Thoughts on Privilege, Gender and Weddings

We are so pleased to have our friend Jenni sharing with us. She is wise, enthusiastic and loves a good curry. She carefully thinks through how her views about gender equality impact on her day-to-day life, which is shown in her thoughts here.

Something I am deeply puzzled about is the disconnect with gender roles and tradition. That is to say people who say they believe in equal rights for all genders will contradict these convictions when it comes to fulfilling tradition. The best example I can give of this is when it comes to getting married. I don’t want to offend anyone; if you did/will do these things that remains personal choice and I respect that, especially when it’s been thought through properly. When I got married over two years ago I wanted to do things differently because many of the practices that still occur in weddings perpetuate patriarchy. Some battles I lost, in others I was able to go against the status quo. The following are things that puzzle me…

Engagement: There is still an expectation that in a heterosexual relationship a man should ask a woman to marry him, rather than a woman a man. The reality is most people I know made the decision together, which is what happened with my husband and I. But people don’t like this – they want the story of how he proposed to me. If we insist on the initiator being a man, are we not inadvertently suggesting a leadership role? The practice of a man seeking a father’s permission before proposing is something that I find offensive. When I have said this to people they say I am harsh and unromantic, but again I find this very odd from people who say they believe that men and women have equality in relationships. A man asking permission from a father is the epitome of patriarchy. When people asked us if my husband had asked my dad I told them I would have been horrified if he had (he hadn’t). When I responded that I hadn’t sought out the permission of his mother people thought it odd, but surely if we truly believe in equality then if a man has to ask a father a woman should also ask a mother?

Wedding day: On our wedding day I wanted to walk down the aisle alone, after my bridesmaids. I have a very good relationship with my dad and I said to him I wanted to walk without him because I didn’t like the symbolism of being ‘given away’, even though that wasn’t part of the ceremony we had. He was upset by this and in the end I caved and let him escort me and ‘dump me at the end’. I have only seen two brides go alone; one like me who had a very good relationship with her dad but detested the patriarchal symbolism of it. Again I find it very strange that people insist on this, and many still include an actually ‘giving away’ when they don’t believe in male headship. This tradition isn’t very old – I understand Queen Victoria is to blame, yet people get very defensive about this saying it HAS to happen. Part of me regrets not pushing harder to not have been walked – to me if looked too much like being given away. If my groom had been walked by his parents it may have been symbolic of us both leaving our families to being a new one, however if only a bride is escorted it reeks of patriarchy. On another note why do so few wedding include speeches from women? People were surprised that I made a speech at our wedding but I can’t understand why a bride wouldn’t. Time and time again it’s a man making a speech on behalf of the couple, a father making a speech on behalf of both parents. If my mother had been alive I would have loved her and my dad to have made a speech together. I was thankful that both my sisters, my sister in law and my godmother were also able to say a few words at our wedding, as well as making a speech myself.

Surname: It is still expected that a woman will take the name of her husband. Double-barrelling, meshing, or keeping one’s name are still less common. We were meshers, which some commended but others took great offence to. I don’t care what people do with their names, what I find frustrating is that it is still only a question for women; will you change your name? Surely this should be a question for women AND men. I ask men if they are changing their name and they laugh as if it’s a stupid question!

Next summer I will be ordained as a priest and will have the privilege to conducting wedding ceremonies. I know that I will marry some couples who will do things the way that tradition had dictated, and others will do things differently. Same-sex couples have the great opportunity to do things as they wish freed from some of these traditions, although I’m sure new ones will be made. I don’t want to judge anyone who does decide to do the things I’ve highlighted that I think perpetuate patriarchy, I just wish people would think them through. There is great opportunity in weddings, I think, to make case for gender equality. I long for the day when some of things we did aren’t seen as different, quirky, or too adversely feminist, but common place.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Privilege, Gender and Weddings

  1. I agree with most of these points. And probably felt more strongly 35 years ago when I was married. But back then the parents (in our case all four) paid for the wedding, and pretty much ran the show. And we don’t want to disrespect or offend our parents when we love them. I think it would be lovely to perhaps have both sets of parents following the bride up the aisle to show their support. Or the groom then the bride!

  2. good thoughts Jenni- I did so enjoy your wedding, and I love how much you’ve thought about these issues, they’re not just abstract. I think equity in speech giving is fab, some of my favourite weddings have had bride speeches. I’d love to hear one start by bending the traditional ‘on behalf of my wife and I’, because I do have to admit that I love that moment in the speeches.

  3. I agree with all of this- and it’s all very “live” for me as we are getting married in less than a year. We agreed together to get engaged and spent a wonderful day choosing a ring together- but many friends don’t understand and one went so far as to tell me she feels sorry for me because my feminism ruins things for me!!
    We are planning to have both sets of both parents walk us down the aisle. That way it’s gender balanced and they’re all part of the ceremony – but we won’t be calling it “giving away”. My sister has a speech alongside the best man.
    I remain perplexed about my name. Double barrelling feels awkward, and I wish we could mesh but our names don’t work easily. None of the available options feels quite right.
    In summary- these questions are at the top of mind in my wedding planning! Thank you for writing a post that articulates them so well.

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