Hey y’all. Lets talk about weddings. Traditional Christian weddings between a man and woman, to be specific.
Last week, I watched one of my best friends from my youth get married. She looked radiantly happy. The ceremony was short and simple, the vows sweet and funny. I was gratified by the lack of “you will obey your husband” talk, and their changing of the tired old “you may now kiss the bride” phrase to a more egalitarian “you may take your first kiss as married couple.”
All of this got me thinking—why, for the love of all things, WHY do we keep the traditional structure of wedding ceremonies?
When I see a bride being walked down the aisle by her father and getting handed to a groom, I see some pretty antiquated symbolism that’s hard to ignore. Say, for example, the transfer of property (the woman) from her father (a man) to her now-husband (another man). I mean, that’s what marriage used to be, right?
For whatever sexism and institutional/cultural inequalities still exist between men and women, I still think we’ve at least progressed past viewing marriage as a property exchange. So I don’t understand the hold up in more couples changing the rituals that celebrate their union to match what their union actually is.
When I say this to some of my friends, they splutter “because, well—it’s tradition!!”
Holy Audre Lorde everyone, our world had/has a lot of traditions that sucked.
We used burn witches. We used to say blacks and whites couldn’t get married. We used to insist that women wear corsets and hoop skirts.
Just because it’s tradition, doesn’t mean we have to keep it.
I don’t mean to make light of how important wedding ceremonies are to people. Weddings are about two people being so committed to each other that they will stand in front of their community and publicly make their vows. Friends and family bearing witness creates an accountability to the promises the couple makes to each other. That’s not something people undertake lightly (I hope), and the tradition and ritual that surrounds it can make people feel a sense of belonging and community.
But I keep having this crazy hope that people will think about what their actions and traditions represent. In lots of places, we’ve made such progress around defining what it means to be a family, and the kinds of people we will celebrate in marriage. Then I see traditional Western ceremonies and it’s like we’re forcing the clock back 60 years.
“But it means the world to my father to walk me down the aisle!”
I get that. I wonder sometimes, if I ever planned to have a wedding ceremony (I don’t) if my dad would be upset if he didn’t get to walk me down the aisle.
But in my perfect dream world, weddings would be about the people getting married and how they want to start their lives as a couple. In that world, parents would ideally be more concerned about how their children felt about their own weddings rather than the part they themselves get to play. Maybe it WOULD mean the world to my dad me down the aisle. But maybe there are other meaningful ways I could involve him in the ceremony. Maybe we can start our own traditions. And hopefully, he will understand.
Just for fun, lets think about more sexisms in wedding ceremonies!
-The woman’s white dress symbolizing virginity (there is plenty wrong with this and it’s covered well in Rosie’s True Love Doesn’t Wait)
-The tradition of the bride’s parents paying for the wedding (reminiscent of a dowry)
-The woman taking the man’s last name (or being introduced for the first time as “Mr. and Mrs. Man’s first and last name, so the woman gets to give up her ENTIRE personal identity!)
-The throwing of the boquet to the bridesmaids for all the women at the wedding, because getting married is only a ladywish! (one of the DDP editors called bullshit on this one because the garter toss for the men has a similar sentiment. But many people don’t do garter tosses anymore, which still creates a gender imbalance in the ceremony. What do you think? Sounds off in the comments!)
-The groom standing at the front while the bride joins him, symbolizing the woman leaving her life behind to join the man’s
So what to do about all of this? Whatever you want! It’s YOUR relationship and YOUR wedding, so take ownership. Maybe you AND your partner can walk down the aisle together. Maybe you’ll have both your parents walk you down the isle. Maybe you’ll hyphenate your last names or create a new one. Fuck, maybe you’ll climb a mountain with your partner instead of having an aisle at all. I don’t care, it’s your wedding. But please, I want you to see the symbolism in our traditions so you can make decisions based on what YOU value, rather than accepting the legacy that was left for you.