"It's your day" as a myth, in the anthropological sense

Guestpost by Shrubby on Oct. 19th
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Thanks to psych0faerie for adding this to our Flickr pool!

Lately, my mom has taken to explaining to everyone that our wedding is going to be "very odd." As of yet, I have not been able to tell her: "It's my day, please respect our wishes."

I observe patterns of behavior for a living, so it soon struck me that my mom, herself, uses that statement. Whenever I talk to her about the budget, she tends to call it "my day." When it comes to talks of the dress, it is yet again, "my day." Whenever, for that matter, I talk about more conventional wedding-related things that seem silly, outlandishly priced, or a bit out there to me, it is "my day."

This, of course, is never said alongside something offbeat. "A picnic, with no chairs? We can't have that, can we? People won't like sitting on the ground."

Clearly, "it's your day" serves as more than just an encouragement. It seems to function as a myth, in the anthropological sense. Normally, calling something a myth devalues it by implying that it is false. Naomi Wolf uses this to great effect in the title of her book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women (a must read, I think). But that is not the sense in which I use it here.

Actually, the truth (or lack thereof) of the myth is completely irrelevant. A myth is a tale that serves to justify certain ways of doing things — specifically ritualized behavior, like weddings. This means that not only must calling something a myth be done carefully — as calling it a myth means it is rather important to our understanding of things — but also that myths are extremely meaningful things.

This myth is employed not to justify any oddity that you might wish for, but to confine your desires to the correct ones.

Now, myths constrain as much as they enable. Yes, they explain why things are the way they are. Let us remain with the wedding example to illustrate this. Explaining that spending a small fortune on flowers is appropriate, since: "It's the bride's day," would be the functional use of this myth. In more abstract terms, it is alright that something that would otherwise be called frivolous or even ridiculous is done in this context, because it serves to commemorate and appropriately mark the importance of the ritual we know as "wedding."

Yet there is more to myths than simple explanation. They are also a claim to authority, a means to negotiate the exact form of whatever is in need of justification. In this context, it tells the bride or the questioner that they are indeed doing the correct thing for a wedding. Buying a tiara that you will never again use or even look at is completely justified as "normal" bridal behavior. It is appropriate to the idea of "wedding" that exists in people's minds, and you will be encouraged and indulged in all appropriate flights of white-dress fantasies. It also serves to discourage fantasies that are deemed inappropriate to this idea.

To summarize: This not only means that there is a set idea of what the wedding ritual should be like (a passé statement if there ever was one), but also that ritual is backed by a myth — one I have called "it's your day." This myth is employed not to justify any oddity that you might wish for, but to confine your desires to the correct ones.

Of course, making sweeping statements like I am doing here is extremely unfair based on only one person's experience. I do think, however, that next time someone justifies something by saying "it's her day," or next time that I'm tempted to justify it in that manner, I will think twice.

I do not wish to appeal to an established narrative of what weddings are, nor do I wish others to attribute it to this idea. If I am to seriously question "wedding," and what that means, and if I am committed to making it mean what I want it to, then I must break away from "it's your day" as well.

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About Shrubby

Shrubby is an anthropologist, and marrying the man of her dreams. Between expectations and social pressures, and her own determination as an atheist, feminist and thankfully liberated woman she's finding the whole wedding planning thing has seriously tough going.