Let’s Talk About “Feminist Weddings”
Getting married is a series of capitulations. I got married three weeks ago (and I swear to God I will write about other topics soon, really), so I know this for a fact. Thinking that you can have wedding that is 100 percent a reflection of all of your values all of the time — to say nothing of your partner’s values — is naive. Weddings involve capitulations to your family and his/hers. Weddings involve capitulations to your bridal party and/or friends. Weddings involve capitulations to societal tradition, family tradition or religious tradition. For plenty of people, weddings are a capitulation to our consumer-driven, “keeping up with the Joneses” (or in this case, “the David Tuteras”) society. Like anything else in life, you will negotiate some of your values that previously were very strongly held. The difference is that with a wedding, your values take an outsized importance because it feels like you’re supposed to take a stand — possibly the biggest stand you’ll ever take in your life, even.
My values are based my feminist beliefs and some Christian social justice teachings. Because one of my values is being true to myself, always, it was important to me that my engagement and wedding reflected who I am and who Kale is. Neither of us wanted to dump tons of money we don’t have into the Wedding Industrial Complex. Neither of us wanted me to take his last name. I initially didn’t want to wear a white dress as a symbol of my long, long, long gone virginity. So, before I write about Tracy Clark-Flory’s essay on Salon.com, “Where Did My Feminist Wedding Go?”, here are a few things that I, as a feminist, capitulated on.
I wore a white dress.
I spent around $250 on a new pair of white high heels, getting my hair and nails done the day before, and on some new makeup and brushes.
I posed with Kale for a lot more photographs than I felt comfortable with (knowing I wouldn’t feel comfortable posing for them) to make other people — i.e. our families — happy.
I didn’t bite the heads off people who called me “Mrs. Bogdanovs” without asking me whether that was my new name first.
Simply put, these were either battles I didn’t care enough to fight against or traditions that I happily engaged in because I genuinely enjoy these aspects of being feminine. And that’s okay.
Clark-Flory, who is a feminist blogger for Salon, is getting married soon and her confessional piece is raw honesty about all the ways she is finding herself capitulating to the Wedding Industrial Complex, conventional beauty standards, and the patriarchy. A woman who complained that the word ‘wife’ evoked “gagging sounds” has “crash-dieted” and gotten herself Spanx, “multiple pairs of high heels,” and “hundreds of dollars on makeup and makeovers” all for her big day.
There is a difference between small capitulations that don’t matter to you and getting sucked into the Wedding Industrial Complex against one’s will, which she seems to be doing. And understandably she feels a little conflicted about buying into this consumerist femininity. She writes:
… I have no interest in defining what is feminist for other women. All I can speak to are my own feelings about my own feminism — and you know what? I feel decidedly un-feminist when I wear shoes that hinder my movement and work to deform my feet; when I shave my legs and suffer the resulting nicks, and sometimes scars, and ingrown hairs; when I wear a garment that makes breathing — and moving and living — difficult, all in the interest of maintaining unrealistic standards of femininity; when I contemplate wearing a white dress, traditionally meant to represent virginity, on my wedding day.
At the very least, Clark-Flory is open about her hypocrisy. She’s a feminist … but she also really, really, really wants to be liked for being feminine.
It’s simply easier to do many of these things than to not, particularly on my wedding day. The deep-down truth that I hate to admit even to myself is that I care deeply about what people think. It is cowardly and superficial and uncreative, but I want to fulfill everyone else’s vision of the blushing bride. A wedding, as with so many moments in life, is a social performance — and when these times arise, I am still that teenage girl flipping through women’s magazines, looking for the secret to being acceptable.
I don’t blame her at all for having capitulations. She is still a human being. Feminists aren’t totally immune to the pressures of society any more than the next person. Any feminist who has ever gotten married has had to make concessions. They’ve also had the opportunities look at themselves and honestly say, “You know what? Wearing a white dress to symbolize virginity is bullshit, but it’s a really pretty tradition, and looks good with my tan, and I want to do it!”
And that’s precisely the point: many of Clark-Flory’s capitulations are really kind of sad because she doesn’t seem to be enjoying them. I can stomach women doing un-feminist stuff like getting plastic surgery or taking their husband’s last name if they’re not conflicted about it. (That’s not to say that because a feminist enjoys something that is not feminist, that automatically makes it feminist. No.) Clark-Flory writes, “I realized while planning this wedding that I am nowhere near as rebellious or courageous as I would like to think.” While I appreciate the candor, I mostly just feel sad that she’s having this realization. I wish a feminist writer, of all people, would be able to say that if you feel unfeminist doing something, don’t do it.
Because ultimately, what’s the point? Being engaged, planning a wedding, your wedding day, and basking in your newlywed glow are supposed to be a happy time in your life. Celebrating your commitment to another person should fill you with more joy than strife. The reality is that people that love Tracy Clark-Flory will still love her no matter how she performs femininity or performs “being a bride.” The bigger question that perhaps she should ask — as she nurses the elastic indentations her Spanx leave in her skin and enjoys a foot rub from her new husband after hobbling around in heels all day*** — is how, when all this is said and done and she looks back on her decisions, whether she will love herself knowing she isn’t as courageous about living her values as she pretended to be.
I don’t know when Clark-Flory is actually getting married, but it’s still not too late for her to strike a balance. Shoes and unused makeup can be returned. (Spanx, probably not.) No more crash diets. Appointments for hair and makeup and nails can be canceled, if those are things she feels conflicted about. It’s not to late to make this more of a wedding she will actually enjoy. A wedding is just one day of your life. You have to live with your memories of it forever.
*** Buy some really cute flats, Tracy, and ask your person of honor to hold onto them for you so you can wear them when your feet hurt!
[Image of bridal shoes via Shutterstock]