This summer, on a long drive to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, we were talking about whether the tradition of asking the bride’s father for permission was a tradition that was hopelessly compromised based on its origin and what it represents or whether it was not a big deal because people don’t intend it that way any more. (My view was that it was about as quaint and necessary as Jim Crow laws and Confederate statues; in other words, I was in the “this tradition is hopelessly compromised” camp). Then we went to a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream that very clearly demonstrated the problems with a father’s will being the only one that mattered, giving his daughter in an alliance against her wishes merely because she was his property and she had no rights, then using the law to threaten to put her to death if she wouldn’t comply. Even Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s warrior mom, could only look on these proceedings with aloof disdain. Only the mischievous fairy kingdom could right this wrong!

Image result for weddingRomantic comedies are usually the worst at perpetuating these compromised and patriarchal traditions, including some you will recognize. You can read more about these at various sites here, herehere, here, here, here, and here:

  • The woman “waiting for” a proposal. This reinforces that women are passive objects to be chosen by a man.
  • The idea in photos of the man’s “first look” and awe-love-struck expression. This goes back to when marriages were arranged between fathers, and couples didn’t know each other beforehand. If a couple is surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, at their “first look” at the other person, maybe they shouldn’t be getting married. Wedding pictures in general have many standard poses that are inherently sexist as one photographer showed when she role-reversed them. Essentially, anything that treats the bride as a prop or an object is problematic.
  • The veil, representing a woman’s hymen, that will be removed by her husband when he deflowers her on her wedding night.
  • The bridal shower, focusing on loading up the bride with household goods, implying that she bears sole domestic responsibility in the marriage.
  • The bachelor party, implying that his “freedom” to debauch himself will end with the marriage.
  • Expecting the bride’s family to pay for the wedding. This is similar to a dowry or bride price to sweeten the deal for the groom’s family who will be taking on the expense of the bride who would traditionally join her husband’s family, leaving her own.
  • Brides wearing white. In the western world, this originated with Queen Victoria (white was worn for centuries in Japan). Prior to that, brides just wore their best dress. In the 18th and 19th centuries, expensive courtesans wore white because it was costly to clean. After Queen Victoria wore white at her wedding, magazines popularized the idea that it represented the bride’s sexual purity, that she was untouched before her wedding, because brides who were not virgins were considered less valuable for husbands.
  • Carrying the bride across the threshold has its origins in Roman culture where brides were literally dragged into the bedroom for their deflowering (which was generally public so that witnesses could attest to the marriage’s consummation). Likewise, the groomsmen were chosen for their physical strength to fight off suitors, and the groom was to the bride’s right to allow his right hand (his sword hand) to be free to fight off the bride’s family, other suitors, and the bride herself if necessary. Tossing the garter is a remnant of these public consummations because sometimes the witnesses would clutch at the bride’s clothing to help disrobe her for what followed.
  • The bridesmaids dressing up (originally to look like other brides) was meant to trick demons into being unable to identify the true bride and plague her. This one’s not exactly sexist, just weird. But the expenses rained down on bridesmaids are tantamount to a sexist tax if bridesmaids are asked to foot the bill for fancy hair and make-up to match each other in addition to dresses and shoes.
  • The father walking the daughter down the aisle, then literally “giving her” away.
  • Unequal vows for the woman to “honor and obey” that aren’t present in the groom’s vows. Fortunately, these are mostly a relic of the past.
  • Saying “man and wife” rather than “husband and wife.” Come on, people.
  • An engagement ring for her, but not for him, implying that she’s now his property and off the marriage market. Plus, blood diamonds.
  • Tossing the bouquet to the singleton women in the crowd, because all single women want husbands and need to fight each other for the privilege like desperate savages.

