Can a woman who’s fought for equality still be comfortable as a bride, especially in an industry that’s dominated by sexism? If it’s commitment that you and your partner want, then there’s no reason why you have to leave your feminist beliefs behind when you say “I do”. Becky Hoh-Hale, founder of the Most Curious Wedding Fair, is here to talk you through the options.
As the founder of a wedding show, it can be hard to reconcile my career of choice with my feminist beliefs. I can sometimes feel myself explaining what I do with an element of guilt, almost apologising for my role in sending more sisters off to the patriarchal shackles. But The Most Curious Wedding Fair takes the idea of a wedding day and offers it up to couples to own it, and this allows me to rest easy in our quest for equality. So, I thought it would be interesting to look at how women in 2018 can and are reconciling their empowered selves with those wedding rituals less palatable to the bad ass bride.
As you are here reading this article, it’s likely that sticking to tradition is not at the top of your list of priorities, but similarly you’re reading this because marriage is important to you and you want it for yourself and your partner. Hell, you may not even want to lose all the romantic symbolism set up by some of the time-honoured wedding traditions. So let’s go there: what do these traditions mean? What are their origins? How can you change them up, slip in important feminist acts and reclaim your wedding?
The Wedding Dress
First up, let’s talk about the dress. I think we all know what the virginal white angelic gown associated with brides is meant to symbolise (although this assumption is actually completely inaccurate as it was originally blue that was seen as the virginal colour, because of the Virgin Mary. The white wedding dress only became popular after Queen Victoria opted to wear it when she married Prince Albert.)
Whether a white wedding dress is a symbol of whether or not you’ve had sex yet or not (and honestly, even your Gran is probably pretty much up to speed on where you guys are at with that, having lived together for three years already), if you think about it, it’s always going to be an act of rebellion to wear something other than traditional white or ivory.
Now we don’t want to ruin everything… but apparently even the damn cake cutting is about your hoo-hah. There’s different stories about the tradition: at best, the couple could cut it together, but the wife would have to feed the groom a piece to signify her servitude to him. At worst, the bride would do it alone to symbolise the loss of her virginity (eye roll). Do with that what you will. If you’re worried about the symbolism, definitely cut it together and feed it to each other!
The ‘Giving Away’
OK, so the next one is a little contentious. Who gives you away? Our point here is not to take away the magic, the poignancy and the life affirming moments of your wedding day. We are not saying there is not a place for these traditions. The role of the person who gives you away can be incredibly special, a chance to declare and pay homage to that someone who has had loved you and taught you about love. It’s a place usually taken by your dad.
There are people who feel a great loss if their dad is not there to do it, and who would give anything for that moment. For most dads it is a role that means the world to them. But on the other hand, the tradition stems from the fact that the daughter was seen as her father’s property, and the ‘giving away’ of the bride was a business transaction completed after the groom’s family had received money for her. It’s not great, is it?
But the key, again, is your own mindset. I personally loved having that time with my dad and in no way felt I was owned by him and now owned by my husband. It was just a sweet symbolic gesture of thanks to him and his acceptance of my partner into our family. It was my moment, and the moment when our two families joined. And we wholeheartedly say you can have whoever you feel is right for you walking down the aisle with you - your mum, your mum and your dad, your brother… Walk it on your own or walk it as a couple. Do what feels right to you.
The other biggie is the speeches. Where do we even begin? When it comes to WHY this tradition of only the men speaking exists, I’m afraid it seems it is not so mysterious - men were just seen as better at it than women. Women were meant to just sit and look pretty, to be seen and not heard. In fact, from a poll we did on our Instagram recently, this was the most irksome topic of all.
Sure, it works for some people (like myself) who do not want to have the pressure and anxiety of the task, but if you do want to stand up and be heard then jolly well do it. Or if you want your mum, your sister or your best friend to say a few words, then do that, too. In 2018 there doesn’t seem to be a single reason for this not to happen - even Meghan Markle is reportedly doing a speech at her wedding, and a royal wedding is arguably going to be one of most overly traditional of them all.
Throwing the Bouquet
This can be a really fun and hilarious (especially after a few too many drinks) part of a wedding day, but the sexist undertones are pretty disturbing. “Come on single ladies, it’s time to scrabble desperately for a bunch of wilted flowers because the victor will be the lucky babe who snags a man next…”
Whether you choose to do this or not, a much less gross option would be to include EVERYONE in the scrum - boys, girls, singles, married people… share the embarrassment with every single person in that goddamn room.
Wedding traditions in themselves came from the hetero-normative institute of marriage. So for same-sex couples, it is even more likely that they’ll want to throw out the rule book and have a wedding that feels reflective of them and their relationship. Lia, a bride-to-be who recently commented on something else I wrote about feminism in weddings, certainly agreed.
“As one of two brides, it feels like a political act choosing to get married and own a structure which is so deeply patriarchal, particularly during moments of homophobia from family members since we’ve announced our wedding,” she says. “Our bridal parties include best women, best men and best lesbians. If anyone walks us down the aisle it will be our mums. The majority of speeches will be from the women in our lives, and from us! We’re keeping our own names and neither of us will be throwing a bouquet. Marriage is still a privilege that many LGBT people can’t consider, and it’s definitely not for everyone… Choosing the day and making it your own is the most important thing.”
And there we go. I say, take away all the limitations and do your wedding your way. This in itself is a pertinent and important act of feminism. It is not about squashing men out of the equation, and I’m not saying we should delete these traditions from history, but make them mean something to you. Together you should own them, reclaim them and forge new paths. You’ve already chosen love and it’s OK to choose equality, too.
Written by Becky Hoh-Hale, founder of The Most Curious Wedding Fair
Edited and first published by Kat Williams, Rock n Roll Bride
Photographs by Esther Bellepoque
The Most Curious Wedding Fair taking place on 2-4 March 2018 at The Old Truman Brewery (London) and on the 25 March 2018 at The Fire Pit Camp (Norfolk). Advance tickets are available now from £9 for London and £3 for Norfolk. Use the code ROCKCURIOUS at the checkout for 10% off tickets.