One of the more difficult realities you come up against when planning a wedding, especially in feminist circles, is just how deeply entrenched in patriarchal traditions weddings are. This reality is made extra complicated by the fact that so many of those patriarchal traditions might be things we’ve actually been…kind of looking forward to as we conceptualize our weddings. Rock, meet hard place. But luckily, there are lots of ways to make your wedding more feminist, without having to take the whole thing apart and put it back together again. Because that’s exhausting and we all have jobs.
Before we dive in to what those are, it’s probably important to go ahead and state the obvious: what ultimately makes a wedding feminist is entirely personal. For one person, that might mean wearing a big, poofy white dress while still signing her birth name. For someone else, it might mean a mom walking her son down the aisle. It’s about making choices that support the women in the wedding (regardless of whether or not any women are actually getting married.)
This also means nobody has to do any of these things to have a feminist wedding, but: while feminism is definitely about making the choices you want to make, I think it’s also about making choices that contribute to the advancement of women in general. It might not seem like neglecting to toss a wedding bouquet does much of anything for women’s rights, but what if it impacts your tween cousins and makes them realize that marriage doesn’t have to be the big, ultimate goal to strive for? That’s pretty heavy.
So with that in mind, here are ten somewhat subtle ways to feminize your wedding, (written mostly for the women in the equation, but applicable to all):
1. Read your vows first
If you’re a female marrying a dude, one of the coolest ways you can subtly give the middle finger to the patriarchy is to take your wedding vows first. I spend a lot of time shooting weddings, and when it came time to officiate the wedding of a friend, one of the first things I realized is that I really, really wanted to ask her to read her vows first. I did some reading online to find out why men always go first, and the internet chalked it up to the age-old property-owning white dude thing—men go first because they’re men. Surprise, surprise: you can totally go first if you’re a woman, and your wedding won’t come crashing down around you.
2. Make people ask your fiance questions, too
People love to assume that only one party (typically whichever one presents as female and/or more effeminate) has all the cards when it comes to wedding planning and baby raising. But this isn’t true—two of your are getting married, so two of you should be spewing forth your opinions, and people should be asking both of you what you think about this, what you want to do for that, and so on. When it comes to parenting, I make a point of politely deflecting questions to my husband every time he’s at a doctor’s appointment until they start asking both of us the questions, and it works pretty quickly. The same can go for wedding vendors, and this kind of equality should be expected.
3. ditch the “groom” if there isn’t one
If you’re two women, few things will be as maddening as the number of wedding vendors who will refer to you as a bride and groom out of habit (and probably feel awfully embarrassed about it). You should expect your vendors to have gender-neutral contracts, to treat you like they would treat any other couple, and to remember that you’re a bride/bride (or partner/partner) duo and that’s it. One slip-up is perhaps forgivable, but after that? Don’t be afraid to step in and make people recognize.
4. RESEARCH THE TRADITIONs
When it comes to weddings it turns out that few traditions aren’t rooted in antiquated attitudes about marriage. For instance, you know how you’re supposed to save the top layer of the wedding cake? Have you ever wondered WHY that exists? It turns out that the tradition stems from the high cost of wedding cake—couples would save the top layer to eat when they had a baby shower. So unless you’re planning on breaking out that layer of cake to toast your impending child within 12 months, don’t worry about it (unless you just want to eat old cake, which is cool).
5. then Change the traditions you love to work for you
Sometimes there’s a tradition (example: circling the groom seven times in Jewish weddings or breaking the glass at the end) that you love the idea of, but not the execution. Guys, it’s 2015: there’s nothing stopping you from circling one another in turn or stomping on the glass together. If you’re including any bit of tradition in your ceremony but it doesn’t sit totally right, see what you can change to make work for you (without potentially angering family who may feel strongly about your cultural history).
6. Get engagement rings for both of you
I secretly love it when I’m shooting engagement photos and I realize both parties are wearing a ring. I mean, open relationships aside, you’re both off the market, right? If one of you is getting a ring, I don’t see why the other shouldn’t, too. Rock those rings, ladies and gentlemen.
7. ask women to speak about you
When it comes to speeches about the couple, I think it’s wildly important to hear from men and women. I know sometimes it just happens that your best friend is a dude, and your husband’s best friend is a dude, and oh man your dad has been planning his wedding speech for thirty years, but surely there’s a woman somewhere (like… your mom?) who has something to say about you. This is another point that is subtle but powerful: it’s easy to exclude women’s voices from the bigger parts of the day. It’s also easy to include a woman, and I bet you know a whole bunch of them who love you.
8. Don’t draw a wedding party based on gender
One side doesn’t have to be all women and the other side all men just because that’s what everyone expects. I know you guys know it doesn’t have to be this way, but for some reason the idea of mixed gender wedding parties still ruffles a lot of feathers, and it is all too easy to get talked back into doing things the way everyone expects because you’re “supposed to” and it’s “just how it’s done.” So let me reassure you: people don’t actually care, and it’s really cool to have your actual, real friends standing at your side the day you get married—not your partner’s female cousin who would really rather stand by him and not with a bunch of girls she’s never met before. Of course, you could always ditch the segregated wedding parties altogether, or make a point of everyone getting ready together before the ceremony. There are lots of ways to skin this cat.
9. Pay attention to your language
The language of your wedding vows, that is. If one of you find that you’re having to accept and/or take a lot more than the other, mix up the wording and create vows that are focused on equality between partners, not one person having to love, honor, and respect the other without expecting the same in return.
10. think about your wedding portraits
It can be extremely easy for a wedding photographer—even a really, really good wedding photographer—to default to those gendered poses that you see everywhere. You know, when the guy has his head turned to the side (or you can’t see his face at all) while kissing you. Anything that makes one of you a prop while the other is the focus won’t do, and it’s totally ok if you mention this to your photographer before you start shooting—or even during the shoot.
What other ways (subtle or not so subtle) did you make your wedding more feminist?