Feminism and weddings

Wedding Graduate, Part II: Sarah & Feminism & Weddings
I still felt skeptical toward weddings and the institution of marriage, which I associated with a stereotyped version of heterosexuality. Straight weddings, to my mind, symbolized the idealization of heterosexuality over other forms of loving relationships. Also, I was really bothered by how much we celebrate the couple, rather than the individual, at a wedding. Why don’t we celebrate the achievements of single and independent men and women with as much fanfare as we celebrate a wedding? It bothered me that women, in particular, are supposed to see our marriages, and thus our wedding days, as the singular greatest achievements of our lives—except, perhaps for becoming mothers.

When my fiancĂ© and I got engaged, I had no doubt that he was the person I wanted to spend my life with and I found myself really excited about both the marriage and the wedding. But I also found myself feeling guilty and embarrassed about being excited—I couldn’t reconcile that with the skepticism I still felt toward weddings and marriage on a political level. I can say in retrospect that even the most basic decisions we made in planning the wedding were emotionally fraught for me because of this. At the time, however, I did not let myself fully explore the dilemma I was facing, I think because I was afraid that if I examined it too closely I would be forced to choose between my feminist politics and my excitement over the wedding and marriage; in other words, that I could be either an unmarried, or reluctantly married feminist, or an enthusiastically married non-feminist, but not both.

Now that we are married, I cannot say I’ve entirely worked out this dilemma, but my perspective on the cultural and personal significance of weddings and marriage has definitely shifted since we first become engaged. I feel, for one, much more comfortable with the idea that relationships are the singular greatest achievements in our lives—all of our lives, men and women. I think we must all pursue our individual dreams and use our own talents to the best of our abilities and that these dreams and talents must be nurtured and celebrated, but I have also come to realize that we need deep, mutually caring relationships with others to live fulfilling lives.

These do not need to be marital relationships. But what my own wedding showed me was that weddings are not actually about the marital relationship alone. Weddings are usually public, communal celebrations because they exist to celebrate the family and community of the couple—not just the couple themselves. Our wedding was the most amazing day of my life not only because I got to celebrate my love for my husband, but also because I got to experience the depth of the relationships we have with so many other people, the closeness and love that surrounds us on all sides. It filled me with gratitude and helped me to take all of my relationships more seriously, less for granted. There is nothing in this that challenges my feminism at all—I’m still just as committed to female autonomy and gender egalitarianism. It’s just that I now think that “autonomy” is best achieved in the context of a web of loving, committed relationships, not by separating oneself.

The other thing I worried a lot about was whether I was being too materialistic in thinking about the aesthetics of our wedding as much as I did during the planning process. Was I shallow, for instance, for seeking out a beautiful set of four white birch branches to use as chuppah poles, rather than using the free plastic ones we could have gotten from our synagogue? Now that the wedding has come and gone, I’m glad we used the (stunningly beautiful) white birch branches. I think it is fine to want our weddings to be rewarding to all of our senses: caring about the way things look, the tastiness of the food, all the textures and colors of the day is fine. In Judaism, it’s called “beautifying the commandment”—it means that there is actually an ethical value in making rituals, such as the wedding ceremony, pleasing to the eye and other senses. This does NOT give us license to flaunt wealth or break the bank if we don’t have it; there is a subtle but real line between ethical and unethical uses of aesthetics, I think. In the end, we had a wedding budget that we stuck pretty closely to, and we had no wedding debt. I wish I had given myself less grief over not throwing the lowest cost, most Spartan wedding possible!
In the last paragraph (pretty much the one part I did not pull into here), Sarah also encourages people to seek couples counseling. I've been musing over the officiant thing, considering friends of ours that would be willing to perform the ceremony and then researching professionals who specialize in melding different faith/cultural backgrounds (April Beer, for example).

Now I'm thinking it would be nice for us to be able to be married by the same person we'd go to for pre-martial counseling, like the role a priest would have served, but I haven't found someone like that through my initial searching just yet. Let me know if you have any potential leads. I'm going to try reaching out to our benefits/perks team at work to see if that might be something they could assist in finding a contact with too.


Mrs T said...

Luckily for us Mr B's Aunty is a minister so she married us. And was nice enough to do it outside of her church and without too much religious stuff in it. It's really not us. She was great.

We also did pre marital counseling. It was really great. I would highly recommend it.

Best of luck picking someone out!

Mrs T said...

So to answer your questions - we did three sessions. They ask you all kind of questions and make you talk about things you have probably never talked about before. Sometimes you talk differently when there is a third person involved.

Some religions offer free counseling if they are the ones to marry you. Could be worth a look.

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