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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