I have always considered myself a staunch feminist (thanks, Mom, for all of those “I am Woman” sing-alongs). Feminism as I see it (certainly third-wave feminism) is about equality of opportunity, partnership, and choice — both between the sexes but also with respect to race, gender, sexuality, etc. But this is an identity that I have found more and more challenging (and challenged) as I have grown older.
I could talk for ages about sexism and feminism in academia in general, and science in particular (the fact that “work/life balance” is discussed in any woman's career panel but is never discussed among our male counterparts says volumes in and of itself). But, of course, the area that is forefront in my mind as of late has been the dreaded Wedding Industrial Complex.
Although a proud feminist, I have always envisioned myself spending my life with a male-bodied person, and I view marriage as a legal acknowledgement of a deeply emotional and personal choice that is in no way contradictory to my feminist identity. I consider myself unendingly lucky to have found a partner in life who also calls himself a feminist, and views our relationship as one of equals — equals who bring different talents and shortcomings to the table.
Nonetheless, when E and I first began to talk about the wedding, I found myself more than a little overwhelmed with a squicky feeling.
Weddings are inherently seeped in a tradition of patriarchy — don't let anyone tell you differently. Historically, weddings were about property transfer and sexual rights. Even today, in our “enlightened” world, weddings are filled with reminders of this past, some subtle, some not. From our conception of the wedding as “the bride's day“, to our focus on the bride's outfit, to the “giving away” of the bride, to the un-ending wedding day “humor” (“ball and chain”, bachelor parties, “bridezilla,” the un-ending refrain that sex dies after the wedding).
There are reminders everywhere that a wedding, apparently, should mean very different things to the male-bodied and female-bodied participants (and that's completely ignoring the possibilities of same-sex marriage, polyamorous relationships, etc.). Place all of these ideas in the context of a wedding industry that is forever telling you that you absolutely must have organza chair ties, and cherub-cheeked flower girls, and a 40-foot veil, and it's enough to make even the most mild-mannered feminist begin to hyperventilate.
As we began to plan our wedding, we had long talks about what traditions mean something to us and what didn't. Some were easy to decide… We were vehemently against me taking E's last name (in a truly feminist world, we believe that some women would change, some men would change, some couples would both change, and some would both not change, but today, we feel our choice is the most reflective our relationship). We dislike the idea of a bouquet toss and a garter toss, and the idea of any “obeying” never needed to be mentioned. The more difficult discussions are the ones where tradition reared its ugly head.
Now, there's something beautiful to be said about tradition. It's comforting. It feels timeless (regardless of whether that's true). It feels… respectable. And respectful. Because we're not trying to be radicals here. Although our views of marriage may differ from the more conservative viewpoint, we nonetheless view this decision we are making to spend our lives together as something to honor and respect. And admittedly, as a girl, when I vaguely imagined a wedding, I assumed that my father would walk me down the aisle, I assumed wearing a veil, I even assumed that I would become a “Mrs.”
But today, I feel that each of the choices we make for our wedding need to be conscious choices. We need to weigh the comfort of tradition against the statement (overt or otherwise) that it may make. Not every feminist wedding is going to look the same — and certainly one can be a feminist and have a more “traditional” wedding. I don't decide who is a feminist and who is not — I only get to determine how my feminism manifests itself.
I was asked (more than once) if EVERYTHING about our wedding had to be a feminist battle (I was also accused of being ashamed to get married because I'm ambivalent about wearing a ring). And the answer, I think… is yes. And no.
Yes, because I am a feminist, my partner is a feminist, and we want our wedding (and our marriage) to be representative of us as a couple — a joining of equal individuals working towards a common goal. And no, because sometimes in life (as in relationships), we have to choose our battles.
And so while I will always fight for a woman to keep her last name in marriage, on our wedding day I will be in white because it will make the colored crinoline really stand out. And while we both wear engagement rings, only I am going to carry a bouquet because I like to have something to do with my hands. And while I may elect to be escorted by both parents, I will process in last to my waiting partner, because that's a “moment” he very much wants.
I'd like to think we've considered every decision we've made, but no doubt there are constructs of which even we have been oblivious. Nonetheless, we both believe that we have created a day that is reflective of us and our relationship — one that works within the circumstances of our historical perspective, is created through conscious decision making, is decided upon after long discussion and many compromises, and, most importantly, is the celebration of two people and their mutual love and respect. And that makes my feminist self proud.