Monday, May 24, 2010

Nice day for a feminist wedding

My bff accepted a marriage proposal this weekend, so I've had weddings on the brain. I am of course thrilled for my friend, but really, weddings frighten me.

I don't have a problem with commitment or anything. It's great to see my friends pledge their troth before friends and family.

What bothers me is the way nice, smart, reasonable women get pressured into expecting decadent proposals, planning exorbitant weddings, micromanaging the decor/behavior/food/appearance/whereabouts of their friends and family, and then get judged for made-up etiquette breaches their friends will gossip about afterward. Almost makes you want to rethink marriage.

Weddings are a spectator sport. Like gladiator matches.

And the wedding industrial complex is all too happy to facilitate the bloodletting. Last year, Americans spent $42 billion on weddings, according to industry website The average wedding cost $19,581, and in Washington the average is even higher, at $50,000 a pop. Wedding vendors will sell you everything you can dream of, and we'll buy it.

Smells like patriarchy. I'm gonna generalize and say it's men who own the majority of wedding venues (ie, the real estate), the bridal porn media outlets, the thousands of trinkets you apparently NEED for your wedding, the film companies that keep producing stupid wedding movies, the diamond corporations, the toy companies that peddle wedding fantasies for girls.

They create all this to guilt you into worrying more and spending more. You'll be too exhausted to think about everything else you've been meaning to do - saving for retirement, studying current events, donating to charity, organizing and lobbying to erase the gender wage gap, etc.

No surprise most men are hands-off for their weddings - who needs that kind of hassle? They might be onto something.

I guess I'm guilty of adding to the woman-on-woman bashing by saying all this. I don't exactly mean to be Debbie Downer all the time, I just think surely we can find better ways to spend our time, energy, and money.

More on weddings:

Slate contributor Meghan O'Rourke's The trouble with engagement rings delves into diamonds as gendered status marker

Judith Martin and Jacobina Martin's Miss Manners' Guide to a Suprisingly Dignified Wedding bites back with practical suggestions to avoid the crazy. They're hosting a book talk this evening outside DC. I went to their discussion of the book a few months ago and thought they were engaging, funny speakers.'s Wedding Equality Checklists come in two versions: unconventional and more unconventional.

You can do your wallet and the environment a favor by buying a previously-loved dress from sites like

Photo credit: iVoryTowerz on Flickr


lormack said...

I'm with you! It's far better to have a small, inexpensive wedding and spend more on a nice honeymoon!

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine spending 20k on a wedding. It seems absurd. That 20k will be part, only a part, of my down payment on a house. And heaven forbid the marriage doesn't work-you just spent 20k for nothing? Sucks for you.

Ashley said...

I am really disappointed in this post. What happened to the feminist idea that women have the right to make whatever choices they want? What happened to the feminist idea that women should not participate in putting down other women? I think Gloria Steinem called it "sisterhood." Personally, I don't always agree with all of the choices women make, but I will defend their right to make them till the day I die.

You absolutely are guilty of "adding to the woman-on-woman bashing by saying all this." You say there are better ways to spend our "time, energy, and money" - better for whom? I am getting married in October, and while it's no one's business what I am spending on my wedding, I'll tell you that we are inviting 180 people, and having the big white dress, the traditional ceremony, the big reception - the whole shebang. I am planning the whole thing with the help of my mom and my fiance - yes and my fiance - without the aid of a wedding planner or some other similar time-saver, and while we are all a little stressed out about it (as is natural when you're planning a big event), we still have plenty of time and energy to save for retirement (we set up our separate retirement accounts just last week), study current events (I read the news every single day and listen to NPR on my way to work), donate to charity (I'm walking in my 6th Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in 2 weeks for which I have raised $1800 every year I've participated, and we are making donations to chosen charities in the name of every person there as a wedding favor), and while I haven't organized or lobbied to erase the gender wage gap, I do somehow find time to blog regularly about feminist issues at and work as the executive editor at I'll stop tooting my own horn here; you get the point - women can and do plan weddings all the time, and their daily lives don't seem to suffer much (unless your only basis for this bride-bashing are television shows depicting bridezillas).

