Thursday, January 9, 2014

Feminist Weddings

**This is a cross post originally published on the Offbeat Bride Tribe. The original post can be found here but you must be a member of the Offbeat Bride Tribe to read it (thus the need for a cross post).**

I want to talk about feminist weddings. For those who don’t know, I’m in the midst of planning my own wedding. It will be a same-sex, genderbending affair, so I’m facing different challenges than cis-gendered heterosexual couples face. But I’ve been caught off guard at how hard it is to break down the gender binary in wedding planning, even for queers like me and my fiancé. I know wedding planning can be a touchy subject so I want to start with a disclaimer: I am not criticizing your/your mom’s/ your brother’s/ anyone else’s wedding. There are lots of very good reasons to make many different choices, my values may be different from yours, and that's ok. I am a radical third wave feminist, and this post is about my interpretation of the way feminism can be used to reclaim--or at least coexist--with an institution (weddings/marriage) which is, by its very nature, a pillar of the patriarchy.

First of all: Do you believe in gender equality? If yes, then congratulations you're a feminist. Are you a feminist who's having/had a wedding? Then congratulations, it's a feminist wedding. That's all it takes, folks.

I don’t want to turn this into a competition of who’s a “real feminist” or “feminist enough” However, if we're looking at the idea of "feminist wedding" as more than just an aspect of your identity, I want to delve into what it means to bring our feminism into wedding planning. There's a lot of discussion—on a variety of media--about how to incorporate feminism into weddings and how to balance tradition with feminist values. So for the rest of this post I'm going to talk about feminism as activism, and feminist weddings as an expression of that activism rather than just as a facet of your identity. I've seen a lot of comments that planning a feminist wedding just means being aware of the sexist history of traditions, and then intentionally choosing what to do for your own reasons and not because it's what's "expected." I disagree. That's a good recipe for having a beautiful wedding that is comfortable for you, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not feminism.

Feminism, as activism, is not comfortable. It is not safe or easy. Social inequality is pervasive, and it is often perpetuated in extremely subtle and unintentional ways; feminism is the constant awareness of the systemic oppression of women and gender minorities, and taking action to combat that oppression. It is not just about intentions, it is about realizing the implications your choices will have for everyone else in your community. Now, I know, one person's wedding isn't going to change society all by itself, but feminism is about thinking in the aggregate and acknowledging the ways in which the decisions we make in our daily lives contribute to a culture of cis-male privilege.

One litmus test I use it to envision things through the lens of a hypothetical six year old girl, with no exposure to feminism, attending my wedding. Then I picture her attending five other weddings just like mine over the next ten years. And I ask: "What does she see? What did these weddings tell her about her role in the world? What did they teach her about gender norms and sexuality and what it means to be a woman or a wife?"

If any given tradition would (subtly and unconsciously) teach that imaginary six year old girl sexist values that I disagree with, then it has no place at my wedding. Take it one step further. Imagine your wedding, with whatever choices you are making about traditions to include or not. Imagine that was the cultural norm. Imagine that every six year old girl--and boy--saw your wedding, with minor variations, at every family wedding, and in every movie and tv show over the next ten years of their life. What have they learned about gender roles and femininity and masculinity? What kind of 16 year olds do we have in ten years?

To me, feminism means grappling with these questions, and using the answers to impact our choices. Feminism isn't just about recognizing the way that we have been affected by patriarchal expectations in our own lives and rejecting the status quo to make our own choices--that's a great first step, but it's not enough. Feminism is activism, and it goes one step further to recognizing the implications that our choices (in the aggregate) have on the rest of society and making choices with a consciousness towards creating a society with gender equality.

So, again, not everyone has to use their wedding for feminist activism. That's ok. You can be a feminist and decide that, on your wedding day, you are choosing aesthetics or family unity or anything else over your feminism. That's ok. It's also ok to incorporate some feminist choices while compromising in other areas. You can have a mostly feminist wedding that incorporates some less-than-feminist traditions for any reasons you want that feel right to you. That's cool, and it doesn’t make you less of a feminist.

We all make so many choices during this wedding planning process, for so many different reasons. We're all trying to make these choices with intentionality to create an event that is a genuine representation of us and our lives and our love, and whatever is right for you is right. You want your wedding to be genuine, so part of your decisions need to take into account whether or not the image you are projecting is genuinely true to your feminist values. If feminism is important to you, if this is a cause that you’re passionate about, then please add one more layer of intentionality to your decision making process and consider not only the origins and historical meanings behind wedding traditions, but also the effects that your decisions will have for the future.

Activism isn't just rejecting the "way it's done" mentality, and then making personal and private decision. It's about recognizing that decisions aren’t really private, and using your choices to actively help create a new way that is in line with your values, whatever those values may be.

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