know, bank accounts. Time. The laws of physics. Those things…those things don’t really care how “special” my day is. Sorry.

        • sofar

          I am also a monster who did not want a SPECIAL day.


    • Andrea Dunlop

      It was right at the moment I thought I was safe from wild Dad suggestions. But alas!!

    • NotMotherTheresa

      I literally cannot count the number of times when I had to remind my family members that their ideas, while “wonderful”, would COST MONEY!
      “Why yes Mom, I do think that a helicopter lowering me down onto an actual unicorn would be lovely, but I think that might exceed our budget. Let me know if you can figure out how to do that for under $20. If not, *darn* I guess I’ll just have to walk into the church like a regular person.”
      With my penny pinching family, this worked pretty well. With friends…umm, I hope my friend has finally come to terms with the fact that we did not have an ice sculpture carved to look like me.

      • sofar

        “Helicopter lowering me down onto an actual unicorn” made me *snork* on my coffee just now.

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  • idkmybffjill

    I thought the veil was so the groom wouldn’t peace out if she was ugly under there?

    • Jess

      I thought so too, hence the whole moving-the-veil-to-kiss-at-the-end thing?

      • idkmybffjill

        Yeah like, “Gotcha sucker”. Or “Surprise she IS pretty!”

    • Yael

      That’s sort of what it’s for in Judaism – Laban veiled Leah and Rachel so he could switch Leah in for Rachel. Of course, nowadays, the groom gets to check to make sure his bride is his. Similar use of a veil in Much Ado about Nothing. And this is why I am not wearing a veil, tradition be damned.

    • Andrea Dunlop

      For sure, different things from different traditions (all of them sexist, surprise!) this particular tidbit comes from the Romans. (I also wore a veil, because: pretty)

    • In the UK, you have to remove the veil before the legal bits to make sure a switcheroo hasn’t been pulled. Also why until very recently you couldn’t get married at night – without nice bright daylight could you really be sure you were marrying the right woman?

  • JenC

    I fiercely fought against the sexist traditions at the beginning but throughout wedding planning, we included more and more things that I disagreed with at the beginning. Sometimes because I got caught up in the moment (stupid veil), sometimes because it meant more to my loved ones than it did to me (wearing a traditional wedding dress) and sometimes I wasn’t necessarily on board even at the wedding but I ended up taking my own things away from the day (walking down the aisle with my dad (and mum and in-laws walking husband down too)).

    My parents divorced when I was really young and I saw my dad at weekends, when he would pick me up and take me straight to my grandparents before disappearing for the weekend to do single man things that didn’t suit lugging around a two year old. As my dad remarried, the relationship didn’t really repair itself. It wasn’t a bad relationship, it just wasn’t really there. It started to really get me down a few years ago because they showed more interest in my husband and his accomplishments (he’s an accountant and I’ve got a very vague job title that in no way explains what I do and my studies have focussed on very specific elements that aren’t particularly in the mainstream so they didn’t really understand what I did) and I just wanted a “normal” father-daughter relationship. I watched my friend’s dads interrogate new boyfriends. My friends insisted on getting their dad’s blessing because it was important to their relationship. I was really envious of that.

    So wedding planning was quite fraught because I didn’t feel like my dad deserved the typical father of the bride things. I agreed with my husband that we’d both walk down the aisle with our parents, this way it wasn’t sexist and I could involve my dad in a non-direct way. My mum insisted I go to the church with my dad, just us and I just didn’t have the strength to fight it – I could deal with him for 20 minutes. I also agreed that he could do a speech because I knew fundamentally it would upset a lot of people other than just my dad (like grandma) if he didn’t. I had no idea what he was going to say and I just really hoped he wasn’t going to do a cliched father of the bride speech – one that should be reserved for a dad that was there. I wasn’t expecting anything from participating in these father-daughter rituals and I could let go of my feminist ideals in these few ways because I’d got my own way on enough other stuff.

