Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A feminist versus the wedding-industrial complex

The Happy Feminist and I must be on the same wavelength, because I was just waiting until Monday, my second wedding anniversary, to write about what making a wedding happen was like for this feminist. There are any number of things that make a feminist want to tear her hair out when she thinks of a typical American wedding ceremony, and I was no exception. There were some battles I picked, some battles I lost, and some things I decided to ignore. And, Happy Feminist style, I'm going to break this down, bit by bit.


Andy and I got engaged at the beginning of my senior year of college, after having dated for three years. The engagement ring has always been a bothersome concept to me. That he makes a huge investment in something that will mark his bride-to-be is a clear way of saying that he is showing off the investment he's making in the transfer of woman-chattel from father to husband. Further, I just am not comfortable with supporting the diamond trade. We ended up buying a $12 ring from a vendor at the Lentil Festival, and I now wear it on my right hand since it doesn't really go with my titanium wedding band.

Telling our parents was pretty anticlimactic - almost everyone we told responded with a "Duh." Andy's parents didn't even let us tell them - they noticed the ring on my finger and asked about it immediately. I never did make it a habit of calling him my fiance - it brought too many questions and made me feel oddly territorial, like I had to emphasise that this was my man.

Wedding planning

Having been to a few weddings since having my own, and looking back at how it all went down, I realize now that I made my wedding planning experience a lot more unpleasant than it needed to be. Please consider the fact that in the space of two months I graduated college, got my first real job, and got married, all while trying to navigate what I would later find out was a serious bout with clinical depression. In other words, I had a lot to think about, and not very much energy to think very clearly. I remember a huge amount of anxiety about mundane details - the photographers, mostly - but at that time in my life I had a huge amount of anxiety about just about everything, so I can't be sure how stressful the wedding was in itself.

What I wanted out of the wedding was a good time, a big party, and not a gigantic bill for my parents to pay. We wanted to make a public show of our love and have a ceremony that our family and friends could participate in that cemented us as joining each others' family. I consider a wedding to be a community event rather than a private affair, so we ended up inviting around 75 people including friends and family.

And yes, I got sucked into reading theknot.com, and swooned over consumeristic wedding-industrial complex staples like cocktail hours and china patterns and wedding party gifts. Considering how far gone I was on some evenings, looking at pages and pages of white dresses, I'm proud of how affordable and simple the wedding was. I got my dress used on eBay for $100. (If you need a dress I'd be happy to pass it on. It's sitting in my closet, but a drycleaning should be all it needs.) In fact, I don't think the thing would have ever gotten off of the ground without eBay. Our minister was an official in the Universal Life "Church" - also a resident pathologist where I work - and read a ceremony we wrote and signed some papers. My aunt made the cake and since it was an afternoon wedding, only snacks and champagne made up the reception costs. The ceremony site was a gorgeous garden so flowers were limited to bouquets for the bridal party. Our honeymoon was a graciously-donated week in a friends' lakeside condo.

The ceremony

There is so much about a wedding ceremony that, in a few words, creeps me the fuck out. We aren't religious, so lots of weird stuff like unity candles (it just breaks my heart to see people blow out the candles symbolizing their individual selves) were right out. The thing that bothers me most is probably the veil. That a woman's face is not shown in this public ceremony until after she's been pledged by her father and pledged herself to a man is just creepy as hell - I did not wear one. I am also not a big fan of the father "giving away" the bride, but my father really wanted to walk me down the aisle, so I went with it. There was no "Do you give..." however - that I couldn't do. We wrote a secular ceremony that talked about what we wanted our marriage to be and had both of our parents talk a little bit about whatever they wanted. We exchanged rings, read vows we'd written, and got out of the sun (it was a good 96 degrees on July 24, 2004 in Pullman, Washington). Andy had elected to wear a tuxedo, and my dress was probably designed for wear in winter, but I basically don't have a maximum temperature at which I'm comfortable. And, in case you're wondering, the dress was an off-white satiny thing with a gigantic train (when am I ever going to get to have that again?). The dress color symbolism issue has always rankled me, but buying a used dress means that you don't have to fuss too much over the details - it's all there to begin with. I adored it, though, and the cheapskate in me was very excited to have gotten it used.

The reception

Having a reception at 2:00 was a good move financially, because no one was expecting lunch or dinner, and alcohol isn't really an issue at that hour. We did the mingling/mixing thing, and had both the maid of honor and the man of honor give little speeches. And the one truly silly ceremonial thing I insisted on was the guests throwing rice at us as we left. Andy did carry me over the threshhold of our apartment, which was amusing. I will never forget the moment when we peeled our sweaty clothes off (tons of rice in my cleavage) and hopped in the shower, and I realized that our sex life was now state- and conservative community-sanctioned. It was a weird 30 seconds spent contemplating this fact before I realized that there were more important things at hand.

Later that night, we had a little drink-a-whole-lot-and-relax house party with our friends while my parents had their own such party at their house. We retired to a hotel room when we were out of energy, and left the next morning for a week at a mountain lake.

Why this feminist had a traditional wedding

I know, I know, the institution of marriage has an ugly past. Fortunately, I think that what we wanted our wedding to be was exactly what it was. I've never understood the idea of eloping - why get married if only the two of you know about it? We were already committed to each other after being together for four years, but now it was time to make that committment a part of our public lives. We chose to have the people most important to us there because our marriage was a communal occasion. It joined two families and was a way of making public that we are from now on a permanent part of each other's life. I live in a patriarchally-molded culture, and that's where the wedding ceremony comes from, but with a few changes it was pretty easily applicable to the relationship that I have with my husband, while it still held the kind of cultural significance that everyone at the wedding could appreciate. Sure, some of the people around us don't think of marriage like we do - people were totally confused by the fact that I kept my last name, for example - but I can accept their misreading of my intentions as long as the larger communal importance of our relationship gets across.

After two years, I'm still glad to wear a wedding band and refer to Andy as my husband. I'm glad that we get to spend holidays together and that I get to be someone's daughter-in-law. It's in those ways that our relationship is different now that we're married, and that's exactly what we aimed for when we got engaged.

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