Q: I am a year out from my wedding date, I recently began the wedding planning process, and I see what the future holds: bitter, bitter frustration about gender inequality in weddings and wedding planning. I always knew, of course, that the wedding industry and society at large caters to and puts its expectations on the women. I knew my fiancé would not be expected to attend the wedding shower being thrown by either family because neither makes a habit of including men in these events. I see how wedding expos make frequent use of pink and cursive. I just ran a wedding-themed 5K in which finishers got pink medals and flowers (though to be fair, all finishers got these regardless of gender, which was nice).
However, I am beginning to experience a lot of the more deeply rooted beliefs in the different expectations for men and women in some pretty surprising areas. Take yesterday, for example. I started searching for gifts for my parents and my future in-laws. I had no idea gift-giving was such a one-sided issue. Many of the gift ideas I found were fairly neutral in that they had no message and they were not designated as from the bride or from the groom. But many were not neutral, and of those, almost every gift targeted the woman. As in, “I’ll always be your little girl,” “You were the first man I loved,” or “Thank you for raising the man of my dreams.” (Some of these gifts absolutely could be given by men in same-sex relationships, I understand, but somehow I don’t think these companies were thinking of that.) There were even gifts with sayings that implied the bride was now taking over the responsibility of gift-giving for her poor, clueless man. (“He is proud to be your son and I am grateful to be your daughter-in-law.”) With the exception of a few to-mother-from-groom picture frames buried amongst the sea of from-the-bride gifts, there was nothing to indicate that society really expects any thought or consideration out of men. The onus is squarely on the woman to do all of the emotional labor.
This is maddening. No gift from your new daughter-in-law? Sucks to be you; you just gained a lazy, inconsiderate, ungrateful addition to the fam. Fear for how she will raise your grandchildren. No gift from your son/in-law? Why would you get a gift from your son/in-law? It’s not his wedding anyway; it’s the bride’s.
In a rageful moment I thought about getting gifts, from me only, for my parents and his, then giving them out without any warning to him so that he would see in front of them just how much thought I put into this planning process versus how checked out he is. But I am slightly calmer now, and I won’t do this. I’ll let him know I am planning to give something to his parents and mine to show my appreciation to them so that he can choose to do the same, which he likely will once the idea is in front of him. But I still feel the need for some kind of social vengeance or at least an outlet for my rage.
I cannot vent publicly about the gift disparity without risking making my parents or in-laws feel bad that searching for a present for them is causing such stress, so I have to vent anonymously. I have been working to make sure my fiancé knows that I do not consider this my big day. It is ours. And it should be the product of our labor. Plus, I work far more hours every week than he does, I take care of the cooking and most of the domestic chores, and the work he does around the house is more sporadic, project work (change the oil every six months or so, etc.). Why should I also add wedding planner to my list only? He has picked up on doing the things I specifically delegate to him, and once or twice he has shown some thought on wedding planning details outside of his delegated projects, which is great. When I see how the wedding industry is so extremely targeted toward me and not him, it strikes me as a huge step back. Really, though, I expect to encounter much, much more of this as I delve further into planning.
Help. How do I deal with the rampant double-standards and remain sane by the time I get to the wedding? Send advice and wine, please.
A: Dear Anonymous,
Yep, wedding gifts and many of the other things you’ll purchase are sexist. That’s because consumerism is sexist. Pink things sell better for little girls, frilly things sell better for weddings, women pay more for deodorant. Capitalism tends to hold a mirror to the world we live in. If everything in the wedding aisle is geared toward women, you can bet that’s also what sells. That’s the symptom; it’s not the disease.
What’s interesting to me isn’t all of that usual eye-rolly stuff about wedding things being marketed to women. What’s interesting to me is why it’s bothering you. Because you said this:
In a rageful moment I thought about getting gifts, from me only, for my parents and his, then giving them out without any warning to him so that he would see in front of them just how much thought I put into this planning process versus how checked out he is.
I work far more hours every week than he does, I take care of the cooking and most of the domestic chores, and the work he does around the house is more sporadic, project work (change the oil every six months or so, etc). Why should I also add wedding planner to my list only? He has picked up on doing the things I specifically delegate to him, and once or twice he has shown some thought on wedding planning details outside of his delegated projects, which is great.
Oof. That’s not about the gifts, that’s not about the WIC, that’s about your relationship and how it’s operating. Yeah, very sexist wedding sales strategies are going to bother you a whole hell of a lot if they’re reminding you of what you’re experiencing practically, daily from your own partner.
So ignore the gifts for a minute. Set aside what you acknowledge is an ill-fated plan for passive aggression. And have a real, honest-to-god, face-to-face chat with your partner. You’re not going to change the world of weddings (though we’re all working on it!). But you can, and should, change the dynamics of your own relationship. That’s not only doable, but it’s tangibly more valuable.
Let your partner know just how much extra work you’re doing, not just with the wedding, but around the house and in your relationship in general. This division of labor is not okay. It’s valid for you to be upset about it. Think about what a more equal share would look like to you, and be ready to talk about it.
I want to reassure you that this is a conversation many, many heterosexual women have had to have in their relationships. The fact that you need to have it is bothersome, but it’s not a red flag until you see how he responds. Is he receptive? Does anything change? If it doesn’t, is this the kind of relationship you’d like to sign onto long term? Or will you be exhausted and bitter and resentful for the rest of your relationship?
I’ve had this conversation. And things improve, and then they slip, and we have it again. Because we both are socially conditioned. So I try to take on more than is fair because I don’t want to make waves, I want to be the kind of woman who can do it all. And he’s no saint. But, when I hit the realization that I’m doing more than my share, that he’s not shouldering his load, and I bring it up? He jumps in. He apologizes. He corrects it. And each time we backslide, it’s incrementally less than before.
It’s a really nice place to be. Because even if nothing’s perfect and we’re a continued work in progress, I know that I can lol at a sexist wedding gift or onesie, and my husband will be right there laughing with me. And it makes all of those terrible, eye-rolling sexist wedding things so much more bearable when you don’t see your relationship reflected in them. Better still when you have a partner in on recognizing it.