Equa lity is the Ic ing on the Cake
I am puzzled by many Western wedding traditions. My multicultural family chooses which customs to observe, and, usually, efforts are minimal. We may roast a duck on Thanksgiving, peer at the moon on Mid-Autumn Festival, or go to the movies on Christmas Day, after unwrapping gifts bought the day before at Superstore.
The Chinese weddings I have attended have also been similarly straightforward. They revolve around people stuffing their faces over many courses of food at an evening banquet. For non-religious couples, the actual wedding ceremony usually consists of visiting a marriage registrar and filling out forms.
I’ve also attended quite a few Western weddings, and, while seeing such happy couples can bring tears to my eyes, some wedding features make me uncomfortable. When I was 13, I caught a bouquet and was mortified when adults joked that I would make an adorable bride. At another wedding when I was younger, I found it extremely odd that a groom used his mouth to rip something black and lacy from the bride’s thigh and threw it at a crowd of men.
Searching online, I learned that white dresses became popular after people interpreted Queen Victoria’s unusual white wedding dress as a sign of her purity and virtue. The garter toss was developed to keep rowdy guests from grabbing at couple’s undergarments, which were thought to bring good luck. In many cultures, veils were used to ward off evil spirits or to hide a bride’s face so a groom wouldn’t change his mind before an arranged marriage.
It is a mystery to me why such traditions have survived to modern times, so I brought up my questions in conversations with friends and on social media. Why do fathers, and not mothers, “give away” their daughters? Why do fathers, and not mothers, usually get the honour of giving speeches? And why do so many women still take the last names of their husbands?
Of course, I had a sense beforehand that these were sensitive topics, but I was taken aback when some people snapped that I was being offensive or inappropriate for questioning such “trivial” matters. While most of my friends are proud feminists, they clearly disagree about the classic feminist slogan that the personal is political. Some, like me, think that nothing should be off-limits to feminist scrutiny. Others argue that it is wrong to disrespect women’s choices, even if such actions favour patriarchy. Some have claimed that keeping traditions alive is good, if only because people would otherwise have no idea what to do at weddings.
I think that leaving even the little things unexamined can lead to people unconsciously perpetuating gender inequality. Would it hurt to see whether it would make a difference to get rid of blatantly sexist wedding traditions, if only for the sake of young guests who look to adults to set examples? After all, it’s fun to come up with new wedding traditions, as many feminists, same-sex couples and others have proven.
And yet, I’ve heard many of my married friends tell me that a wedding isn’t about the couple, but about both sides of their families coming together. I can understand that this can be a lot to orchestrate. Many families are not as relaxed as mine, and people may choose compromise over conflict.
Humour can help. I heard a joke where a father said he was willing to “give away” his daughter—in exchange for two cows and a dozen chickens. In a recent article by Hannah Ballou in titled “Measures we’re taking to offset the patriarchal footprint of our wedding”—the author stated that there would be no bouquet toss at her wedding, to save unmarried women from a humiliating scramble to see who would be next to marry.
“Rather, ALL guests will line up and scramble to catch a copy of Judith Butler’s which the bride will hurl over her shoulder.” She continued, “The groom will no longer be permitted to use any part of his own name and shall henceforth be ‘ The Husband Formerly Known as Eugenio.’”
In the end, we should be doing more to respect those who are redefining, delaying or rejecting marriage altogether. For those who do decide to tie the knot, marrying as equals should be the icing on the cake.