I might also point out that weddings are only a spectator sport if you're sitting on your couch watching said wedding shows. If you are the one actually getting married, it is a 100% participatory event that involves you, the love of your life, your family and your partner's family, and all of your closest friends. Everyone helps; everyone pitches in. And it is the absolute most wonderful thing to see people who are close to you and your partner work so hard to make sure you're ready for a life together. Please don't diminish that sentiment by comparing a wedding to a gladiator match.

I am a feminist. I even wrote a guest post for your site about being proud to be a feminist. But I have to say, the more wedding-bashing from "feminists" I see, the less I want to tell people I am a feminist. I know that it's really trendy right now for feminists, especially young feminists, to bash women who choose to have a big wedding, or get married in general - and heaven forbid they decide to take their husband's name! - but it isn't fair, and it isn't right. We feminists parade around, fighting for women to have the right to choose what happens to our bodies, but, for some reason, when it comes to choosing to have a big wedding or change our names or whatever else women have "traditionally" done, those of us on this side of the coin are subject to this type of criticism and downright ridicule. And, frankly, it makes me ashamed of the entire feminist movement.

Anonymous said...

Ashley, people critiquing the White Wedding Industry aren't criticizing you and your personal choices. They're talking about Big Things to do with how weddings are both perceived and presented. Why are weddings typically so expensive? Why do we have this big Cultural Thing around marriage proposals - to the point where women asking men to marry them is seen as a joke or pathetic? What's going on with the obsession around "purity"? Why is more attention in society paid to the wedding day and not to the marriage that follows? And what the heck is the problem with allowing any queer people who want to marry that right?

People are talking about structural issues, they're not talking about you.

For some examples of really effective arguments about why some choices are actually feminist when they don't appear to be on the surface, check out this tumblr discussion about changing - or not - your name after marriage. Amandaw and Chally make some very strong arguments for why insisting that women must keep their name after marriage in order to make a "feminist" choice is, to say the least, problematic.

I would really like to see an argument about what's feminist about a big white wedding.

Amadi said...

A wedding is a symbolic declaration -- of the construction of a family. I'm not sure what's not feminist about making that declaration in whatever fashion one chooses, be it a big white wedding or a 6 day Indian celebration, two women under a chuppah in their back yard or senior citizens at the justice of the peace in blue jeans.

It's interesting that weddings, so often characterized as the realm of women, gets this particular critique when other things do not. What's feminist about wearing jewelry? What's feminist about owning a car? What's feminist about going on vacation? What's feminist about being a homemaker? What's feminist about blogging about TV shows?

What's specifically feminist about the majority of the choices that people make every day? And do we have a responsibility to engage every aspect of our lives through a lens of feminist critique and if so, what school of feminism is the appropriate guide?

Ashley said...

@trouble - I do understand that people who critique the wedding industry and media that surrounds said industry are not critiquing me and my choices. However, this post strayed from that when it said that there are better things we women can be doing than planning a wedding. I hold to my original point: better for whom? I was merely using myself as an example of a woman who had chosen to have a big wedding and who does not fit the media stereotype. To assume anyone fits a stereotype the media creates for them is wrong, and as feminists, we are acutely aware of this. But not when it comes to brides and weddings.

The problem that I see with posts that attempt a critique of the wedding industry is that they fall into these critiques of the brides. "There are better things we can do with our time and money." "Women who expect these proposals and diamonds and who spend this kind of money on weddings are totally unreasonable!" This simply isn't the case. The media (advertisements, shows like Bridezillas and Say Yes to the Dress to name only a few) are the ones creating this idea of brides and the bridal industry. To use that stereotype to then judge women who chose this as a way to express their love for another is simply wrong.