    Well, on the day something happened. The journey in the car to the church wasn’t as bad as I feared. My dad was actually really nervous but he wasn’t being a jerk, he was really thoughtful and I could tell it was so important to him. When we all walked down the aisle and I gave my parents a hug at the end, he forgot to hug me because he was just so nervous about getting it right for me. His speech wasn’t cliched, he didn’t claim to have been there all the time but I could hear how proud of me he was anyway. When I asked the DJ to play my dad’s song for me, he welled up. We also accidentally had a first look and whilst I didn’t catch his expression at the time, the photographer caught his expressions over four images and still use that photo to demonstrate a father’s love. Whilst the photographer doesn’t know the history of our relationship, I have to agree with him, they’re beautiful and so emotive. Participating in some of the traditional non-feminist traditions seems to have helped repair our relationship a bit. We’re not going to win father-daughter relationship of the year but we have a lot more understanding of each other and when I have kids in the future then I think both me and my dad will be happy to create a great relationship between grandad and grandchild.

    • Jane

      Yeah, the patriarchy aside, those traditions can bring a lot of stuff up. I’m still figuring out how to do a handoff from my dad to my step-dad for the aisle.
      SO glad it all worked out for you.

    • Jess

      This is a beautiful example of keeping non-feminist traditions in ways that are very personal.

      I’m happy you were able to cultivate that moment for you and your dad.

    • rg223

      This would make a great essay if you expanded it!

    • Andrea Dunlop

      What a beautiful story! And this so resonates with me. And I agree with the below commenters that you should write this essay. I think a lot of people would relate, planning a wedding brings so many things to the fore.

    • Her Lindsayship

      This is so beautiful! The patterns we fall into with our family relationships are SO HARD to break out of, and I think the ritual and pomp of a wedding only compound that. I think it must’ve taken a very open and kind heart for you to see those things in him after a lifetime of not seeing them, so well done there. And how sweet that you have photos to remind you of that!

  • rebecca

    One of the most delightfully unexpected things about my wedding planning process is that my father has been 100% the most supportive person of my eschewing tradition in the name of feminism (and also agnosticism). I would have a hard time using the word feminist to describe my father (He refers to “Greys Anatomy” as “That Slut Show”) but he has always treated me like a whole person and he’s never shoveled weird emotional labor on me. There have been times throughout this whole thing where my dad is the only person I’ve wanted to invite to the wedding!

  • quiet000001

    I love horses but the horse and carriage thing just doesn’t seem like it works without looking silly most of the time these days.

    • CMT

      Unless you’re a member of the royal family, or related to a member of the royal family, it does seem a bit over the top.

      • Andrea Dunlop

        Indeed. I had to break it gently to my father that we were not.

        • suchbrightlights

          I am a horsewoman, from a family of horsewomen. And every time someone asks me if my horse will be in attendance at my wedding, I think about this:

          (Photo by Teodor Bin)

          My horse would almost certainly not do this, largely because the hypothetical version of me that would lose my goddamn mind enough to bring him to my wedding would have spent time getting him used to having a poofy skirt on his back, but why would you even want to court the option? And although carriage horses are trained to deal with this pomp and circumstance, more than the average riding horse, crap happens. Literally.

          All that said, I think you made a thoroughly sensible decision. If your honeymoon takes you through scenic parks, horsedrawn carriages are a wonderful way to view them. You know. On your own time. Because YOU wanted to.

          • Andrea Dunlop

            OMG that photo! We did take pictures WITH my in-laws horses, but not on them. Seems like that was a good call!

          • suchbrightlights

            I should add that I am here for including animals in the wedding if that is important to people, but please, prepare the four-legged contingent appropriately. Like, if your dog is shy around strangers, maybe don’t drag your dog into the middle of the reception tent. And if you intend to wear a big poofy skirt on a horse, maybe get the horse used to a big poofy skirt. And accept that no matter what you do, the dog might pee on the dance floor or the horse might spook and take off without you, because there’s thousands of years of hard-wiring behind what makes animals as wonderful as they are, and you’re not going to get over that in a month of training.


    • My sister nearly had horse and carriage, because her FIL’s business (well, one of them!) is providing stuff like that for weddings and funerals, but went with one of his fancy wedding cars instead. In some ways, the horse and cart would have looked more appropriate, because it’s a rural enough area that you still see them in the country lanes sometimes, but try to circumnavigate the ringroad in one wouldn’t have been worth it! It’s definitely one of those opposite ends of the spectrum thing – it works if you’re the queen or if you’re a farmer, but looks weird for anyone in between!