Image result for weddingI didn’t mention one of the most obvious ones which is the wife changing her name. This one is even more problematic when the woman has had independent professional accomplishments prior to marriage. Even without that, though, I can’t tell who the heck my childhood female friends are on Facebook. Their identities have literally been erased by marriage to the point that it’s nearly impossible to find them if they’ve changed their names. Many couples resolve this one by keeping their maiden name (you have to see the sexism in that term–there is no male equivalent of the term “maiden name”), then hyphenating for the children, or hyphenating their last names, or in some cases keeping the wife’s name for both or choosing an entirely different name. The problem with keeping your birth surname as a woman is that it’s still patriarchal–it’s your father’s name, not your mother’s. Some feminists switch to a new last name that reflects their matriarchal parentage such as Ellensdaughter or taking their mother’s maiden name, but again, since naming conventions have been sexist in English speaking cultures for so long, it’s difficult to get away from it without just removing the problem by a generation. When I served my mission in Spain I noted that everyone has two last names: their father’s and their mother’s. This makes genealogy and finding people a whole lot more common sense, although I should add that it’s still patriarchal because the name that gets passed down a generation is still the father’s. [1]

I recently attended a Mormon temple wedding, the first time I’ve attended a live sealing since my own 26 years ago. There are elements to the wording of the ceremony that are incredibly sexist and disturbing, even above the levels of normal sexism in current non-LDS weddings (harking back to polygamy and the wording in D&C 132), but surprisingly, there are some elements to the ceremony that are in fact less sexist and much more practical than non-LDS traditions. A lot of the sexism I saw that day was what the officiator brought to the table: asking the groom to help his bride kneel and stand like she was some kind of invalid or fragile crystal figurine, and inviting the groom to kiss his bride (rather than the couple). Plus, the officiator spent about 15 minutes giving what amounted to a really boring generic church talk directly prior to the ceremony. [2] Worth noting:

  • The sealing ceremony is very spartan, so there’s less room to insert sexism.
  • There’s no giving the bride away or walking down the aisle.
  • While the witnesses are all men, an “equivalent” sitting area for the women of the family mirrored their seats at the other end of the room. These women were all acknowledged as were the male witnesses.
  • The couple (only) greeted their guests. This was showing their new unity. There was a lot of emphasis on them as a newly created family unit rather than her as his acquired prize.
  • Rings were exchanged after the sealing, and it was equally done for both.
  • There is no veil over the woman’s face in the sealing rite.
  • This bride was a returned missionary, so the sexist elements often present in a woman’s own endowment were not presented; however, there is one part of the endowment rite that is sexist and unequal that is done in these cases that is between the couple and not in the sealing room.
  • The woman’s vows are done first; this is different than most traditional marriage ceremonies in which the groom speaks first.
  • Both are wearing white, not just the bride. It’s not just women who are supposed to be pure in heart.

Image result for weddingOne of the most important differences between a Mormon wedding and most non-LDS weddings is that our weddings are generally less extravagant, not saddling the new couple or their parents with debt to cover what amounts to a single big party in which they can pretend they are the royal couple.

As I look back at my own wedding, we avoided some of these sexist traditions just because we weren’t that interested in them. There was no proposal. We became engaged after I said “Do you think we’ll ever break up?” and he said, “I was just wondering if we’d ever get married.” He noted that it was the same question, just worded backwards. Instead of an engagement ring, we bought a VCR. We announced our plans to both sets of parents, not specifically asking for permission or a blessing. We were adults and assumed they would be supportive, which they were. We had a very simple back yard reception, and then another open house at my parents’ place where I didn’t know anyone other than my parents (I had never lived there). We had a couples shower that we both attended with our friends (of both sexes). Our engagement photos were not great, IMO, and I objected to the photographer’s insistence that we look like we were watching an invisible tennis match. I hate those photos. That guy was the worst. The actual photos on the wedding day were taken by my brother, but the photography just wasn’t a big focus for us.

  • How do you feel about wedding traditions? Do you think some are hopelessly compromised by sexist and patriarchal roots like I do, or do you think they are mostly harmless because those intentions are no longer there?
  • Did you avoid some traditions and keep others? What were your choices?
  • Would you do anything differently now than you did then?
  • Are you surprised that many elements of the sealing are more egalitarian than non-LDS wedding traditions or do you disagree that this is the case? [3]

What’s most important, regardless of the origins of traditions, is that couples can choose how they want their wedding to go, just as they choose their partner. Marriage should be entered freely by both, so the traditions surrounding it should reflect that it’s a matter of choice, not coercion.

Discuss.

[1] Also, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking Spain, as a macho culture, isn’t sexist. They just got this one thing better than the English who are particularly bad when it comes to sexism (hello, entailed estates!).

[2] When my husband and I were married, neither of us can remember a word of what the officiator said after he said “now, I know this day is going to be really busy, but I want you to pay special attention to what I’m about to say.” That’s all we got.

[3] Polygamy ties certainly put a heavy thumb on the scale.