By all means, critique the media! But don't take a media stereotype and put it on women who choose to have big weddings and then critique those women. I just think we need to keep our eye on the ball here. We shouldn't slip from an excellent critique of media and industry into a critique of people who use that industry.

@Amadi - Well put. I wonder, though, what makes a specific choice "feminist"? Isn't it the right to make that choice that's feminist, and isn't the choice that's made up to the chooser?

lindsay said...

I'm with Ashley. Too often critiques of the wedding industrial complex gets folded into critques of actual women and men and their actual choices. Some feminists need to stop hating on other women just because of the choices they make, 20k or not. Also - have you ever tried to plan a wedding, especially in a major city like NYC? Hellah expensive, regardless of the number of people.

If you want to hear from people who have thought a lot about this and are providing really great commentary, check out The Reclaiming Wife posts are fantastic.

Danielle said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. Interesting links and feedback so far.

Vanessa said...

@Ashley I think you are a little over-defensive. The post was not "woman-bashing."

I have been engaged for maybe 72 hours, and I already feel like I'm under a tremendous amount of pressure to organize the "perfect" wedding. This column appropriately - and correctly - points out that pressure, assures brides-to-be that we are not crazy for thinking it is there, and gives women a space to question and resist it.

However, I think perhaps we disagree about the way to define "feminist" ideals. You seem to think that anything done/believed/advocated for by a woman must be feminist, merely because it was "chosen" by a woman. I strongly disagree. Sarah Palin does not espouse feminist ideas. Phyllis Schlafly does not espouse feminist ideas. Their gender does not make them or their choices "feminist" any more than it makes them less able to hold a job or a political position. Your decision to have a big wedding is exactly that, your choice, but there is nothing inherently feminist about it merely because you have ovaries.

I am reminded of an old article in the Onion:,1398/ Every choice is not intrinsically "empowering" and many choices merit not only discussion but challenge and critique.

This discussion can easily be extrapolated to other more serious decisions: women who "choose" genital mutilation, women who "choose" anorexia to stay thin. Why do women feel forced to make these choices? Again, the act of it being "chosen" by a woman does nothing to make it a feminist act.

Furthermore, I believe the idea of the original post was to create a space in which we could question and discuss the societal influences that encouraged you to make those choices. Your reply does nothing to disprove, or even challenge, the central thesis of the original post: that women are socialized and pressured into wanting "the whole shebang." In fact, your post, rather than serving as the counter example you think, actually helps to prove the rule since you are clearly sensitive to any critique of your choices. Flip the coin: how do you think women feel who can't afford or don't want "the whole shebang"? How do they defend that to their family and friends who are socialized to expect it? Have you thought about how your choices, and your virulent defense of them on this blog, affect other women?

And while we're at it, I'm going to go ahead and point out your tremendous privilege - yes, privilege - that you are wealthy enough to plan this massive event, and contribute to your retirement account and make charitable donations and etc. I'm not, and won't be able to do all of the things that I might want for this wedding. And the point of the post was that it doesn't make my wedding any less "special" than yours. The "gladiator match" she described was not internal to your own nuptials, but rather, the comparisons between your wedding and others. The gladiators are the brides.

And the comparison is apt, if you are this willing to bully other women into silencing their opinions.

Andrew said...

A very attractive straw man has been created here, and now we are all fighting it.

The point of the original post (as I read it) was not a critique of the choices themselves, but rather an invitation to discuss what societal factors influence those choices.

Ashley, by taking it so personally, you seem to have missed the point (and stifled the discussion).

Amadi said...

Thank you for mansplaining that so nicely, Andrew. Any other pearls of wisdom to drop as you drive by?

@Vanessa -- Perhaps your choice is to question and resist. Perhaps someone else's choice is to question and embrace, for a variety of reasons. The original post posited, not via question but via declaration, that any such embracing, even when done critically, is a distraction from more important pursuits. (As if it is impossible to have a fluffy wedding and do anything else. Like anything it only consumes you if you let it.) A value judgment of big/fancy/expensive weddings was made, and they were judged to be lacking from a feminist perspective and I find that specious, at best.

