Sarah & Feminism & Weddings

The rest of Sarah’s wedding graduate post ran yesterday, but when she sent it to me, she said something like ‘I wish I’d been brave enough to talk about the ways I had to think and re-think what I believed and my attitude towards to feminism, sexuality, and relationships during the wedding planning process. So I dared her to do it. And she did. And, by some magic, in the survey one of you asked for *exactly* this post. So, whoever you are, this one’s for you:Our wedding was the happiest day of my life (so far) and I wouldn’t change a thing about that phenomenally beautiful day. The huge, almost cartoon-ish grins on my fiance’s and my faces in just about every photo taken that day say it all.

That said, I found planning the wedding to be a huge challenge, in large part because I had decidedly mixed feelings about weddings and the institution of marriage itself. Let me explain. For almost 10 years prior to meeting the man who is now my husband, I dated only women and trans-guys (who identified as queer), and I could not imagine myself in a “straight” relationship. By the time we got engaged, I felt less concerned about what labels I wanted to apply to myself, but I still felt skeptical toward weddings and the institution of marriage, which I associated with a stereotyped version of heterosexuality. Straight weddings, to my mind, symbolized the idealization of heterosexuality over other forms of loving relationships. Also, I was really bothered by how much we celebrate the couple, rather than the individual, at a wedding. Why don’t we celebrate the achievements of single and independent men and women with as much fanfare as we celebrate a wedding? It bothered me that women, in particular, are supposed to see our marriages, and thus our wedding days, as the singular greatest achievements of our lives—except, perhaps for becoming mothers.

When my fiancé and I got engaged, I had no doubt that he was the person I wanted to spend my life with and I found myself really excited about both the marriage and the wedding. But I also found myself feeling guilty and embarrassed about being excited—I couldn’t reconcile that with the skepticism I still felt toward weddings and marriage on a political level. I can say in retrospect that even the most basic decisions we made in planning the wedding were emotionally fraught for me because of this. At the time, however, I did not let myself fully explore the dilemma I was facing, I think because I was afraid that if I examined it too closely I would be forced to choose between my feminist politics and my excitement over the wedding and marriage; in other words, that I could be either an unmarried, or reluctantly married feminist, or an enthusiastically married non-feminist, but not both.

Now that we are married, I cannot say I’ve entirely worked out this dilemma, but my perspective on the cultural and personal significance of weddings and marriage has definitely shifted since we first become engaged. I feel, for one, much more comfortable with the idea that relationships are the singular greatest achievements in our lives—all of our lives, men and women. I think we must all pursue our individual dreams and use our own talents to the best of our abilities and that these dreams and talents must be nurtured and celebrated, but I have also come to realize that we need deep, mutually caring relationships with others to live fulfilling lives. These do not need to be marital relationships. But what my own wedding showed me was that weddings are not actually about the marital relationship alone. Weddings are usually public, communal celebrations because they exist to celebrate the family and community of the couple—not just the couple themselves. Our wedding was the most amazing day of my life not only because I got to celebrate my love for my husband, but also because I got to experience the depth of the relationships we have with so many other people, the closeness and love that surrounds us on all sides. It filled me with gratitude and helped me to take all of my relationships more seriously, less for granted. There is nothing in this that challenges my feminism at all—I’m still just as committed to female autonomy and gender egalitarianism. It’s just that I now think that “autonomy” is best achieved in the context of a web of loving, committed relationships, not by separating oneself.

The other thing I worried a lot about was whether I was being too materialistic in thinking about the aesthetics of our wedding as much as I did during the planning process. Was I shallow, for instance, for seeking out a beautiful set of four white birch branches to use as chuppah poles, rather than using the free plastic ones we could have gotten from our synagogue? Now that the wedding has come and gone, I’m glad we used the (stunningly beautiful) white birch branches. I think it is fine to want our weddings to be rewarding to all of our senses: caring about the way things look, the tastiness of the food, all the textures and colors of the day is fine. In Judaism, it’s called “beautifying the commandment”—it means that there is actually an ethical value in making rituals, such as the wedding ceremony, pleasing to the eye and other senses. This does NOT give us license to flaunt wealth or break the bank if we don’t have it; there is a subtle but real line between ethical and unethical uses of aesthetics, I think. In the end, we had a wedding budget that we stuck pretty closely to, and we had no wedding debt. I wish I had given myself less grief over not throwing the lowest cost, most Spartan wedding possible!

One last piece of advice: one of the best things that Josh and I did during our engagement was to go see a couple’s counselor together. In the two and a half years we were together before our engagement, we had hardly ever fought—but this was because we tended to avoid areas of conflict, not because we didn’t have any. Counseling gave us a safe space to explore these areas, understand each other and learn how to communicate better and find compromises and/or resolutions to conflicts. It helped us understand how we each want to give and receive expressions of love. It really helped ground our relationship and make us so much more ready for marriage than we would have been without it. I would recommend it to all engaged or newly married couples.

Photo: One Love Photo, of course (Sponsor, but this is not a sponsored post)

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