Equa lity is the Ic ing on the Cake

Herizons - - Arts & Culture - McSweeney’s— Gen­der Trou­ble,

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.

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