Ashley said...

@Vanessa - I didn't say that there isn't pressure for brides to plan the perfect wedding. The pressure is obviously there, and it comes from the media and the industry and society. (I might add here that this big wedding was not my first choice, but as it was important to my family, my future family, and my future husband, it was the choice we made together.) The pressure is not intrinsic to people who choose to have a big wedding. I said it before and I'll say it again: Please, critique the media surrounding weddings. Critique the industry. But don't critique the individuals who are manipulated by that industry. This post started as a good critique of the media/industry, and then moved into a sort of bride-bashing, telling women that they should be doing something "better" with their time/money/energy. That's just as prescriptive as people telling women they need to have a big, white wedding. Just the other side of the coin.

You said: "You seem to think that anything done/believed/advocated for by a woman must be feminist, merely because it was "chosen" by a woman." You must have read me incorrectly. Not all women are feminists. I merely stated that the fact that we have a choice is a feminist principle. Also, how do you know I have ovaries? That seems like an assumption on your part. And let's not even get started on the fact that anorexia isn't a choice, it is a DISEASE. I'd rather not derail this conversation.

Also, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the fact that I am privileged is no news to me. I'm white, I'm heterosexual, I have a good job which provides a decent source of income, I am able-bodied... shall we go on? I'm assuming all of us who read this blog and are commenting here have some sort of privilege, as we have the time to read blogs and post comments and we also have some way of accessing a computer and getting on the internet. I examine my privilege frequently, and it is what it is. I can work to change this, but I'm not going to be sorry for it.

Your wedding will be one of the most special days of your life thus far, no matter what you do for it, as will mine be for me. Bashing traditional weddings and the brides who choose them just makes people on that side of the coin feel bad; it doesn't work to level the playing field so to speak at all. It was the tone of the post (which was perpetuated by the gladiator reference - which I did understand, by the way, but thanks for the lesson there) that caused me to take issue with it. As feminists, we should be empowering women to have options (big wedding, not big wedding, no wedding at all... whatever) and know those options and choose what is best for them individually.

I'm not bullying anyone, and please don't bully me into being silent on this issue by demeaning me and treating me like I don't know what I read or what I'm saying. Critique my ideas; I opened myself up to that. But don't critique me as a person, as you don't even know me.

@Andrew - If anything, I think I helped generate a discussion here, and if it wasn't going to help, Danielle wouldn't have put my comment through. If I hadn't posted something of this nature, do you think others would have offered such interesting feedback in defense of their position?

Also, let's set the record straight. I merely used myself as an example, which does not mean I'm taking this personally. I could have chosen any number of examples, but I chose me. I'm pointing out issues of bride-bashing within a feminist community that I see here and that I've seen so often before.

JT said...

Wow.. there's just so much going on here that I feel compelled to comment. While, without a doubt weddings (and marriages, too) have a long and ongoing patriarchal history/influence, choosing to celebrate the commitment of two willing and present adults is, in my view, a feminist act. What's more beautiful than witnessing and supporting the vows of two people to care for one another? Regardless of venue, florals?

Yes - weddings and brides in particular get an extremely bad rap from shows such as Bridezillas and Say Yes to the Dress (etc etc) but as feminists we should be critiquing and deconstructing these caricatures and their societal roots rather than blindly applying these stereotypes to (presumably straight, cis) women who have weddings. Debates over white dresses, purity symbols, and name changes are necessary and useful additions to the feminist discourse. Broad acceptance and application of Bridezilla/Absent Groom stereotypes are not.

What irks me most about this post is that it clearly is written with straight cis women in mind. How does your understanding and critique of wedding culture change when it's two brides? Two grooms? Or if one or both partners is not cisgender? Then, does a $20k wedding become a countercultural event worth applause? Fighting for marriage equality is a HUGE part of my own personal brand of feminism, and I believe that's probably true for most feminists. A wedding is NOT a marriage - no. But it IS the beginning of one. Bashing those who have the right to, and choose to, engage in such a powerful symbol of matrimony, to me, weakens the argument that equality in this area is SO important.

