Now that the winter holidays are over, many women are sporting new shiny engagement rings.
The focus for most brides in planning their wedding will be on finding their dream wedding dress. Thinking about wedding traditions and how to make them less sexist will often be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of planning a couple’s special day.
Many people witness and partake in certain traditions at weddings without realizing their significance. They are often taken for granted, and couples continue the traditions simply because they are traditions. A couple could consider themselves feminist, but if they do not realize the history behind certain wedding customs, they could fall prey to mistakenly advocating sexist traditions and lines of thought at their own wedding.
If you’re a bride or groom who would like to make your?wedding more feminist-friendly, here’s a look at 5 wedding traditions and how you can make them less sexist. Hint: All it takes is watching the language that’s being used!
- The father giving the bride away
One sexist custom that is present at most weddings is the giving away of the bride by her father. After the father walks his daughter down the aisle, the minister will ask, ?Who gives this woman to be married to this man?? and the father will reply, ?I do.?
This tradition of giving the bride away began in the days when arranged marriages were practiced. The father of the bride was literally giving his daughter away to another man as part of a business transaction.
Despite the growing awareness of the sexist undertones of this particular tradition, brides continue to have their fathers walk them down the aisle and give them away as a means to carry on tradition. Nowadays, the act of giving a bride away is seen as a way for the father and/or mother to give the couple their blessing. Although its meaning may have changed, it is important to realize the sexist roots that these traditions have and how they undermine the bride’s power. After all, she is still being ?given away? by her parents. The very language of this action suggests that the modern bride is still viewed as property that once belonged to the parents and is now being given to a man to whom she will now belong.
To be less sexist, brides should simply avoid the phrase “giving away.” Instead, the father and/or mother can “give their blessings.” ?In recent years, more and more weddings have consisted of the minister asking both sets of parents, ?Who gives these individuals to be given in marriage?? The parents then answer, ?We do.? This way, the parents are giving their blessings to both individuals getting married and not handing the daughter over as if she is property.
2. Traditional vows
After the bride has been given away by either her father or both parents, she shares her?vows with her soon-to-be husband. Traditional marriage vows subject women to male?dominance as they promise to obey their husbands. In one example of a typical wedding vow, the?groom states, ?I pledge to you my life as a loving and faithful husband,? while the bride vows?her life ?as an obedient and faithful wife.? Whereas the groom promises to be loving, the wife?must promise to be obedient as if her groom owns her.
Another?traditional vow some couples may still be using has the groom say, ?I will love, honor, and cherish you always,? to his bride. In return, the bride promises to ?love, honor, cherish, and obey? her groom. In both of these traditional vows, the bride is vowing to be obedient and, therefore, subservient to her husband, while her husband does not reciprocate this promise.
If you want the bride to be respected in your wedding, you should avoid any use of the word “obey” in your vows.?Many modern weddings have done away with?these sexist vows in which the bride promises to ?obey? her groom, but many couples continue to exchange these vows. These sexist vows do nothing to promote the elevated gender equality that women have gained in the past century. Instead, they revert back to the attitudes of arranged marriages and suggest that women, although legally free, are expected to serve under their husband.
3. “I now pronounce you man and wife.”
After the vows are exchanged, the minister pronounces the bride and groom as a married?couple. ?Sometimes the minister will state, ?I now pronounce you man and wife.??The problem with this phrase is?that it inherently assigns differing levels of power to the bride and groom. The groom is being referred to as a ?man,? a definition of personhood in a very basic sex-related manner. The bride, however, is being labeled a ?wife.? She is not being called a woman as the groom is being called a man; rather, she is being referred to as a ?wife.? This emphasizes her relation to her husband, the ?man.? The man is just that; a man. But the woman is not her own independent person in this rhetorical framework. Rather, she is defined solely by her marital status. This lowers her standing in the marriage because both parties are not being referred to as separate, equal entities.
To make sure this outdated proclamation isn’t said at your wedding, ask your minister or officiant ahead of time to pronounce you as “husband and wife,” not “man and wife.”
4. “You may now kiss the bride.”
More and more couples are opting out of the most overtly sexist traditions at their own weddings. One that is not given a lot of notice is the first kiss between husband and wife. After the vows have been exchanged and the minister or officiant pronounces the couple legally married, he or she turns to the groom and says, ?You may now kiss the bride.? This is typically viewed as the climax of the wedding ceremony. This is the time when the guests all break into applause and rejoice in the new marriage of the bride and groom. Yet, the phrase that precipitates the kiss, like many others, is embedded with patriarchal ideals. The officiant gives the groom the power to kiss his bride as if she does not have the power to kiss him back.?All the power is left with the groom.
If patriarchy and sexism were to be removed from this command, the minister would say instead, ?You may now share your first kiss as husband and wife.? This version addresses both parties equally and awards them equal amounts of power to do the kissing.
5. Mr. and Mrs. John Smith
The sexism does not stop at the ceremony, however. Immediately after the marriage has been sealed with a kiss, the couple is commonly referred to as ?Mr. and Mrs. John Smith,? for example. Once again, the bride is defined by her relation to her husband while the groom gets to retain his own individual identity as Mr. John Smith.
It is one thing to?address a couple as ?Mr. and Mrs. Smith? if that is the last name they are both choosing, but it is?something entirely different to announce a couple as ?Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.? This is just one?more example of how patriarchal customs take away all of the bride’s power by defining her?based on her relationship to a man.
Just because a woman gets married doesn’t mean she should lose her own identity. Don’t let anyone call you a Mrs. John Smith. Mrs. Smith will do. Or Mrs. Katie Smith, because, after all, that is your name.
With these 5 suggestions in mind, you can have the wedding of your dreams-romantic AND void of sexist tradition and language.
Alecia Pasdera is a recent college graduate from Wisconsin who is currently working as a copy editor in Kentucky. Her academic background is in journalism and communication. Alecia sees a lot of problems with the world today, and although she doesn’t have the power to change them singlehandedly, she does have the power to write about them and raise awareness. It’s her belief that education and knowledge are the strongest tools in making tomorrow a better world for everyone. You can follow her personal blog All Things Growing Up.