I must begin this reflection with a confession: I have fantasized about our wedding for a long time. I think it started sometime during early college. I'd be having a tough day or I felt stressed out, and one of my happy places was that little fantasy. I didn't necessarily think much about the dress or the cake or anything like that, but rather I imagined who would be there that day. I imagined my family and friends feeling joyful and looking really snazzy.
This for me is admittedly an embarrassing disclosure, despite the fact that it is hardly out of the ordinary for a young woman to imagine her wedding day every now and again. It's embarrassing because I have a Masters in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. In other words, I'm a professional feminist. If there is one thing I am qualified to do in this world it is critique the patriarchy in abstract journals with minimal readership.
In fact, I got engaged during graduate school, an event I hoped to conceal from my colleagues — many of whom felt that marriage had an oppressive history and was frankly passé, and rightfully so! In fact, I pretty much agreed with these assertions on an intellectual level, ESPECIALLY after reading Engels and Goldman! (The wife is just a glorified prostitute!?) But then I'd get so stressed out after reading political economy theory that I would need to go to a happy place. And darn if I wasn't standing at the altar saying “I do” in my mind.
I had been with my partner for ten years when he proposed, and while it somehow came as a shock, there was no doubt in my mind that I absolutely wanted to marry him. Like any crafty member of my generation would, I desperately started googling “feminist wedding,” a fruitless endeavor. My head and heart were left to battle it out unassisted. It didn't take long for me to conclude that “feminist wedding” is an oxymoron, at least in the academic sense. Honestly, my chances for a “feminist” anything had been blown out of the water the minute HE proposed to ME with a ring.
So what was going on? My entire identity had been built around feminism, so why was it that I was contradicting my own beliefs?
This is an excerpt from an e-mail to a friend:
So yes, marriage. What to say? I don't really think I have a big explanation for this decision. I think marriage is fully problematic in all kinds of ways — and yes I totally agree with you — I would never vote against same-sex marriage, despite the fact that many queer activists press us rightly to think beyond marriage. But then there is my personal life which is totally affected by culture and norms. And I am very committed to this partnership with Adam, and there is something about the commitment that is secure and special I guess. I think it is difficult to describe.
Perhaps I can say this: many of my professors who have challenged me the most to question monogamy, heterosexuality, marriage, and motherhood are themselves married, monogamous, and often mothers. There is something comforting about participating in cultural norms/traditions, and it seems to me that we are often more willing to respect culture when it is not our own. Does that make sense? Again, something is falling short in the theory — it is not really speaking to our most intimate personal experiences or it is somehow undermining our feelings. The human element has fallen out.
There is a term that I have discussed with my students: cooperative nonconformity. The basic idea is that while we often participate in cultural institutions (it is nearly impossible to avoid them altogether), we can still choose not to conform to power structures when possible. So Adam and I set out to create a celebration that was true to our partnership, enjoying the process of intentional planning just about every step of the way (sooo many twine balls).
Though it wasn't perfectly feminist in an academic sense, it was feminist in a broader sense…
…it is more fulfilling to live one's life within a circle of love… To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds. -bell hooks, All About Love
While we celebrated our partnership, we celebrated community even more. We walked down the aisle together. We read bell hooks and Molly Peacock. We talked about the importance of equality between partners, as well as marriage equality. The “bridesbabes” wore fierce red shoes and lipstick. Just about every aspect of our wedding was created lovingly by our family and friends, from the officiating to the decorations to the cake to the flower arrangements to the music. Our friends and family made a collective quilt to represent community. And we celebrated the whole weekend, transforming the party into a cook-out the next day complete with a wiffle ball game and live music performed by my brother, culminating in a giant sleepover at a childhood friend's house.
While there are plenty of ways that our wedding fell short of the feminist ideal (I wore white, our two cats weren't on the guest list, etc.), the celebration was ultimately more than meeting the demands of a nonexistent checklist. It's really impossible to convey the fullness I felt in my heart by listing the details. There was something incredibly special about so many people I love having a hand in the wedding's creation, resulting in a collective feeling of ownership over the event. At the end of the day, it wasn't all about Adam and me. Marriage is never exclusively about two people.
By the end of the weekend, my earliest fantasy of hanging out with everyone I love and looking snazzy turned out to be pretty unimaginative in comparison with the actual event. The whole weekend, our families (all FOUR sets of parents), our giant wedding party, and our friends celebrated our love, yes, but they also fell in love with each other. We were two giddy kids without a worry in the world, basking in the glow of loving, supportive community, and what could be more feminist than that?