And lastly - @Vanessa, while I believe I understand the point you are trying to make (cultural/patriarchal forces influence straight cis women to "choose" big weddings, so then labeling making that choice feminist doesn't necessarily make it so) I found your examples particularly distasteful, however tongue-in-cheek they were intended to be. As a mental health professional, I can absolutely assure you that by no means is anorexia (or any other mental health disability) a result of cultural forces and the "choices" they afford women. Rather, it is a debilitating life-long struggle that pervades every level of an individual's life and is deeply, incredibly difficult to treat. Anorexia is a result of many many confluent factors, of which society really only plays a small part. Please take an additional moment to think next time you choose your examples. Weddings and anorexia just aren't the same.

Criss L. Cox said...

@Vanessa: "And the point of the post was that it doesn't make my wedding any less "special" than yours."

No, the point of this post was that "expensive wedding = stupid woman who was duped by the Evil Patriarchy of Wedding Vendors Who Apparently All Are Male."

I got married at a very big, and very expensive church. Because my father-in-law had recently passed away and his ashes were buried in that church. It was important to my husband and to my mother-in-law and my husband -- and, therefore, to me -- that the wedding be there, so that's what WE decided to do.

My big, poufy dress (pink, not white, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT I WANTED) was purchased at David's Bridal for $300.

We had a "big" wedding and a "big" party in part because a year and one month before the wedding my father-in-law had lost a short and ugly battle with cancer, and my mother-in-law had been battling cancer (so far, she's cancer-free) for the six months leading up to the wedding. We wanted a happy reason to get my husband's family together, the people who had been there for these sad and trying times.

Unless you [and by "you" I mean the collective "you," not Vanessa or anyone in particular] are that bride, you cannot know or understand her reasons for choosing the wedding/celebration she chooses. It's not your place to judge her choices, or to impose your views on her: this is why Sarah Palin and Phyllis Schlafly aren't feminists, because they force THEIR views and choices on others. As Ashley pointed out, that's what this blog post is doing: "If you have a big wedding, you're not a feminist!"

I wore a big, PINK dress because I like to dress up. How many times will I have a chance to wear a big, PINK, poufy dress?

Are you going to revoke my Feminist Card because I like to wear pink? Because I like to wear dresses? Because I planned a "big" wedding?

Do I get my Feminist Card back if I bought my invitations from If I printed my own programs (on recycled paper)?

Does my husband get a Feminist Card because he was involved in EVERY aspect of the wedding planning (sometimes more than I was) except for picking the bride's & bridesmaids' dresses (he was involved in picking flower girls' dresses)?

I got married because I love my husband and want to start a family with him. The party was a side bonus.

Some women get married because they want a party. So? That's their choice; it's not my job to judge it. Neither is it yours.

The reasons for the party could be called "unfeminist" -- IF you know what those reasons are. But you don't, because you are not that woman and you have not lived her experiences (even women who get married just to have the party can have feminist reasons to do so; since I am not them I cannot tell you what they are. My many privileges may limit my schema).

My sister is a proud stay-at-home mom. Is she "unfeminist" because feminists should have a career? Is she "unfeminist" because she's not putting her kid in daycare while she volunteers full-time at a women's rights cause?

Or is she exercising her woman's-lib-given right to make the best choice FOR HER about her life (and her family's lives)?

Am I "unfeminist" because I chose to go into teaching, a "feminine" profession, when women fought so hard to earn the right for women to work in male-dominated jobs? Should I be using my skills and talents to crack the glass ceiling?

Why is it OK to bash women's wedding choices but not their career choices? (And if you ARE going to bash the career choices I gave above, then let me go ahead and turn in my Feminist Card right now, because I want to part in a movement like that.)