I was fascinated by this story by Jessica Valenti, of Feministing fame, on the preparations of her “big feminist wedding,” in large part because many of the “feminist” stands she took for her wedding seemed pretty commonsense to me, the Catholic social conservative.
(I should note that this title is in jest. I consider myself a feminist, insofar as I believe that women should enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men do, although I reject many of the dogma espoused by many who bandy about the “feminist” label. When I was contemplating studying history in college, I wanted to write my thesis on the role of women in French society 1774-1848.)
Here are some of the things that shocked Valenti’s friends and family:
[T]here is no proposal story to tell. At least, not the kind most people expect. There were no rose petals scattered on a satin-sheeted bed, no trips to the Eiffel tower, no ring hidden in a champagne glass. There wasn’t even any kneeling.
We don’t have much of a proposal story to tell either. I proposed to my fiancée in front of Notre-Dame, which is not the shabbiest place to do it, but that was simply because we were leaving a restaurant that happened to be next to it. (A good thing about living in Paris is that you’re rarely far from a “romantic” spot.) I did not get on one knee and did not pull out a ring. I embraced her, and popped the question. It was all extremely moving for us of course, but (besides the scenery, I suppose) it wasn’t the stuff of a Meg Ryan movie, or even a cheap sitcom.
Speaking of the ring, this is also something that surprises Valenti’s friends, the lack of a big diamond on her hand. My fiancée has always rejected the idea of an engagement ring, because she doesn’t like jewelry in general, and because she did not want to spend a lot of money on a trinket. We’ve decided on simple, identical gold bands for our wedding rings.
my extended family looked similarly quizzical when I mentioned that I would be keeping my last name.
There really wasn’t any question between us that she would keep her last name, as my mother had, and her mother before (though of the hyphenated variety). In French law, and this has been true since the Civil Code of 1804 if not before, it is impossible for women to change their legal name to their husbands, although they are allowed to use it as a nom d’usage. A common feature of voting in France is to have the line slowed down because one or several women wait in the wrong line, trying to vote under their husband’s name instead of their own (even though it is their own name on their own Goddamn identity papers…).
As I grew up and began identifying myself as a feminist, there were plenty of issues that continued to make me question marriage: the father “giving” the bride away, women taking their husband’s last name, the white dress, the vows promising to “obey” the groom.
I’ll grant the father giving the bride away (although it’s easy to make too much of the word “giving” — there is no equivalent expression in French that I’m aware of) as a potentially cringe-inducing remnant of the Bovary era of dowries and weddings as M&A. Women taking their husband’s last name I’ve covered.
The white dress, of course, is hardly questionable, since it symbolizes not virginity (ha!) but the state of grace of the bride and the groom as they take their vows. Or, if you’re more historically minded, the homeland of Anne of Brittany who started this ongoing trend since, before her and throughout the Middle Ages, brides got married in red, the color of joy (“Oh no! A symbol of joy at a wedding! The Patriarchy knows no bounds to its evil!” Forgive my snark.).
By the way, of all the fashion trends that began in the court of the King of France, I’m much more partial to the one set by Agnès Sorel, who was so convinced she had the most beautiful breasts in the Kingdom, that she made it fashionable in the Court for women to wear dresses that exposed their chest. What happened to that one? (Let the irate comments begin…)
My defending the white dress is kind of ironic, since for most of my life I wanted my eventual bride to wear red, out of a slightly Tolkienesque taste for forgotten traditions, and out of a very PEGesque desire to never miss an opportunity to stand out. But my fiancée chose a gorgeous off-white wedding dress and I joyfully accept the symbol of our oncoming state of grace.
Anyway, if it’s feminist to not be dead set on white for the wedding dress, then color me feminist.
From the beginning, Andrew and I agreed that we would not be one of those couples in which the woman ends up doing all of the wedding-related work because she is the person who is supposed to care about it the most. No, we were going to do this fairly.
Yep, same here. We are doing pretty much everything together. Just seems more practical, no?
wrote about her purple wedding dress, lack of a diamond ring and her decision not to have a “crap-tastic white cake”.
Purple wedding dress? Awesome! As for the crap-tastic white cake, I couldn’t agree more, as with the crap-tastic pièce montées which are the standby of French weddings. We will probably have a pyramid of macaroons.
Another thing that we agreed to very early on is that I would refuse to marry her if she considered quitting work to raise our children (of which, inch’Allah, there will be many), not because of feminist concerns, but simply because I think it’s best for the kids. The last thing I would submit them to is an omnipresent helicopter mom. And also because I want my daughters to have a strong female role model to look up to (okay, so that’s a bit feminist. Damn it!).
Of course, there are some things that Valenti planned for her wedding that are a bit too much for me: using the wedding to raise awareness of the cause of same-sex marriage (I’m not much of an enemy of same-sex marriage, but we won’t be using our wedding to make a statement about it — and by the way, one wonders how many of the guests at Jessica Valenti’s wedding need to have their awareness of the issue raised), making a point to buy the dress “from a store that gives all the money to charity” (one hopes they do give a little to their landlord)… We also considered asking people to donate to a charity instead of buying stuff on a wedding registry, but decided to have our friends buy us our honeymoon instead, because we’re so damn selfless. Unlike Valenti, I would probably have selected a pro-life charity, if there was one I felt comfortable giving money to.
The thing that strikes me about all these things that she fights — the fixation on the ring and on the dress, and the fear of Bridezilla — is that, to my eyes, these things don’t seem so much “Patriarchal” as they seem American, just as our wedding plans don’t seem feminist as much as they seem commonsense.
I guess that like Monsieur Jourdain, we will be having a feminist wedding without knowing it.