But weddings can also be fraught, especially for feminists and anyone else who believes women should have equal rights in society, and that women and men should be equal members in a marital partnership.
So much of wedding culture is steeped in patriarchal traditions and conservative expectations — perhaps not how a lot of couples want to mark the beginning of their life together. And yet, when it comes to weddings, even many equality-minded couples go through the patriarchal motions.
That’s a mistake. Weddings are expressions of cultural, religious and family traditions, but they’re also events that represent a couple’s values and their hopes for their lives together. That isn’t to say a wedding determines the course of your marriage — a wedding is one day, and a marriage is, at least ideally, for a lifetime.
But a wedding is, for many people who marry, one of the most significant rituals of one’s life, meant to set the tone for a life-long partnership. And so, couples should take seriously the question of which traditions they want to keep, which they want to skip and how the wedding itself can set the tone for the rest of their marriage.
In spite of all of this, many feminists (this author included) have still gotten married. But how we do it matters. There’s no perfectly feminist way to walk oneself into a pretty un-feminist institution. But there are a series of choices to make along the way.
For example: Is marriage something you discuss in-depth and come to a mutual agreement on before you get engaged, if you get engaged? Or is it, among heterosexual couples, a “he asks, she says yes” situation? Does the female half of a heterosexual couple wear an engagement ring, while the male half doesn’t? Does he ask her father for permission — and is getting a grown woman’s father’s “permission” to make one of the most important decisions of adult life really how you want to start an ostensibly egalitarian, ostensibly grown-up marriage?
If you’re the bride, does your father walk you down the aisle? What does that symbolize? How do you balance a ceremony that feels true to your beliefs — among them, hopefully, that marriage is not an act of a father turning his property over to another man — with parental expectations and potentially hurt paternal feelings?
What do you vow to each other when you exchange rings, if you exchange rings? (Even if you go the traditional route, you are entirely free to join the millions of couples who have chosen to strike the word “obey” from their vows.)
Who presides over the ceremony, and where do you hold it? If it’s held in a house of worship or officiated by a religious leader, does the place and the person share your values and views when it comes to gender roles, equal marriage rights and what the institution of marriage is for? To put a finer point on it: Are you getting married in a venue that, or by a person who, refuses to marry same-sex couples? (If you believe in gender equality and LGBTQ rights, I’d reconsider that choice).
This isn’t to say that every single detail of your wedding has to broadcast your politics, and it’s certainly not to say that you’re a bad feminist if you hew to tradition (feminists who wore white dresses aren’t in any position to throw stones). It is to say, though, that it’s 2022, and if a marriage can be what you choose to make it, so can a wedding.
“It’s tradition” isn’t a particularly good reason to do anything — least of all something as important and life-shaping as getting married.