  • NotMotherTheresa

    True story: I was not going to have a bouquet toss. I literally had five single guests in attendance, and a bouquet toss sounded like the most horribly awkward thing ever. Plus, #feminism.
    And…then one of my five single ladies begged our band to announce a bouquet toss and to play ‘All the Single Ladies’. The band and I obliged, and we had a bouquet toss. For five people.
    You know what? It was honestly so bad it was great. That one single friend literally dove for the bouquet, while everyone else just politely clapped. Then, we all went back to our champagne as the eager bouquet catcher relished in her good fortune.

    • Andrea Dunlop

      You are a good friend, and this sounds hilarious and fun. #doyou single wedding guest lady, you sound like a party!

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Haha, single wedding guest lady was definitely a party!
        Making it even better was the fact that I got a bit too enthusiastic with my bouquet toss, and the whole thing hit the ceiling right above me, causing it to land like, a foot away. Poor bouquet diver had to sprint across the dance floor and THEN dive for it!
        We packed a lot of (really fun) failure into that 45 seconds…

        • Andrea Dunlop

          Love this! Sounds like a fun wedding.

        • SS Express

          I got too enthusiastic too, and broke a chandelier.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            What?!?!?! That may be the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!

          • I hope that was covered by some sort of insurance and you don’t have to pay for that!

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  • Sarah

    My bouquet toss was awesome! I really don’t understand all the hate for the bouquet toss, in general. DJ invited all the single ladies on-stage and but I didn’t drag anyone up who wasn’t interested in participating. In the end, I got an awesome picture of my husband’s newly widowed mother pushing my 10-year old cousin out of the way to catch the bouquet.

  • MeepMorps

    I’m having that feminist mental crisis but for the whole body-shamey aspect of wedding culture. I bought my dress over a year ago. I’m a thrifty person, and when I saw it was getting discontinued and was 50% off I ordered and stuck it in the back of my closet and mentally ticked off that box. Now I’m 5 months out and when I tried it on the zipper would not go the whole way. I’m faced with “sweating for the dress” and while I was wanting to become a more active person anyway it just makes me feel gross to even partially be doing it for this very loaded type of event.

    • Sarah

      Can you take it to a bridal tailor and have them take it out? Or install a lace-up back instead of zipper?
      Or try on the dress with Spanx on? Even if you wanted to get healthy anyways, having to worry about loosing weight in the right locations, could stress anyone out.

    • Caitlin

      I completely get why it makes you feel weird but maybe you could try and reframe it in your head? You said that you wanted to get active anyway, so doing some exercise isn’t about you being ashamed of your body but about you loving it enough to keep it healthy. Taking time out to go for a run (or whatever your chosen activity is) isn’t “sweating for the wedding”, it’s releasing some endorphins and taking care of your mental wellbeing as well as your physical wellbeing.
      I don’t know if that helps but it’s what I’m trying to tell myself. I don’t have a dress to fit in to (its being made to fit me) but I am trying to get myself in to a better place (physically and mentally) which involves eating better and exercising more. Every time I say “no, thank you, I don’t want a biscuit (cookie)” at work or say “I’m going out for a run”, I feel like I must be betraying my feminist principals. But I think being a feminist is about having the right to make your own decisions, and if that decision involves trying to loose some weight then that is my right.

  • Christine

    Love this article! Being a modern day feminist, marrying into an age-old institution is really tough sometimes, and I think keeping my feminist beliefs throughout has been our biggest struggle. Thinking things like, “well, why do my parents have to pay for the entire thing?”, and, “white? we’ve been living together for 3 years. a veil, really?”. I didn’t want a lot of the traditions: bouquet toss, garter belt (woof), ALL OF THE DANCES, etc., but we decided to keep some and give them our own twist: we had mixed gender wedding parties (my brother is my best man, and my friend is my lady of honor), and my fiance also had two women in his party; we had a joint wedding shower and a joint bachelor/ette cabin weekend, where we didn’t party like idiots, but enjoy beautiful Colorado with our closest friends…I decided to walk with my dad down the aisle, because that’s important to him, and we’re doing an all vegan wedding, because screw the haters, animals don’t need to die for our celebration of love. We’re not having the words “god”, “blessed”, or “amen” uttered at all during the ceremony, and I am kissing MY groom at the end. Feminism and feminists aren’t perfect, but we’re taking a sexist as hell institution, and putting our own twist on things ;)